The Scottish weather is very rarely conducive to cricket, least of all in mid-September. It is easy to understand, therefore, that there were a few jangling nerves when the day of this year’s cricket Varsity matches dawned grey and overcast. With last year’s event having been plagued by persistent rain, surely the same couldn’t happen again this time around. But thankfully, the weather gods smiled on St Andrews. As pre-match preparations began on a dewy C1, the sun burnt through the cloud, setting the stage for a classic day of T20 cricket.
The women’s match kicked off proceedings in what promised to be a tight affair. St Andrews, fresh from winning the BUCS Northern 1A league at a canter last season and bolstered by the addition of fresher Grace Bitner to the side, won the toss and put Edinburgh into bat on green pitch. The visitors’ openers Farooq and Levenson faced the first over from St Andrews captain Justine Blake, who’s accurate swing bowling with the new pink ball saw Edinburgh restricted to just 3 runs off the first over. However, the runs soon began to flow, with Levenson in particular beginning to find the fence with regularity, having been dropped early in her innings close to the bat by Blake.
This would all change in the 10th over, with Levenson caught off the bowling of Carys Sheard by Annie Layhe, a spectacular two-handed effort at full stretch over her head to leave the score 52-1. The next over saw the introduction of Sophie Taylor, who’s loopy off-spin proved difficult for the Edinburgh batters to score from, shown in her figures of four overs for just seventeen runs, an admirable performance in a 20 over game. The visitors maintained a steady run rate, rotating the strike effectively but unable to find the boundaries thanks to excellent work from Kelly Varnell and Viola Komedova in the outfield, and it would be Komedova who would be the next to find success with the ball, bowling the stubborn Farooq in the 17th over for 30 with the score then at 84-2 and two relatively new batters at the crease in the form of Racheal Thomas and Phoebe Beal.
The death over were well bowled by the home side, with economical bowling from Taylor, Blake and off-spinner Manat Jauhal, who’s bowling saw Thomas caught by Blake on the penultimate delivery of the innings, and Edinburgh were restricted to just 108 from their 20 overs, in no small part due to the bowling of Blake, whose figures of 4-0-9-0 were truly remarkable. Varnell and Jauhal opened the batting for the home side, with Edinburgh Cricket President Hannah Rainey opening the bowling for Edinburgh. The innings started normally enough, with a wide and a leg bye seeing Saints to two from just one legitimate delivery. It was not to last though, with Jauhal beaten by Rainey’s pace first ball and bowled. This brought Blake to the crease, hoping to settle the ship, but the very next over both Varnell and number four Komedova bowled by the spin of Levenson. The end of the second over saw St Andrews on the brink at 2-3, with no runs having been scored off the bat.
The dismissal of Komedova saw Sheard to the crease, and she scored the first run off the bat of the innings, a single from the fourth ball of Levenson’s second over, and she looked strong before herself being bowled by Rainey. Keeper Rosanna Curtis was in at 6, and she joined Blake at the crease in the fifth over with the score 3-4. The fact that she was then dismissed in the 19th over with the score 50-5 is testament to the grit she showed in her batting. Together with Blake, she saw off the bowling of Coke, Gillan, Beal and Farooq in a 47-run partnership, the third highest in either game. It was not to last, however, as she was bowled for 6 by Carteran Holland, bringing Taylor to the crease in the penultimate over, who faced two balls before being run out. Rainey bowled the final over, with Blake seeing off a maiden to leave St Andrews on 50-6, and herself on 24*, an admirable performance on a tricky batting pitch, but she could not prevent Edinburgh taking the first of the days matches, with her side falling to a 58-run defeat.
With the beer and burgers flowing to the tune of St Andrew’s own Asha Sound System, it was now time for the men to take centre stage. The last time the two sides met was in May, with St Andrews taking a tense 50 over BUCS game in the final over. This was a different Saint’s side that took the field, with the loss of former captains Casper Everett and Jacques Sharam to graduation leaving holes in the batting line-up. The home side batted first under darkening skies, with skipper Ben Kempley facing up to Edinburgh’s opener Caleb Whiteford with keeper Tom Simpson at the non-striker’s end. The pair began aggressively, scoring with boundaries coming through the slip corden as much as they did in front of the bat. Disaster struck in the fourth over, however, with a mix-up following a top edge resulting in both batsmen taking situ at the non-striker’s end. A footrace ensued, but the fielder reached the stumps before Simpson, who was run out for 7. Kempley followed just two balls after, caught off the bowling of Hillis by Edinburgh captain Haslem, leaving Henry Portman and Shujaa Khan as the new batsmen with the score just 23-2 from 4.
