Pirates sink the league leaders

22 May 2012

PORT Talbot gained an impressive victory over 2010 champions and current league pacesetters Sully Centurions at The New Mansel thanks to a century from Ian Thomas.

Century-maker: Ian Thomas.

Thomas’s fourth hundred for the club, and his first since rejoining them from Newport two years ago, was the backbone of an excellent batting performance from the Pirates before a superb opening spell by Alex Jones took out both Sully openers early in the reply.

Despite a determined innings by former Glamorgan man Adam Shantry, his dismissal at the hands of  Thomas saw the visitors stumble, and Port Talbot were gradually able to work their way through the rest of the order to secure a 76-run victory with just over four overs remaining, a result that lifts them into fourth place in the Premier League table.

Despite some overnight rain and a damp outfield, play started on time and Port Talbot skipper Dan Cherry decided to bat first after winning the toss, a brave decision and one that exhibited confidence in a batting line up that had let slip a promising position at Mumbles last week.

Port Talbot were dealt a late blow when pace bowler Lewis Jones was forced to pull out with a foot injury. This meant an unexpected recall for Pirates coach Gareth Evans, who made only his second first team appearance since 2004. Sully were without former captain and pivotal all rounder Jamie Sylvester.

Under overcast skies, Port Talbot made another impressive start thanks to their prolific opening partnership of Sean Griffiths and Ian Thomas. The ball swung, but new ball bowlers Tom Maynard and Adam Shantry struggled to find rhythm and the two batsmen were able to cash in. Griffiths had made his Glamorgan second team debut in the week against Essex and had impressed many with a superb 72 not out. Here he produced another excellent performance with some superb timing through the covers and straight down the ground.

Thomas had also enjoyed a prolific start to the season, and again began brightly, striking the ball with confidence over the leg side. The game’s pivotal moment, however, came when he was on 23. Thomas mistimed a drive to backward point who parried it up in the air but was unable to grab the rebound as it came down. The dejection on the faces of the Sully fielders told its own story.

Fresh from the reprieve, Thomas and Griffiths continued the excellent start. Spin was introduced in the 10th over in the form of Michael O’Shea, but the batsmen rotated the strike well and cashed in on any loose deliveries.

The 100 partnership came up in the 24th over, the second time this season that Griffiths and Thomas had put on a century opening stand. Thomas was the first to reach 50, his third of the season, from 73 deliveries, while Griffiths went to his second 50 from 81 deliveries with a straight drive for four. However, with the score at 124, he was trapped lbw on the back foot by Ryan Sylvester without adding to his score.

Cherry came to the wicket and was busy straight away, pushing singles into the gaps and hurrying the fielders. Thomas did have another moment of fortune when he was dropped on the midwicket boundary with the ball going for six. That aside, Sully had no answer to the power of Thomas who was now in full flow and dispatching the attack to all parts of the ground.

Two short deliveries were picked up into the practice nets and another towering six was hammered over long on. Cherry was happy to keep taking the singles on offer  to allow Thomas to face as much of the bowling as possible. At 76, Thomas reached the milestone of 2,000 runs in league cricket for the club in his 58th appearance.

The pair had added 70 when the skipper was bowled for 28 playing across the line by O’Shea. Thomas was 97 at this stage, and with a clipped two through wide mid on, he reached three figures for Port Talbot for the first time since his match-winning performance against Briton Ferry Steel on the opening day of the 2008 season. His score had come from 111 balls with seven fours and five sixes.

Anthony Thomas had replaced Cherry at the wicket as Port Talbot looked to set for an imposing total. The run rate had slowly slightly in spite of Ian Thomas’s pyrotechnics, but they still harboured hopes of posting at least 250 going into the last few overs.

Ian Thomas didn’t relent after reaching his century and launched two more mighty sixes which the Sully fielders posted on the boundary could only watch sail high over their heads. The spinners, particularly O’Shea, Tomos Evison and Richard Ready, came in for severe punishment as Smith desperately looked to stem the flow of runs.

His superb innings of 128 from 127 balls, including 10 fours and seven sixes, ended when he played over a delivery from Ready and Charlie Lowen completed the stumping. The sustained applause he received was richly deserved and one could sense that a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Port Talbot were 235 for three in the 47th over.

