PORT Talbot’s 2012 Premier League campaign ended in disappointment as they fell to a 75-run defeat at Cardiff in another rain-affected match.
In a 40 overs per side contest, Cardiff rallied after a middle order collapse to reach a competitive score of 155 for eight before the two left-arm spinners, Andrew Thomas and Tom Barry, put the skids under the visitors with four wickets apiece as Port Talbot lost their last nine wickets for just 40 runs on a slow, drying wicket.It meant the Pirates ended the season without an away victory, although there was a personal milestone for Ian Thomas who top scored with 29 and surpassed Dan Cherry’s record for most league runs in a season for the club.
It was also a significant day for Port Talbot wicketkeeper Dean Cox, who captained the side in the absence of Cherry on his 200th league appearance for the club. Cox made his debut in 1998 as a 13-year-old and this match would be his last for the club for the foreseeable future because he is moving to London in the winter.
When the teams arrived at Forest Farm, the square was saturated and it took a big effort to reach a delayed start time of 1.15pm. David Elias called the toss correctly and elected to bat, but the rain returned and the start time was pushed back to 1.45pm. Mark Wallace made his first appearance of the season for Port Talbot, coming in to replace Cherry in an otherwise unchanged line-up.
With the wicket further dampened by the rain, batting was never going to be easy and the home side made a cautious start with only seven runs coming in the first five overs.
Richard Edwards bowled with his usual wholeheartedness, but with the wicket on the slow side, the batsmen were able to play with relative comfort. Harry Bowles dominated most of the early scoring, but Alun Thomas soon began opening his shoulders with three boundaries in quick succession.
Fittingly, Dean Cox claimed another victim behind the stumps on his last appearance when a ball from Ian Thomas got tangled up in the batsman’s pads and Cox took the bails off as Alun Thomas overbalanced. Thomas went for 23 after putting on 44 in 12 overs.
Bowles brought up the 50 with a sweetly struck six that landed on the pavilion roof, dislodging two tiles, but Greg Holmes, promoted to number three, then fell one run later as an attempted straight hit off Lewis Jones spiralled up in the air and Anthony Thomas at slip took the catch over his shoulder running back.
Cardiff’s trump all-rounder Aneurin Norman decided to take the aerial route early on with two fine sixes, one over mid wicket and the other high into the trees at long on. The home side were beginning to up the run rate, but Bowles then went for 28, bowled behind his legs by Stuart Phelps’s fourth ball to leave Cardiff 76 for three in the 21st over.
Ian Bridgeman got off the mark with six over mid wicket, but another attempted big hit by Norman only succeeded in picking out Ryan Evans a few yards in from the deep mid wicket boundary. Port Talbot were more than happy to see the back of him for just 23 with the score 90 for fourin the 24th over.
Lewis Jones took a second wicket in as many balls when Bridgeman was leg before for eight with the batsmen having crossed while the ball was in the air. James Davenport survived the hat-trick ball in Jones’s next over as he and Mark O’Leary tried to regroup.
O’Leary continued the aerial bombardment with two beautifully timed sixes in an over as Phelps came in for some uncharacteristic punishment.
Cardiff’s hopes of a total in excess of 150 took another blow, however, when he mistimed a drive off Phelps to Alex Jones at backward point. Port Talbot’s talisman struck again eight runs later later when Davenport holed out to Ian Thomas at long on to leave Cardiff 126 for seven in the 33rd over.
When Elias found Griffiths at extra cover with a mishit drive to give Phelps his fourth wicket, Cardiff were sinking fast at 128 for eight with six overs to go.
It was the two men who would later do the damage with the ball who combined to give their side a late rally and take them past 150. Andrew Thomas and Tom Barry played with common sense and application, being prepared to accumulate the runs without fuss rather than throw the bat. Some 27 was added for the ninth wicket from 35 balls, and Cardiff finished on a competitive 155 for eight with Thomas and Barry unbeaten on 14 and 10 respectively.
Stuart Phelps’s four for 42 was his second consecutive four-wicket haul, and took his season’s tally to 25. He now needs just five more wickets next season to reach 400 in league matches for the club.
