Criterion Hotel Wairau Valley are Marlborough two-day cricket champions after batting their final opponents, Biddy Kate's Celtic, out of the match at Horton Park on Saturday and Sunday.
It broke something of a title drought for the Valley side, yesterday's triumph being their first senior title in over six years and first two-day crown since the 1998-99 season.
Led by a superb 126 from skipper Tim Abrahams, Valley finished the first day on 313-7 and continued to keep Celtic in the field for a frustrating hour and half on Sunday, reaching the imposing score of 389 before their last wicket fell.
This left Celtic around 80 overs to reach that total and secure the first innings victory necessary to take the title, effectively a run rate of just under five an over.
They started strongly, Raj Singh and Ben Blackman pushing the opening partnership to 45 at a decent clip before Valley struck a decisive double blow. Singh was bowled by the outstanding Sam Boyce, one of his side's special heroes, then veteran Greg Stretch trapped Landon Neal lbw immediately prior to lunch.
Blackman and leading batsman Josh Poole combined for a threatening 58 run partnership immediately after the break before Matt McCormick, who was used sparingly, picked up the key wicket of Poole. Blackman continued to prosper, adding 63 runs with Gareth Weaver, before becoming Boyce's second victim, stumped by Matthew Stretch for Celtic's top score of 89.
Weaver followed one run later for 36 and, at 167 for 5, the writing was on the wall. A cameo of 61 off 55 balls from Mitchell Croft merely delayed the inevitable. It was fitting that Valley skipper Abrahams claimed the final wicket, grabbing a return catch from Nathan Shott to the delight of his team-mates.
The absence of Darcy Hooper-Smith on the second day meant Celtic were only able to use 10 batsmen, five of whom fell to Boyce. He snared five wickets for 79 off 20 overs to go with his valuable 56 runs off 168 balls scored as a makeshift opener the previous day. His contribution was huge, according to an elated skipper Abrahams.
"Sam has been outstanding all year. He got a five-for on a flat track, and it's not like guys just threw their wickets away. He was creating wickets through good pressure bowling."
Abrahams admitted being top qualifier meant Valley didn't have to chase the game, a draw being enough to take the title, but pointed out that advantage was gained from the good cricket that his side had played prior to the final. Their win provided a welcome boost for the Valley club.
"It's been a long time between drinks," said Abrahams. "We've been in several finals in recent years and never came away with the spoils so to come here against a good Celtic team, play well and get the title, the most coveted title in Marlborough cricket, that's the one we wanted.
"The track didn't offer a lot and we positioned ourselves really well with the bat and got key contributions throughout. We didn't lose any early wickets, got an 88 run opening stand which is rare in Marlborough cricket, and then other key partnerships as well. Myself and Sam [Boyce] put on 60 then a really big key was the 108 run partnership between me and Matthew [Stretch] in the middle session when we didn't lose a wicket. Before the game we divided the game up into six sessions and said if we win four out of six we will win the game, and we ended up winning probably five out of six."
Abrahams pinpointed the 76 runs added by the tail on Sunday morning as another key. "If we were bundled out for 310-320 it probably wasn't going to be enough if a couple of their batsmen got in, and that showed."
On Saturday the Valley batsman combined superbly for effective partnerships in the first two sessions, as the Celtic bowlers toiled, at times against a strong nor-wester, for little reward.
Openers Boyce and Blake Parata saw off the new ball, Parata eventually dismissed for 42, shortly before lunch, with the score at 88. This bought Abrahams to the crease where he and Boyce set about further demoralising the Celtic attack.
Abrahams was more aggressive but took few risks, punishing the Celtic spinners in particular when their length strayed too short or too full. The skipper, who had opted to bat first on the Horton Park No 1 wicket, went into the tea break on 98, and brought up his century soon after. Going into the break he said he knew he must be close to the milestone and when he was informed by a team mate of his score it made for a nervous wait for play to resume. Then it was "a push down the ground for one, then a wee late cut to backward point and a quick single", Abrahams recalled. Then he swung his bat once in delight and then raised it to his team mates and a smattering of viewers around the ground.
After the tea break Celtic regained some initiative, fighting back in the final session when the opening bowlers got their hands on the second new ball.
They quickly grabbed five Valley wickets, including Abrahams for 126 off 184 balls, caught behind off the bowling of Blackman. Fellow opening bowler Ben McLennan had previously dismissed Matthew Stretch for 34 to break his 108 run partnership with Abrahams then, in the last hour, Landon Neal and Josh Poole spun through Greg Stretch, 9, McCormick, 9, and Steve Boyce, 10 to keep their teams' chances alive with Valley at 313-7 overnight.
However Reuben Kepes remained at the crease and, alongside Duncan Grigg, Michael Dillon and Rohan Prasad they pushed the Valley total to what proved an insurmountable 389 off 132.2 overs, Kepes the last man out for an invaluable 61 off 96 balls.
The Celtic bowlers fought long and hard, McLennan, Blackman and Poole bowling 31, 35 and 30 overs respectively. Poole took 4-66 and Blackman 3-84 as Celtic used eight bowlers.
Celtic skipper McLennan was philosophical. "[Valley] batted quite well on a docile wicket. They did everything they needed to do.
"We knew we were still in it at the end of the first day, if we could just chip them out quite early today. But Reuben [Kepes] batted well and just got them over the threshold really, probably a little too far for us really. Tim [Abrahams] batted well yesterday. We battled quite hard, but our fielding certainly let us down, we left a couple of chances out there. That was pretty much it.
"Having to come out and go at five, five and a half, an over was always a struggle in a two day game, a lot of run pressure. They took too much time out the game for us, the benefit of being top qualifier. At the end of the day, just too little overs, too many runs.
Well done to our batters Benny [Blackman] showing how well he's developing and Mitch [Croft], a nice little 60."
- The Marlborough Express