Blackheath’s victory over Northern of the Liverpool in the final of the Royal London Club Championship could hardly have been more comprehensive or more crushing.
With Southwark’s Shard in the distance and the Crystal Palace radio masts rather closer to the Beckenham ground, Chris Willetts’s team scaled heights of their own to carry off the most prestigious trophy in English club cricket, beating Northern by nine wickets with 92 balls to spare.
Having lost the toss and been invited to bowl first on a wicket retaining early moisture, the Kent Premier League’s side began in the best possible fashion when Stephen Lucas edged Warren Lee’s fifth ball of the day to Dipayan Paul at second slip.
In his next five overs Lee added the wickets of Liam Grey, also caught by Paul at slip, and Northern skipper James Cole, who gloved the seamer to Joe Kerridge behind the stumps. When Davy Smith was leg before for 13 when playing slightly across the line to Jahid Ahmed, Northern were 42 for four and their innings was close to being holed below the waterline.
What followed, however, was by far the best hour or so of the game for the Moor Park team as Jack Boardman and Ryan Maddock batted with good sense to put on 73 in 19 overs. Both batsmen seized more or less every opportunity to score but the introduction of the Blackheath spinners, notably the slow left-armer, James Hands, put a break on the run rate.
On the club ground most associated with the Kent and England slow-medium left-arm spinner Derek Underwood – members here buy their drinks at Deadly’s Bar – Hands varied his pace with particular skill and soon gained his rewards.
Boardman was stumped off the spinner for 28 and Ian Carroll was caught by Michael Thornely for two in the next over. Off-spinner Paul then had Stephen Cole pouched at mid-wicket, also for two, four overs later and Northern had suffered their second collapse on a day when they could barely afford one.
Maddock, however, completed a fine fifty and took his team from 131 for seven to 158 for eight before he perished for 58 in the final over of the innings. Paul Park helped Northern reach 161 for nine at the end of their allotted overs but no one was fooled that this total was anything less than 20 runs under par.
Hands finished with figures of 2-13 from his nine overs and they did him no less than justice.
Blackheath’s pursuit of their modest target could not have been more straightforward. Although Jahid Ahmed was caught by Boardman at mid on off Tom Sephton for 32 to end his opening stand of 67 in 14 overs with Willetts, everything else went Blackheath’s way as a previously tight Northern attack saved some of their loosest deliveries for the afternoon when it mattered most.
By the end of the 30th over, Northern’s players may have been anxious to get off the field while Blackheath’s were also keen to do so simply to open the champagne. Willetts made 58 not out off 97 balls and Tanweer Sikander an unbeaten 52 off a mere 48 balls.
“It ended up being reasonably comprehensive but our bowlers really set it up,” said Willetts. “I wasn’t too disappointed to lose the toss because I thought it would do a bit early on. I thought we gave them twenty or thirty runs more than we should have done. It’s very useful to have bowlers like James Hands in your back pocket when you know that he’s going to go for next to nothing.
“There’s only one or two players who remember us winning this in 1971 but it is nice to play at a club which has a tradition of doing well in these competitions.”
Indeed, this was Blackheath’s second victory in the national knockout and the third time a team from the Kent Premier League has won the trophy, Bromley having won it in 2007