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Church Times Cricket Cup: Youthful Bristol team snatch London’s crown

14 September 2018

Stephen Fay watched an impressive display

Richard Watt

Sam Rylands celebrates taking the wicket of London’s opener, Matt Beeby

Sam Rylands celebrates taking the wicket of London’s opener, Matt Beeby

AFTER the Church Times Cricket Cup Final ended, and a light rain was at last given permission to fall, a group of London’s players sat disconsolately outside the pavilion, trying to explain how it was that Bristol had won comfortably, by five wickets with two overs to spare.

The London team had arrived in Southgate in warm morning sunshine, confident that they would win the Cup for the sixth time in succession. Their young opponents from Bristol had formed a team only the previous year, organised by Sam Rylands, a young ordinand studying there.

The surname will be familiar to followers of Church Times cricket. Sam’s father Mark, formerly the Bishop of Shrewsbury, was a stalwart of the Lichfield team that lost three finals to London (having won one against Bath & Wells in 2010). Young Rylands had had a problem: ordinands dominated his team, and the competition’s rules dictated that teams consist of mostly priests.

Bishop Rylands suggested an appeal to Paul Handley, the editor, to admit the ordinands. Handley, whose view was that West Country church cricket required encouragement, gave his blessing. So it was that this summer Bristol swept past Lichfield in the semi-final (News, 13 July), and so arrived at the Walker Ground on Thursday of last week, bursting with ambition and vim.

Perhaps Dr Lee Rayfield, the Bishop of Swindon, got it right: “The rules were bent in the right way for us,” he said.

Bristol won the toss and put London in to bat. They were without their fast bowler, the injured Rob Smith, but they had a strategy. By opening with two change bowlers, they hoped to lull London’s batsmen into a false sense of security before bringing on their best men.

Matt Beeby and Joe Moffatt took the bait eagerly, scoring 28 runs off the first four overs. The opening pair put on 40; the 50 came up in the tenth over; Beeby scored 35 before being bowled by Sam Rylands. Alex Cama was run out, and Chris Lee — often London’s highest and quickest scorer — went cheaply. At lunch, however, after 26 of their 40 overs, Chris Kennedy was looking secure and London were 139 for 4, and thinking of a total of more than 200.

John Stilwell, a Bristol youth worker who bowled left-arm spin, put a brake on their progress. Three of his first four overs were maidens, and in the fourth he had Chris Kennedy, then on 52, slickly caught behind the stumps by Tom Murray, an experienced keeper. Pat Allerton also fell to Stilwell, departing lbw for 22 runs.

Sam Rylands’s medium-fast deliveries, which had ended Beeby’s and Lee’s innings, had Andy Watkins caught by Aidan Watson. James Knowles hit one big six but then, like Cama, was run out.

London found their opponents to be a significantly better fielding side than is normal in these games. The stronger arms of Bristol’s young outfielders sent quick and usually accurate throws to the keeper; and after two run-outs, the batsmen were noticeably more cautious. Two fine steepling mishits were well caught at mid-off, and the scoring rate slowed. A compact, competent performance by Bristol in the field kept London’s score down to 197 all out, or about 20 fewer than they must have hoped for.

At tea, Bristol were 52 for 2 off 17 overs. Rylands had come in with their score on 10, after Mike Walker’s dismissal, caught Kennedy, bowled Kendall. Bristol had been advised to proceed with caution, and Paul Peterson’s 22 was scored at a stately pace. But the slow scoring rate left Bristol needing to score 145 in 23 overs, or 6.3 an over.

Two good batsmen came and went: Murray skied a soft shot to mid-on; and Stillwell was run out by a direct throw from mid-wicket by Beeby. But London’s bowlers could not unsettle Rylands, who reached his 50 with a huge six over a distant sight screen. His partnership with Aidan Watson was also boosted by an embarrassing number of extras. At 30 wides, byes, and leg byes, they were the second highest contributor to Bristol’s score.

Rylands and Watson added 58 together, and they were only 10 runs short of a win when Watson was bowled by Kennedy. The winning run was a bye.

For Bristol, a remarkable victory such as this was scarcely imaginable. For London, it was a humbling end to a record of five successive Cup Final wins. They were, however, genuinely pleased for the Bristol side.

Rylands was 89 not out with three sixes and 11 fours, which, taken with his three vital wickets, made him the only candidate for Man of the Match. But the award was not only for a commanding performance: Handley added that it was also a recognition of Rylands’ determination to build the first Bristol cricket XI ever to appear in a Church Times final.

One interested spectator was the new Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, making her first public appearance in her new post. So pleased was she with the result that it might well be mentioned at her installation later in the autumn.

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