Anthony Thomas had earlier launched a big six off his own over long off, but then went for nine trying to hurry things along to a skied catch off Sylvester that Dan Rowe held at short third man.

Cherry promoted Alex Jones above Mark Cox in the order, but he holed out for six to Shantry at long on off Rowe before Mark Cox was run out first ball by a direct hit from Lloyd Smith at extra cover. A further five runs were added to take the Pirates to a final score of 257 for six. Sylvester was the only Sully bowler to take two wickets, and Port Talbot knew that getting him early in the reply would be vital to their chances of victory.

The Pirates opened with spin, and Stuart Phelps found turn straight away. When Sylvester stroked two boundaries through the covers in the second over off Alex Jones, it looked ominous for Port Talbot, but Jones had the final word when in the fourth over he produced a magnificent delivery that knocked Sylvester’s leg stump out of the ground with the score at 16.

Buoyed by such an important breakthrough, Jones then trapped fellow opener O’Shea lbw for 11 and the visitors were on the ropes at 24 for two with two of their key batsmen back in the pavilion.

However, Sully’s batting line-up ran deep, and Port Talbot knew there was still much work to do when Lowen and Shantry settled nerves with a determined third wicket stand of 87. Lowen was circumspect against the spinners, while Shantry was the main aggressor manoeuvring the ball into gaps on the leg side in particular. The left hander was also timing the ball well with some powerful boundaries and after the early setbacks, Sully had worked themselves into a good position going into the second half of the innings.

Shantry went to 50 with his sixth four, but with the game poised on a knife edge, he chipped a catch back to Ian Thomas who took it to his left hand side with the score at 111. Shantry’s 61 had given the visitors renewed hope but Port Talbot now had a foot back in the door just as it appeared the match was beginning to run away from them.

Two breakthroughs followed quickly. Mark Cox removed the dangerous Smith leg before for wo before Lowen pulled a short ball from Phelps to Ryan Evans at deep mid wicket who judged the catch well. Suddenly the match had changed course dramatically with Sully now reeling at 116 for five in the 27th over.

Terryn Frey and the hard-hitting Ready added 18 before Phelps induced Frey into a big hit down the ground. It looked for a moment as though he might get away with it but Mark Cox made excellent ground to take a terrific catch low down at long off. When Rowe was castled by Jones, returning from the motorway end, in the following over for no score, the game looked up for the visitors

There were still bonus points to play for, and Ready tried to keep the scoreboard moving but Evison, who had joined him at the wicket, then tried to sneak a single and was sent back by Ready but could not beat Cherry’s direct hit from cover, Sully sliding to 148 for eight in the 37th over.

Ready decided to go down fighting and launched two towering sixes off Phelps into the trees at the Westlands end as his figures took a battering late in his spell. Cherry decided to bowl Phelps and Jones right through their 12-over allocation in the hope of finishing off Sully, but Ready and Maynard kept them at bay. The overs passed by as Port Talbot looked to find the two wickets required but with only six remaining, hope was beginning to fade.

Some 29 runs had been added when Maynard tried to hit Ian Thomas straight down the ground for six, but Griffiths at long on steadied himself and took the catch just inside the rope. Maynard fell for 11, and the Pirates were at match point.

Ready was happy to take the single from the third ball of the next over and expose last man O’Sullivan, but from his first ball Richard Edwards, who had again bowled with good pace, found an outside edge which Dean Cox gleefully accepted behind the stumps. Ready was left unbeaten on an impressive 39 but had run out of partners and time as his side fell to their first defeat of the season.

Alex Jones again showed what a valuable acquisition he will be this year with that crucial opening burst and figures of three for 36, while Stuart Phelps took two for 46. Mention also has to be made also to Ian Thomas, who added two wickets both at critical stages to go with his fine batting performance.

Port Talbot rise from eighth to fourth with their convincing victory and go level with Bridgend in third who they travel to play next week at Newbridge Fields before welcoming both them and Sully back to The New Mansel for the Twenty20 preliminary matches the following day.

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