Wales ended a hugely positive season with a 70 run loss to Herefordshire at Eastnor Castle earlier this week.
In a highly entertaining affair which had plenty of action Herefordshire's seam quartet of Will Rudge, Zain Ul Hasan, David Ball and Awais Mohammed proved too much for a Wales batting line up that had one eye on next season. After winning the toss and electing to bat Matt Pardoe set the tone with opening partner Ben Chapman-Lilley, putting on 82 for the first wicket. When Sam Pearce removed his opposite number, the Hereford slide started as Pearce (4-32) and Kieran Bull (5-59) tore through the Hereford order with skill and deception of the highest order in a total of 165 all out.
Wales immediately found themselves up against it, with Glamorgan academy batter and debutant Callum Nicholls and Connor Brown back in the hutch at 17-2 after both being pinned in front by Rudge and Mohammed respectively. Harry Friend, making his second championship career appearance looked in good touch before an excellent delivery from Mohammed took the outside edge. Mohammed (5-52) and Ball continued to rip through the middle order leaving Wales in all sorts of trouble at 65-7 with form men Kolk and Herring falling either side of Morgan Bevans for a duck.
Kieran Bull (25) and Sam Pearce (20) provided some resistance shepherding the tail to 128 early on Day 2, with Hereford looking to build on a lead of 37. Aneurin Norman picked up the wicket of Chapman-Lilley to take him to 99 career championship wickets but Pardoe and Hammond consolidated either side of lunch. Bull toiled away most of the afternoon and accounted for Hammond via the gloves of Cam Herring and Chris Smith first ball. Ul-Hasan (69) continued on his way however and found a willing partner in Barney Morgan (46) as the pair looked to be moving the game beyond Wales' reach. Pearce (3-62) and Bull (5-70) fought back well though to claim the final three wickets cheaply - Bull becoming only the 7th player in history to claim 10 wickets in a match - the first since Callum Taylor's 11-34 in 2017 against Shropshire.
A solid opening stand was key to Wales chasing 277 to win on a pitch that appeared to have flattened out, but they lost Nicholls and Friend early on, and when Connor Brown was bowled by Morgan's first ball of his spell, and Morgan Bevans bagged his first pair in national counties cricket at 52-4, the game looked a long way from Wales' reach at the start of Day 3. It didn't get any better immediately when Cameron Herring was adjudged to have been caught off the boot around the bat, off the bowling of spinner Pardoe but at 91-6 Oskar Kolk - without doubt the form batter of 2021 along with Herring - dug in with the impressive Bull. The pair put on 58 before Bull was bowled leaving a straight ball off Mohammed. Sam Pearce continued to provide support however and a once the target crept below a hundred the game was hanging very much in the balance. The lunch interval proved to be an unwanted distraction though, as a close finish was briskly dismissed by David Ball and Ul-Hasan to hand Herefordshire a deserved third win in the competition, sealing promotion to Division 1 of the Western Conference for 2022.
Whilst Wales will be disappointed by the loss, they will be even more frustrated at not being able to capitalise on the previous platforms set up in the previous three games. Persistent rain over the course of the campaign did not allow them to drive home key advantages, leaving draws an inevitable and unhelpful conclusion where the table is concerned. It means Wales are winless in the championship this year and could end up finishing bottom if results in the final round allow Devon to overtake them.
Nonetheless, the 2021 season has undoubtedly been a tremendous improvement on previous years. Finishing top of their one day group, and reaching a first semi final in 25 years can be viewed as a success, in addition to a memorable win over Glamorgan at Sophia Gardens in the inaugural NCCA showcase game. It has seen the likes of Sam Pearce, Steve Reingold and Andrew Gorvin achieve professional debuts in the T20 Blast and Royal London One Day Cup respectively.
Oskar Kolk and Cameron Herring have been the star performers with the bat - their record 5th wicket partnership of 173 against Devon at Sandford being a highlight, with Kolk making 134 in that game and Herring following up his form with 110 against Shropshire in the following game. It's been a breakout year for Tegid Phillips too who topped the one day wickets column for Wales with 13 at an average of under 20. It didn't take too long for Kieran Bull to make his mark upon returning to the side. The former Glamorgan staffer picked 18 wickets in just three games at an impressive average of 16.89.
For full statistics of Wales season visit the Play Cricket site: https://walesnc.play-cricket.com/Statistics
An updated version of Wales' all time records across One Day Trophy and Championship cricket can be found here.
Preparations are already underway for the 2022 season as the team look to build on this year's success. Regular updates can be found via Twitter (@WalesNCounty) and for any businesses interested in becoming commercially involved should contact Matt Thompson on [email protected]