Slideshow: Owen Edwards and Matt Ewer batting against Pelsall on Saturday
PICTURES BY MIKE BAKER
ECB Birmingham Premier League
Rugby vs Pelsall
Rugby maintained their grip on the top spot in a thrilling match against Pelsall, securing a fifth consecutive win by the narrowest of margins when number 11 Lee Golding hit the winning runs.
An impressive all-round display from captain Owen Edwards looked to have set Rugby on course for victory, but a middle-order collapse left it to their final pair to scrape over the line for a one-wicket victory in a nail-biting finish.
Earlier in the day, Edwards had won the toss and chosen to bowl first but the visitor’s top order attacked from the outset and put Rugby on the back foot.
Two boundaries and 10 runs in the first over set the tone and, despite Matt Ewer picking up an early wicket, Pelsall were soon on top through the aggression of Tom Boyd and Jake Lee.
They had raced to 77/1 from 13 overs, before the introduction of Edwards stopped them in their tracks and dragged Rugby into the ascendency.
The breakthrough came when a trademark in-swinger cut Boyd (39) in half and was sharply caught off the inside edge by wicket keeper Michael Hughes, before a yorker clean bowled Lee (40).
Edwards (7-2-14-4) soon added two more victims, including Australian overseas Keith Moody for a golden duck, before Henry Wilkins removed the dangerous Todd Henderson (29).
Pelsall’s top five had looked very dangerous, but these strikes exposed a long tail, which Wilkins (3/16) and Golding (2/26) soon accounted for in a dramatic turn around.
Rugby’s in-form bowling attack had taken the last nine wickets for just 58 runs, as Pelsall succumbed to just 135 all out in the 33rd over.
There was still a tinge of green in the wicket and it was clear that Pelsall’s bowling attack believed they could defend this low total.
Three overs into Rugby’s reply it was clear why, because the Staffordshire side boasted two genuinely sharp new-ball bowlers and Rugby had lost both opening batsmen.
Soon after, when a Henderson bouncer made its way onto Hughes’ stumps via his forearm, Rugby had slumped to 14/3 and a vocal Pelsall outfit smelt blood.
This wicket brought Ewer to join Edwards at the crease and it was clear that Rugby needed this experienced pair to build a partnership and take the sting out of the fiery bowling.
Both players shelved their naturally attacking instincts at first and watchfully got through the opening spells, before expanding their game against the first-change bowlers.
Edwards in particular began to up the tempo and, as Pelsall attempted to bounce him out, took Rugby into the tea break with a big six over mid-wicket that moved the score onto 59/3.
When Ewer took 19 runs off the second over after the resumption, Rugby looked to be cruising to victory, but a change of ends for swing bowler Boyd and the introduction of spinner Ryan Brown put the brakes on the scoring.
With the score on 90/3 from 20 overs, Edwards (46) played a rash shot and was bowled, before Ewer (29) ran himself out in a moment of madness.
These dismissals changed the game dramatically, as wickets fell and the runs dried up, with Brown (12-6-21-2) and Boyd (8-3-27-2) bowling immaculately.
The following 18 overs were a very tense affair with Rugby scoring just 29 runs and, when Vishaal Rathod (18) and George Terry (5) were out in quick succession, the innings had fallen apart and Rugby were on 119/9.
The hosts still needed 17 runs to win and all of the momentum was with the Peslall when Rugby’s last man strode out to the middle, but that man Golding had different ideas.
There was plenty of nervous energy on display as he played and missed at his first few balls, but he then struck a straight six to give his team belief, before needless overthrows turned a quick single into five runs in the following over.
Suddenly Rugby were in striking distance of victory and, as Golding swung and missed a few more times, fingernails were being devoured on the sidelines.
However, Golding (17 not out) finally finished the run chase off when he crunched another six, this time over cover point, to seal a dramatic win and keep Rugby unbeaten.
“Finishes like that are the best and the worst moments in cricket rolled into one,” said Edwards afterwards. “We’d done the hard work, so watching us collapse was horrible, and it was even worse watching the final pair edge us over the line.
