Leeds Bradford UCCE 307 (66 overs), Durham UCCE 236-7 (68 overs)Match Drawn - Leeds Bradford 11 points, Durham 11 pointsMany is the time when a winning captain goes to great lengths to stress the vital role the groundsman has played in his team's success, and never was this more pertinent than in the work the Weetwood groundsman Anthony Asquith performed to ensure that the fixture between Leeds Bradford and Durham went ahead last weekend.
Despite torrential rain on the Saturday and near-gale force winds on the Sunday, Asquith's huge efforts ensured that sufficient play was able to take place for the home team to gain the necessary draw and bonus points to jump from fourth to second place in the MCC Universities and secure a place in the Challenge Final at Lord's for their first time.
The Leeds Bradford boys went on a pre-season tour to Sri Lanka in order to get ready for the season, but given the extraordinary weather conditions in Leeds, they may have been better served going to the Outer Hebrides or Falkland Islands. After a delayed start on the Saturday, only 45 minutes of play were possible until rain wiped out play for the rest of the day. In this period the home team, having been put in to bat, had reached 47 for 0 from 10.3 overs.
The rain continued until way after midnight, but Asquith was at the ground at 3.30 am Sunday morning - not to dance naked at sunrise for the summer solstice - but to ensure the ground was ready for a prompt start at 11.00 am. Having heard that no play had been possible at either Loughborough or Cardiff on the Saturday, the Leeds Bradford outfit knew that they had a small start on their rivals in trying to overcome the four-point deficit they had in the table over triple joint leaders Cambridge, Loughborough and Oxford.
Then, shortly after play resumed on the Sunday, word came through that the Cardiff v Cambridge game had been abandoned without a ball being bowled, both teams receiving 5 points, meaning the Yorkshire-based students had to gain at least 10 points from their game to overhaul Cambridge and hope that there was a positive result either way between Loughborough & Oxford.Mark Robertshaw and Chris Dougherty resumed their opening partnership, taking the score to 79 before Dougherty got an inside edge onto a ball from Michael Kearns which ricocheted into his stumps. Robertshaw continued his impressive form for the season, taking his tally in the 2-day game to 259 from 5 innings before he was trapped leg before by Chris Paget for 45.
Duncan Snell (13) and James Moorhouse (28) had given good support and lunch was taken with the total on 174 for 4 from 48 overs. Word came through from Loughborough that Oxford were struggling on 77 for 6 which further extended Leeds Bradford's resolve. They knew that bonus points were only available up to the end of the 65th over, and with every point being vital set about after the break to get up to at least 250.
James Hawley extended his excellent run of form to hit 78 from only 81 balls (7 fours, 1 six) and with captain Rob Sutton (36) added 91 for the fifth wicket, before the former hit a return catch to the aptly named (given the weather) Dan Gale, the first of four wickets for Gale. Sutton & Chris Prowting made sure the 3rd batting point was in the bag but an improbable fifty more were required from five overs for the the fourth point.
Prowting and Sutton both sacrificed themselves trying to hit the required ten per over, Tom Pringle gave a brilliant cameo performance with 18 from 10 balls and with two balls remaining of the 65th over, eight more runs were required for to take the total to 300. Richard Browning hit a mammoth maximum off Ed Bruce but with two required from the final ball of the over, Browning was run out coming back for the second to deny Leeds Bradford a potentially crucial point. Dan Woods got into the six-hit act, using the wind to power one over the white line, and when he was last out the total had reached 307, with 133 having come from 18 overs after lunch.
The news from Loughborough at this point was that Oxford had been dismissed for 166 and Loughborough were 27 without loss. Harry Gurney and Richard Browning bowled an impressive opening spell, Browning trapping both Johnston & Bruce leg before to reduce Durham to 24 for 2. Browning's opening spell, into the wind, brought him 2 for 18 from 9 overs.Durham skipper Nick Prowting and 'keeper Paul Dixey then combined in a stand of 78 before Dixey fell to a catch by Pringle off Hawley and the first bowling point was secured.
With Loughborough well on their way to a comprehensive win over Oxford, things were looking good. Hawley claimed two further wickets in quick succession to bag another bonus point and reduce Durham to 135 for 5, but Prowting continued batting superbly, mixing caution with aggression and surviving the chatter from his brother behind the stumps. He added 81 with Chris Paget (36) before being bowled by Pringle for a superb innings of 123 from 204 balls (12 fours, 2 sixes), narrowly missing out on the highest score of the season award.
Durham were now 222 for 7 with time running out, confirmation came through that Loughborough had defeated Oxford, and celebrations commenced once umpires Millns and McKenzie called stumps at 7.50pm. Special mention here should be given to Millns and McKenzie who officiated wonderfully in such appalling conditions.End result - 11 points each, but crucially Leeds Bradford had overhauled both Cambridge & Oxford in the table to book a place at Lord's where they will meet Loughborough in the Challenge Final.
A jubilant Rob Sutton commented after the game, "We're just so delighted for our head coach, Richard Horner, that his final game in charge of us will be at Lord's. He retires at the end of the season and we were determined that his time with us wouldn't end in the wind and drizzle at Weetwood. All the boys pulled together for him - particularly Anthony Asquith, our groundsman - and with a bit of luck from results elsewhere we achieved our objective.'