Cricket: Coy Shardlow plays down Wiltshire chances
WILTSHIRE head into tomorrow's Knockout Trophy semi-final against Staffordshire more in hope than expectation, according to team manager Neil Shardlow.
They emerged from a tough-looking group, featuring Lincolnshire and Suffolk, before beating Devon in the quarter-finals.
But despite producing some eye-catching displays to reach the last four, Shardlow has no doubts where the smart money should be laid.
"A couple of years ago we lost six senior plays and put in place a three to five-year plan to develop youngsters from our academy system," said the 42-year-old.
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"There are a couple of guys from outside the county, but primarily, the team is full of our own young cricketers.
"They have surpassed our expectations, especially with the way they played against Lincolnshire and Devon. But we know that Staffordshire are always strong, so we're massive underdogs.
"We'll go up there, play our cricket and see where it takes us. There are no expectations from our point of view."
Shardlow, a veteran of 60 Championship appearances for the county between 1988 and 2005, has come as close as anyone to sampling Knockout Trophy success.
Wiltshire have never had their hands on the silverware, although the former wicketkeeper was in the side which lost the 2005 final to Norfolk.
"We were supposed to play at Lord's, but it rained, so we ended up playing the game at Slough three weeks later," recalled Shardlow.
"We'd played some good stuff to get there, but it was a case of after the Lord Mayor's Show in the rearranged match. This is a different set of circumstances, though. We're not expected to win and it is almost like a free ticket for us."
There might well be an element of mind games at work as Shardlow downplays his side's chances of toppling a confident Staffs team.
But optimism should be spreading through the visiting dressing room after their performances this season.
Openers Ed Kilbee and Jayden Levitt have blazed a trail at the top of the order, and both hit centuries in the victory over Lincolnshire.
"We have a good number of all-rounders who can adapt to the conditions in both one and three-day cricket," explained Shardlow.
"We've only used 12 or 13 players so far this season and all of them have worked incredibly hard in the games we've managed to play.
"There has been a bit of luck along the way – Devon dropped a number of catches in the quarter-final – but you need that sometimes.
"We're delighted with what the team has achieved so far."