Unicorns Championship Final Preview

Allan Smith previes the county club's big game.


Having defeated Norfolk in a nail biter to win the Eastern Division of the Minor Counties at Longton, Staffordshire’s cricketers now face the daunting task of taking on Western Division champions Berkshire in this year’s play-off final. Berkshire are not only the reigning Minor Counties champions, but have won the title three years on the trot, and are unbeaten in championship cricket for five years. The match takes place over four days at the neutral venue of Banbury Cricket Club, starting this Sunday 15th September.

Skipper Kadeer Ali whilst acknowledging the strength of their opponents is going there in optimistic mood saying, “Berkshire are an excellent side and they have dominated minor counties cricket in recent years. But it’s a four-day final and anything can happen. We will go to Banbury looking to win the overall title.”

Not only have Berkshire been all conquering in championship cricket in recent years, they recently defeated Cumberland by one run to win the one- day Trophy as well. They have the experienced former Middlesex all-rounder Chris Peploe in their squad and they have a strong all round bowling unit with England under 19 player Euan Woods along with Ali Raja, Andy Rishton, Tom Nugent and Luke Beaven. Peploe has taken a total of 32 wickets for Berkshire in championship cricket this season while Rishton has snaffled 22. Woods is one of their stars with the bat having scored 419 championship runs alongside Middlesex’s Dan Lincoln with 339, while Archie Carter tops the run scoring list with 451 from his 10 innings. 

However Staffs, having come close to lifting the Eastern Division title last year, have gone through the 2019 season unbeaten winning 4 and drawing 2 championship matches to pip Norfolk by 5 points. Kadeer Ali has at his disposal the talent of Michael Hill, who is currently top of the run scorers in Minor Counties championship cricket this season with 668 runs from his 11 innings. In fourth spot in this seasons run scorers is Matthew Morris who has scored 501 in an impressive first season for the county, while Staffs stalwarts Peter Wilshaw and Tim Maxfield have scored 418 and 384 respectively. On the bowling front left-arm spinner Paul Byrne, who claimed the crucial final Norfolk wicket with 15 minutes of the match remaining, tops the Staffs wicket takers with 25 to his name followed by Maxfield who has claimed 18.

On paper there appears little between the sides but Berkshire will go into the game as favourites on the back of their recent successes, while Staffs will be hoping to clinch the overall crown for the first time since 2014 when they overcame Wiltshire.

Staffs have been hit by injury and unavailability in the run in and have used a total of 20 players in their championship campaign to date. They still have a number of players they are unable to call on for the play-off final but have named a strong 12 man squad to make the trip to Banbury, all of whom have featured previously this season. Five of the players were in the team led by Paul Goodwin which last won the championship outright in 2014 and are hoping to pick up the trophy for a second time. These are now skipper Kadeer Ali, Paul Byrne, who claimed the final wicket in the victory over Wiltshire, and the powerful middle order of Michael Hill, Tim Maxfield and Peter Wilshaw.

Staffs squad; Kadeer Ali (captain, West Bromwich Dartmouth), Zen Malik (West Bromwich Dartmouth), Matthew Morris (Westhoughton), Michael Hill (Meakins), Tim Maxfield (Brewood), Peter Wilshaw (Meakins), Spencer Byatt (Little Stoke), Billy-J Cox (Walsall), Dan Richardson (Leek), Manraj Johal (West Bromwich Dartmouth), Paul Byrne (Walsall), Robert Hemmings (Audley).

Play starts at 10.30am on each day.

Posted on Thursday 1st January 1970, in Latest News