Shropshire’s cricketers are through to the semi-finals of the Unicorns Trophy after holding their nerve to pull off an impressive three-wicket win at Norfolk.
After exciting victories over Herefordshire and Staffordshire in the previous rounds, it was another thriller with Shropshire this time getting home with three balls to spare at Manor Park, Horsford, Norwich.
Four wickets from Wellington seamer Jack Twigger – who had been set to be 12th man until Alex Wyatt was ruled out by a shoulder injury – helped restrict Norfolk to 246-8 from their 50 overs before half centuries from Steve Leach and Alexei Kervezee set up a successful chase.
Simon Gregory and Gurjit Sandhu saw the job through to seal another memorable win for the delighted visitors.
Shropshire join Cheshire, Devon and Suffolk in the last four of the competition.
Skipper Leach said: “We’ve had three tight games and got over the line in each of them, so we take a lot of confidence from that. We’ve knocked out three really good teams.”
Leach hailed “a really good team performance” but highlighted the contribution of four-wicket Twigger with the ball.
“Jack was outstanding,” he said. “Alex Wyatt pulled up about a minute before the toss because his shoulder wasn’t right and Jack came in. He was going to be 12th man and with the character he’s shown it was a tough decision to initially leave him out really.
“He was superb and he bowled really, really well. There was a bit of bounce in the pitch, a bit of life in it and he really exploited that.”
Sandhu made an early breakthrough when he bowled Sam Arthurton for nine with the score on 15.
Jordan Taylor and Jason Reynolds put on 87 for the second wicket before Twigger claimed his first Shropshire wicket when Sam Whitney held on to a catch to remove Reynolds for 36.
Twigger also took the next three wickets to fall, bowling opener Taylor for 63, from 90 balls, to leave the hosts on 151-3.
Twigger then removed Stephen Marillier for nine, with Robbie Clarke taking the catch this time, before bowling Ben France for four.
Norfolk found themselves on 190-6 when dangerman Rob Taylor, the former Leicestershire player who has represented Scotland, went for 51, caught by Omar Ali off Ross Aucott, the sixth bowler to be introduced to the Shropshire attack.
Sandhu, who bowled 10 tidy overs for 2-36, returned to remove Ben Coote cheaply and then Aucott (2-43) struck again, bowling Ryan Findlay.
Shropshire, in reply, soon lost Ali, bowled by France for 13, but Leach and Will Parton took the score from 26-1 to 82-2 during a productive partnership worth 58, which was ended when Parton was bowled by home captain Ashley Watson for 21.
Leach had moved on to 60 from 70 balls, with six fours, when he departed caught and bowled by Findlay.
Kervezee also notched a half century, hitting three sixes and three boundaries, before falling for 59 from 50 deliveries, caught behind by Sam Groves off Brett Stolworthy.
From being well set at 190-3, Shropshire suddenly found themselves on 199-6 as Clarke, who hit an unbeaten century in the last round at Staffordshire, was trapped leg before by Watson for two and then Aucott was removed by Stolworthy for a brisk 35.
There was still work to be done when Whitney was caught by Watson off Stolworthy (3-46) for six to leave Shropshire on 213-7.
But then wicketkeeper Gregory (19no) and former Middlesex man Sandhu (25no), who had a runner for the closing stages after being struck on the leg by the ball as he scampered a quick single, guided the happy visitors home.
“Gurj had a runner and it just added to it a little bit,” said Leach. “He played a really good hand and Simon Gregory was very composed at the end, so all credit to them.
“It was a real team performance and we thoroughly deserved to win this match.
“All credit to the guys for doing the business for their clubs on a Saturday and then getting into the hotel at 2am on Sunday morning after a long journey before getting back up and doing the business again. It shows a lot of desire.
“Thanks also to Toby Shaw, the chairman, as we managed to get a bus organised which saved a lot of the lads from having to drive and that certainly helped keep us all a little bit fresher.”