CAPTAIN Mike Brown admitted Stratford Cricket Club were left with a mix of emotions after erasing last season’s heartache by celebrating promotion joy.
The Panthers, denied by a last-day defeat last summer, booked their place back in Division Two of the Birmingham Premier League by defeating fellow promotion contenders Fordhouses by six wickets.
Stratford are guaranteed a top two spot and could yet pip long-time leaders C&R Hawks for the title – if they can chalk up a big win against the Cannock-based visitors at Swans Nest Lane in tomorrow’s final game of the season.
Bowler Brown said Stratford had felt the pressure in recent weeks but there was relief, satisfaction and sheer delight at sealing promotion.
“At the start of the season, we sat down and talked about how much last season had hurt and we were determined to put right that wrong,” said Brown.
“But there was a huge mix of feelings at the end of Saturday’s game – I felt pleased, relieved and very happy. Certainly relieved after the Bank Holiday game against Kings Heath when we could have won promotion had been rained off.
“That gave Fordhouses a chance. But I kept saying to the lads before Saturday’s game that the pressure was on Fordhouses. We were in the ascendancy in terms of our form and we had a 30-point gap. Even we had lost, we would still have a had one more game to get promoted.
“Fordhouses took the game to us, really attacked from ball one. At 82-0 I was start to think it was going to be long couple of hours, but yet again this season the bowlers came through. We’ve always stuck together and we know we can take wickets.2
The bowlers have certainly been consistently effective and Brown, fellow opening seamer Tom Grundy and spinner James Urquhart all rate in the top ten of the league averages.
This time, it was Adrian Watts who stepped up to the plate, claiming four wickets for 29 in his ten overs. Brown (2-29) and Urquhart (2-23) chipped in as Wolverhampton side Fordhouses, having been 82 without loss, were dismissed for 129 in the 30th over, their ten wickets for 42 runs.
In reply, Dutch one-day international Ben Cooper led Stratford home, smashing 56 off 54 balls before D Purser (18not out) hit the winning runs.
Brown hailed the Panthers’ success as a real team success – on and off the pitch with former England coach Andy Flower also playing a vital role.
“Andy has been really great,” said Brown. “Probably, by his own admission, we haven’t seen as much of him as he would like but from my point of view I’ve been able to speak him a couple of times a week about team selections, tactics and hearing his views on the game.
“He has made me a better captain, his help has been invaluable.”
There’s no secret, though, for the Panthers’ success, just hard work, especially in their fielding drills.
“At a meeting before the season with myself and Andy, we said that we were one of the youngest teams in the league and our fielding needed to be better.
“It’s not just taking catches but our ground fielding too so we don’t allow batters to get the ascendancy.
“We’ve got our rewards for that and other captains have said we’ve been the best fielding side they’ve faced.”
Stratford, 18 points behind Hawks, can clinch the title if they win for the loss of two wickets, limiting Hawks to just two points.