Lewis Jones was again impressive in a dynamic middle order burst to finish with figures of three for from 10 overs. The target of 156 was less than four runs an over, but with the wicket behaving more and more unpredictably, it was still going to be a tough task.
At the start of the Port Talbot reply, the main discussion point was whether Ian Thomas could get the 21 runs he needed to surpass Dan Cherry’s haul of 704 for the most league runs for the club in a season.
His luck looked to be in when, having scored five, mid off put down a relatively simple chance after Thomas had skied a drive off Norman.
His prolific opening partner, Sean Griffiths, was tied down by a probing spell by Norman. Several deliveries went past the bat before one jagged back through his defence to hit the top of off stump, and Griffiths was on his way for two.
A final season’s tally of 429 runs, though, was still a fine achievement for a young man of just 17 years of age.
James Lewis and Norman continued to bowl consistently, with Wallace now joining Thomas who put Lewis away for two fours in an over, one backward of square on the off side and a neat flick through mid wicket.
He received another stroke of fortune when he was dropped at backward point on 18, but in the next over from Norman he ran a delivery down to the third man boundary for four to take him past the record.
Norman continued to probe, bowling mainly off cutters to the two left handers on a consistent line and length on or outside off stump. Wallace cracked a short delivery through point for four, but with the score on 40 Norman found the outside edge and Alun Thomas took the catch low down standing in a wide slip position.
Elias, with one key wicket out of the way, then turned to spin from both ends. Mindful of the increasing vagaries in the wicket, Ian Thomas advanced to try to hit Andrew Thomas over the infield, but picked out Bowles at mid wicket to go for 29, leaving the game in the balance with the score at 48 for three.
Anthony Thomas also tried to take the aggressive approach, only to drill a stinging drive off Andrew Thomas to Lewis, who took a superb catch at mid off. With Thomas out for seven, Port Talbot were in choppy waters at 51 for four in the 18th over. Cardiff were now on a roll, and batting was becoming progressively more difficult. Alex Jones edged Barry to Bridgeman at slip, and the same bowler then accounted for Evans, caught at leg slip by Alun Thomas to reduce the Pirates to 59 for six.
Evans’s dismissal brought Dean Cox to the wicket for the last time in his Port Talbot career. The visiting supporters all hoped for a fairytale ending, but after scoring a single he mistimed a drive to give Barry a return catch to an end a long and illustrious career that had seen over 3,000 runs and a club record 169 dismissals.
There was applause as Cox walked off and everybody at the club sends their warmest wishes for his future career.
Barry found himself on a hat-trick when Phelps was smartly taken at slip by Bridgeman first ball, and at 63 for eight Port Talbot were in danger of eclipsing their dismal 64 all out at Ammanford only a few weeks ago.
Lewis Jones survived the hat-trick ball but next over Mark Cox went back to pull a short delivery from Andrew Thomas that stuck in the wicket and spooned off the toe end of the bat to Alun Thomas at mid on. Port Talbot were on the brink at 65 for nine in the 26th over.
Seven wickets had now fallen for 25 in just 12 overs, but Lewis Jones – as he had done in the defeat at Amman ford – played an attractive little cameo to stave off defeat for a while. Jones pulled a short ball from Thomas one bounce for four over deep backward square, and then drove Barry through extra cover for a most attractive boundary.
Having recorded his first team score, Jones chipped Barry to Holmes at extra cover to fall for 17, and Port Talbot had been bundled out for 80, their second score of less than 100 this season, giving Cardiff victory by the convincing margin of 75 runs with more than 11 overs to spare.
Only two batsmen reached double figures while for Cardiff, messrs Barry and Thomas had used the conditions superbly to each record four-wicket hauls, with Norman’s two crucial early wickets laying the foundation.
The win for Cardiff saw them finish in fourth position, while Port Talbot had to settle for sixth. It had been a mixed campaign for the Pirates, who had looked well within striking distance of the title at the halfway mark before the weather and a dramatic loss of form scuppered their chances.
Six defeats and no wins on the road in eight matches was a telling statistic, but there had still been a number of highlights with a marvellous victory over Sully and a first home win for many years over Ynysygerwn.
With Premier League cricket secured for another season, Port Talbot will now look to try to re-establish themselves as genuine title contenders in 2013.