Barnard Castle CC's date with destiny in national T20 cup final
BARNARD Castle will play in the National Club Twenty20 Final on Sunday. It seems fanciful to say those words even now and had they been uttered 20, even ten, years ago their author might have been carted off by men wearing white coats who were not necessarily umpires.
But appearing in the final at Wantage Road, headquarters of Northants County Cricket Club, Barney most definitely are. Already crowned northern T20 champions after a series of gripping matches over the course of the summer, they will play Tunbridge Wells of the Kent League, to decide the national title.
This match, the biggest in the club’s history, is the culmination of a vision that began around 15 years ago. Then, a few members of the club who were alarmed at gradual but inexorable decline, took it by its scruff.
The first and most crucial element was a revolution in junior coaching. Its immediate consequence was that lads who might not have played cricket were given the opportunity to bat, bowl and field. The long-term result is that of the squad of 14 who have been named for the T20 Final, nine are products of the system put in place then. Two others are the club professionals.
Barney have been one of two clubs to dominate the North Yorkshire & South Durham League in the past few seasons. The other are Richmond and the pair have again been pre-eminent this summer.
The league title went deservedly to Richmond, who narrowly repelled Barney’s challenge in the penultimate match. But Barney won the league’s Macmillan Cup and the 100 competition and were losing finalists in the Kerridge Cup, as well as reaching the regional final of the National Club 50-over cup after a pulsating victory over Richmond.
This is a rivalry that dates back at least 150 years, from soon after both clubs were first established. It has probably never been more intense, and make no mistake Barney and Richmond now stand as two of the best clubs in England.
It has needed a bit of luck as well as skill for Barney to defeat all-comers from the North to reach this stage. But their most enviable quality on this unlikely journey for a club from a small market town (in southern terms Barney would still be a village) has been never to know when they are beaten. All manner of desperate positions have been transformed into victories.
James Quinn, Barney’s captain for the past four summers and one of the most outstanding graduates from its junior ranks, said: “I can’t pay a high enough tribute to the way in which the lads have played this summer. We have won games when we looked completely out of them, not least on the way to this final.
“The National Club Twenty20 Final is the biggest match most of us have ever played in. Win or lose from here, I know that we will give our supporters something to cheer. The players truly appreciate the backing we get at every match we play.”
The return of the prolific Indian professional, Samarth Seth, has given Barney a huge lift. He returned home after the final league match last week as scheduled but he has been given permission by Delhi, his state first-class team, to fly back for the final.
“It’s huge boost for us,” said Quinn. “Anything can happen in cricket, of course, but our team is obviously better with Samarth in it than out of it.”
Seth’s form in the T20 competition has been irresistible. He has scored half centuries in five of the eight victories en route to the final, including the last four, and has been top scorer in seven of the matches.
To become as successful as Barney it is necessary to have the raw ingredients, the talent within the club. Barney has that in spades. But in the higher echelons of club cricket that needs to be buttressed by the careful recruitment of professionals who not only bring skills that will enhance and complement those players, but fit into the dressing room.
Barney’s two professionals this season, Seth and Karl Carver, are outstanding. Seth, a 21-year-old left-hander from Delhi, is simply among the best three or four batsmen to have played for Barney, and it is sometimes difficult to think of who the other three or four might be. Carver, a former Yorkshire left-arm spinner, performs all three of cricket’s disciplines to a high level and has quickly become an integral part of a tight-knit dressing room. Both players have been re-signed for 2022.
Sunday’s opponents are part of southern cricket royalty. While Tunbridge Wells have not had quite the success of Barney these past few years, they have been in close contention for the Kent League title this season and have become T20 specialists.
Their qualification for this year’s national T20 competition was a result of their winning the Kent tournament in 2020. The ground where they play is as famous as the club itself. The Nevill Ground, famed for the rhododendron bushes lining its perimeter, has been the scene of some county cricket’s greatest moments. Kent’s week-long festival dates back to 1901 and Kapil Dev, the great India all-rounder scored 175no there in a World Cup match against Zimbabwe in 1975.
The Barney club was founded in 1832. Whatever happens on Sunday, it will go down as the greatest day in the 189 years since.