THE term bittersweet has now become a cliché in sporting circles.
However, that is perhaps the best way to describe the recent experiences of Shell Cove cricketer Mitchell Phelps while playing in the Sydney Grade Cricket final, where he took out the Benaud Medal as Player of the Match.
The medal is named after former Australian skipper Richie Benaud.
Representing Bankstown against red-hot favourites Sydney University, Phelps produced a remarkable spell to not only bowl his side back into the game in the first innings, but also go within a whisker of pulling off a massive upset.
However, they went down by three wickets.
"Yeah, you could certainly say it was mixed emotions," 22-year-old Phelps said.
"To bowl so well and get the Benaud Medal but not the premiership was bittersweet.
"We had the better of Uni in the latter stages of the season and played them three times in the last four matches, beating them twice, but weren't able to do it in the final.
"We had to beat them in the last round of the competition to sneak into the six-team play-offs in sixth place, where we beat them again, but they were able to progress to the semi-finals as highest-placed loser."
Bankstown reached the final after accounting for Manly in the semi-final.
Boosted by the return of NSW Blues Ryan Charters, Scott Henry and Sean Abbott, Uni went into the final as favourites.
Batting first on a less-than-favourable wicket, Bankstown struggled in their first innings to make just 82, but what followed was a piece of cricket magic.
"We were bowled out just after lunch, and when I came on bowl Uni were 1-20.
"When rain halted play for the day at tea they were 6-31 and I had taken 5-8.
"The next morning we cleaned up the tail, and they were all out for 37 and I took 6-9."
The hero at the other end was another South Coast junior, Nathan McAndrew from Oak Flats, who snared 3-8.
"The wicket still wasn't that great and we struggled with the bat and were all out for 98, setting them 144.
"We were keen to win to send outgoing captain James Allsopp off with a win, and were well in the match when they were 6-71, but the wicket was playing much better by then and an eighth-wicket partnership of 45 got them close, and they got home by three wickets," Phelps said.
"I got 3-25 off 12 overs and Nathan also got three wickets, so the South Coast boys took 15 of the 17 wickets to fall."
Having completed his fourth season in the Sydney competition, he said travelling to Sydney twice a week for training and again for games was worth it.
"I went to Sydney at the age of 18 after I finished my HSC and would recommend the challenge to anyone," he said. "We are lucky to have a really young team with an average age of under 25, so we are hoping this will be the springboard into more success down the track."