Chairman of selectors Bryan Jones insisted Shropshire could not have hoped for a better start to their Unicorns Championship campaign after skittling Cheshire for just 89 to seal victory by 166 runs.
Oswestry all-rounder Warrick Fynn and former Middlesex seamer Gurjit Sandhu shared seven wickets between them before lunch on the final day at sweltering Shifnal.
Then Bridgnorth leg spinner Sam Whitney got in in the act with three quick wickets afterwards to wrap up an excellent win.
It was quite a turnaround given Shropshire had trailed by 70 runs at the halfway stage, but a century from captain Steve Leach helped them recover on day two ahead of an inspired bowling display which sparked a Cheshire collapse.
“That’s as good a performance, I guess, from a 70 run deficit that you could hope for,” said Jones. “We got on top but I don’t think anybody would have called it that we would bowl them out for 89.
“Having said that, we showed a lot of character and application to get back in the game on the second afternoon with Steve’s hundred and two or three partnerships under pressure that gradually broke them down.
“Then the little partnership on the final morning left them chasing 256 and made it harder work for them. They kept looking up at the scoreboard, so you’re under pressure, and our two opening bowlers both did so well.
“The captain made a good call in opening with Warrick, the left-armer, with a bit of help from the wicket, bowling into some rough, and Gurjit bowled fantastically, probably the best I’ve seen him bowl for Shropshire.
“He bowled with good pace, intimidating. He bowled in the right areas, took three early wickets, and we never looked back.”
Jones added: “It was a complete performance as we caught some good catches and everybody’s contributed again. We couldn’t have asked for a better start in the Championship.
“It’s important you win your first game to get up and running. We’ll keep our feet on the ground, but what it has done is set a standard of where we want to be and we shouldn’t go below that.”
Set a victory target of 256, Cheshire were quickly reduced to 55-7. There was to be no way back, with Shropshire – who will meet Cheshire again on Sunday, this time in the Unicorns Trophy semi-final at Bridgnorth – completing victory less than 20 minutes after lunch.
Shropshire had started the third and final day with a lead of 226 runs. Last wicket pair Sandhu and Jack Twigger managed to add a further 29 runs to Shropshire’s overnight score before Sandhu (23) became Wayne White’s fourth victim of the innings to leave the hosts 325 all out.
Sandhu (3-38) made early inroads into Cheshire’s top order by grabbing three quick wickets. He bowled openers Danny Leech, the visiting skipper, and Calum Rowe cheaply before trapping Furqin Shafiq lbw first ball to reduce Cheshire to 16-3.
Left-arm spinner Fynn (4-42) then got in on the act by taking the next four wickets to fall before lunch as Shropshire sparkled in the sunshine.
Rick Moore was Fynn’s first victim, caught by Sandhu at slip for five. Then the same combination teamed up to get rid of former Derbyshire and Leicestershire all-rounder White for 14.
There was just no stopping Fynn – and Shropshire – with Sam Perry next to go, falling to a sharp catch from Omar Ali.
Cheshire were soon in real trouble at 55-7 when Simon Normanton, who made 91 in the first innings, fell to a straight forward catch from Leach.
Whitney then took centre stage after lunch as Cheshire were dismissed for 89 inside 29 overs.
Fynn held a catch to remove Gaz Burns, Will Evans holed out to Alexei Kervezee for a top score of 25, with victory completed when Twigger took a catch to remove Ben Aitchison.
Whitney ended with figures of 3-7 from 2.4 overs, with his impact hailed by chairman of selectors Jones.
“I think a leg spinner on a turning wicket on the third day is always going to be a threat,” he said. “That’s exactly why we’ve got him in the team. He very rarely bowls any bad balls and you’re always in the game with a leg spinner that can pitch it actually and test the opposition batsmen.”
Shropshire had elected to bat first on day one and, having been well placed at 159-3, Cheshire battled back to dismiss the hosts for 276. Will Parton top scored with 74 and Kervezee added 65, with the experienced White the pick of the Cheshire attack with 4-59.
Cheshire established a first innings lead of 70 runs by replying with 346 before they were bowled out just before lunch on the second day. The highlight of their innings was a partnership of 149 for the seventh wicket between Normanton, whose hopes of a century were dashed when he was caught by Kervezee off Whitney for 91 from 73 balls, and Perry, the last man out for 71.
Shafiq also weighed in with 50, with Kervezee 3-47 and Sandhu 3-68 among the wickets for Shropshire.
Skipper Leach, having been presented with his county cap by former Shropshire captain John Foster ahead of the game, anchored the home side’s second innings.
The opener eventually fell just before the close of play on day two for 104, which came off 207 balls and included nine fours. Leach shared in productive stands with Kervezee (53) and wicketkeeper Ryan Lockley (42), with White again the stand-out bowler for Cheshire, taking 4-78.
But the last day was to be dominated by in-form Shropshire, who are now looking forward to facing Cheshire again this weekend.
“There’s a long way to go and the two competitions we’re in are very difficult to win,” added Jones. “We know that, but from preparation and planning and where we wanted to be at this stage, I suppose we’re right there, so it’s very pleasing.
“Big credit to the players as they’re trying really hard and it’s going to plan.”
Pictured: Captain Steve Leach leads the Shropshire side off the field after beating Cheshire by 166 runs at Shifnal.