Holmesdale’s 1st XI clinched promotion on Saturday by beating Folkestone in a pulsating, rain-affected fixture in which they needed to take five wickets in the last 14.4 overs to book their place in the Premier League for next season.
Winning the toss and choosing to bat first, despite being rolled for 117 the previous week by Tenterden, Holmesdale managed to hit their highest ever score in the Kent League: 373-4.
The total was largely in thanks to a monster second wicket partnership of 213 between Mark Epps (93) and Ben Fawcitt (115), who both batted superbly.
The Dale started brightly, with Dom May (19) hitting his usual array of boundaries to the leg side. However, when he departed, the scoring slowed somewhat and the side had only reached 100 from 21 overs. Yet, it seemed that from that moment on the shackles were well and truly released as Epps punished anything over pitched and Fawcitt played shots all around the ground with elegance and poise. Fawcitt was first to reach his 50, it coming off 63 balls, while Epps, the more circumspect of the two, reached his off 84 balls.
In truth, the Folkestone change bowlers were nothing to write home about and it was when they came on that Epps and Fawcitt went on the attack, peppering the boundaries on both sides of the wicket. Fawcitt brought up his maiden century off 109 balls in typical fashion; a sweetly timed extra-cover drive. Epps, however, fell agonisingly close, holing out in the deep for an excellent 93. His young partner went on to accrue 115, including 14 fours and one six, before he was stumped off the bowling of Graham (3/78).
This brought Blackaby and Miller together in the 40th over, something unusual for this season, and the pair proceeded to have some fun with a wilting Folkestone fielding unit, both hitting half-centuries at a strike rate of over 200. Miller, in particular, decided that he was not going to die wondering in his final game at Montreal Park, as he flayed his way to 53 from 21 balls, including some huge sixes over extra cover and down the ground, alongside some deft, dab sweeps for four. Blackaby was more circumspect to begin with, but he quickly picked up the pace, punishing anything short or wide, and finishing with 65* from 31 deliveries.
The Dale ended their innings with their highest ever Kent League score, 373-4, and were jubilant at the half way stage, determined not to let it slip, like they did at Tenterden the week before.
What happened in the first five overs of the Folkestone innings, nobody expected, as Jack Hulston and Blackaby were ruthlessly attacked by the opening pair of Bray and Kleinschmidt. Folkestone had already reached 50 after 4.3 overs and both the Dale players and fans were starting to get restless. Blackaby was forced to turn to his spin twins, Bryant and May, as early as the fifth over, such was the barbarity of the batting against the seamers. However, the decision paid dividends as Bryant removed Bray (36) and Shaheer Malik (0) in his first over, immediately stemming the Folkestone run flow. Harbig (3/26), replaced May from the Amherst School End, much to the delight of the crowd and immediately got into the wickets, removing Kleinschmidt (36), Shamheer Malik (0) and Graham (16) in a four over blitz. Bryant, meanwhile, weaved away from the other end and finished his ten over spell with figures of two wickets for 28 runs.
With the score on 170-5 after 26.2 overs, and everything going Holmesdale’s way, the unthinkable happened…
It had started to rain. The umpires brought play to a momentary halt and there was a pause of an hour. This meant that overs had been lost out of the game and it would be considered ‘incomplete’ if Holmesdale did not bowl Folkestone out inside 14.4 overs.
With a nervous crowd gathering, as the 2nd and 3rd XIs returned from their respective fixtures, a tense finish was a given. The message from Blackaby was clear: one wicket at a time and we shall see. Blackaby and May took the ball and began the assault on the Folkestone middle and lower order. The final four balls from Dom May’s over were bowled without event. Then Blackaby swung one back into the pads of Sam Ireland (53) and he was given out LBW – a glimmer of hope had appeared, and an end had been opened up.
Four wickets were now needed from 13 overs. It was now clear that Folkestone were not going to attack the bowling, instead entering into survival mode. This meant Blackaby crowded the bat with fielders. This tactic worked as the very next over Dom May struck, having Stewart (1) caught at leg slip by Blackaby himself. Inglestone (13) was now very much batting with the tail, as he fended away a couple of Blackaby and May overs alongside Ward (14). However, the ball was starting to hoop around and once again Blackaby struck, trapping Inglestone LBW with another big inswinger and suddenly only two wickets were required by Holmesdale with 8 overs left to play.
Ward, however, began to manfully farm the strike away from number 10, Bridges, frustrating the Holmesdale bowlers. Blackaby turned to Gallagher after May had finished his spell. But, with five overs to go, Holmesdale still needed to take two wickets. Then, Gallagher struck in his second over, bowling Bridges with a beauty that just clipped the top of off stump. One wicket was now needed for Holmesdale to clinch promotion back to the Premier League and they had four overs to get it. But one Blackaby over went by, as Ward once again farmed the strike away from his number 11 colleague, and then a Gallagher over went by with Ward still on strike. However, the final ball, of the over went for 4 instead of the single which Ward craved, meaning that Blackaby would start the penultimate over against William Brown, Folkestone’s young number 11.
The crowd held their breath as Blackaby ran in and delivered the first ball from around the wicket. Seeing it wide of off stump, Brown made the decision to leave the ball, however he had not accounted for the vicious swing which Blackaby was getting…
The ball smashed into his off stump and pandemonium reigned amongst the Holmesdale players and supporters, as the Dale skipper was mauled by his teammates. The celebrations continued well into the early hours and rightly so for such a momentous occasion.
An unbelievable game, fitting for what has been an unbelievable season for Holmesdale’s 1st XI. Next year, for the first time in the club’s recent history, both the Holmesdale 1st and 2nd XIs will play in their respective Premier Leagues – a monumental achievement and testament to the hard work of the players and many volunteers behind the scenes.
Next week, the 1st XI travel to the Division 1 champions, Bromley, for their final game of the season in what will be a ‘Promotion Party’ for both sides, and a tasty appetiser to two meaty Premier League fixtures next season.