Somerset Bridge 111 Southampton Rangers 112-3

An under-strength Southampton Rangers still proved too much for cup holders Somerset Bridge to handle at Southampton Oval on Saturday.

Rangers took just four hours and 44 minutes to strip Western Counties champions Bridge of their crown during a low scoring affair, and dashed any hopes the visitors might have had of pulling off a first counties victory over their hosts at the Oval in five-seasons.

The Royal Gazette masthead In the absence of several key players, including World Cup trio Kwame Tucker, Janeiro Tucker and Malachi Jones, all-rounder Jason Wade and veteran batsman Keith Wainwright grasped the moment to shine as Bridge, lacking the necessary resolve, virtually surrendered the coveted showpiece without putting up much of a fight.

With Bridge in a seemingly comfortable position of 53 for one after seven overs, man-of-the-match Wade dealt the champions a heavy blow by picking up three wickets in the space of four balls, while in pursuit of their winning target Wainwright anchored Rangers all the way to a comfortable seven-wicket victory with a solid 32 off 45 balls.

'Basically all we wanted to do was play as a team, and that is exactly what we were able to achieve,' commented Rangers stand -in skipper Dwayne (Sluggo) Leverock.'

After being sent in to bat on an easy-paced track, Bridge overcame the early loss of opener Bilal Lambert (0) in the third over, but then completely came undone after Wade made an entrance at the start of the eighth over.

With his first delivery Wade had opener Derrick Hill (11) caught at mid-wicket, guest player Dean Stephens (27) trapped lbw with his third and middle order bat Noel Woods (0) bowled next delivery to complete a rare three-wicket maiden over, and leave Bridge fluttering at 53 for four.

'We didn't bowl a good line in the beginning. But young Jason was able to pick up three quick wickets after Dwia Blyden had made the initial breakthrough. Basically we needed to contain their batsmen and not allow them to get off to a flyer. But it was a very good wicket and so what we did was bring Jason on because he swings the ball very well,' Leverock said.

'Once Jason came into the attack those three wickets he got were very crucial as they changed the entire complexion of the match. We were actually looking to dismiss them for around 75 and then 100 runs, but I think we let them get off a bit later towards the end of their innings.'

Prior to Wade's timely intervention, Bridge had rebounded from Lambert's early dismissal with Stephens and Hill adding 42 runs for the second-wicket before the latter's aggressive instincts got the better of him and he was caught hitting across the line.

With three additional wickets falling in quick succession on 53, it was now clearly evident that Bridge's fortunes had taken a drastic turn for the worst. But the visitors began to show resistance to the Rangers' onslaught lower down the order, with skipper Jermaine Salaam (22) and guest player Nakia Smith (17) adding 22 runs for the sixth-wicket to get things slightly back on track.

But once off-spinner Derek Brangman broke the partnership by pushing back Smith's centre stump, and Salaam was caught at long on attempting to lift off-spinner Olin Jones out of the park two balls after bringing up Bridge's hundred in similar fashion, the end would be swift as spinners Leverock and Jones mopped up the tail without any further resistance.

Colt Brangman, Jones and left-arm seamer Dwia Blyden who all claimed two-wickets each, while Leverock took one without conceding a single run.

With their work clearly cut out for them defending a low total, Bridge didn't do themselves any favours in the field either as several chances went begging off the bat while their bowlers often lacked the penetration needed to make serious inroads into the Rangers batting order.

Stephens, however, offered a ray of hope when he sent the struggling Curtis Jackson (1) and Stevie Lightbourne (11) who was put down twice at long off and first slip back to the dressing room for early showers in the space of two overs.

Stephens had Jackson caught behind in the fifth over before shattering Lightbourne's stumps with a heat-seeking yorker. But Bridge's celebrations were quickly muted as Rangers responded to the challenge with the aggressive Brangman (26) and watchful Wainwright adding stability with a 36 run third-wicket stand to keep the hosts well on course.

Brangman appeared comfortable at the crease from the outset but was cut down by a Woods' full toss that found its intended target attempting a seventh- boundary.

From here it was left to the swashbuckling Rohaan Simons (25 not out) and anchorman Wainwright to pick up the pieces and continue building a match-winning total, which was formalised in the second over following a delayed lunch interval when the latter batsman brought down the curtain with a glance down to the third man region and scampered through for two comfortable runs.

Wainwright and Simons each gathered five fours during an unbroken 45-run fourth-wicket partnership that carried Rangers across the threshold to victory, and sent a humbled Bridge home empty handed.

'Keith has been through a lean patch and so we wanted him to bat all the way through and hang around,' skipper Leverock said. 'He really batted well.'

Former Bridge skipper Stephens admitted afterwards that Wade's magical four-over spell proved decisive in the end.

'That hurt everybody's pride. We really wanted to win this one,' he lamented. 'I also thought we dropped too many catches. And it's catches that win matches.'

Stephens seized two for 18 to also lead the Bridge bowling attack, while Woods finished with one for 18.

Newly crowned champions Rangers will now defend their title on Saturday against Warwick at the Oval.