A farewell present for the Captain

Last day agony as Cheshire fall short
By Jim Law

Champions bow out as Wiltshire take title.
Unicorns Championship Western Division: Oxfordshire 200 & 140-2, Cheshire 247 & 92.
Oxfordshire won by 8 wickets.
Cheshire 6 points, Oxfordshire 22 points.

In the end it wasn't to be.

Full points over bottom club Oxfordshire at Nantwich and Cheshire would have regained their 2013 Western Division crown.

But a below par performance in a rain affected game saw Cheshire unable to capitalise on a sound start as they surrendered meekly.

Yet it all looked so different on the first day with Oxfordshire reeling at 18-5. A mid-order recovery frustrated the hosts and a second innings total of just 92 left the door open for the visitors.

And with the tightest Championship for years, the vultures were circling. First Herefordshire were in pole position and then news came through of Wiltshire's triumph at Whitchurch against Shropshire and the Southerners took the title.

Oxfordshire arrived at Nantwich firmly rooted to the bottom of the Western Division table. Putting Cheshire into bat, the home side went in search of maximum batting points but settled for just two as they reached 247, Rick Moore's outstanding season bringing him 74 and in-form Calum Rowe 53. Chad Keegan was main destroyer with 5-66.

Then it was the turn of the Cheshire seamers with Adam Syddall and the returning Jason Whittaker causing havoc. With Oxfordshire closing day one on 18-5, Cheshire were in the driving seat with other scores in their favour.

But cricket can be both cruel and unexpected.

With much of the second day lost to rain, the fight back started with Keegan now demonstrating his skills with the bat and striking a fine 84. With Oxfordshire all out for 200 and trailing by just 47, Cheshire were up against it to force victory, with the clock against them.

Day three saw more rain and an afternoon start meant things had to happen quickly. They did, but not to plan. Stunned and maybe caught in two minds, they slipped to 92 all out, inevitably Moore top scoring with 26. Keegan continued his triumphs taking 5-38 to end with match figures of 10-104, well supported by Karl Penhale (5-38)'

Set 140 to win, Oxfordshire romped home to shatter Cheshire dreams. A game that started with so much promise saw them humbled to end in fourth place in the division.

Clearly disappointed, skipper James Duffy recognised his side had fallen short but preferred to focus on the successes of the season.

"It wasn't meant to be," he said

"We came into the game full of confidence but just didn't fire and the weather was against us. But let's take stock and think what we achieved across a busy season. We've been ravaged by unavailability and injury so we've not had a settled team. Yet whether it's been Dan (Woods) or me leading the side, the boys have responded. We took the Championship to the final day and reached a KO Trophy semi-final.

"We've been forced to blood youngsters and they've not let us down. We've seen Calum Rowe flourish into an important asset for us, and the emergence of Harry Killoran to name two. Of the seniors, Rick Moore's had the season of his life and Adam Syddall continues to show what a fine bowler he is.

"So although we know we have shortfalls and we've misfired a couple of times, we've a rosy future."

Wiltshire will now play Eastern Division Champions Staffordshire in the four day final.

Cheshire v Oxfordshire full scorecard

Western Division Table:
Team Played Won Lost Tied Drawn N/R Points
Wiltshire 6 4 1 0 1 0 104
Herefordshire 6 4 1 0 1 0 102
Devon 6 3 1 0 2 0 93
Cheshire 6 3 1 0 2 0 91
Dorset 6 3 2 0 1 0 82
Shropshire 6 3 3 0 0 0 78
Oxfordshire 6 1 3 0 2 0 58
Wales MC 6 1 3 0 2 0 56
Cornwall 6 1 4 0 1 0 46
Berkshire 6 0 4 0 2 0 43