This match was a great disappointment. Two weeks previously Zimbabwe's second XI in Test cricket had been beaten in Harare. Now there was defeat, at home, to lowly Shropshire in the last year of Nat West Sponsorship.
Ireland were put in on a slow pitch. The start was delayed for 15 minutes on a beautiful sunny day to allow the dew to dry out. Then two wickets went down quickly and a third at 43. Ireland, despite 56 from Dunlop, never recovered. Three players reached double figures and the other eight made 19 runs between them. Shropshire bowled tidily and indeed their bowling was much better than their batting. It took them 49 overs to reach the winning mark of 141. Another 30 runs would have taxed them.
Ireland used 10 players who had been in Zimbabwe. John Davy was left out for Paul Mooney who became 12th man. Molins was not available. The two wicket-keepers, Bushe and Rutherford, were left out to accommodate new cap, Gerry Brophy. The latter is South African of Irish parents. He played as a professional for Merrion as a teenager in 1995 and was now back in Ireland with Cliftonville. He had played some first class cricket for Transvaal as a batsman/wicket-keeper and has a score of 185 to his name. Under ECB regulations for Nat West Trophy Brophy could play for Ireland by virtue of his Irish parentage. Neither team knew much about the other. Asif Din was the hero of a Warwickshire Nat. West Trophy win over Sussex; Jones had played for Worcester and Davies for Somerset.
Over 200 Shropshire supporters enhanced the crowd at Castle Avenue. Ireland's start could hardly have been worse. Shimmons, a medium pacer, got movement in the air and off the seam. He bowled his 10 overs in one stint and took three for 30. Archer was out third ball. He played too soon, the swing beat him and he was LBW. PJ Davy was the other opening bat as he had been in early 1999. A better choice might have been McCallan. Davy opening meant Joyce and Dunlop both moving up one place.
At 14, in his fourth over, Shimmons beat Davy three times. Davy scooped the next ball gently from the leg side off the leading edge to short extra cover. Joyce was playing well. He was eight when Dunlop came in and scored a further 27 in a stand of 29. Then in Shimmons eighth over he played on while driving. The remaining seven wickets went down for a further 97 with Dunlop, last out for 56, holding the innings together. Hafeez bowled five overs for 23. Then Asif Din, off spin and swing and Adam Byram, slow left arm, bowled 20 overs in tandem and took six wickets.
Newcomer Brophy began well. He and Dunlop put on 36, the best stand of the innings, in seven overs. At 79 for three a recovery seemed on the way. Then Brophy advanced to Asif, moving down the pitch towards the leg side, and was stumped. 79-4-15.
At 84 Dunlop (23) gave Asif a diving right handed caught and bowled chance. Gillespie needed 23 balls to get off the mark. He then hit a four. Two balls later he stepped back to cut Byram and was bowled. 96-5-4. At 99 McCallan slashed at Asif and was caught by the only slip. 100 was up in over 34. In the next over, Dunlop (28) hooked Asif to Adam Byram at deep square leg and was dropped. Heasley was out under unusual circumstances at 106. A leg side ball from Byram seemed to have beaten the wicket-keeper. It had not! When the wicket- keeper turned with the ball he found Heasley out of his ground and stumped him. In the same over Cooke had a wild swing at Byram and was bowled. 108-8-0. Butler came in and played quite well until he picked out deep wide mid-wicket who did not have to move to take the catch. Next ball Dunlop hit a six over mid-wicket to bring up his 50 off 82 balls.
At the end of 42 overs the score was 130 with Dwyer in at number 11. In the 45th over Dunlop went on the attack against opening bowler G. Byram. He hit a leg side four and, two balls later, holed out to deep mid-wicket. There were still 33 balls to be bowled and as events transpired another 20 runs might have won the match. Dunlop hit a six and four fours. It was his 16th 50 as well as three centuries in his 119 innings for Ireland.
Shropshire's reply was turgid. T. Parton, a left hander, played the sheet anchor role. He scored 51 not out off 138 balls (four fours). The next highest score was 18. Ireland bowled and fielded quite well but gave away 21 runs in wides (17) and no-balls (4), the no-balls counting two each. So 19 extra balls were bowled. As Shropshire reached victory in exactly 49 overs these 19 balls were vital.
Parton and Jones opened to Cooke and Butler (down the hill). The score was 19 after eight overs of which seven were extras. Butler bowled well. He was fast and often beat the bat.
It was Cooke who took the first wicket having the left handed Jones LBW at 19. He missed a break back. Cooke bowled seven overs for 17. Butler six for 13. Heasley and McCallan bowled next and it seemed strange not to use Dwyer early on. His first over was the 22nd. However Heasley took a wicket in his second over, the 16th, at 34. Hafeez chased a wide ball and gave Brophy his first catch for Ireland. