Shropshire’s hopes of ending their Unicorns Championship season with a fourth successive victory were dashed as Wiltshire had just enough time to seal a four-wicket win which meant they were crowned Western Division champions.
But Brian Foxall, Shropshire’s chairman of selectors, insisted the county should be encouraged about the future after responding well to a tough start to the season which not only saw them beaten heavily in their two opening Championship matches but also lose influential captain Richard Oliver to Worcestershire.
“We’ve got to be pleased with what’s happened after the first two games,” he said. “To still be competitive and have had an outside chance of winning the title going into the final fixture was terrific.
“We were also very competitive against Wiltshire so there’s certainly been progress and the young lads that have come into the side have shown they can play at this level.
“If we are able to keep everyone together for next season then we’ve got cause to be optimistic.”
An unbeaten century from Neil Clark guided Wiltshire to their victory target of 272-6 after the final two days of the match at Whitchurch’s Heath Road ground were badly hit by heavy rain.
But the two captains got their heads together to conspire a result which made for an exciting end to the season.
Shropshire skipper James Ralph had opted to bat first on winning the toss and it proved to be a wise decision as Steve Leach, the 20-year-old opener, led the way with a determined century.
The Shrewsbury batsman, younger brother of Worcestershire regular Joe, struck a dozen fours and a six en route to compiling an excellent 126 from 258 balls.
It meant Leach became the first Shropshire player to reach three figures in the Championship this season although former skipper Oliver, who has since flourished on the first-class stage, did crack a sparkling 148 in the opening Unicorns KO match against Lincolnshire at Shrewsbury in May.
Ryan Lockley provided sound support with 53, his fourth half century of the season in the Championship, while there were also useful contributions from Ben Sanderson (32no), skipper Ralph (28), Tom Weston (25) and Robbie Clarke (24) as Shropshire accumulated 332-9.
Wiltshire lost two wickets, both to in-form spinner Gurman Randhawa, before the close of play on day one, but heavy rain led to them declaring their first innings on 61-2.
Shropshire then forfeited their second innings to leave Wiltshire chasing 272 for victory on the final day when rain once again led to a lengthy delay with play not starting until 3.15pm.
But the new Western Division champions had just enough time to reach 272-6 which was built around an unbeaten 126 from Clark to signal the start of prolonged celebrations from the visitors at Heath Road.
Randhawa claimed 5-109 from a marathon 37 over spell to end the season, his debut campaign for Shropshire, with a highly impressive 37 Championship wickets.
Chairman of selectors Foxall added: “In the last hour we had to bowl a minimum of 17 overs and Wiltshire got the winning runs in the 16th of those overs so it was certainly an exciting finish.
“The weather and the attitude of the two captains conspired to make a good game of it and Wiltshire were obviously desperate to play as they saw a good opportunity to win the division which is how it turned out.”
Pictured: Opening batsman Steve Leach, the first Shropshire man to hit a Unicorns Championship century this season.