A remarkable innings by Cardiff opening batsman Dave Kirtley saved his side from an ignominious defeat in a match curtailed by rain against Port Talbot at The New Mansel. The defending Premier League champions were on the ropes at 82/9 in the 35th over in pursuit of a challenging 262 before Kirtley found an unlikely partner in number 11 Amais Choudhury. With the skies becoming increasingly darker and rain beginning to fall, the pair added an astonishing unbroken stand of 55 in 44 balls with Kirtley chancing his arm and racing from 49 not out at the fall of the ninth wicket to be left stranded on 98 when the rain became too heavy and forced the players from the field.
The match was eventually abandoned with Cardiff 137/9 after 42.1 overs, still well in arrears with regards to the Duckworth Lewis method but they did at least have the satisfaction of staving off a defeat which had looked a formality following two devastating performances by spin twins Stuart Phelps and Jake Watts. The pair took 8/40 between them to take their side to within touching distance of an emphatic win that had been set up earlier in the day by another strong batting performance, Anthony and Ian Thomas again leading the way with swashbuckling half centuries.
Weather again had been an issue prior to the match with torrential rain throughout Thursday and Friday. Fortunately the rains had eased somewhat by the Saturday morning and aside from an odd shower, conditions were acceptable to allow for a 12:30 start. Jake Watts came in for Glamorgan’s Alex Jones in the only change from the Pirates last match at Ynysygerwn two weeks ago. David Elias won the toss for Cardiff and put the hosts in to bat. Although the rain had abated for a time, further showers were forecast after tea.
Before the match there was a minute’s silence in memory of Surrey and former Glamorgan batsman Tom Maynard who had been tragically killed earlier in the week at the age of 23. Maynard’s father, the former Glamorgan and England batsman Matthew, had played for Cardiff in their victorious Premier League campaign of 2011 and had scored a match winning century when these two sides last met.
Port Talbot made a brisk start as the Cardiff bowlers struggled to find consistency in the early stages. Ian Thomas dominated an opening stand of 62 with Sean Griffiths, the fourth time this season that the pair had put on at least 50 for the first wicket. Conditions were hampering the visitors somewhat with a stiff breeze and Thomas cashed in with some belligerent hitting over the infield and towards the short boundary on the pavilion side of the ground.
Young Greg Holmes responded well after an expensive first over maintaining a consistent line and length but at 62/0, Port Talbot were looking in an ominous position. Their cause wasn’t helped when the in form Thomas was dropped at mid wicket on 27, the fielder having the ball in his grasp but in attempting to throw it up in celebration dropped it to the ground. The breakthrough came in unfortunate circumstances in the 13th over when Thomas called for a quick single to mid wicket and Griffiths was left stranded as Tom Barry picked the ball up and ran in to take the bails off with the batsman yards short of his ground. A hugely disappointed Griffiths went for 16 from 33 balls, a vital scalp for the visitors.
Mark Cox was promoted to number three from his usual middle order spot and began in confident style. Spin was introduced at both ends but Port Talbot were able to maintain a healthy run rate with Ian Thomas going to his fifth fifty of the season, pulling Andrew Thomas over deep mid wicket for six to bring up the milestone. The six was also Thomas’s 50th in league cricket for Port Talbot in his 62nd match and his half century had been posted from just 54 balls.
It also continued Thomas’s remarkable sequence of scoring at least a half century in every home match this season but after adding another 7 runs, his stay was ended by an excellent catch by Harry Bowles. Thomas pulled Andrew Thomas towards the same leg side boundary but had the misfortune to pick out Bowles, the tallest fielder in the Cardiff side, who took the catch at full stretch above his head and stopped himself from falling back over the rope. Thomas went for an excellent 57 and the match was now back in the balance at 105/2 in the 23rd over.
Another in form man Anthony Thomas then joined Cox at the wicket. Cox was moving his feet well and looked in good touch but on 27 he went to an excellent caught and bowled by Andrew Thomas who held on to a fierce pull shot hit straight back at him in his follow through, Port Talbot now 137/3.
Anthony Thomas had already stamped his authority on the innings with three sixes coming in his first 24 runs, including two in succession off Barry. He found an able ally in Ryan Evans who pushed and harried the fielders in his usual style. Cardiff struggled to keep the runs in check as Evans picked the gaps intelligently in the field while Thomas blazed away in his customary fashion as the pair shared a crucial stand of 79 from only 60 balls. Cardiff’s cause again wasn’t helped when Thomas was dropped at mid wicket from a relatively simple chance when he was on 30, a potentially match changing moment.
Thomas was timing the ball superbly and with the field now set well back protecting the boundaries, he and Evans could keep the scoreboard moving at the best part of eight an over. Thomas went to his third fifty in the last four matches from only 51 balls with a two off Barry. After the two left arm spinners had failed to stem the tide, Holmes was brought back to try and break the stand but Thomas carted him for two more sixes in three balls and 200 came up in the 40th over
With ten overs to go, the Pirates were ideally placed at 216/3 but then lost both set batsmen in quick succession. Evans fell to a fine diving catch by Bowles at deep mid wicket off Dale Boorman for 30 from only 29 balls and then Thomas’s spectacular innings ended at 71 in the following over when Andrew Thomas trapped him lbw playing across the line to a quicker delivery. Once again it had been a superb exhibition of powerful batting by Thomas who had scored at better than a run a ball and struck six sixes whilst still showing good judgement and playing authentic cricket shots.
