Thrilling encounter against Olton seals title
Slideshow action pictures by Mike Baker
Warwickshire Cricket League Premier Division
Rugby v Olton
Rugby were crowned champions of the Warwickshire Cricket League on Saturday, capping a memorable season with a six-wicket victory against Olton.
In a rain-affected match, the momentum had swung between the teams throughout a thrilling encounter, but the game was finally settled by a brutal display of hitting from Owen Edwards and Henry Wilkins.
This pair compiled an astonishing 72-run partnership from just 14 balls to power their side to victory in eye-catching fashion, delighting a sizeable crowd who wasted no time in invading the field to celebrate.
Earlier in the day, Rugby’s captain Owen Edwards elected to field first after winning the toss in bowler-friendly conditions, acutely aware of a weather forecast that meant Duckworth & Lewis calculations were likely to come into play later on.
Coming into the game on an 11-game unbeaten streak, Rugby started the day on top of the league, but only 11 points ahead of Olton, so it was a shootout for the league title, although third-place Bedworth could sneak ahead if the match was rained off and they won against Highway.
Rugby got off to a great start when Lee Golding struck in the second over of the match, as he Matt Ewer settled into probing opening spells.
Australian overseas Michael Salerno (8) survived a life when he was dropped at slip off Golding’s bowling, but Ewer (8-2-16-1) removed him soon after to leave Olton on 33/2.
This brought Olton’s star batsmen Marc Webb and Gary Hawkins together at the crease, but they had added just four runs when the rain came down and play was suspended after 14 overs.
A lengthy delay saw the match reduced to a 39-over affair and, when play resumed, Olton took the attack back to Rugby’s bowlers who were struggling to grip a wet ball.
Webb (100) in particular moved through the gears and struck the ball impressively all around Webb Ellis Road in a typically classy innings.
He brought up a magnificent century with a six over extra cover, but Wilkins bounced back next ball to clean bowl him and dealt out similar treatment to Phil Ceillam (0) with the following delivery.
Having broken a third wicket stand of 138, Rugby sensed a chance to stem the flow of runs, with Olton on 171/4, but Hawkins (60) continued to attack.
He was eventually dismissed by Edwards, thanks to a brilliant catch by Vishaal Rathod, but Phil Trilloe (33 not out) propelled Olton to 231/5 from their 39 overs.
In big games like this, first-innings runs on the board always put a team in the box seat, so chasing nearly 6-an-over was a daunting prospect for Rugby.
After finishing their innings in style, Olton took the momentum into the second innings and this continued when pinch-hitter Matt Ewer (1) and Charlie Robards (2) were dismissed inside the first three overs.
Edwards joined Raj Chohan at the crease with his side in trouble on 13/2 but, as he’s so often done this summer, opted for the counter-attacking option.
Consecutive boundaries from Phil Trilloe in the fifth over of the match brought Rugby’s fans to life and the atmosphere soon changed as Edwards plundered six more boundaries in two overs.
Rugby raced along to 54 from eight overs and Olton were forced to turn to their spinners earlier than planned, but the change did the trick when Chohan (10) was caught at cover from Kevin Crotty’s third delivery.
Both Crotty and Salerno extracted significant turn and bounce but Rugby maintained their attacking intent and, when Edwards hit 15 from Salerno’s third over, the score was 86/3 after 14 overs.
Frustratingly, with the game so evenly poised that Duckworth & Lewis had the teams currently tied, the rain now returned and the players were forced to leave the field again for a lengthy spell.
With news filtering through that Bedworth were still playing and on the verge of securing an easy victory, both teams were relieved when the rain finally subsided and play could resume 40 minutes later.
The D&L calculations were done again and Rugby were set a revised target of 173 to win from 25 overs, which meant they needed 87 runs from the remaining 11 overs.
Edwards and Asaad Qureshi resumed and 15 runs came in the next two overs, but Qureshi (14) was dismissed by Robert Collen as he looked to hit out.
Given the match situation, it was the perfect time for Wilkins to join Edwards at the crease and what followed from Rugby’s two biggest hitters was quite astounding.
Wilkins signalled his intent by smashing his first ball over long on for six and proceeded to bludgeon three further maximums in the same over from Crotty, as 28 came off the over.
Suddenly Rugby only needed 44 from eight overs, but the hitting became even more extreme in the following over from Hawkins.
After dispatching the first ball for four, Edwards struck two consecutive sixes, both of which were no balls, before Wilkins took over again with two more sixes and two fours.
Unbelievably 39 runs came in the over and, when Edwards hit the winning runs two balls later, the excitement from players and supporters alike was sensational.
The numbers were hard to believe, with Wilkins striking 46 not out from just 11 balls, in a blistering attack that underline what a match-winning talent he is.
Meanwhile Edwards’s 89 not out from 54 balls seemed comparatively sedate, but was a true captain’s innings when his team needed it.
Rugby’s skipper was delighted with his side’s achievement: “I couldn’t be any prouder of the team, because they’ve worked so hard for this,” he explained. “Winning a league takes so much commitment and consistency over a long, old season and the lads have given it everything.
“We’ve been a strong side on paper for a few seasons now, but never put together this kind of form before and always had a bad run during the summer. But there was a clear difference in the dressing room this season; more focus, more desire and a real togetherness.
“I definitely think the fact we are all such good friends, as well as team mates, definitely gives us an edge over other sides. That team spirit saw us battle back from quite a few tricky positions this year, where we might have fallen away in the past.
“Saturday itself was a really, really special day. Wilko’s innings at the end was outrageous, I’ve never seen anything like that and it avoided the nail-biting finish that we all thought was coming. To win in that style with so much on the line is a credit to the team and the atmosphere at the ground was something I will remember for a long time.
“It was very special seeing how much it meant to a lot of people, aside from the 11 guys on the field. That is what makes Rugby CC a great place to play cricket right now and it’s been nice to have so many positive messages and congratulations from other local clubs. Hopefully everyone sees this as a positive step for cricket in Rugby.”
The team’s success sees them gain promotion to the Birmingham league for the first time in the club’s history. “This has been a target of ours for a long time,” Edwards added. “A town the size of Rugby should have a club playing at that level and it’s a chance for us to develop cricket further in the area.
“It’s important that talented youngsters will be able to test themselves at the best standard, rather than move to other clubs away from the town. We know it will be a big step up and a tough challenge, but the team have earned this chance and are already excited about next year.
“However, before we start thinking about that, I hope everyone involved will take the chance to dine out on this success for a while first. It isn’t just about the players on the field, so many people help to drive our club forward and it’s an achievement we can all savour.”