Cricket: Grand Final will live long in memory

Aberdeenshire's winning side celebrate after what was a highly-entertaining final clash with Ayr at the Grange. Picture: Greg Macvean
Aberdeenshire's winning side celebrate after what was a highly-entertaining final clash with Ayr at the Grange. Picture: Greg Macvean
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aberdeenshire may have emerged victorious after Saturday’s Grand Final with Ayr at the Grange, but the real winner was the game of cricket.

The Eastern Premier champions readily acknowledged that the winning of the toss played a major part in the outcome but that only served to emphasise the part Ayr played in making this an occasion to remember.

At 8-3 and 37-6, the Alloway side were in danger of being humiliated – only to demonstrate the combination of skill and determination that saw them crowned Western Union winners a week earlier.

Cheered on by a vociferous support, many of whom were veterans of the last great side to emerge from Cambusdoon a couple of decades ago, Ayr eventually took the game to within a ball of the penultimate over before succumbing to a five-wicket defeat. Both sides, though, could revel in their achievements and contemplate a bright future given that the majority of players in both teams are not yet the finished article.

While Aberdeenshire owed much to their professional, Harsha Cooray, who top-scored with 54 not out, several of their team were teenagers, including Rory Martin – whose four wickets had Ayr on the back foot – and debutant Aaron Grayson.

Opening batsman Chris Venske turned his arm over in his team’s hour of need and responded with three crucial wickets before reverting to his favoured activity and getting his side’s innings off to a solid start with 30. The Mannofield side also had a captaincy rookie at the helm, stand-in skipper Kenny Reid marshalling his depleted troops well in the absence of regular leader Tyler Buchan.

Reid said: “It was a fantastic effort by our team and it caps a great season. We had a number of key players missing in addition to Tyler so winning a game of this magnitude shows we have plenty strength in depth.

“Young Aaron [Grayson] summed it up by coming in at the last minute and taking his debut in his stride. It was a great toss to win and we took advantage of it and had them in a lot of trouble but you have to credit Ayr for the way they came back at us and pushed us all the way.”

At the centre of the fightback was Ayr’s most experienced player, Dougie Johnstone, who held the innings together with a battling 72, but remove the sprightly 45-year-old from the equation and the average age of the side was in the low twenties.

Looking on were club legends like Bruce Patterson and the Simpson brothers, Albert and David, who could only admire the batting promise of the likes of Neil Logan and Neil Smith while Mark Renny, a successful captain of yesteryear, would surely recognise the leadership qualities and tactical nous of Andi McElnea.

Out in the middle, umpire Andy Baird, man-of-the-match when Ayr won the Scottish Cup in 1999, had a bird’s eye view of the seam bowling prowess of Scott McElnea who kept his team in contention with three wickets. Skipper Andi McElnea said: “A couple of things went against us that proved crucial in the end and the toss was definitely one of them because conditions were really tough at the start and the wicket was damp.

“But overall I’m proud of everything this young team has done all season.

“What we have to do is make sure we build on it and continue to improve as individuals and as a team.

“There is a real determination to make sure that happens.”