GREENOCK took a huge step towards winning the First Division title and a return to the Premier Division at the first time of asking by defeating league leaders Stenhousemuir.
The result was all the more welcome given that Greenock had failed to win any of their eight league and cup encounters with Stenhousemuir in the last decade.
The four-wicket victory at The Tryst in Larbert win puts Greenock on 94 per cent while previously undefeated Stenhousemuir slip back to 93.71 per cent. So Greenock go top by just 0.29 per cent.
With only four matches in the league programme still to be played, Greenock can be First Division champions if they remain unbeaten in the run-in through August.
Confidence will play a big part in the outcome and the Glenpark side should be in a good place after not just Saturday’s result but following the manner in which the side has played throughout the season to date.
The league is a 50 overs-a-side competition and Greenock’s bowling attack has dispatched every side within 40 overs (with the exception of Hillhead), and 156 is the highest score an opposition has made.
Greenock’s batting has also been strong with several scores of more than 200 and one score over 300 when batting first, plus four very comprehensive wins when batting second. A continuation of this form will make Greenock difficult to beat.
On Saturday, Stenhousemuir won the toss and chose to bat. Openers Streicher and Vaughan-Davies made a steady start putting on 40 runs from the first 14 overs. However, they found difficulty in getting much joy from pace bowler Gregor Chambers who had just seven runs scored from his seven overs.
The first bowling change at the start of the 15th over provided the breakthrough for Greenock. With just his third ball, Aussie amateur Tom Nicholson had Vaughan-Davies caught at deep mid-wicket by Harry Briggs. He had scored 17 runs and was lured into a fatal big hit by the Greenock off-spinner.
Ewan Stewart was also introduced into the Greenock attack as team captain Greg McDougall made a double bowling change and the 22-year-old very quickly made a big impact on the match.
In his second over, he bowled South African amateur Emile Streicher for 20 runs and, just two balls later, he had Stenny’s South African professional Danie Roussouw brilliantly caught on the boundary by Aryan Sanghera before he had scored a run.
Stewart’s over, in which he had both South Africans dismissed, was a huge turning point in the match as it left the home side on 43 for three with their top three batsmen back in the clubhouse.
The dismissal of Roussouw was particularly important as he has been Stenhousemuir’s key batsman during the season, having scored three centuries and accumulated almost 900 league runs.
Ryan Walker replaced Stewart in the 21st over and, once again, the bowling change quickly proved worthwhile. In just his second over, Walker held on to a return catch from Bermudan internationalist Dennico Hollis (8) to leave Stenhousemuir reeling on 71 for 5.
And worse was to follow as the spin duo of Walker and Nicholson ran through the remainder of the Larbert side’s batsmen. The last five wickets were captured with only 24 more runs added to the total as Stenhousemuir were bowled out for just 95 in the 32nd over.
Walker with four wickets for 23 runs and Nicholson with three for 21 were the top wicket-takers for Greenock. But Ewan Stewart’s removal of both of Stenhousemuir’s South African batsmen in the 18th over was undoubtedly the key to the rapid downfall of the league leaders.
With only 32 overs played, there was a quick turn round and Greenock began their innings after just a ten-minute interval.
Tom Nicholson and Lukas Fischer-Keogh opened the innings for Greenock. It was clear from the first ball that Nicholson was constrained by the hamstring strain which he had picked up the previous weekend.
However the pair put on 34 runs before Nicholson was out having scored 22 runs. The Aussie attempted to hit the league’s leading wicket-taker, Calum Grant, over the in-field only to find the safe hands of South African amateur Streicher.
Just three runs had been added when new batsman Harry Briggs became Grant’s second victim bowled without scoring. The loss of Briggs, who has been a consistently good scorer for the team in recent weeks, seemed to unsettle Greenock.
And when Fischer-Keogh was out leg before wicket (LBW) for 10 to Nic Lister with the score showing 42 for the loss of three wickets in the 19th over, the pressure of the importance of the game seemed to bear down on the Greenock side.
Only Ryan Walker seemed capable of scoring off the Stenny bowling as the middle order of the Greenock batting line-up disintegrated.
Lister clean-bowled Gregor Chambers in the same over as he had removed Fischer-Keogh. Jamie Nowell was LBW to Praveen Pinnameneni in the 23rd over. Team captain Greg McDougall then fell to Pinnameneni with the last ball of the 25th over as he tried to force the Indian off-spinner through the on- side field only to be bowled.
All three of these middle order batsmen failed to score, leaving Walker dis-believing as the wickets tumbled.
When McDougall was removed, the score had moved to 60 for the loss of six wickets. Only 36 runs were then needed to overtake the league leader’s score, but Greenock only had four wickets remaining and nerves seemed to have got the better of some of the players
Fortunately for Greenock, the new batsman was experienced former team captain Jonathan Hempsey. He and Walker brought some calm to the situation in the overs that followed as they batted sensibly and chipped away at the runs needed for victory.
Their approach put the pressure on to the league leaders and their bowlers. In the 30th over two loose balls from Tippu Sultan were dispatched to the boundary by Hempsey which released some of the tension in the Greenock camp.
The momentum was now with the Glenpark side, with only 23 runs needed to reach the winning line. Hempsey and Walker continued to reduce the margin by picking up singles as the pressure increased on the home side.
And when Hempsey hit two more boundaries, one off Pinnameneni and another off Sultan, only eight runs were needed for the win.
The scores were levelled when Walker scored three runs off Pinnameneni with the last ball of the 35th over. And it was fitting that the Aussie scored the winning runs when he smashed Sultan to the boundary with the third ball of the 36th over. Cue celebrations from the Greenock team and supporters.
Walker had held the Greenock innings together from the 16th over and was not-out 39. Hempsey was not-out 21.
Greenock Cricket Club is sponsored by Cleaning Supplies 4U