Shropshire’s cricketers experienced mixed fortunes as they completed their group fixtures in the National Counties Cricket Association’s Twenty20 competition.
A third half-century of the T20 season from Andre Bradford, followed by Graham Wagg and Tyler Ibbotson hitting 73 runs off the final four overs, helped Shropshire win Monday’s opening match at Whitchurch by 27 runs.
Northumberland then secured an eight-wicket victory in the second game, reaching their target with nine balls to spare, after Shropshire had been bowled out for 102.
Shropshire fielded a young side as brothers Luke and Bradley Thornton, along with Matt Lamb and Matt Rees, who have all played regularly for the Academy team in recent seasons, were handed their first-team debuts.
They joined Ben Lees and Charlie Walker, who have also progressed from the Academy side, in the senior team.
Asked to bat first in game one, Shropshire accumulated 158-3 from their 20 overs, with opener Bradford leading the way with 52 from 46 balls, which included five fours.
He put on 62 for the second wicket with Lamb (17) before Shropshire, who were 85-3 at the end of the 16th over, with Max Williamson taking 2-20, were boosted by skipper Wagg and Ibbotson quickly sharing an unbroken partnership of 73.
Wagg cracked four sixes and a four in racing to 36 not out from just 13 balls, with Shrewsbury all-rounder Ibbotson helping himself to an unbeaten 35 from 15 deliveries, with three sixes and three boundaries.
Northumberland, in reply, closed on 131-9, with former Durham and Ireland wicketkeeper-batter Stuart Poynter top scoring with 30.
Wagg (2-10), Ben Roberts (2-13) and Ibbotson (2-22) helped keep it tight with the ball, while Rees, Walker and Luke Thornton also picked up a wicket.
Lees, Shropshire’s wicketkeeper-batter, said: “We were happy with the first game. Thanks to Waggy and Tyler playing really well, they got us to a score that was actually over par. That proved vital in the end and was probably match winning.
“We needed them to do that to get us up to a competitive score. They both played beautifully and stuck to their strengths well. They used the pitch to their advantage, they knew the areas to hit, and it came off.
“We then bowled well, probably the best we have all through the tournament, and overall it was good to get a win.”
Game two saw Shropshire elect to bat and they lost early wickets as they slipped to 36-5.
Ryan Lockley (25) and Luke Thornton (22) attempted to lead a revival as Shropshire were bowled out for 102 in the 19th over, with George Darwood (3-22), Alasdair Appleby (2-12) and Matthew Oswell (2-15) among the wickets.
Opener Appleby then compiled an unbeaten 50 and Poynter added 21 as Northumberland advanced to 103-2 with nine balls remaining. Roberts and Ibbotson both took a wicket.
“We started off slowly,” said Lees. “The last thing you want is two batters having to start and go at it from ball one really.
“We managed to get ourselves up to 102, which wasn’t really competitive, but once again we bowled really well. We bowled tight and kept them under the rate.”
Lees, 19, highlighted the contribution of the four players handed their first-team debuts as they became the latest promising cricketers to be given an opportunity to represent the county at senior level.
He said: “Luke Thornton bowled beautifully in the first game. He also batted well in the second game and helped us get up to the total we ended with.
“Matt Rees is someone you can always rely on, Matt Lamb’s another one, and Brad Thornton has probably been in the frame for a while now.
“It’s really good to see all these young players come through. It’s encouraging to see them come into the team and do well.”
Lees also praised the efforts of opener Bradford, who joined Shropshire at the start of the season, and scored 230 runs for the county in the T20 group games, averaging 46.
“When we look back on the whole competition there’s been a lot of stand-out individual performances and that’s one,” he said.
“Andre is really good to have at the top of the order and everyone bats around him. It’s been monumental what he’s done so far and hopefully that continues into the one-day and three-day matches.”
Lees added the T20 matches had been “a very good learning curve” for Shropshire, with two wins, four defeats and two abandoned matches at Cumbria owing to the weather.
Shropshire now look forward to the start of their NCCA Trophy campaign, with their opening 50-over group game against Suffolk at Oswestry on Sunday, June 5.