Ilkeston Rutland’s last over victory against Clifton on Saturday must rank as their most satisfying for many years.
A team triumph, it lifts them to within 12 points of the promotion places and was achieved against a bogey side they have failed to beat in 12 previous attempts.
For the first hour and a half of the match, nothing indicated that Rutland’s losing run against Clifton, which stretched back to April 2004, was about to change.
If anything, things looked worse than ever. Clifton had won the toss on a decent wicket and after the loss of an opener, their South African colossus Patrick Kruger had arrived at the crease.
In their three previous matches, Rob Green had kept the opposition quiet by bowling to a wholly off-side field, packed with slips.
Kruger wasn’t so easily calmed. Stepping across his stumps he whipped Green through the leg side before cutting and driving him for successive boundaries.
His onslaught reached a crescendo with the introduction of off-spinner Danny Bobeszko. It is said that English batsmen struggle to play spin and Bobeszko’s figures from this match would be evidence for that case.
His six deliveries at Kruger cost him 25 runs and included a boundary and three huge straight sixes; his 54 deliveries against other batsmen conceded just 24.
At 97-1 in the 18th, Rutland were in danger of being steam-rollered with Kruger on 65 from 37 balls. Crucially, captain David Smit held his nerve and backed Green by leaving two slips in place.
It paid off when Kruger thick edged a seaming delivery and Smit held a diving catch well wide of second slip.
Normal, rather dull, cricket then resumed with Clifton adding 60 from the next 20 overs. Rutland kept the pressure on with enthusiastic fielding and Clifton closed on 215-8, a competitive score but well short of what had seemed likely.
In recent years, the key to any successful Rutland chase has been Smit and his departure for nine in the fourth over represented a huge blow.
But there was no wake following his loss. Kevin Leatherday launched Kruger for a six over extra cover and followed it up with two more maximums over the head of seamer Cameron Ogilvie.
His innings of 33 was halted when Kruger leapt up to pluck a chance at cover and George Moulds (34) then dragged a wide long-hop onto his stumps.
Clifton’s teenage off-spinner Max Manley kept the runs in check sending down 15 overs for just 35 runs as Green in partnership with Luke Marriott (23) and Ian Banks (26) attempted to steer the chase.
Green had just reached 50 from 75 balls when he spliced a drive to cover leaving Rutland needing 18 from 11 balls.
With tension all around, it was Clifton who cracked. Danny Shelton muscled two hits into the leg-side and, pressured by Andy Flindall’s whippet-like running, the fielder twice gave away boundaries.
With five needed from the final over, Shelton (28 not out) cut the winning four from the penultimate ball and Rutland’s 11-year wait for a win over Clifton was ended.
Rutland’s 2nd XI were on the wrong end of a run-fest at Elvaston. They opted to field first on the first firm wicket of the year and after David Robinson held a sharp chance at gully in the first over, things went from bad to worse.
Elvaston helped themselves to 286-9 with the lower order whacking 100 from the last 11 overs.
Rutland began slowly against some accurate seam bowling from youngsters Matt Clark and Will Kilgoor but a second wicket partnership of 127 between Ross Slater (84) and Robinson (80) kept them on course.
Robinson’s run out ended any realistic chance of victory but Matt Parry (29 not out) ensured they got to within 14 runs of their target, gaining 13 points to Elvaston’s 15.
Rutland’s 3rd XI are yet to get out of first gear. On Saturday, Apperknowle thrashed 261 for 4 from their 40 overs with only Tom Lowe exerting any control. Rutland responded with 103 all out from 38 overs.
Their trip to Selston on Sunday produced a more competitive game but after posting 175-8, they were unable to stop the home side winning by four wickets with seven overs to spare, despite three wickets each for Lowe and Sam Purdy.