CRICKET: Final game heartbreak for Rugby CC in fantastic season
Runners-up spot after nine-run defeat at Newport
ECB Birmingham League
Newport v Rugby
A brilliant campaign for Rugby CC finished in heartbreak on Saturday, when they lost by nine runs to Newport and dropped to second place in the table on the season’s final day.
Having pulled off a remarkable fight back to beat title rivals Stourbridge a week earlier, Rugby knew that a win in their final match would secure the league title, but they fell at the final hurdle.
Rugby had announced themselves to the Birmingham League with a bang, starting the season with five consecutive wins to stake an early claim as title contenders, before an indifferent run of form saw them drop off the pace.
However, a stunning seven-match winning streak had fired them to the top of the table, before Saturday’s disappointment left captain Owen Edwards trying to see the positives. “It was a horrible way to finish the season, because we didn’t do ourselves justice,” he said.
“We’ve been really consistent all summer and often over-performed, so I am really proud of what we’ve accomplished and I’d have bitten your hand off for a top two finish at the start of the summer.
“But having got so close, it is hard to be pragmatic right now, because we just didn’t hit our straps on Saturday and let the title slip away. Frustratingly, it’s probably one of our two worst performances of the season, which couldn’t have come at a worse time.
“After getting promoted, our target was a top-half finish, so we’ve definitely over achieved and it’s been another year of real progress for the club. To have beaten high-profile clubs like Old Hill, Stratford and Stourbridge really shows how far we’ve come.”
The match itself was delayed by rain and reduced to 36 overs but, when the sun came out, Newport won the toss and chose to bat first.
They got off to a positive start thanks pinch-hitter Simon Douglas who immediately threw the bat at almost everything he faced, riding his luck but finding the boundary.
The score quickly moved onto 43, before Vishaal Rathod was introduced to the attack and made an immediate impact, which he has done so regularly this season.
Rathod (3-26) picked up three quick wickets, including Douglas (32), whilst Matt Ewer (8-3-21-1) was rewarded for a nagging opening spell with the prize wicket of Maisam Jaffri (3).
Four wickets fell for just five runs, as the Shropshire side slumped to 48-4, which brought together experienced duo Mark Downes and Ian Gillespie.
They rebuilt the innings with a combination of smart running and putting away the bad ball, as Rugby’s change bowlers failed to capitalise on the earlier inroads.
They added 72 for the fifth wicket, before Henry Wilkins removed Gillespie (32) and Lee Golding returned to the attack and bowled Downes (43).
Another Golding (2-34) victim took his season’s tally to 37 wickets, before Edwards (2-46) picked up two late wickets, but Newport’s final score of 181-9 looked slightly over-par in bowler-friendly conditions.
Rugby had fond memories of a similar run chase in last season’s rain-affected title decider against Olton, but it didn’t materialise this time and their reply started awfully.
They never really recovered from losing a wicket in the first over and, when their chief run-scorer Edwards was dismissed for a duck, they had collapsed to 32-4.
Michael Hughes (21) and Henry Parker (19) did their best to wrestle back some momentum, but the required rate soon crept up to 6-an-over and the scoreboard pressure mounted.
Three more wickets fell to leave Rugby in turmoil on 74-7, with Downes (3-32) continuing his impressive all-round display.
The Webb Ellis Roaders were not going to go down without a fight though and, with the big-hitting Wilkins is at the crease, there was still hope.
After struggling for form all season, Wilkins returned to his belligerent best when it was most needed and soon started to pepper the boundary.
He added 42 with Rathod (12) and, when Rathod was dismissed with the score on 116, Wilkins moved into top gear.
He bludgeoned 8 fours and 4 sixes in a superb knock and suddenly Rugby were on 172-8 and somehow favourites to win, needing just 10 to win from 22 balls.
However, opening bowler Douglas (4-30) returned to the attack and took the wind from Rugby’s sails with two wickets in three balls.
Wilkins (74) skied one to cover, before Golding (5) was bowled and Newport won by nine runs.
Rugby 2nds vs Sutton Coldfield 2nds
Rugby’s fourth-place second string rounded off a successful season with a 39-run victory against Sutton Coldfield on Saturday.
Rugby batted first and, after losing both openers cheaply, the veteran trio of Charlie Robards (43), Chris Evans (42) and Mo Sadiq (56) but their side in the box seat.
Alex Smith (24) and Abhay Lal (16 not out) added some late impetus as Rugby reached 244-6 from their 45 overs.
Sutton Coldfield’s reply started terribly when Dave Marshall picked up a wicket with the first ball of the innings, removing the dangerous Rahim Khalil.
Jack Coleman (8-1-22-3) shared the new ball and took three more quick wickets, as he continues to impress since his promotion from the 3rd team.
Henry Roper (61) and Stuart Russell (82 not out) built a big partnership, but were unable to get their side on track with the required run rate.
Naresh Kaushal and Shreyas Honnalli took a wicket each, as the innings closed on 205-6.