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Clarke century not quite enough as Shropshire edged out

Joe Clarke answered the call from coach Karl Krikken to showcase his exciting talent with a brilliant century – but it was not quite enough to lead Shropshire to victory as Northumberland emerged narrow six run winners in a tight finish at Oswestry.
It means Shropshire have lost all three of their games in the Unicorns Trophy this season and are now unable to qualify for the knockout stages ahead of their final group match against Lincolnshire at Bracebridge Heath on Sunday.
Despite the disappointment of being edged out, Shropshire could take some comfort from a much improved performance, particularly with the bat, with teenager Clarke the star turn.
“It was a good game of cricket,” said Brian Foxall, Shropshire’s chairman of selectors. “It was a really good effort.”
Clarke, 18, who is hoping to make the breakthrough to the Worcestershire first team, had been out without scoring in both of Shropshire’s opening matches of the season which ended in defeat against Cumberland and Cheshire.
But the England under-19 star relished being back on familiar territory at Oswestry, his home club ground, as he followed up back-to-back Birmingham League first division centuries for the Morda Road club by registering another ton.
“Joe’s in great form with two hundreds for his club and then another one for us,” said Foxall. “He showed what a good player he is.”
A delayed start owing to the wet weather meant an early lunch was taken before Northumberland, having opted to bat first on winning the toss, scored freely to post a competitive total of 283-6 from their reduced allocation of 44 overs.
Opener Reece Carr laid solid foundations by hitting 67 but most of the fireworks were provided by visiting captain Jacques du Toit, the former Leicestershire star, who cracked an unbeaten 100 from just 54 balls, a sparkling knock featuring no fewer than nine big sixes and five boundaries.
Spinner Gurman Randhawa was the pick of a Shropshire attack, minus Ben Sanderson, a late withdrawal, with 2-30 from nine tight overs while there was also some success for Omar Ali with 2-55.
Shrewsbury spinner Charlie Morris and Oswestry’s Robbie Clarke, a late call up to replace Sanderson, also bowled economical spells.
Shropshire, in reply, quickly lost in-form opener Steve Leach for two, but that brought promising teenager Clarke to the crease and he quickly put on 60 for the second wicket with Ali, brother of England ace Moeen, who smashed a rapid 39 from 16 balls to set the tempo.
Clarke was in imperious form as he shared a productive fourth-wicket stand worth 122 with experienced captain James Ralph. All was looking good until Ralph perished for 50 from 57 balls and then Clarke fell the next over, departing for a splendid 107, which came off 100 deliveries and included five towering sixes and a dozen boundaries.
It meant Shropshire had quickly gone from being well placed at 214-3 to 224-5.
Wickets then started to fall at regular intervals with the pressure building and, despite Oswestry’s Robbie Clarke doing his best to see the job through with a determined 24, Shropshire ended six runs adrift on 277-9 shortly before 8pm.
“At 214-3 we were looking like winning the game,” added Foxall. “Those two quick wickets close together made a big difference.
“Northumberland earlier scored rather too many off the final half dozen overs of their innings although their captain batted very well.
“It was a much improved performance overall.”
Pictured: Joe Clarke – hit an excellent century for Shropshire in their narrow defeat against Northumberland.
                                                                                                                                                                               Stuart Dunn