Birkenhead Park CC 1st XI have reached their first Cheshire Cup final since 1996, after a Matty Langford fifty saw Park chase 201 in a historic victory over Park Drive, Widnes.
Captain Tom Foster won the toss and elected to bowl first, given his side’s success chasing this season. Widnes openers Ali Chughtai and Aaron Soni managed to keep Park at bay, with an opening stand of 55, despite Alex Baker beating the bat on multiple occasions.
A piece of magic gave Park their breakthrough as Mark Rowland leaped at mid-wicket to take a spectacular one-handed catch, above his head, to give Foster the wicket of Chughtai for 20.
The next over, Baker’s persistence with the ball was rewarded as Rowland, this time at slip, snaffled another catch above his head to dismiss Kieran Maher for 1. The score 56 for 2. It completed an excellent spell of bowling from Baker, who finished with figures of 8 overs, 1 wicket for just 12 runs.
Just as Soni and Matt Burns looked to be getting the wisitors back on track, the former holed out to Baker, off the bowling of Bailey Jones for 47, before new man Luke McCoy edged behind to Steve Hird, leaving Widnes struggling on 75 for 4.
The old cliché ‘one wicket brings two’ struck again, as James McCoy found Jack Dixon at extra cover following a bright 20, before Jones had two in two balls and his third wicket, as he trapped Burns in front for 12. The score now 103 for 6 and Park well on top.
Widnes wicketkeeper Chris Kirby and Rohan Luthra provided the Cheshire County side with some much-needed respite, putting on fifty for the seventh wicket, as they looked to rebuild in order to post a competitive total. Luthra’s stay at the crease was ended by Rowland for 26, in the 37th over, with the score 153 for 7.
Qamar Hafiz looked to accelerate the scoring for Widnes and wrestle back some momentum in the contest. His eleven balls in the middle did just that and bought 3 fours and a six on his way to a quick-fire 25. Rowland stopped Hafiz’s fun in the penultimate over, leaving the visitors 181 for 8.
Two more boundaries from Kirby in the final over, took him up to 40 not out and Widnes to a more than competitive 200 for 8. Though Park could’ve bowled their opponents out for less, they were more than satisfied with their efforts with the ball. Baker’s 1 for 12 from 8 overs, Jones’ 3 for 46, Foster’s 2 for 33 and Rowland’s 2 for 27 from 5 overs, along with two splendid catches, were the main contributors in restricting Widnes.
Park got off to a fast start in reply, with Rowland hitting two boundaries in the opening over, but he was soon thwarted for 11, as he found mid-wicket off the bowling of Hafiz, in the fourth over. The score 21 for 1.
Mike Barnes now joined Langford, and the pair both found the boundary with ease, as the score raced past fifty in the ninth over. Three overs later, the partnership reached fifty itself, after both hit the fence in a Daniel Osborne over that cost 12.
The pair were now putting on a show for the large crowd at Park Drive, as the next Luthra over went for 16, including Langford sweeping the right-arm seamer into Park High School. Four overthrows then took Park’s score to 100 after 15 overs, before Hafiz returned into the attack and dismissed Barnes for a well made 40 off 44 balls. This bought to an end a brilliant 91-stand with Langford and had set a solid platform for the rest of the chase. The score 112 for 2.
A single from Langford bought up a superb half century, in the 21st over, which was greeted warmly by both sets of supporters. However, the next over it took a smart catch from Hafiz at mid-off, off the bowling of Tom Evans, to stop Langford in his tracks for 50 (66 balls, 4 fours, 1 six).
With the score 122 for 3 and Widnes encouraged by a couple of quick wickets, it was now time for the middle order known as the ‘engine room’ to build on the foundations laid by Langford and Barnes. Foster and Sam Beadsworth continued to keep the run rate at a healthy five and a half runs per over, as they both found the fence off an Evans over.
Both had previously featured in successful Park run chases this season and the pair looked well set to contribute to take Park over the line once again. With the partnership on 47, Beadsworth found Osbourne off his own bowling, on 24, to keep Widnes hopes just about alive. The score 166 for 4 in the 32nd over.
Park were then ruthless, Foster and Hird didn’t give Widnes a sniff, as they scored at a run a ball to knock off the remaining 34 runs with ease and give Park a historic win. Hird deserved great credit, as his unbeaten, gritty, 20 from 18 balls came just one week after a dislocated shoulder. Foster again showed a calm head under pressure, as his 35 not out saw his side home and into the Cheshire Cup final for the first time since 1996. Langford and Barnes’ match winning partnership of 91, backed up the hard work in the first innings from the bowlers, who were well supported by some outstanding catching.
Park then won the coin toss with other finalists Nantwich, post-match, meaning Park Drive will play host to the Cheshire Cup Final on Sunday 11th September.
On Saturday, it was a disappointing day for all teams, as low availability heavily contributed to four defeats. The 1s fell to a nine-wicket defeat at Rainhill, the 2s a seven-wicket defeat at home to Ormskirk and the 4s losing by 131 runs on bank holiday Monday against Wavetree. The 3rd XI also lost by nine wickets to Ormskirk, but 79 not out from Sam Hubble (72 balls, 12 fours) and 41 from Lewis Foran (64 balls, 6 fours, 1 six) were the highlights in Park’s 180 for 4 declared.
Birkenhead Park’s Under 15s side pulled off an unbelievable comeback to overcome Wallasey Under 15s on Tuesday. Chasing 140, Park had fallen to 53 for 7 in reply. However heroics from Mason Cockcroft, who hit an unbeaten 79, and the lower order, gave Park a nail biting one-wicket with just three balls to spare. Adithya Jagadish had starred earlier on with ball, claiming 5 for 31 from 6 overs.
Image credit: Bob Shaw