Shropshire’s hopes of success in the first Unicorns Twenty20 competition were dashed as they fell at the first hurdle to an experienced Oxfordshire side.
Keen to set up a regional final against Herefordshire, comfortable conquerors of Wales in the opening semi-final played earlier in the day, Shropshire were instead left to contemplate a four-wicket defeat at Eastnor, the venue for both semis.
It always looked a tall order for James Ralph’s young side who were without both of their unavailable professionals Ben Sanderson and Gurman Randhawa.
In their absence youth was given a chance to shine, but Shropshire’s total of 129 all out from 19.4 overs never looked likely to be enough despite a brave effort to peg Oxfordshire back in the field.
Shrewsbury opener Steve Leach perished off the fourth ball of the match before Ross Aucott and Omar Ali set about repairing the early damage.
Aucott followed up his recent half century in the county’s T20 warm up match against Worcestershire Rapids at Bridgnorth by cracking 33 from 20 balls.
Ali, brother of England star Moeen, also played some fine shots, hitting two big sixes and five boundaries on his way to top scoring with 52 from 44 deliveries.
But Shropshire were unable to build on their solid foundations as they fell away from a promising 78-2 in the 11th over, with Oxfordshire duo Chad Keegan, the former Middlesex man, and Richard West both taking three wickets.
Oxfordshire, in reply, made an explosive start before wickets started to tumble, with Bridgnorth leg spinner Sam Whitney claiming 3-21 as he emerged as the pick of the Shropshire attack.
Opener Hugo Darby hit 31 before allrounder Keegan saw the job through with an unbeaten 31 from just 13 balls to lead his side to 133-6 off the first ball of the 17th over.
“If we had put another 30 runs on the board it would have been interesting,” said Brian Foxall, Shropshire’s chairman of selectors. “We were going along nicely with Ross Aucott and Omar Ali playing well, but we had a bit of a collapse after that and no-one else got going.
“We then bowled and fielded quite well but we were up against a strong and very experienced Oxfordshire side.
“It will not have done our young players any harm to play in this sort of tournament and we now look forward to the start of our Championship season.”
Oxfordshire beat Herefordshire by 8 wickets in the group final.
Shropshire open their Unicorns Championship campaign with a three-day game against Cheshire which gets under way at Whitchurch on Sunday.
Pictured: Omar Ali top scored with 52 for Shropshire as they were beaten by Oxfordshire.