By Stuart Dunn, @studunn21, at The Shrewsbury Chronicle
STEVE LEACH once more underlined his potential to be a professional cricketer by hitting his third century of the season, but it was not enough to save Birmingham League premier division champions Shrewsbury from sliding to a rare defeat.
Promising opener Leach, 19, who asked to be released from his Worcestershire contract earlier this season, was at his brilliant best once again as he broke through the 800 run barrier in the Birmingham League this year with another polished knock.
But hosts West Bromwich Dartmouth chased well to seal a six-wicket win at Sandwell Park, reaching their target with eight balls to spare.
It was only a third league defeat of the season for Shrewsbury who are 74 points clear at the top of the table ahead of Saturday’s final match of the campaign at home to relegated Wombourne.
One more victory will see Shrewsbury set a new record points total for any team in a premier division season.
Skipper Rob Foster was disappointed with the result but delighted with the efforts of Leach who recently struck a century in a trial game for Warwickshire’s 2nd XI.
“Steve was outstanding again,” said Foster. “He’s playing really well and his hundred was even more impressive given it was a tough wicket.
“He’s done fantastically well for us this season, scoring more than 800 league runs, and there surely has to be a few first class counties taking note of that.”
Batting first, Shrewsbury were struggling at 82-5 until Leach and skipper Foster joined forces to put on 114 for the sixth wicket.
Leach led the way with an excellent 113 to take his tally of league runs for the season to 819.
And he was well supported by Foster, at No 7, who hit an unbeaten 54 as Shrewsbury posted 211-8 from their 50 overs.
West Bromwich, in reply, were also well served by a three figure partnership with regular Warwickshire first teamer Ateeq Javed, in good touch for 77, and Zeeshan Arif (47no) laying the foundations for the hosts to advance to 214-4.
Mike Barnard grabbed 2-46 but this time Shrewsbury were unable to come out on top.
“It was disappointing to lose as we don’t like losing any game,” stressed skipper Foster. “It’s been a long season and, for us, it did have a very end of season feel to it.
“We might have lost the game but there was also still a very good chance to could have won it.
“They always had a few wickets in hand but it was closer than the result might suggest.
“Their overseas player hit a few sixes towards the end and Ateeq Javed played well, but he’s a guy who’s just recently scored a first class hundred.
“We had Joe Leach back playing for us so again it shows the standard of cricket we’re playing at, a Warwickshire player up against a Worcestershire player.”
Shrewsbury now want to sign off their successful season in style at the expense of Wombourne on Saturday before hosting Barnt Green in the final of the Graham Williamson Trophy 24 hours later.