Just two weekends to go and Ilkeston Rutland’s season still stands on the cusp of hope and despair.
A grandstand finish could see both of their top teams promoted; anything else and the only change will be the third XI’s relegation.
The optimists would have enjoyed themselves at the Rec on Saturday. Warm sunshine and the first XI, needing nothing less than three wins from their final three matches, thrashing Matlock with captain David Smit finally locating the form he’s been missing since the start of July.
It didn’t start too well. Batting first after winning the toss, Smit began cautiously playing out two maidens against the seam of Ed Lander before watching his partner Kevin Leatherday fall early to Ed’s brother David.
A horrible run of low scores, exaggerated by dubious umpiring decisions, has seen Smit’s average slip beneath 40 for the first time since 2010, but gradually he found his touch.
The Lander brothers were both hit for a brace of boundaries and their replacement Drew Mullaney suffered the same fate in his first over, only Smit punctuated that one with a towering straight six.
Rutland were flying along in top gear – 93 from 16 overs. Even their troublesome number three spot looked relatively stable as Rob Green, the fifth different batsman in five weeks to try his luck at first drop, swatted half-a-dozen boundaries.
He’d just become Rutland’s first number three to pass 30 since May when he snicked a Mullaney leg break and was gone for 33.
The tempo now changed. Smit, who had just passed a run-a-ball fifty, with a cover driven four off Dave Lander was temporarily becalmed and content to take singles - his new partner George Moulds nervous and struggling for form.
Steadily though their partnership built and after having brought up his second century of the season, Smit went full throttle taking just 26 balls over his next 56 runs.
By then Moulds had made his first 50 of the year, eventually going for 65, and Smit declared with the total on 269 for 3 from 45 overs and his personal tally on 157.
Rutland couldn’t have wished for a better start. Green trapped opener Jonathan Ford LBW with his first delivery and then had number three Joe Pyne chopping onto his stumps the very next ball.
New ball partner Chris Trueman Jnr removed remaining opener Mark Burton to another LBW and only then did Matlock begin to offer any resistance.
It didn’t amount to much. A stand of 44 between Andrew Paulette (37) and Mullaney (22) ended when Green trapped the latter in front and the introduction of Sam Moulds to the attack rapidly hastened the end.
It is only his second game of the season. Back on July 4, a cameo appearance saw him polish off Matlock with three wickets in 16 balls and Saturday’s evidence suggests he’s come on for that little outing.
His six over spell brought him figures of 5 for 9 with four of his victims edging to keeper Luke Marriott as Matlock subsided to 80 all out.
That’s eight wickets from 52 balls this season for Sam Moulds.
Rutland’s penultimate task is at in-form Alrewas who are themselves staging a late promotion charge. Only a 27 point win will do.
Rutland’s second XI looked anything but promotion material on their trip to Spondon as they were blown away by the pace of Ashanti Jones (4 for 17).
Only 56 from Ross Slater prevented a record low as they were bowled out for 87, taking just one point from their eight wicket defeat.
Somehow they remain third in Division Six South and, as things stand, that would be good enough to see them promoted if Alvaston and Boulton’s 2nd XI remain in Division Four South’s relegation zone.
Five teams, including Spondon, are queueing up behind them and any more batting efforts like Saturday will see them sink rapidly.
Rutland’s 3rd XI escaped with an abandonment from their trip to Cutthorpe, the home side closing in on their target of 150 from 40 overs when the rains came.