Joe Leach

Joe Leach hails efforts of Salop Captain Rob Foster

By Stuart Dunn, @studunn21, at The Shrewsbury Chronicle

JOE LEACH, Shrewsbury’s Worcestershire all-rounder, has saluted the efforts of skipper Rob Foster in leading the London Road club to Birmingham League title glory in his first season at the helm.

Leach, who grabbed five wickets in Monday’s title-clinching 127 run drubbing of Walsall, said Foster had handled the step up to captaincy impressively since succeeding his brother Ed in the top job.

Ed captained Shrewsbury to their first Birmingham League title in 2010 and followed it up with an ECB National Club Championship triumph 12 months later.

But Leach was keen to praise Rob’s leadership qualities after Shrewsbury were crowned champions with three games to spare, a remarkable achievement.

“Rob’s done it slightly differently,” said Leach. “He’s taken a little bit more of a relaxed approach than what Ed did and it’s worked.

“It’s also co-incided with the change in rules to 50 over win-lose cricket at the start and end of the league season which has been to our favour. That format suits us down to the ground.

“But Rob’s done a really good job. He’s kept his head and he’s captained as well as Ed did at any point so credit to him for that because Ed was a tough act to follow.”

Even during a season in which he has become a first team regular for Worcestershire, Leach insisted being part of such a successful Shrewsbury team meant so much to him.

“I thought this team could go on and win a lot of things so it’s nice that it’s starting to come to fruition,” he said. “It’s a pretty good feeling.

“I’m really pleased for the lads because they really deserve it and hopefully there’s lots more to come.”

Shrewsbury opted to bat first at a sun-kissed London Road against Walsall, the team they have succeeded as champions, but they were soon in a spot of bother at 50-3.

Help was just around the corner as opener Steve Leach, Joe’s younger brother, batted with real maturity to make a patient 65 as he shared in a 105 run stand for the fourth wicket with skipper Foster, who cracked 58 from 70 deliveries.

Wicketkeeper Anthony Parker then weighed in with a rapid 41 as Shrewsbury were bowled out for 223.

Walsall, in reply, quickly slumped to 46-5 with Joe Leach (5-29) grabbing all five wickets to take Shrewsbury to the brink of victory.

“That’s my role in the team, to lead from the front with the ball, so it was nice to do that,” he said.

Michael Barnard then got in on the act with 3-38 from the other end before Elliot Green, having miraculously recovered from an injury which had threatened to end his season, claimed the final wicket as he had Josh Bowker caught by Alex Blofield.

It ensured Walsall were all out for just 96 and signalled the start of the Shrewsbury celebrations with the ecstatic players quick to soak team manager Trevor Sheperd with champagne.

“I’m delighted,” said skipper Foster. “It was nice to win it so early and at home with a lot of people there. It’s a really good feeling.

“We chose to bat first and at 50-3 I thought it might be a bad choice. Myself and Steve Leach put a good partnership together before ‘Mushy’ (Anthony Parker) came in at the end and really took the game away from Walsall.

“Joe Leach with the new ball was then outstanding. He’s just a different level really and his first four dismissals were either caught at slip or caught behind, proper wickets. He was the difference with the ball but Mike Barnard backed him up at the other end which was good to see.”

Shrewsbury had moved to within touching distance of title glory by pulling off a three-wicket win at Wolverhampton on Saturday.

Skipper Foster kept his cool to see the job through with an unbeaten 26 as Shrewsbury bided their time to progress past the winning post to 121-7.

Steve Barnard had earlier helped himself to 3-24, his victims including Worcestershire’s Aneesh Kapil for just six, as relegation-threatened Wolverhampton, having opted to bat first, were bowled out for 120.

The Blofield brothers were also among the wickets, with Alex taking 2-15 and Henry 2-17.

And that win paved the way for a truly memorable London Road day on Monday as Shrewsbury once again underlined they are the top club in the Midlands.

Rob Foster

Foster eyes more of the same

By Stuart Dunn, @studunn21, at The Shrewsbury Chronicle

ROB FOSTER, Shrewsbury’s proud captain, wants his talented young side to become a dominant force in the Birmingham Cricket League after being crowned champions for the second time inside four years.

Shrewsbury wrapped up the premier division title of a league renowned as one of the best in the country with three games to spare after a five-wicket burst from Worcestershire all-rounder Joe Leach set up a convincing win over Walsall in front of a big London Road crowd on Monday.

Now Foster, delighted to have led his home town club to glory in his first season at the helm, is hungry for plenty more success.

“That’s got to have to be our aim now,” said Foster. “Wellington always go on about the fact they won the Birmingham League two years running in 2003 and 2004 so it would be nice to win it again next year.

“But you can’t take anything for granted in this league. You’ve just got to turn up and perform every week really. As soon as you start getting ahead of yourselves, you struggle.

“It’s just nice to win it as it’s great for the club and great for the lads.

“We’ve come a long way as a group since we first won the league in 2010 so it’s been very pleasing all round.

