SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — Pressed all the way, St Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS) relied on the resilience of true champions to beat spirited May Day High by six wickets to retain the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association/Grace Headley Cup cricket title at the STETHS Sports Complex on Thursday.
Scores in a game marked by stubborn, determined batting for long periods rather than aggressive stroke play, on a pitch, which for the most part, was fair to batters and bowlers: May Day High 202 and 129-9 declared; STETHS 217 and 108-4.
Well in excess of two hours play was lost because of a wet spot on the pitch on the first morning as well as bad light in late afternoon and a sharp shower in early afternoon on the second day.
A brilliant century from Jamaica Under-19 all-rounder Reon Edwards and a patient 66 from captain and wicketkeeper Javed Williams pushed May Day High — in their first Under-19 final — to their challenging first-innings total, which closed an hour before lunch on the second day.
But for a crucial intervention late on the first afternoon from STETHS all-rounder, Kevoni Graham, with his controlled medium pace — grabbing three wickets in quick succession — May Day first innings may have been much bigger.
STETHS clawed their way to a 15-run, first-innings lead before lunch on the final day, after ending the second day at 164-6, trailing by 38 runs.
That slim first-innings advantage, which would have given the many-time Headley Cup champions the title had the game been drawn, resulted in large measure from 48 each from openers Sean Roye and Tyriek Brown, and 32 from Captain Malique Williams.
Crucially, attritional, back-to-the wall knocks from the middle and lower order, including Kevaun Brown (eight from 70 balls), Kevoni Graham (19 from 79 balls), Javid Simpson, who made 17 not out from 49 balls, and Govasta Edmond (17 from 14 balls) kept May Day at bay.
The visitors, led by the clever, controlled off spin of Christopher Lewis (5-45) and the impressive fast bowling pair of Edwards (2-62) and Jamaica Under-17 representative Nashane Meade (3-58), were cheered on by an admirably enthusiastic band of visiting supporters.
"May Day, a big school" and "One ball … one wicket", the May Day supporters chanted on and on, but STETHS kept their cool.
With nothing to lose after conceding a lead on first innings, May Day High, led by a second half-century in the match from Javed Williams (54), pushed for quick runs in their second innings to set STETHS a target. But they were set back by regular loss of wickets.
Jamaica Under-19 fast bowler Edmond, playing his first game of the season after recovering from a lower back injury, extended himself for the first time in the game to take 3-18 in an impressive spell either side of lunch.
STETHS Captain Williams, intelligently bowling stump-to-stump on a wearing pitch, with increasingly low bounce, ended with 4-22.
Backing themselves to claim an unlikely victory, May Day High declared in late afternoon, setting STETHS a target of 108 to win.
There was the odd stumble for the home side as Edwards claimed 3-18 with his left-arm pace. But the champions led by a cultured, unbeaten half-century (59) from Bryan got to their target in 29 overs shortly after 6:00 pm, with the sun sinking low over the western end of the Santa Cruz mountains.
Opening batter and wicketkeeper Bryan, a tall left hander who was in the field for most of the three days, stroked eight fours in his 84-ball, 126-minute knock.
Victory gave STETHS a record-extending 37th hold on the Headley Cup.
STETHS Coach Clive Ledgister, who has missed out on only two Headley Cup titles since he took over from mentor Junior Bennett in 2007, conceded he had a touch or two of nerves, especially as May Day battled to 202 on the first and second days.
"Whenever you're playing against a schoolboy side and they are drifting away anywhere close to 200 it is always a concern…" Ledgister, a former STETHS fast bowler explained.
"It is not only about winning, because you can lose and still achieve a whole lot out of a game of cricket, but I wanted it badly for these youngsters because we know what we been through over the year [to prepare]," he said.
Ledgister had high praise for the "team effort", but in response to leading questions, also singled out indivuiduals, including Bryan and Graham, for staying strong and delivering under pressure.
He credited May Day High for their never-say-die attitude and praised Edwards not just for his century but also his five-wicket match haul.
"A tough character, I think that youngster has a bright future," Ledgister said of Edwards.
May Day Coach Oral Simpson said the game was won by "the team [STETHS] which showed a more disciplined approach over the three days".
His team had made too many mistakes at crucial times, he said, though he acknowledged that May Day's inexperience played a part.
"I thought it was one of the [better] Headley Cup finals I have seen, and I have watched many over the years," Simpson said.
May Day High Principal Stanford Davis, who has been described by knowledgeable observers as the driving force behind the school's cricket programme — launched just six years ago (2017) — assured journalists that "the best is yet to come".