Berkswell prove a class apart thanks to Best and Hepburn
Basit Zaman's fluent 91 provided the only highlight for Kenilworth Wardens who suffered an eight-wicket thrashing at the hands of Birmingham Premier League champions Berkswell.
The hosts’ acting captain picked up where he left off when making a powerful ton against Wolverhampton seven days earlier, and when he was in company with former skipper Scott Stenning, Wardens seemed likely to post a competitive score somewhere in excess of 260.
However, once both were dismissed the gulf in class between Zaman’s young side - which featured four teenagers - and opponents who fielded eight players with experience of the county circuit, was ruthlessly exposed.
This saw Wardens slip from 159 for three to 213 for nine at the end of their 55-over allocation, after which the visitors’ lengthy batting line-up was barely required to break sweat in order to claim their sixth win of the season.
Led by a powerful unbeaten 107 from former Warwickshire hopeful Mark Best and 87 from Worcestershire’s Alex Hepburn, the ‘Swell cruised home for the loss of two wickets with 19 overs unused, and in the process moved to within six points of Shrewsbury at the head of the table.
After winning the toss, Zaman survived an early slip drop to add 76 with second-wicket partner Harry Johnson (20).
In the process they saw off pacy Australian Ryan Sidebottom plus Derbyshire’s Tom Milnes and Warwickshire’s Grant Thornton, only for the introduction of slow left-armer Nick James to apply the brakes.
The former Glamorgan spinner took the pace off the ball to excellent effect and before long his immaculate control claimed the scalps of both Johnson and the threatening Prerak Mankad (22).
This brought Stenning (31) and Zaman together, and at drinks they appeared well set, but Zaman was then also deceived by James, after striking seven fours and three sixes in his fine 107-ball knock.
When Martin Donald quickly became the first victim of Hepburn’s tidy spell of medium pace and Stenning was stumped off Mo Ahmed, Wardens’ inexperienced lower order was exposed.
This meant a battling unbeaten 22 from keeper Nick Sale was required to see the hosts past 200, while James finished with three for 58 and Hepburn with three for 39.
Berkswell then quickly slipped to 25 for two, and with Ahmed and Chris Whittock back in the hutch, it briefly appeared Wardens were on the brink of causing an upset.
However, Best was quickly into his stride and once Zaman turned to spin the former Warwickshire left-hander and the Pears’ Aussie-born all-rounder Hepburn took full toll of the regular supply of loose balls served up by the hosts’ under-pressure attack.
Best struck five sixes and 11 fours in his brilliant chanceless ton, while Hepburn’s 79-ball unbeaten 83 contained seven boundaries and three maximums.
Wardens used nine bowlers in a futile search to break a third-wicket alliance which added 189 before crossing the finish line in the 37th over.
Wardens 2nds got their season back on track with an excellent 24-point victory over Harborne.
Wardens skipper James Madley lost a crucial toss on a wicket that would clearly offer early assistance to the bowlers but Harborne failed to make the most of it despite claiming the scalp of Tom Brammer (6) early on.
With the hosts bowling a wide defensive line, Paul Henderson and Madley saw off the new ball, taking the score to 79 before Henderson was bowled for 31.
With the pitch drying, Madley and Richard Anthony (52) then formed an 89-run partnership before Madley fell 13 runs short of a century while trying to push the scoring along.
Wardens’ middle order then failed for the second week in a row, leaving them on a below-par 232 for eight.
In reply, Harborne got off to a tremendous start with confident opener Jimmy Clifford surviving a reprieve in the slips to strike the ball to the boundary with ease.
When he brought up his 50 within the first ten overs, Harborne were in complete control with a run rate of 3.5 an over needed and nine wickets in hand.
Clifford evidently wanted to finish the game quickly as the score progressed to 136 for two.
However, the introduction of veteran Henderson and Brammer (2-25) saw the back of skipper Sajad (17), Boukhobzk (2) and dangerman Clifford for a destructive 82-ball 101.
At 160 for six, Wardens sensed victory and despite a defiant 29 from Sean Rebbetts, Harborne fell 28 runs short of victory, with Henderson (5-52) rounding off proceedings with his fifth wicket of the innings.