On a hot and humid day on Saturday, the Optimists Cricket Club 1st XI played hosts to Ghent Cricket Club at their home ground in Walferdange.
Ghent were one of only two teams to have beaten the Optimists this season, in a high scoring game away in Ghent. Captain Richard Neale was keen to avenge this defeat and keep the pressure up on the league leaders and, upon winning the toss, chose to bat first in good conditions.
The regular pairing of Ben Embleton and James Barker got the innings off to a solid start before Ben departed with the score on 22. The skipper then entered the fray and looked immediately at ease. As James continued to accumulate Richard punished anything loose, with one over containing three consecutive boundaries. A partnership of 82 took the score past 100 in under 20 overs, with a big total looking likely.
However, Richard was caught soon after for a run-a-ball 45, bringing in the in-form Vikram Vijh. The runs continued to flow and James soon reached his fifty as the score continued to climb steadily. Vikram was playing his natural game, hitting all loose balls to the boundary and ensuring that the strike continued to tick over. James was eventually run out, this latest partnership having contributed 61 runs at a run a ball. Timothy Barker was the next man in and, with a well-set platform, was ready to push the run rate along.
Vikram continued to score freely, once again registering a fifty, while Timothy started to dispatch the opposition bowlers over the fence. After a partnership of 52, Vikram was eventually bowled for 62, of which 34 of these runs came from boundaries. Timothy continued the attack, dispatching one opposition bowler for 17 in an over and another for two consecutive sixes. With Tony Whiteman at the crease, the runs came easily and the score edged past 250. Timothy was finally bowled for a 35-ball 64, an innings that contained 4 sixes and two fours. The momentum was not lost however and, with some good running, the final few batsmen managed to bring the score up to a very competitive 289.
Despite the very good total, everyone was aware of the capabilities of some of Ghent's batting line-up, though confidence was high that on the large Pierre Werner outfield the Gent batsmen would not manage to score as freely as they had in the previous fixture.
Atif Kamal and Yatin Bhamare opened the bowling and bowled fantastically in the heat, beating the bat on countless occasions. The first wicket fell courtesy of a super catch by Chris Evans, running back and taking the ball over his shoulder. Despite the bowlers continuing with little luck, the opposition struggled to score and, by the time the second wicket fell with the score on 40 after 11 overs, the Optimists knew they were well on top.
Further wickets fell as the score ticked over, James Barker taking the two catches to end the batsmen’s fairly short stays. Ghent’s (and the league’s) top run scorer was still at the crease however, and he was scoring freely. Nevertheless, wickets were falling, the pick of which was Chris Evans bowling the opposition keeper with what must be a contender for ball of the season.
Atif was brought back into the attack soon after and, with his first ball, removed the opposition’s top scorer, a well-deserved wicket for his toil. Shortly after, Yatin took a good running catch on the straight boundary to give Chris his second wicket, signalling the end of any real resistance from the Ghent batting line up.
Atif was proving too good for the lower order and ensured victory by removing the final three batsmen, giving him a well-deserved four wickets in the innings. Yatin finished with two wickets, Chris with three and William Cope with one.
Ghent’s total of 141 meant victory for the Optimists by 148 runs and, most importantly, the maximum 25 points that could have been taken from the game. It was an impressive performance overall and a complete team effort, with seven catches and goods spells by all bowlers. This win leaves the Optimists only 1 point behind the league leaders Brussels and, with only two games left, the Optimists will be hoping to defend their title for another year courtesy of a final match showdown with Brussels.