Tears flow as county earn historic victory
IT'S TAKEN 109 summers, 810 championship fixtures and 506 players, but at long last Cornwall are the Minor Counties Champions of all England, writes Michael Weeks.
The greatest moment in the county's history came fittingly when skipper Tom Sharp caught Buckinghamshire No10 Simon Stanway off "man of the match" Shakil Ahmed to complete a dramatic fourth morning at Truro's Boscawen Park last week as they beat the Eastern champions by 150 runs in the Championship Final.
The fourth and final day had started with Bucks needing a further 169 runs with seven wickets remaining, with most Cornish supporters understandably apprehensive. They had no need to worry however, as within 70 minutes it was all over.
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The visitors collapsed sensationally as they lost seven wickets in just 15 overs for the addition of 18 runs.
It was left arm spinner Shakil Ahmed, who did the damage. On the previous evening he took the crucial wicket of former England one day player Mal Loye and followed up to end with seven for 36 off 21.4 overs.
With match figures of 56.4-19-109-10 he was named man of the match by the match referee Phil Caley.
In truth, the MCCA Chairman of Cricket could have named a number of Cornish heroes.
Skipper Tom Sharp bowled 71 overs in the match taking seven for 112. He also passed the notable milestone of being the first Cornish player to make 4,000 runs and take 200 wickets. Then there was the middle order batting of Neil Curnow and Chris Hunkin in both innings. Cornwall's first innings was in trouble at 93 for five before Curnow made 41. Grampound Road's Chris Hunkin (77) and Tom Hughes (47) then put a crucial 110 for the seventh wicket.
It meant Cornwall posted a competitive 257 off the last ball of their 90 overs.
On the second day, Sharp and Ahmed bowled unchanged for 73 overs to restrict the visitors to 205 for nine. Cornwall were a front line bowler short after the late withdrawal of Alex Smeeth.
12th man Hunkin was drafted in for his 60th cap – in hindsight an inspired choice.
It was Hunkin and Curnow that played the key partnership in Cornwall's second innings.
When Matt Robins was run out and Rob Harrison went first ball, late on the second evening, the Duchy were 59 for four and the lead just 111. That became a precarious 105 for six next morning but, for the second time in the match, the seventh wicket produced. Curnow made 51 and Hunkin 45 as Cornwall inched their way to 197 all out.
That wasn't the end of it as 12 penalty runs were added due to a Bucks slow over rate making the victory target 262.
To the delight of a good gathering to witness history in the end it proved more than enough.
MCCA president Alan Wilson made the trophy presentation to Tom Sharp.
The actual cup never leaves Lord's but will be officially presented at the annual meeting in December in what will cap the most memorable of years.
Some might say there was a touch of fate about the outcome. Hunkin – after being left out, Hughes and Curnow have all come into the side late into the season and all made huge contributions in this game when the top order, for once, didn't fire.
Hughes was making only his second appearance and Curnow has not played championship cricket for five years.
The decision to bring in 46-year-old former St Buryan pro Shakil Ahmed, in place of Parsons, also proved inspired.
In recent years under Sharp's captaincy and backed by a much envied schools' and youth programme, Cornwall have gradually got closer to their Holy Grail, with luck going against them on several occasions.
But this season the cricketing Gods at last smiled on them.
And Sharp, who has captained the county since 2002, said it was the best day of his cricketing life "by a mile" and was full of praise for his team's efforts under pressure.
"The boys played brilliantly", he said. "They were up against a tough side but were not prepared to give an inch. It was the best we have batted all year, not in terms of runs, but in terms of application. It has been the guys at the top of the order who have got us here, but this time it was the lower order who stepped up.
"To make 257 in the first innings after being 45 for four was crucial and I think from then on they (Buckinghamshire) thought they were struggling."
Sharp, who intends to carry on again next season thinks this could be just the beginning of a golden era for the county team.
"We are mainly a young side and there is no reason why we cannot get better."
Grampound Road's Chris Hunkin who played such a crucial role in the victory, said it was a "pretty amazing feeling" to be a part of the team which made history.
"It was a pretty emotional feeling," he said.
"As we came off the field to see what it meant to everyone was pretty special. Former captain Eric Wilcock was in floods of tears and that was when it hit me what it meant to people.
"It was a real game of patience and I think that is what we did better. It was a dry pitch which helped the spinners and we had two of the best in Minor Counties cricket to use it.
"It does not get any better than this. Its a huge thing for Cornish crciket and Cornish sport in putting us on the map.
"Over the years we have not been a laughing stock, but people have looked down on us. I don't think that will be the case any more."