Triumph Of The Willey
As the sun set on Saturday evening, Wellington 3rds were finally able to celebrate their long-awaited promotion from Division Two.
Since experiencing defeat against Shrewsbury on the first day of August, Wellington’s young 3rd team had won four games on the bounce to leave them on the brink of going up.
To everybody's relief, Saturday’s winning draw against Willey - coupled with results elsewhere - proved to be enough to get Pitchy’s men over the line.
And so, Wellington’s dejection at being unable to claim the last Willey wicket soon turned to jubilation as the news of third-placed Ellesmere’s defeat at Cae Glas was relayed.
Cue the celebrations - of which young Simmo, drenched head to toe in warm larger, bore the brunt.
But it could have been quite different.
As has been the case so often this season, Wellington’s character was fully tested in this game: an early batting collapse - 2 for 2 in the second over - threatened to put the champagne back on ice.
After the loss of openers Sam Topper (first ball of the innings) and Rich Benting (a duck, caught and bowled), the home side’s seeming long batting order suddenly felt a lot shorter. Nerves were jangling.
With his side rocking, Matt Dickenson provided a steadying influence alongside Pat Howells, before the latter was cleaned up LBW for 18.
At 39 for 3, Dicko, now joined by Matty Simmonds (15), operated with appropriate caution but he was able to keep the innings ticking along with good running, which helped to compensate for the slow, wet outfield.
Gouldy added some impetus mid-way through the innings, launching a huge six onto the portacabin as he and Dicko advanced the score past 100.
But, just as Wellington were beginning to feel more comfortable, disaster struck as Gould pushed one to the bowler and ran, leaving Matt short of his ground by around about six or seven yards - and short of his jug by just three runs.
Irate, Dickenson left the field and was replaced by the skipper; however it was the introduction of Pitchy that gave Wellington’s innings the lift-off it needed.
He swung a quick-fire 47 in the final ten overs to get Wellington up to a first innings total of 180 for 8 - a fantastic and decisive shift in momentum after a tricky start.
Wellington began wonderfully with the new ball - a feature that has been characteristic of their season - with Jack Fishman and Sam Topper hitting their strides from the off.
Fishy claimed two clean bowled, whilst the unassuming Topper bounced another out, as Wellington got off to a flying start inside the first ten overs.
They had to wait a while for the 4th wicket as Willey mounted some dogged resistance, before skipper Nathan Garbett was well stumped off the bowling of Ross.
Sensing that the door was now open, Ryan Lloyd burst onto the stage with two wickets off his first two balls immediately after drinks - he’d chosen a good day to fire down his best spell of the season and was clearly enjoying the occasion.
Another for a rampant Lloyd brought Wellington to within three wickets of promotion with some 15 overs remaining, but it was there they stayed, tantalising close for what seemed like an eternity.
Willey’s eighth wicket stand lasted over ten overs as Pitchy chopped and changed the bowling, hoping to find a way through the defences of Martin Ball (39*) and Tim Cotton (10).
Chances came and went before Topper returned to the attack and finally succeeded in snicking off Cotton - and he followed that up by clean bowling Willey’s number ten.
Christ knows what sort of state Sam would’ve got himself into if he’d claimed that final wicket - or how he would've coped under the huge pile-on that would've ensued.
Perhaps it was lucky for him then that Willey evaded the last ten balls of the match, earning a draw at 127 for 9.
Wellington’s failure to achieve victory here ranks only as a slight disappointment in a season of very few - and it certainly did not detract from Saturday evening’s celebrations.
On Sunday morning the team's sore heads could reflect on a hugely successful season and well-deserved and hard-earned achievement: becoming the first 3rd XI to reach the second tier of Shropshire cricket.
Roll on 2016.