“However, you can’t replicate the feeling of winning in such a tense finish, so when Lee hit the winning runs the whole team went nuts. I think they’re the best team we’ve played this season, so it was especially satisfying to win against a quality team who are well established in the league.”
Rugby face another tough challenge when they host Old Hill this Saturday, one of the sides tipped to win this division, although they currently sit 34 points behind Rugby in fourth place.
Kidderminster 2nds vs Rugby 2nds
Rugby CC 2nd XI succumbed to defeat in a high-scoring game as they made the trip to the picturesque ground of Kidderminster.
Losing the toss Rugby were inserted to bat first, but were boosted by the return of club stalwart Charlie Robards who partnered Shreyas Honnalli at the top of the order.
Although Honnalli (3) was dismissed cheaply, Rugby were soon making great progress through Robards and in-form captain Hugh Cochrane, who were both quickly into their stride.
Both batsmen were merciless on any width, cashing in on the short boundaries square of the wicket, as the scoreboard rollicked along as Robards raced to his 50 inside 17 overs.
Cochrane passed the same landmark four overs later and soon became the aggressor in the partnership, with Kidderminster unable to stem the flow of runs as the pair kept the run rate above 6 an over.
Robards (82) played a quality supporting role, showing all of his class, but it was Cochrane that stole the show and raced to three figures.
The captain ended up with a career-best 156, which included 22 fours and four maximums and was a true masterclass in batting, setting up his side’s final score of 307/6 from 50 overs.
Despite reaching such a big score, Rugby knew they had their work cut out to defend it against the league leaders in such ideal batting conditions and this proved to be the case.
Rugby’s bowlers were soon proving to be just as expensive as Kidderminster’s, despite a superb spell from Neal McGrath, who saw half chances go down from both opening batsmen.
Suj Barhey and Mo Sadiq got the first two wickets for Rugby, but the batsmen continued to score freely and it was clear the Worcestershire side were on track for the run chase.
Richard Kimberlin (107) and George Hatfield (65) shared what proved to be a match-winning third wicket partnership, which Rugby had few answers to.
McGrath returned for a second spell and bowled superbly, finally removing both set batsmen and claiming two more wickets to finish with stand-out figures for the whole match of 15-3-57-4.
However, none of Rugby’s other bowlers could maintain the same control and, despite a second Sadiq wicket, Michael Mitchell (45 not out) saw his side to a three-wicket in in the 47th over.
Warwickshire Division 9 East
Standard 3rds vs Rugby 3rds
A hard-working team effort from Rugby’s third string saw them win by two-wickets in a tight match against Standard, after they won the toss and bowled first on a wet wicket.
Standard’s openers Fouad Choudhry (24) and Ilyas Chatta (21) started well but, once Rugby got the breakthrough, the middle order collapsed it was left to some late hitting by James Bird (38) to get his side up to 173 all out.
Hem Mistry (3/44) was the pick of Rugby’s attacked, well supported by Jack Coleman (2/16), Rubans (2/39), Euan Walker (2/24) and Liam Slaughter (1/33).
Rugby lost a wicket early in their reply, but Chris Evans (29) and Barry Taylor (17) seemed to be laying a solid foundation for the run chase.
However, five wickets in relatively quick succession and left Rugby in a lot of trouble until Chris Phillips (11) joined Rubans in the middle, with the latter smashing 25 in one over.
Rubans (50) got his side on track, before Mistry (8no) and Slaughter (16no) finished off the job with two overs and two wickets to spare.
Willoughby vs Rugby
Rugby made a welcome return to Sunday friendly cricket with an enjoyable visit to local neighbours Willoughby, coming away with a 36-run win.
Rugby batted first and reached 178/9 with James Rowland (49), Keith Bradbury (32) and Tom Smith (25) top scoring, whilst Michael Deery (2/6) and Callum Hanks (2/38) impressed with the ball.
Willoughby’s reply started badly with three early wickets and, despite a fight back from Adam Whitfield (31) and Mark Fell (28), Rugby’s bowlers secured victory.
Lee Golding (3/20) did the early damage, before Chris Phillips claimed his first wicket for the club and Liam Slaughter (3/5) polished off the tail.