HEREFORDSHIRE Over 50s opened their 2014 season with a thrilling and long overdue win over visiting Shropshire at Eastnor.
The last-ball victory brought an end to a run of 26 games without a win in the ECB Over-50 championship, a sequence which had brought 25 defeats and a tie.
The victory was greeted with delight by organiser Kevin Smith.
"We knew that they had recruited heavily during the winter and they had two former Minor Counties captains in their side," he said.
"We couldn't believe that we had beaten a team like that."
Shropshire had certainly had the better of meetings between the two sides with crushing wins by eight wickets, 10 wickets and 113 runs in the last four matches between the sides.
But the visitors were soon up against it after winning the toss and electing to bat on a bright and sunny afternoon.
"It was a typical low, slow Eastnor pitch and I think they misread it," said Smith.
Smith made an early impact on the field, producing a smart stumping off Adrian Gore to dismiss opener David Street for a duck.
Gore (2-27) also claimed the prize wicket of skipper Bryan Jones as he and fellow opening bowler Richard Runciman (2-21) made early inroads, reducing Shropshire to 44-4.
"Runciman and Gore took two wickets each and bowled very well, maintaining a nagging line and length ," said Smith.
"But then Alan Jones came on and ripped through them.
"If we had had another bowler who could have bowled like he did, then Shropshire would not even have reached 129."
Jones gained plenty of help from the pitch with his off-cutters and returned the excellent figures of 5-17 from his nine-over spell, reducing the visitors to 102-9 before a last-wick stand of 27 between Martin Chambers (26) and Steve Caine (two not out) lifted the total to 129.
Herefordshire made a solid start to their reply with openers Nick Osborne and skipper Peter Hoare moving the score along steadily.
Hoare was out for 16 with the score at 36 but Osborne continued to hold the innings together.
"He showed his class with some excellent driving," said Smith.
Wickets continued to go down around him, however, with Graham Parker, Jones, Paul Sheridan and Smith all dismissed before reaching double-figures.
And when Osborne was run out for 49 at 92-6 there was still some work to do to reach the target.
By this point, the required run-rate had risen to almost five an over but Matthew Whitthread (13) and Weobley all-rounder Dave Bradley, whose 24 came from 27 balls with a four and a six moved the score along successfully.
Both had departed by the time the final over arrived with Ian Gunthorpe and Runciman at the crease requiring five to win.
The scores were level with the last ball to be bowled and Runciman held his nerve to the hit the ball to the unguarded mid-wicket area and the pair scampered through for the single to secure a thrilling win.
"It was nice to be on the winning side," said Jones.
"While I have been in a successful Herefordshire side before, there were some players in the team who have played for two or three years without knowing what it's like to win."
Herefordshire were due to face Oxfordshire at Challow yesterday (Wednesday) and will again travel, to Little Stoke to play Staffordshire next week.
Any new players who have reached the age of 49 are welcome to make contact with Kevin Smith (07951 730698 e-mail email@example.com) with a view to representing the county at this level.