First of all you have to ignore the name. With all club cricket using the T20 format in 2020 there was a need for extra competitions. Rather than inventing a new name the powers that be simply used one from the existing cup competitions – the Middle Cup. The closest comparison with previous years is with the third tier of T20 competitions i.e. the YMCA Salver.
The journey to finals day was achieved by winning their five team section [one of four], but it was not without its twists and turns. Indeed three of the six preliminary games were won by less than 10 runs.
The season started with a three wicket win over North Kildare 2nd XI in The Maws. The home side achieved a very defendable score of 145/7 in their 20 overs. Indeed were it not for an economic spell of bowling at a crucial stage by Timcy Khanduja [2/16] Merrion might have been facing an even more difficult target. The Merrion reply started badly with half the team out for 73. That they managed to scrap home with seven balls to spare was entirely down to captain Sainath Reddy who brought the team home with an unbeaten 72.
Home advantage did not help much in the second game when the 3rds were well beaten by Mullingar. Batting first the team made 144/4 thanks again to an unbeaten half-century from Reddy [57*], but an accomplished 75* from ex YMCA 1st team player Sam Murphy provided the visitors with a seven wicket win with time to spare.
With their season on the line the 3rds had to win their next home game against a strong Laois 1st XI. Batting first and all out for 97 [with only Hugo Neville  making it beyond 20] things did not look very promising. It might have been even worse without the benefit of a 24 run last wicket partnership between Sean Hussey  and Zander DeBeer [12*].
But the 3rds managed to turn things round in the second innings and an excellent all-round bowling performance ended up squeezing the life out of the Laois batting. Bowling their full stints all of the top four bowlers went for less than 20 – Oisin Bhoja [1/19], Raghav Khurana [2/17], Nitin Sharma[1/18] and Timcy Khanduja [1/10]. There was also an important two over spell from Sean Hussey [1/7]. Despite some late runs from Fintan Moore [30*], Laois fell behind the rate and only managed 90/7 in their 20 overs.
Mullingar had been comfortable winners in the first encounter of the season. With the match again being played at Anglesea Road, the 3rds started badly with three of the first four batters failing to trouble the scorer. At 45/6 the team was in deep trouble and the season looked like it might come to an early end. But Reddy had kept himself back and came in at number 8. He found a willing partner in Oisin Bhoja  and together they put on 62 for the 7th wicket. Reddy himself made 40. The end result a modest but at least defendable total of 133/7. And the momentum had shifted.
This time around the Mullingar batting lost early wickets and were unable to get going in the crucial middle overs against a battery of slow bowlers. It was another excellent team performance – Khurana [2/12], Bester [1/9], Bhoja [2/11], Vikas Dhiman [1/11], Vidit Sukhramani [1/20] and Sharma [1/21]. The economy rate of all the bowlers was below that needed for victory. Mullingar finished on 88/8 and were well beaten by 45 runs.
The crucial return match against Laois in Stradballey turned out to be the closest and the highest scoring of the season. Batting first Merrion made 172 [all out in the last over] thanks to runs up front from Tim Knight  and another half-century from the skipper. Given the low scores across the circuit this should have been an easily defendable total. But Laois got stuck into the Merrion bowling, scoring at over 8 runs per over. It took a match winning performance from Sukhramani [4/25] to keep the game alive. In a very tight finish Laois made 169/6 – falling just 3 runs short.
After the near death experience against Laois, the final game against North Kildare was a more relaxed affair with the top of the table position already secured. With the skipper missing it fell to Vikas Dhiman  to shoulder the burden of getting a reasonable total. With good support from Hermanus Bester  Merrion reached a credible but by no means secure 138/7. Early wickets put Laois on the backfoot and at 60/5 with overs running out the bowlers were on top. But a late order recovery produced another tight result – and a 7 run victory. Bowling honours to Khurana with 3/16 off his four overs.
The semi-final was played in Castle Avenue against Clontarf 3rds. Clontarf won the toss and choose to bat. It proved an unfortunate decision as Clontarf never really got going against the all round strength of a Merrion attack from which no bowler went for more than 20 runs. Six bowlers were used and all had an entry in the wickets column. Two each for Bester, Sukhramani and Hussey. Clontarf 88/9 off their full complement of overs.
Merrion duly reached the target with three overs to spare for the loss of only three wickets. The fact that Reddy was not called on to bat is perhaps a good indication of a comfortable win. Bester top scored with 24*.
The final was played in Anglesea Road against YMCA 3rds. Merrion won the toss and batted first. Khanduja  made good runs up front but it was once again left to the captain Reddy to hold the batting together. He bludgeoned the YMCA bowlers making 70* in 34 balls and got the score up to a competitive 158/7.
Vishal Singh [2/18] had both of the openers back in the pavilion without scoring, but a 65 run partnership in good time for the third wicket put YMCA back in the driving seat. But the match was to turn when Sean Hussey [4/23] and Nitin Sharma [2/19] came together and made the crucial breakthrough. YMCA collapsed – losing five wickets for 21 runs. In the end they were bowled out for 126 in the penultimate over. A Merrion win, and the title by 32 runs.
This is the fifth time that a Merrion team have won the third ranked T20 competition. All previously were YMCA Salver titles. This is the third occasion that it has been the 3rd XI that has taken the honours. They previously took the title 2013 and 1992. The 4th XI won in 2015 and 1986.
Having lost their second match, and with only the section winner going through to the finals, the whole season had the feeling of a series of knock-out cup matches. There were a few good supporting roles in the batting but there was no doubt about the destination of the Oscar, captain Sainath Reddy, who almost single handed wrestled the team to the title. His 292 in five innings included four 50s and was nearly three times the next highest individual total. An average of 124 with a scoring rate of over 200 wasn’t too bad either.
But if one person dominated the batting, the bowling was a real team performance with everyone contributing with wickets and economy. And a final word for Akshay Dubey who kept wicket through most of the campaign ending up with 11 dismissals, including 7 stumpings. In all 18 players turned out for the 3rds during the season. Nitin Sharma and Raghav Khurana were ever present.
Batting 3rd XI [Min 50 Runs]
|Zander De Beer||6||6||1||77||31||15.40|
Bowling 3rd XI [Min 10 Overs]