Levante CC gave the champions of Spain an almighty scare before finally succumbing to defeat in a game they probably should have won.
With the Alfas first team turning up in dribs and drabs before the 1pm start time, Levante skipper Noon was happy to take to the field and test his bowlers against the fearsome looking Alfas batting lineup. Their bowlers would prove to be up to the task...
Levante got off to the best possible start when opener Geoff Evans was caught behind off a fierce delivery from Rhys Hoy, although the bruise on Geoff's arm perhaps indicates there was no bat involved. Soon later Levante were celebrating their second wicket in the first two overs when Matthews had the dangerous Phil Pennick caught brilliantly by wicketkeeper Barry Eaton.
That brought Ben Fletcher to the crease, so often the Levante nemeses with a couple of half centuries to his name against them. This wasn't to be his day however as Rhys Hoy's (1-19) sublime opening spell had Ben dancing around in his crease and playing and missing on a number of occasions as well as mis timing a beauty of a slower deliver which fell just short of the man at point.
If Levante are going to have success challenging the top teams in division one next season they will have to bowl in pairs and this is exactly what happened on this occasion. When Fletcher survived the hostility of Hoy, he perhaps underestimated the accuracy of Hussain (1-39) at the other end and played all around a straight one.
If Levante were happy to see the back of Fletcher and Pennick at that point, they were delirious soon after. Pilkington and Tivey both began spells with wickets in their first over, Tivey taking to two in two to leave Alfas in desperate trouble at 42-5. The downside for Levante was that Spanish International Gary Crompton was set and found a partner in Jamie Roper that would help him push the score along.
Levante lost there way a little, overthrows, dropped catches, missed run-outs and wides costing the team valuable runs and wickets but it was hard to be too disheartened as they had the opportunity to restrict Alfas to a below par score. Whilst boundaries started to come, the threat from the bowlers never ceased and they looked like taking wickets all day long.
Finally Crompton would fall for a well played 65, skying one high into the Albir atmosphere for Pilkington to claim a superb caught and bowled. Green followed up four of the other bowlers with a wicket in his first over and from 149-6 with 6 overs remaining, Alfas ended their 35 overs 159-9 thanks to a quick 38no from Jamie Roper who later admitted to edging one behind when not on very many.
A fantastic finish from Levante that gave them a chance to cause a huge upset. Pilkington (3-35) was the pick of the bowlers and Rhys Hoy deserves great credit for setting the tone at the top of the innings. All of the other bowlers contributed really well to a great team effort. The fielding was a little under par, something for the team to work on before next season.
If the bowling had given Levante a chance to beat the best team in Spain, the batting had got off to a slightly disappointing start. Both openers Little (0) and Green (4) were out early on and Hunt (20) again lost his wicket after getting off to an impressive start. Noon joined Morgan at the crease with the team on 25-2 off ten overs and a rebuilding job the name of the game.
They settled things down but it was Morgan who looked in good form, keeping the scoreboard ticking along as Noon found the accurate bowling and clever field positions difficult to score runs against. The overs were passing along when Noon was finally put out of his misery as a mix-up with Morgan led to a run-out. In hindsight it was the best thing that could happen as Eaton and Morgan accelerated the score along.
With around 9 overs remaining Levante required over 8 an over but Morgan was now in full flow and smacked a number of fours and sixes on his way to his first half century of the season. Eaton hit one big six but was caught the next ball as he rammed a full toss down the throat of the man at deep square leg. That brought Matthews to the crease and he and Morgan (86no) got the victory target within sight as they needed 20 off the last two overs. It would prove to be a step too far and Levante were left to rue a missed opportunity.
The game was a great spectacle and proved to the Levante players that they have what it takes to go up in to the top division next season and beat the best teams. With a little less sloppiness in the field, a better performance from their top order and without some naivety from the captain they could have beaten the champions of Spain.
In the long run the defeat might be the best thing for them as they look to build a side capable of challenging for the top honours in the next few years. For now though, they will rue an opportunity missed to make a major statement.
Rhys Morgan was a clear man of the match for a brilliant knock, showing the kind of form his club will need from him next season. Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of the game was the contributions from all of the bowlers as they kept it tight and took wickets at will.
It was a great all team bowling performance that will also set LCC on their way.
The game wraps up a tremendous season for Levante. We finish the season as Champions of division two and we look forward to the challenge of division one next season. We would like to thank all of the umpires, opposing teams, Cricket España, our wives and girlfriends and most importantly all of our members and players who have made it such a brilliant year of cricket in Valencia. See you in 2014!
Captain, Levante Cricket Club