By Charles Randall
9 September 2014
Reigate Priory, league champions from Surrey, added The Conference Cup to their successes with a 96-run mauling of Bromley in the postponed final at Ealing CC on Sunday.
Neil Saker, the former Surrey seam-bowler, destroyed Bromley's chances with six wickets to take the man of the match award on a lovely sunny day, as befitting a competition sponsored by Barbados & Smile Group Travel. The Ealing ground looked a picture with its balconied pavilion, manicured outfield and line of plane trees standing majestically above the Woodville Gardens fence.
Reigate's victory was a peak performance by an exceptional team, led by Luke Beaven, the Unicorns all-rounder. He had recently made his Surrey debut against New Zealand A, and another Reigate man, Jason Roy, played his first match for England in the T20 against India the same day as the final, but it was Priory's all-round strength that impressed.
It was easy to believe that Reigate had wrapped up the Surrey Championship with weeks to spare, adding a rare demolition of runners-up Wimbledon the day before the final. Bromley's Saturday was spent scraping out of the Kent Cricket League relegation zone, and the season-long struggles of their top order continued into the final, where tail-ender Pip France and Nathan Hill finished as joint top-scorers.
Reigate's 45-over total of 227-7 looked formidable enough on a pitch offering moderate bounce, but when Saker bowled Miguel Barbosa, playing on, and Steve Bailes for ducks in the very first over, Bromley's future looked speculative at best. Though James Butterfill took 17 off Saker's next two overs, wickets fell with alarming rapidity. Calum Basey was bowled attempting a strange slow-motion pull at Will Hodson, a nephew of Tony Greig, and Saker then went straight through the middle order. Apart from Butterfill lbw, all Saker's victims were bowled, almost as though he was tilting at unguarded stumps. There was no extravagant swing or devil in the pitch – just persistence and nibbling movement. Bromley subsided to 42-7, and only some vivid strokes by the admirable France and Hill spared their side total humiliation before Beaven's left-arm spin ended the fun.
Until Saker's amazing intervention the tussle had been intriguing. League form made Bromley rank outsiders, but they reduced their eminent opponents to 125-5. Reigate had started well enough, with opener Simon King, another player on Surrey's books, sprinting to 29 off 21 balls, but France, 17, a promising Kent left-arm spinner, took two wickets in consecutive deliveries – both skiers. That was the cue for Priory to show their worth as Beaven, with an undefeated 57 off 41 balls, inspired a fightback. Left-arm seamer Rob McNeill was hoisted for two leg-side sixes as the momentum roared out of Bromley's control.
The interval coincided with the appearance of Roy for England on television, enabling the Reigate players to watch their colleague – only one Surrey Championship match from him this year – during his few overs at the crease at Edgbaston. Then Beaven took his men into the field to concentrate on their own business. Bromley's stand-out players on the day were France, Hill, Richard Clinton and their captain Butterfill, but unfortunately that was about all.
Saker took his six wickets in six overs, leaving himself room for even more success, but tail-end carting bruised his final analysis that read 9-0-44-6. On this form Reigate Priory will take some stopping in 2015.
The scorecard for the final, and all other matches in The Conference Cup during 2014, can be found here.