In the year that the Optimists Cricket Club enjoyed its 40th anniversary, further celebrations followed on Sunday after a thrilling final-over win to clinch the Belgian League Division 2 title. The Optimists knew that a win would secure the title but to do this they would need to overcome the only team that has beaten them this season – the Afghan Cricket Club of Belgium (ACCB). So the scene was set for a thrilling season-defining match and that is exactly what followed. ACCB elected to bat in moist conditions and a fine opening spell of bowling from William Cope and Atif Kamal soon had the home side on top. Some good catches in the field meant that ACCB were struggling at 69 for 3 from 21 overs. But they are a quality team and contain some dangerous batsmen and they began to settle and accelerate. The key wicket of their big-hitter was wildly celebrated as Richie Neale held on to a sharp catch from debutant Yatin Bahare’s bowling. But ACCB still fought back and manged to reach a good total of 220 all out in the final over. It was a good allround display in the field with some fine boundary fielding from James Barker and Aanand Pandey and the pick of the bowlers being Girish Venkateswaran with 9 overs, 1 wicket for just 24 runs.
Calm nerves were needed as the reply started and thankfully the experience of Richie Neale and James Barker provided just that. At 76 without loss after 17 overs all seemed well at the Pierre Werner Oval in Walferdange but this was not a reflection of things to come. Both openers were dismissed for 40 apiece and although runs kept coming but so did wickets with a couple of run outs created by the excellent fielding standards of ACCB. Batsmen came and went as the pressure of the run chase began to build and build. Vikram Vijh scored a crucial 45 but the noise and nervousness in the large home crowd became increasingly intense. It all boiled down to the last over with 6 runs still needed to secure the title with 2 wickets remaining. A few hearts missed a beat when another wicket fell first ball but then the big frame of Atif Kamal strode to the crease and he stroked his first ball to the fence to ease the tension. Another couple of singles were seized to kick off the celebrations and the champagne then followed.
This tense victory by a single wicket with just 2 balls to spare meant that the Optimists 1st XI finished their 2016 Belgian League season with 9 wins and just 1 defeat and are therefore again crowned Division 2 Champions. It has been a very special year for this Cricket Club and it will live long in the memory of all its players and supporters. Skipper William Heath commented after the match “It was a great win today by the 11 players out there under quite some pressure but the season’s overall success is due to the 30 players who have represented the 1st XI this year which shows the strength and depth of the Optimists Cricket Club these days. It caps a fantastic 40th Anniversary year for us all”.