It’s taken 18 years to achieve but James Ralph will join a select group of players to have played 100 Minor Counties Championship games for Shropshire when he completes his century in the county’s next match at Cheshire.
The classy Bridgnorth batsman, rapidly closing in on 5,000 Championship runs, will become the thirteenth player in the club’s history to reach the special landmark when the three-day game at Nantwich gets under way on July 31.
Ralph, the former county captain, admits he’s proud to be on the verge of taking his Championship appearances into three figures while he has also represented Shropshire in 65 one-day matches, with the highlight hitting an unbeaten century in a NatWest Trophy tie against a star-studded Somerset side in 2000.
He averages 33.15 with the bat in the Championship, with a top score of 140, while he has also taken 41 wickets and held onto 89 catches.
Ralph said: “When I think back to how many games and for how many years I’ve played, I think I’ll probably be one of the last to play 100 Championship games.
“With six games a year now compared to nine how it used to be, it’s going to take 17 years playing non-stop to get there.
“But I’ve really enjoyed playing so many games for Shropshire and I still do. I love playing in a team environment for three days with the camaraderie and the fun we get up to. I’m very proud to be so close to 100 matches.”
It’s ironic that Ralph, 40, will reach his century milestone against Cheshire given they also provided the opposition when he made his Championship debut at Alderley Edge in 1998 when Bryan Jones, the current county team manager, was team captain.
As well as the Cheshire game being highly significant in Ralph’s career, he stressed it’s an important match for the current team who are third in the Western Division, eight points behind leaders Cornwall.
Shropshire had opened the season with three successive Championship victories until losing to Berkshire by six wickets at Shifnal in their last outing.
Ralph is now looking for Shropshire to win their final two games of the season – they must also travel to Wiltshire next month – to give them the best possible chance of being crowned Western Division champions.
He said: “We’ve got to go with the mindset that we need to win both of our remaining games, and if we do that and don’t win the division then we would be a bit unlucky.
“The Berkshire game was disappointing and it followed the trend this season in that we can’t seem to bat 90 overs in our first innings, which we need to to.”
As for the future and how long Ralph plans to carry on representing the county, he added: “I would love to carry on but I think realistically this is probably my last year.”
Ralph will join a distinguished list of players to have made 100 Championship appearances for Shropshire. It’s headed by prolific batsman Steve Johnson, who played an incredible 180 matches in 24 years from 1967-1991. Shropshire used to play nine Championship matches a year then over two days as opposed to the six three-day matches they play each year now.
The other men to have played 100 Championship games for Shropshire are: Geoff Othen (143), Brian Perry (134), Mark Davies (125), Bryan Jones (123), Rob Burton (114), Don Jones (113), Joe Smith (113), Andy Barnard (112), Steve Gale (108), John Foster (104) and David York (103).
Pictured: James Ralph – made his Championship debut for Shropshire in 1998.