“We’ve only lost two of our 19 games this season in the league which shows how well we’ve played so I think it’s all credit to ourselves that we’ve finished it so early. We’ve been outstanding this year.”

Foster stressed it had been a real team effort this season, highlighting the contribution of the whole first team squad.

“It’s a credit to the strength of the club in the firsts and seconds really,” he said. “We’ve used something like 18 or 19 players on a Saturday in the first team.

“Henry Blofield pulled out of Monday’s game with tonsillitis but he’s stepped up into the first team bracket this season. Dan Manders has been around a long time but he put in a key performance for us at Walmley and people like Tom Ellis have also played their part at times.

“We’ve missed Ed Barnard the whole year and he’s probably the outstanding player his age in England having already played for England’s under-19s at 17 so it really has been a great all round effort.”

Foster now wants his team to push for more wins over the final three games of the season, beginning with Saturday’s visit of Brockhampton, one of only two sides to have beaten Shrewsbury in the league this season.

“We’ve earned the right to enjoy these three games and play with a bit more freedom,” said the skipper. “But it would be nice to get three more wins on the board and really hammer it home for the season. We don’t want to ease off or play poorly so it’s up to us to keep winning.”

Leach is ruled out through Worcestershire duty this weekend but Foster revealed there was a chance England batsman James Taylor, the club’s contracted player from Nottinghamshire, could be drafted in for his second apperance of the season.

“He might come in,” smiled Foster. “If he’s about and wants to play, I’ll try and get him in.”

There’s also cricket at London Road on Sunday with Shrewsbury hosting the popular Salop Leisure Twenty20 Knockout.

Shrewsbury take on Oswestry in the first semi final (10.30am) with the second last four clash between Whitchurch and Shifnal to follow. The two winners will then contest the final.

“It should be a good day, an enjoyable day,” added Foster. “It will be nice to have a few teams from around the county here.”

Steve Barnard

Steve Barnard the hero in hard-fought win

By Stuart Dunn, @studunn21, at The Shrewsbury Chronicle

ROB FOSTER was all smiles after Steve Barnard’s late heroics with the bat kept Shrewsbury right on course to be crowned Birmingham League champions.

Two more victories over a busy Bank Holiday weekend which takes Shrewsbury to Wolverhampton on Saturday before hosting Walsall on Monday would take the London Roaders to the brink of title glory.

The ice cool Barnard hit a six and then a four from the final two balls of a dramatic premier division clash as Shrewsbury just about reached their revised victory target after several rain interruptions to seal a hard-earned two-wicket verdict over Walmley.

Joe Leach, Shrewsbury’s Worcestershire all-rounder, had earlier underlined his first class credentials by bowling sharply to take six wickets.

But it was the way in which Barnard stayed focused to secure another priceless victory which really delighted skipper Foster and the watching spectators, among them James Taylor, the Nottinghamshire and England batsman, and Shrewsbury’s high profile contracted player.

“It was nerve racking at the end,” said Foster. “We were far from our best so it’s always nice to win. Steve Barnard was magic really at the end, hitting the winning runs.

“It’s the second time this season against Walmley that we quite comfortably could have lost so it was great to win to keep our lead at the top, especially as Brockhampton also won.

“It’s a big result as it keeps us 55 points ahead with 100 points to play for.

“It’s massively in our hands so we just need to turn up and perform a bit better than we did against “Walmley.”

Walmley batted first and a 174 run stand for the fourth wicket between former Warwickshire and Derbyshire man Mo Sheikh, unbeaten on 102, and Andrew Hendry (89), formed the bedrock of their 258-9 from 50 overs.

Leach was far and away the pick of the Shrewsbury attack, taking 6-34 from 10 sharp overs a day after helping Worcestershire beat Bangladesh A at New Road.

“Joe was brilliant,” said Foster. “He did exactly what you want him to do and was the stand out by far, miles above anyone else who bowled for us.

“The rest of our bowling and fielding efforts was pretty ordinary all round which was disappointing, but Joe was outstanding which was good to see.”

Shrewsbury began their reply set a revised target of 238 from a reduced 40 overs but a couple more interruptions owing to rain eventually meant the figure that mattered was 190 in 32 overs.

After the final delay it all came down to the county towners needing to hit 47 from the final 4.4 overs and on the resumption Shropshire wicketkeeper Anthony Parker promptly cracked three successive sixes.

Shrewsbury then had a little wobble before Barnard (14no) hit a six off the penultimate ball of the match followed by a four off the final delivery to lead the relieved hosts over the line to 193-8.

Tom Cox, at No 5, had earlier dug in to hit 54 while Parker (37), Rob Foster (23) and Ed Foster (20) also contributed.
“Anthony’s three sixes in a row swung the game back in our favour,” added the skipper. “At one stage we needed 19 to win off the last three overs and I thought we would cruise it.

“We then nearly threw it away but then Steve Barnard came up with the goods again.”