HARROW St Mary’s U15s stand just two games away from being crowned national champions.
They continued their pursuit of glory with thumping victories over Mildenhall and Finchampstead at Horsham that saw them crowned London and East champions for the first time this week.
The Saints had fallen at this stage twice previously in 2006 and 2008, but went the distance this time.
Mildenhall had arrived overnight with the confidence that their almost exclusively Suffolk county age group side had been unbeaten all season, but they had obviously not encountered a side as fired up as HSM as the Saints, put into bat, tore into them.
All the batsmen chipped in, but Ian Harris, 47 from 41 balls, and Kushal Patel, 38 from 28 balls, gave the innings the impetus that was required as Saints finished on 168-6 from their 20 overs. Mildenhall's reply never really started as they stuttered along to 65-4 off 15 overs, before a late surge, with the game all but over, saw them reach 127-4 from their allotted overs, some 41 runs short. Patel, 2-13, and Vaibhav Dubey, 1-13, were the wicket takers, together with a run out.
Finchampstead from Berkshire were again almost exclusively the royal counties U15 CAG team and had dispatched Knebworth Park with ease in the other semi-final.
However, the Finches were left shell-shocked as Saints romped to a ten wicket win to secure a place at the national finals. Finchampstead batted first and went off at an electric pace but were pegged back by spin and the medium pacers as the innings wore on. Finchampstead finished on 121-8 from their overs, with Dubey, 2-16, Angus Prevost, 2-30, Patel, 1-15, and Shaneil Lakhani, 1-5, taking the wickets, whilst Nikhil Rawal was lightening behind the stumps with three dismissals to go with two from the semi-final.
With a modest target to chase, HSM did not hang around with Harris, eventually 51 from 36 balls, initially playing the anchor role, whilst Rawal blasted away at the other scoring 51 from 34 balls, including three sixes. Finchampstead's spinners who had caused havoc against Knebworth Park were treated with disdain as HSM won at a canter.
HSM are very much the underdogs as they face favourites Ombersley from Worcestershire in the national semi-final.
The village side, based just south of Kidderminster, have eight players who represent the Pears, while Nick Hammond was named the best U15 batsman in the country at the prestigious Bunbury festival.
Joint manager Sadhna Patel said: “This team have had their ups and downs this season – when you’re at the top of your game people always try and knock you down.
“But they are a resilient bunch, having known most of them since the age of 10.
“They have developed into a fantastic team of varied talent and characters.
“I am thrilled, at last, they have the opportunity to show how good they are in being crowned one of the best four U15 teams in the country.
“Whatever happens at Shrewsbury, Jay Patel (joint manager) and myself will always be very proud of our boys.”
HSM will be boosted by the return to the team of Andrew Thomas for the semi, with the youngster having missed the last three games due to other commitments. His return will bring a dash to the batting and an electric fielder to the team.
But the ultimate commitment has been shown by Shaneil Lakhani, who has cancelled a holiday in the Caribbean for the Welsh borders to ensure his availability for the big day.
The other semi-final sees Stockton from the north-east take on either High Wycombe, who were national champions as an U13 side two years ago, or Shrewsbury, who would have home town advantage should they qualify.
Ian Harris, Nikhil Rawal, Kushal Patel, Viabhav Dubey, Charanvir Gill, Amar Dave, Angus Prevost, Rohan Radia, Max John, Andrew Thomas, Shaneil Lakhani and Daniel Murphy make up the Saints squad.
Meanwhile, HSM seniors kept up the feel-good factor with the firsts, seconds and thirds all picking up wins.
Sam Blennerhassett smashed 69 runs to help the firsts beat Southgate by 64 runs on Saturday, with Haran Dharmaraja and Bhavesh Patel taking three wickets each.