BERKSHIRE V STAFFS FINAL 2019
Report from Allan Smith - 180919
Having won the Eastern Division title, Staffordshire travelled to Banbury Cricket Club in Oxfordshire to take on Western Division League winners Berkshire for the right to become the overall Minor Counties champions for 2019. Staffs always knew this was going to be a tough task as their opponents had won the title for the past three seasons and hadn’t lost a three day championship fixture for five years.
The game lived up to expectations before the reigning champions Berkshire came out winners in a hard fought and extremely tense final by virtue of a one wicket victory.
Played on a wicket which was green and offered considerable assistance to the bowlers of both teams, the match was a low scoring encounter with Staffs being dismissed for 150 after being invited to bat first. Replying their opponents managed to eke out a 14 run first innings leads thanks in the main to 89 from Richard Morris, an innings which was eventually to win him the Man of the Match Award.
Batting a second time Staffs struggled to 110 all out, leaving Berkshire to score 97 to retain their title. At close of play on the second day Berks has reached 24-3 before bad light curtailed play early. This set up a very nervy session on the third morning with the game swinging one way and another as wickets continued to tumble as the Berkshire batsmen inched their way towards the target. Finally it came down to Berkshire’s last wicket pair needing 10 runs while the Staffs bowlers strived for the crucial final wicket which would have seen them crowned champions. Eventually, after surviving numerous vociferous appeals and a considerable amount of playing and missing, it was Berkshire’s hero of the second innings Jack Davies, who edged his side over the line. The opening batsman carried his bat to make a priceless unbeaten 42 as in partnership with Mungo Russell he scored the winning run to start the Berkshire celebration, whilst the Staffs players could only look back on a superb effort which had taken them so close but not quite over the line.
Berkshire therefore became the final ever winners of the Minor Counties championship as the competition is changing its name next year to the National Counties Cricket Association.
For Staffs, Tim Maxfield put in a herculean performance in bowling 20.2 overs and taking 7/47 as he tried everything to earn Staffs the win and 17 year old Manraj Johal , playing just his second Staffs game, also toiled manfully to claim 2/27 before Berkshire inched home at 97 for 9.
On the first day, after being asked to bat first, Staffs made a reasonable start and reached 70 before losing their second wicket. However the loss of opener Zen Malik for 27 and the unfortunate run out of leading scorer Michal Hill for 29 saw Staffs collapse to 117 for 9 before a last wicket partnership of 33 between Paul Byrne (18) and Manraj Johal with 19 not out, saw Staffs finally dismissed for 150. Berkshire bowlers Tom Nugent, Mungo Russell, Andy Rishton and former Middlesex spinner Chris Peploe each took two wickets.
Berkshire were rocked by the loss of their first two wickets with just four runs on the board. Euan Woods and Richard Morris took the score onto 63 before Woods was the first of four Rob Hemmings wickets as Staffs fought their way back into the game. Andy Rishton contributed a useful 23 before the Berkshire innings succumbed on 164, a lead of just 14 which owed much to Richard Morris’ 110 ball 89. Rob Hemmings finished with 4/21, Manraj Johal 3/32 and there were wickets each for Tim Maxfield, Dan Richardson and Paul Byrne as the Staffs bowlers fought hard to keep their team in the game. Faced with a few tricky overs before the close of play, Staffs lost opener Zen Malik and ended on 21 for 1 as a dramatic first day’s play saw 21 wickets fall.
Play didn’t resume until 1.40 pm on the second day due to light drizzle and night watchmen Dan Richardson and Manraj Johal took the score on to 31 before the Berkshire pace attack of Tom Nugent and Andy Rishton began to work their way through the Staffs batting line up for a second time. Kadeer Ali departed for 14, Peter Wilshaw hit a quick 17 and Robert Hemmings dug in for an unbeaten 21 as Staffs were dismissed for 110 in their second innings. Nugent with 5/40 and Rishton with 4/42 took full advantage of not only the helpful wicket but also the overcast conditions to excel for the reigning champions.
As in their first innings Berkshire were rocked by two early dismissals as they began their task of reaching 97 to retain their title. In his opening over Tim Maxfield claimed the wickets of Archie Carter and Euan Woods in successive deliveries to reduce Berkshire to 5 for 2. After a break for bad light Maxfield gained a third success before play was called off for the day leaving Berkshire requiring a further 73 runs to win with seven wickets in hand when play resumed on the third day.
Manraj Johal struck in his first over of the day and wickets fell steading to see Berks reduced to 40 for 6 with Staffs bowlers Tim Maxfield and Johal in full cry. Partnerships of 23 between Jack Davies and Chris Peploe (15) and 18 between Davies and Tom Nugent (13) saw Berkshire reach 81 for 8. When Luke Beaven became Maxfield’s seventh victim of the innings to see Berkshire teetering on 87 for 9 there was to be plenty of tension and nail biting before it was the Berkshire batsmen that prevailed to end a dramatic contest between two evenly matched champions of their respective divisions, but it was Berkshire that took the ultimate crown.
At the end of the game both captains Kadeer Ali and James Morris were presented with their respective divisional pennants while the Berkshire captain was also presented with the championship flag and the players were awarded their individual medals.