The Scottish climate has never been the most conducive to the sport of cricket. It is, after all, difficult to concentrate on batting when trying to guess whether the next over will be played in blazing sun or driving rain. It is probably for such a reason that cricket has never been included in the schedule for the annual Varsity season, where Scotland’s two most prestigious universities go head to head to determine whether kingdom or capital is home to the finest sportspeople. At least, until now. For the first time, cricket has been played in Varsity, and as no less than the inaugural event of the 2017 programme.
Both Men’s and Women’s Clubs were represented in Edinburgh on Saturday 16 September at Carlton Cricket Club, whose unique sloping outfield first played host to the women’s match. This was thankfully unaffected by rain, and St Andrews performed admirably in a thrilling chase as they just fell short of the 10 runs required off the final over of the Twenty20 match. First blood to the capital, but a demonstration to all watching of how exciting the women’s game can be and, more specifically, the growing strength of women’s cricket at St Andrews.
So with the post-game photographs taken on the outfield, the men’s match could begin. St Andrews were put into bat in perilous conditions, with the sky leaden and the wicket damp. The innings was opened by Alex Sachak and Henry Portman, and with Edinburgh opening with spin, runs were hard to come by in the first over. Sachak held the strike, but with the outfield so wet due to persistent light rain, the full value of his striking was not felt. Portman could definitely be excused for feeling hard done by, for on only his second ball he played a gorgeous cover drive, only to fall foul of a truly spectacular piece of fielding at short cover, the Edinburgh man at full stretch taking the catch high above his head.
Sachak was joined at the crease by Jaques Sharam, noted as one of the biggest hitters in the St Andrews ranks. Unfortunately, it was the set man who was to fall, spooning a catch to mid-wicket, leaving Saints two down for just 16 runs inside three overs as captain Ben Kempley made his way from the pavilion. A single was taken off the final ball of the over, leaving Sharam on strike, who pounded a one bounce four over extra cover before being given out LBW to a full ball which struck him on the pads, leaving the score 21-3. First-year Sujhaa Kahn was next in, facing a huge rebuilding task in his first game in St Andrews colours in some of most difficult batting conditions imaginable. As the rain further intensified, the batsmen continued to rotate the strike. Kahn took the strike at the start of the next over, and cut the Edinburgh spinner straight to backward point, kicking the pitch in disgust as he departed for the gazebo which served as the away dressing room.
And so, captain Kempley was joined at the crease by former captain Caspar Everett with the score at 31-4. Everett played in his typical conservative manner as Kempley played some classy shots to the boundary behind square on the legside. With the rain falling ever harder, the umpires convened midway through the fifth over, and the players were taken off for rain.
An hour-long delay ensued, but once the rain had finally ceased, the players made their way back out, with the score 45-4 from seven overs, and Kempley sitting pretty on 16 and Everett on three. As if the weather gods were spiting the players, however, the rain returned as well. Everett played a stunning sweep to deep backward square, whose misfield cost his side three extra runs. The eighth over began in monsoon-like conditions at 49-4, with Kempley on strike. As the rain soaked the pitch, he was struck on the pads trying to flick the ball through the onside, and was given out LBW by the umpire. To add insult to injury, the umpires once again removed the players before another ball could be bowled.
With the volume of water which had fallen on the outfield, and the fading light, it was decided that the inaugural cricket Varsity would come down to a super over. As such, each side would have six deliveries, and two batsmen, to score as many runs as they could to claim the title. Saints once again batted first, and with Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” blaring over the sound system as if in protest at the weather, Sharam and Sachak once again made their way to the middle. Sharam took a single to cow corner from the first ball, but Sachak slipped in an attempt to do the same from the second, and was run out at the non-striker’s end. And thus, captain Kempley was once again required to dig his side from impending defeat.
He was not, however, on strike for the third ball of the over, which Sharam spooned in the direction of cover. This was the moment Edinburgh had been waiting for, if the catch was taken, they would need just 2 runs to win from their over. But the catch was grassed, the chance missed, and a single was stolen. Kempley, on strike, flicked the fourth ball over the head of fine leg, holding up just short of the boundary for two runs. Then, the masterstroke. A fine reverse sweep brought 4 to Kempley and St Andrews, before a missed run-out from a quick single on the final ball allowed the Saints to set Edinburgh a target of 10 to win.
Henry Portman, unlucky with bat in hand earlier in the day, was given the unenviable task of bowling the super over for St Andrews. As the sun finally began to break through the clouds, the first ball of Edinburgh’s over was reverse swept for four, an ideal start for the hosts, leaving six needed from the remaining five. However, the Edinburgh batsman kept on leaving the final runs to their partner, and hence meaning they required five from three. Another single from the fourth ball, the tension building as Arthur’s Seat was bathed in late evening sunshine behind the bowler. Portman managed to limit the batsman to yet another single from the fifth ball, leaving the batting side requiring three from the final ball to steal the match. The last delivery was fired in by Portman, and was cut into the offside where it was stopped. The batsmen, knowing their only hope was to try and run the three they needed, set off, but the non-striker slipped, and the fielder, not wanting to risk the possibility of overthrows, sprinted towards the striker’s end stumps. It was now a foot race, and the Saints man came out on top, sealing the two-run victory for St Andrews.
After the game, Kempley was declared man of the match for St Andrews. Varsity cricket this year demonstrated that, even in the most adverse conditions, cricket still has a place in the sporting calendar. Cricketers and non-cricketers alike from both universities braved the rain to watch what turned out to be two thrilling games of cricket at a truly stunning ground in the heart of Edinburgh. Here’s to Varsity cricket remaining a big part of the sporting year, whatever the weather.