Dean Morris and Stuart Phelps added 13 before the latter was taken by Nick Howells at deep mid on off the returning Choudrhay for 6. An entertaining stand of 27 between Morris and Dean Cox took the score past 250 but there was time for Holmes to pick up two deserved wickets in the final over to finish with figures of 2/43 from his 9 overs. Andrew Thomas toiled away for 3/64 from his 12 overs while Port Talbot eventually finished on 261/8, an imposing score but an interesting sub plot was now developing. With rain forecast at some point after tea, Cardiff had one eye on the Duckworth Lewis par score which they needed to stay above provided 20 overs had been bowled.
The champions reply started positively with little indication of what was to come. Port Talbot opened with Stuart Phelps from the Westlands End who was immediately right on the mark and troubled the in form Bowles. At the other end, David Kirtley took a liking to Richard Edwards and struck him for two fours and a huge straight six in the 7th over.
At 27/0, the match was nicely balanced but the visitors were then blown out of the water in an extraordinary 20 minutes spell. Bowles was trapped lbw by Phelps for 4 and then Watts was brought on at the Motorway End. As in his debut match against Ammanford three weeks ago, Watts made an immediate impact again striking with his second ball as Ian Bridgeman was bowled behind his pads sweeping. The wheels then fell off for the visitors as in the blink of an eye they lost Holmes, bowled by Phelps via an inside edge for 4, Alun Thomas bowled by Watts playing across the line for 0 and Howells lbw to Watts for 2. Astonishingly Cardiff had slumped to 39/5 in the 13th over with Watts having the remarkable figures of 3/4 from his first 4 overs.
Cardiff were by now well behind the rate required were the match to be affected by rain but Port Talbot still needed to make sure that 20 overs were completed. The home side rushed through their overs with Phelps and Watts keeping a lid on the score. The one positive Cardiff still had was that Kirtley had remained unbowed throughout the carnage and was striking the ball sweetly. He and Elias battled to add 14 for the sixth wicket before the Cardiff captain momentarily raised his back foot playing forward to Watts and Dean Cox completed a neat stumping.
Boorman then chipped Phelps to Mark Cox at mid wicket for a simple catch to leave Cardiff 58/7 in the 22nd over. Tom Barry, who had bowled well without reward, gave much needed support to Kirtley as the pair looked to try and salvage some pride. Barry lasted 31 balls for his 8 and 7 overs had been used up before Watts, in his final over, picked up his fifth wicket as the ball ricocheted onto Barry’s stumps via a combination of bat and pad. Watts’s final analysis of 5/26 were the best by a Port Talbot bowler since the Premier League had started, an extraordinary achievement in just his second first team match and only two years since he’d even started bowling at all! The man whose record he had taken, Phelps was once again a model of consistency with the figures of 3/14 from his 12 overs testimony to an outstanding performer who has served Port Talbot so superbly well for many years.
Andrew Thomas fought hard in a stand of 10 for the ninth wicket but when he fell lbw to Edwards, returning from the Motorway End, the game looked up for the visitors at 82/9 in the 35th over. All that surely remained now was to see whether last man Chouhdary could survive the over to allow Kirtley the chance to complete his half century which he duly did. Rain had started to fall from around the 30 over mark and was steadily getting heavier. However Port Talbot did not appear too concerned as it seemed only a matter of time before they prized out the last wicket.
Kirtley though had far different ideas and decided to open his shoulders. After reaching his 50 from 86 balls, he struck four fours and then three successive sixes off Ian Thomas, all of them clearing the straight boundary by some considerable distance. Chouhdary was kept away from much of the strike but was able to defend his wicket admirably when required. The overs ticked by and the rain became heavier but Kirtley was now in sight of an extraordinary century. Port Talbot were becoming extremely frustrated and anxious as the 50 partnership came up from just 40 deliveries, of which Chouhdary’s share was two!
At the start of the 43rd over, Kirtley was 97 not out. However by now the rain was lashing down and after taking a single from the first ball, the umpires headed for the pavilion with Cardiff on 137/9. It soon became clear that play wasn’t going to be able to restart and after a 30 minute wait, both captains and the umpires agreed to abandon the match with Port Talbot having to settle for a winning draw and 21 points. Cardiff would needed to have been 249/9 at this stage to have won on the new Duckworth Lewis system but instead had to settle for just 6 points having been so far behind the asking rate. The fact that they even managed to save the match was almost entirely thanks to the heroics of Kirtley who played a magnificent lone hand to end on 98 not out from 111 balls with eight fours and five sixes. No one else reached double figures apart from extras and his share of the score was an astonishing 71.5%.
Despite not securing an outright victory, Port Talbot did have the consolation of returning to the top of the Premier League as Sully’s match at Bridgend was completely washed out. With the league now at the half way point, Port Talbot travel to Pontarddulais next Saturday in what is always a hard fought affair before returning home for two more matches against Usk and Mumbles.