Shropshire captain James Ralph admits his unbeaten side are “outsiders” to land the Unicorns Championship Western Division title ahead of their penultimate game of the season at home to Wales this weekend.
Shropshire have won one and drawn the other three of their Championship fixtures this season. It leaves them fourth in the table, 19 points adrift of leaders Cornwall.
But Ralph, whose side take on Wales in a three-day game at Bridgnorth which starts on Sunday, insisted there is still a mathematical chance that Shropshire – who will wrap up their campaign against Devon at Shrewsbury – could be crowned champions.
“Cornwall next play Oxfordshire, who are second in the table, so if one of those slip up we could essentially make up ground with a good result against Wales,” said Ralph.
“I would say we have to be considered as outsiders at the moment, but it we win our last two matches, you never know what could happen elsewhere. We need to aim to win our games comfortably and hope for some magical results in other matches.”
Ralph and his team mates do not quite know what to expect against a Wales side yet to win this season as it’s never clear what sort of team Wales will field.
“If often depends on the strength of their team,” he insisted. “Sometimes they play a lot of youngsters and in other games they play a lot of contracted players from Glamorgan.
“They beat us convincingly last season. It was all over a couple of balls into the third day, so we certainly owe them a better game this time.”
Ralph stressed he was pleased to be back in familar surroundings following consecutive away matches at Herefordshire, Berkshire and Dorset, particularly as the Wales clash will be played at Bridgnorth, his home club ground.
“We always get a lot support at Bridgnorth,” he said. “There’s quite a few Bridgnorth players in the Shropshire squad this season so we’ll get plenty of people down to watch and we’re always well looked after by the tea ladies and the ground staff. It’s always a place where we enjoy playing.”
Ralph is enjoying a fine season as county skipper, contributing with bat and ball – he has claimed five-wicket hauls in back-to-back matches – but, reflecting on the campaign, he feels Shropshire could be better placed than fourth spot.
He added: “We are unbeaten, so that’s a positive, but I think we probably deserve to have two wins and two draws instead of one win and three draws.
“Our season has really been a case of not taking our chances and we’ve dropped a lot of catches which has been frustrating. In the last game at Dorset we dropped both of their batsmen who went on to get centuries in the first innings when they were on nought.
“But I’ve been pleased generally with the way we’ve batted this season as it’s been better than it’s been for a couple of years.
“Steve Leach has been a rock for us at the top of the order, Robbie Clarke’s done well, Charlie Morris has bowled with a lot of control in the last couple of games, while young Dan Lloyd and Will Parton came into the side for the first time this season at Dorset and both contributed.”
Sunday’s match against Wales at Bridgnorth starts at 11am. Admission is free on all three days.
Pictured: James Ralph, the Shropshire captain, looking forward to facing Wales on his home club ground of Bridgnorth.