2nd XI complete successful opening weekend against Khalsa
Pictures by Mike Baker
Warwickshire Cricket League Premier Division
Rugby 1sts v Sutton Coldfield 1sts
Rugby started their 2019 campaign with a hard-fought 12-run victory over Sutton Coldfield, despite a last-wicket stand from the visitors that ensured a nervous finish.
The league restructure sees Rugby return to the Warwickshire League after a successful debut season in the Birmingham League and they were up against a strong Sutton Coldfield outfit who also came from the BDPCL.
On a hot day, Rugby were happy enough to be batting first after Owen Edwards lost the toss, as the opposition looked to take advantage of a green wicket.
This decision was soon justified when Jeevan Barhey (1) was caught at gully from a delivery that rose sharply from a good length, but Michael Hughes joined Lee James at the crease and began to put Rugby on top.
After missing most of last summer with a back injury, Rugby welcomed James back to the side and he clearly relished his return to the top of the order, timing the ball delightfully.
James (42) and Hughes (27) added 64 for the second wicket, but Sutton Coldfield’s seam attack stuck to a disciplined line and made Rugby work hard for their runs.
Three wickets fell for the addition of just 11 to the total and Rugby stuttered to 81-4, before Matt Ewer (23) partnered Edwards in a 43-run stand.
Rugby’s top order had shown impressive temperament to lay the foundation for a score close to 200, which would have been above par on a tricky wicket, but when Edwards (31) was on the rough end of a surprising lbw decision, the lower order collapsed.
The last five wickets fell for just 14 runs and Rugby slumped to 155 all out in the 43rd over.
Rugby’s seam attack has bailed them out of similar positions more than once in recent seasons so, with conducive wicket to work with, the hosts had plenty of belief that they good defend this score.
This soon turned to expectation as Ewer embarked on an inspired opening spell that ripped the heart out of Sutton Coldfield’s top order.
He attacked the stumps and picked up three early wickets, whilst his new-ball partner Lee Golding claimed the prize wicket of Lee Thomason for a fourth-ball duck.
At 13-4 there looked like only one result was possible, but the remaining opener Mark Guest (21) and Sri Lankan Dinushka Nawarathnage (14) steadied the ship in resolute fashion.
However, with the score on 42, Ewer struck again with a wonderful ball that clipped Nawarathnage’s off bail, before completing his five wicket haul when he accounted for Guest soon after.
Mike Powell (13-3-23-2) and Neal McGrath shared the next three wickets, reducing the visitors to 86-9, but they were not going down without a fight.
Number seven and former opener Jack Smith showed his class, manipulating the strike with number 11 Jack Reidy, whilst picking off any loose deliveries from Rugby’s bowlers.
What began as an irritating delay to proceedings soon turned into a potentially match-winning stand, as the partnership went beyond 50.
There were some key moments when a run out was surprisingly given not out and then a chance went down behind the wicket, but Sutton Coldfield capitalised on this with Smith batting superbly.
When Golding took a catch on the boundary only to step back and put his foot on the rope, the six runs took them to within 14 runs of victory and it looked like it wasn’t going to be Rugby’s day.
However, Golding (2-23) made amends moments later when he finally picked up the last wicket with the score on 143 and left Smith stranded on 70 not out
Matt Ewer’s devastating spell of 15-6-31-5 was the match-winning contribution and Edwards was full of praise of his opening bowler, “That was the best I think Matt’s bowled since I took over as captain. We knew these conditions would suit him and he couldn’t have executed our plans any better.”
“He barely bowled a bad ball all day and to bowl such a long opening spell in that heat in the first match of the season was a pretty heroic effort.”
Edwards also felt it was important to start with a win after the league restructure: “I think this will be a really competitive league. There are some high-profile sides who have recruited big name players, so it will be a real challenge, but one we are excited about.
“To start the season with a win felt really important, especially against a side we expect to be up near the top of the table.”
Warwickshire Cricket League Division 4
Leamington Khalsa 1sts v Rugby 2nds
Rugby’s second string made the short journey to a picturesque Leamington Khalsa to get the new season underway and were keen to impress after a very solid performance in the Birmingham league last summer.
Both captains were uncertain of how the pitch would play, but in the blazing sun RCC were asked to bat first and got off to a confident start despite both openers battling the lack of pace and Rathod in particular punishing some loose deliveries.
However, with Khalsa utilising the slow conditions to their advantage two quick wickets saw the loss of both openers which bought young Shreyas Honnalli and George Terry to the wicket.
With RCC needing to stabilise the innings, both battled admirably in the tough conditions and started a valuable rebuilding process, until Terry (17) misjudged a straight one.
When Mo Sadiq (3) soon followed, Rugby were in a spot of bother again at 61-4, but Honnalli was joined by club veteran Chris Evans and both showed a great deal of composure which saw a shift of momentum back in the favour of the visiting side.
Khalsa’s decision to switch to spin seemingly played into both batsmen’s hands and saw regular boundaries pushing the total forwards and a score of 200 plus now looked likely.
Honnalli passed his fifty with a crunching boundary, a particular pleasing knock from one of RCC’s promising youngsters now coming of age, whilst Evans timed the ball from the word go and showed all of his experience.
However, RCC never like to make things too easy and an unfortunate mix-up between the two set batsman saw Evans run out for 23 with the score at 130 just at a stage when RCC were looking to push on.
When Honnalli followed shortly afterwards for an excellent 57, RCC began to lose regular wickets to some consistent bowling and only Jon Sage (20) provided another meaningful knock, as series of soft dismissals saw Rugby slump to a below-par score of 169 all out from 46 overs.
Following a splendid tea in the sunshine, RCC took the field knowing early wickets were crucial, but openers Terry and Jack Coleman both struggled to find the right length, not helped by a dropped catch at slip off Coleman.
Khalsa had quickly progressed to 50 for no loss with Lokhandwala looking particularly dangerous but, with the batsman playing only one way, you always felt wickets were just around the corner.
The change bowlers soon made their impact, with Muneer Khan impressing on his league debut and picking up the first crucial wicket of Lokhandwala who fell for an aggressive 51.
Shortly afterwards Sage trapped Sahota (18) LBW and both openers were now back in the pavilion, followed by a sublime catch from Robards at slip off Khan (3-26) in the next over and RCC were beginning to believe.
The introduction of Sadiq helped to dry up the runs from one end and add some much needed control, which allowed Sage to bowl aggressively at the stumps down the hill.
Whilst leaking a few boundaries in doing so Sage nevertheless ripped through the lower order to put his side in control and reduce the hosts to 9 down.
With Khalsa clearly looking to block it from one end and score from the other via the impressive Harris Mohammed (42 not out) the captain turned to the golden-arm Rathod who needed only 4 balls to seal a very encouraging first victory by 29 runs.
Sage ended with fine figures of 12-1-58-6, an impressive feat in the punishing heat.
RCC know they will need to improve from here and were by no means anywhere near their best. A warm thank you to the opposition for a very enjoyable day and a game played very much in the right spirit.