Omar Ali impressively guided Shropshire to an exciting two-wicket victory over Herefordshire in the first round of the Unicorns Trophy at Whitchurch.
Alexei Kervezee, Sam Whitney and Mike Barnard – making his first Shropshire appearance since 2013 – claimed three wickets apiece as Herefordshire, winners of the competition in 2016, were dismissed for 164.
Then opening batsman Ali, back at a ground he knows so well having played for Whitchurch earlier in his career, carried his bat to end 92 not out as Shropshire recovered from 59-6 to reach their target with more than 10 overs to spare.
Shropshire’s reward is a second round trip to Himley to face Staffordshire on Sunday, May 20.
Shropshire skipper Steve Leach said: “Omar deserves more than a mention, 92 not out in an overall total of 165 is clearly the stand out performance, especially when wickets were going down around him.
“He played the perfect one-day innings. He whacked it at the start, kept it ticking over when wickets were going at the other end and he batted really responsibly at the end. He punished the bad balls and played with a level head, so he was very, very impressive.
“But that’s not to take away from what was a really good overall team performance. We probably had 10 or 15 minutes of madness when we were batting, but we’ve won 90 per cent of this match and, come the end of play, we thoroughly deserve our win, I’m sure of that.”
Herefordshire openers Matt Pardoe and Ryan Tongue laid solid foundations after the visitors opted to bat first by putting on 66 for the first wicket.
England under-19 paceman Dillon Pennington eventually made the breakthrough with Alex Wyatt taking a catch to remove debutant Tongue for 28.
Pardoe soon went for 32, trapped lbw by offspinner Kervezee, a first Shropshire wicket for the county new boy.
Bridgnorth skipper Whitney then struck, removing Jamie Harrison for 17 to leave Herefordshire 96-3, and it prompted a flurry of wickets as the visitors were quickly reduced to 115-6.
Both Kervezee, who claimed 3-30 from his 10 overs, and Whitney, who ended with 3-35, troubled the Herefordshire batsmen, while Leach also highlighted a “superb” fielding display from his side.
Shrewsbury opening bowler Barnard, making a welcome return to the Shropshire team for the first time since since playing in the 2013 MCCA Trophy final against Berkshire at Wormsley, then got in on the act.
He took three quick wickets, starting with Tom Hage, caught by Leach for 29, to wrap up the Herefordshire innings and give him figures of 3-22 from 8.2 overs as the visitors were bowled out for 164 in 44.2 overs.
Shropshire openers Ali and Leach put on 39 before Leach was caught behind for 18 by Ian Bullock off Barney Morgan (3-36).
The county were soon in trouble at a precarious 59-6, but Ali continued to stand firm, receiving some support from Whitney in repairing the damage before being joined in the middle by Gurjit Sandhu to put on 60 for the eighth wicket as Shropshire went from 85-7 to 145-8.
Sandhu then fell, caught behind off David Ball (4-32) for 16, but Ali – who faced 109 balls, hitting two sixes and eight fours – then teamed up with Barnard, who struck two boundaries, as Shropshire advanced to 165-8 from 39.3 overs to secure a fine victory.
Shropshire are next in action next weekend when they begin the new Twenty20 competition for Minor Counties clubs with an away game against Berkshire at Wargrave on Sunday followed by a home clash with Oxfordshire at Shrewsbury 24 hours later on Bank Holiday Monday.
Pictured: Omar Ali is congratulated on hitting an unbeaten 92 at Whitchurch’s Heath Road ground as Shropshire beat Herefordshire by two wickets.