Stratford ready for biggest test of the season

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SKIPPER Chris Whelan says Stratford are set for their biggest test of the season when title rivals Stourbridge visit Swans Nest Lane on Saturday.

The in-form Panthers cruised to a six-wicket victory over Handsworth on Saturday to move up to second in Birmingham League Division Three, 13 points behind this weekend’s opponents.

Stourbridge have enjoyed an excellent start to the season themselves and they go into the game off the back of a similarly impressive seven-wicket success over fellow title contenders Rugby.

“It’s our biggest test of the season,” said Whelan.

“It’s the top two going at it, but hopefully the home conditions can do us a favour.

“We beat them at their place last year, but they’ve added a few players since then and are stronger this time around.

“With the way we’re playing at the moment, we’re confident we can get a result.”

They warmed up for Saturday’s title tussle in the perfect manner at Handsworth, a game where the result was never really in doubt once James Urquhart was introduced to the action.

After winning the toss for the fifth time in a row, Whelan had no hesitation in asking Handsworth to bat first on what looked a dry surface which without doubt would suit the Panthers’ spin twins of Urquhart and Gareth Langman.

The Handsworth batsmen tried to make use of the new ball and managed to get off to a flyer with some aggressive stroke play against the Stratford seamers.

However, once Urquhart was brought into the attack, wickets started to tumble, supported by Archie Walker and Tom Whitting and the famous Panther squeeze brought about constant breakthroughs.

Urquhart finished with six for 33, with the other wickets shared around between Langman, Purser and Walker.

The run chase started with the usual Dexter Purser pyrotechnics finding the boundary with relative ease, with the ever-obdurate Langman supporting him. The impressive opening duo played fluently to reach 65 before Purser edged behind.

Declan Waddington then showed his true potential with a patient 54 not out. The young Australian is now starting to find his feet both on and off the field after a difficult start to the summer.

It was a clinical run chase from Stratford, who reached their target with plenty to spare. “It was another good win and comfortable in the end,” Whelan said.

“The wicket looked like it hadn’t seen water in a month, so we knew it would spin quite a lot. Once James Urquhart came into the attack he looked like he was going to take a wicket with every ball.

“Overall, I’m delighted with the way the boys went about it. We knocked them off without taking too many chances and I’m pleased at how the boys at the top of the order got the job done.”

Stratford team v Stourbridge: Purser, Langman, Price, Waddington, Whelan, Marney, Nardone, Urquhart, Walker, Douthwaite, Whitting.

Stratford 2nds made it a weekend double as they claimed a five-wicket victory over Handsworth 2nds.

After winning the toss and putting Handsworth into bat, Stratford proceeded to dismiss the opposition for 228, despite a poor fielding performance.

A typical reply, littered with wickets, looked like it would not be enough for the home side, however an unbeaten 60 from Jim Harcourt saw Stratford home.

“It was great to bounce back from the disappointment of last week,” said captain, Harry Abell.

“We’re starting to see a lot of students come back into the side, meaning that the club is looking stronger on the whole.

“Hopefully we can use this to push as high up the table as possible.”