COTSWOLD Hills League Premier Division front-runners Norton Lindsey and Wolverton received a significant wake-up call following a 73-run defeat at in-form Exhall and Wixford on Saturday.
The defeat sees Norton slip to third place, in a leading group of four teams separated by just five points.
“They were the strongest team we’ve faced all season,” said Norton Lindsey skipper James Pyatt.
“They define the Premier Division standard and one we must aspire to.”
Pyatt won the toss and put the hosts into bat. This decision was gratefully received by openers Morris (66) and Smith (86), who prospered in the face of some indifferent bowling. They took the score to well over 100 by drinks, when Pyatt decided it was time for the riot act.
Spurred into action, the visitors finally got to work, with a double breakthrough by Gavin Shephard who ran out Morris, then bowled Smith.
This opened the doors to the middle order, and the combination of Shephard and Andy Dewar pulled the game back.
Four batsmen contributed only 14 runs between them, giving Norton hope of a reasonable target to chase.
However, Park (21) and Perry (23no) pushed the score on, and when Weston (16) was bowled off the last ball of the 45 overs, Exhall had set a challenging score of 243.
The reliable Dewar finished with 3-41 off his ten overs, and Shephard 2-36 off his eight-over spell.
In reply, Norton struggled against a determined bowling attack and wickets fell regularly.
No batsmen managed to put together a meaningful partnership, with Pyatt (28) and David McInnes (22) the top scorers.
The Norton innings ended on a disappointing 170, their first defeat of the season, at the hands of an Exhall side that delivered in all departments.
Over at Wolverton Road, the second team welcomed Long Itchington 2’s for another must-win game to keep them in the promotion hunt.
The home side won the toss and asked Long Itchington to field.
Mark White (14) and Simon Hathaway (19) started steadily, but some variation in bounce soon became evident.
White was the first to succumb when he edged a rising ball to first slip with the score on 32.
Conor Green (22), Ian Baber (2), and Tony Walter (17) struggled too and with the score on 108-5 in the 23rd over, alarm bells were ringing.
Andrew Dellow, batting seven, then joined Steve Bliwert (31) to try and set some sort of competitive score.
They succeeded in that they put on 90 over the next ten overs, with some controlled but attacking cricket.
When Dellow (55) perished at long off, trying to hit a fifth maximum, the innings was back on track.
Captain Kieran Kite (31*) then kept the momentum going, and with brisk contributions from Steve Webber (19) and Steve Dellow (16*), took the score to 263-9 at the break.
After another legendary Norton tea, the teams took the field for the second half.
A cautious but positive start from the Long Itchington batsmen saw them on 44-2 in the 11th over, with Steve Bliwert delivering another accurate spell.
Opener Green (72) then linked with Brooks (41) to take hold of the reply, taking the score to 133.
Conor Green finally deceived the Itchington skipper who popped up a catch which Varun Goel juggled then caught on the third attempt.
Once again, the pressure had produced dropped catches and misfields, and Norton made a straightforward job far more difficult for themselves.
After a serious discussion at the drinks break, Steve Webber was reintroduced to the attack and the game began to turn.
With greater focus, the home team applied the pressure creating two smart run-outs, and Long Itchington found themselves at 184-6 in the 33rd over with plenty of work still to do.
Veteran Nick Sandy was up for the challenge and hit hard to take the score towards the target assisted by McKenna (27) and Sutcliffe (11).
At 258 in the 43rd over, he seemed to have succeeded, but Sutcliffe skied a ball off Webber which was taken confidently by Andrew Dellow.
In the same over, number 10 Harris perished lbw, giving Webber his 4th wicket, and setting up a tense finish.
Captain Kite was left to bowl the last over, and produced five tight deliveries which left the visitors needing 3 off the last ball.
Number 11 Hart pushed the ball towards mid-on, but Steve Dellow threw the stumps down, running out Sandy as he attempted a second run.
The win puts Norton back in second slot in Division 3, setting up an interesting fixture against third-placed team Stoneleigh this Saturday.
After Broadway’s failure to raise a team the previous weekend, Norton’s third string returned to league action with a convincing win over Earlswood 5ths.
Both sides fielded players at the extreme of youth and experience which bodes well for the future of the two clubs.
Winning the toss, skipper Martin Hall decided to field and the Norton bowling completely dominated, dismissing the visitors for 70 in 38 overs.
Young opener Sam Weir started well with some attractive cut shots, but was out hit wicket trying to pull.
No batsman (or batswoman) got into double figures, highest contribution coming from extras (29), although Amy Dixon and Sarah Pettigrew impressed with some solid defence.
All the bowlers produced impressive spells, but the stand outs were probably Stuart Prout-Richardson (5-4-5-4) backed up by youngsters Guy Mullen (9-2-10-1) and Sam Rushton (7-1-13-2).
Tim Fell rolled back the years again with a miserly spell of four overs, and took a wicket for just one run conceded.
In reply, Norton openers Prout-Richardson (24) and James Thomas (38) had no trouble, and eased past the total in just 16 overs.
On the way, Dixon bowled some encouraging leg spin and Weir was the most economical.
The win puts Norton up amongst the top teams in Division Six, with two games in hand.
Norton Lindsey & Wolverton CC would welcome any interest from sponsors who would like to share in the success of this entertaining village team.
Opportunities are available at all levels, especially support for the flourishing Junior section with a membership of over 70 youngsters.
Contact secretary Martin Neale on 07770 831351 for further details.
More Cotswold Hills League reports in this week’s Herald.