Khan fell the next over, LBW to Whiteford, which brought fresher Cameron Fyfe to the crease, who did not take long to get into his work, hitting a four of just his fourth delivery faced. His 30-run partnership with Portman steadied the ship for the home side, rotating the strike well off first change bowlers Gupta and Thirlwell, before Portman was himself bowled by Thirlwell in the 11th over for 12. Replacement Crooks fell cheaply in the next over, walking following an edge behind off off-spinner Tom Williamson, leaving Saints once again teetering at 60-5. Fyfe, joined now by Alex Sachak, continued his progress, milking the spin of Thirlwell and Williamson, and passing his half-century with a six back over the returning Whiteford’s head. Together with Sachak, he compiled a 65-run partnership which saw the home side past 120.
Sachak was dismissed off the bowling of Gupta in the final over, bringing James Earnshaw to the crease, who took an almighty heave at a good length ball, resulting in a single to get Fyfe back on strike, who took six more runs from the final three deliveries to reach 66* personally, a stellar performance on his St Andrews debut, while the team finished on 135.
Edinburgh openers Thomas and Croton would first face the fizzing off-spin of Portman, who was, as usual, economical, conceding only 4 runs form his first over. Khan took the new ball from the other end and was dispatched for six by Croton in an otherwise strong over, a foreshadow of things to come. Off-spin was the order of the day for St Andrews, with fellow offies Sachak and Rory Allardyce soon brought into the attack. It was not until a fourth off-spinner was brought into the attack in the form of Earnshaw, however, that the home side captured the wicket of Thomas, stumped by Simpson.
This seemingly opened the floodgates, with Simpson again involved with the dismissal of Croton, this time a catch off the bowling of Sachak, but they were swiftly closed again by a 42 run partnership for the third wicket between Haslem and Williamson. Remarkably, there was not a four hit in the entire innings until the 17th over, with sixes being the only boundaries scored by Haslem, who was trapped LBW by Portman in the 12th for 38. His replacement Place was dismissed for a quickfire 22 in the 16th, leaving the visitors cruising at 100-4 and requiring 36 runs from the last 4 overs, a significant portion of which was taken from the bowling of Sachak in the 17th over, which went for a wince-inducing 18 runs.
Portman regained some control in his final over, but Edinburgh still required just 13 from the final two. As the clouds lowered and the dramatic tones of Adele’s Skyfall drifted across a tense C1, Earnshaw took the ball. First ball-Wicket, Thirlwell caught and bowled to be replaced by Reeve. Two dots followed and then a single, bringing Williamson to the strike, who was caught in the deep. Another single came off the last ball of the over, leaving Earnshaw with figures of 3-19 and Edinburgh with 11 required off the last. The game was far from over, but the fat lady was tuning up in the wings.
All eyes now turned to Khan. A single came off the first ball. 10 to win. And then a wicket, Gupta run out by Simpson attempting to regain the strike. Now 10 were required from just 4 deliveries. To the crease strode Caleb Whiteford, a bowler by trade. Khan bowls, a half-volley. Six. The crowd is silenced, but hope is not lost, there are still 4 required form 3, no easy task on C1. Khan turns and bowls again, another half volley. Six more. Edinburgh and their supporters invade the pitch as the St Andrews fans look on in stunned silence. As Ben Stokes did following his own similar final over in the 2016 T20 World Cup final, Khan fell to the turf in anguish. It is the lottery of T20, one moment of individual brilliance can completely shift a match in such a short format.
So, Edinburgh take the Varsity Cricket this time, but the day showed that cricket can be as much a part of varsity as any other sport. The games were extremely well attended for what is at the end of the day still a minority sport in Scotland, and nobody can argue with the excitement that both matches provided. Let us hope that next year’s return leg in Edinburgh will be as perfect, just with the results the other way around!