Cricket: Staffordshire impress to advance one-day hopes
STAFFORDSHIRE put themselves on the brink of qualifying for the Knockout Trophy quarter-finals following a six-wicket victory over Wales.
The county had suffered two wash-outs in their Group Four campaign, but yesterday's win at Leek means a similar result in their final game at Buckinghamshire next Sunday will see them clinch a top-two spot.
Staffs' bowlers set up the success as they dismissed the visitors for 104, who had elected to bat after winning the toss.
Wales made steady progress at the outset, putting on 28 for the first wicket, before Greg Willott – playing on his home ground – bowled Aneurin Donald for 15.
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The Staffordshire bowlers hunted in packs, with debutant Imran Arif producing a steady new-ball spell.
Willott struck again to account for Sean Griffiths (21) and, after Craig Barker's double blast removed Alun Evans and Tom Baker, Wales were struggling on 58-4.
Their predicament worsened as they fell under the spell of left-arm spinner Paul Byrne, who excelled in his 10 overs, extracting turn and bounce from a helpful pitch.
He was rewarded with two wickets – and could have added to his tally if Richard Hassall and Dave Wheeldon had clung on to regulation chances off visiting skipper Darren Thomas.
Thomas remained unbeaten on 19 at the end, but he found scant support from his young tail-enders.
A tidy stint of off-spin from Hassall earned him the scalp of Adam Griffiths (12), before the returning Willott (4-27) claimed two wickets in two deliveries to send Jeremy Lawler and Jonathan Denning on their way.
Arif wasted little time in wrapping up the innings by having Nickolas Davies caught behind by Paul Goodwin.
"The bowlers performed tidily and Craig Barker and Paul Byrne especially were outstanding," said skipper Goodwin.
"We spoke beforehand that the seamers didn't have to run in at full tilt, they had to let the pitch help them out. The track was pretty true for the first 10 overs or so, but then it offered some assistance and became harder to score on."
Staffordshire's reply made a nightmare start when Kadeer Ali was trapped lbw by Denning off the first ball of the innings.
Wheeldon swiftly followed him back to the pavilion, but Peter Wilshaw (40) and Goodwin (14) shared a 50-run third-wicket stand to steady the ship.
They both fell with the score on 63, but any faint hopes Wales had of springing a surprise were quickly extinguished.
Ben McGuire appeared to be a player in a hurry as he cleared the ropes twice in his 32 not out, off just 36 balls, to seal victory.
"Peter played sensibly and managed to put the bad ball away," added Goodwin.
"Ben finished things off nicely at the end, which completed a positive day for us.
"We can now go to Buckinghamshire next week full of confidence, with our destiny in our own hands."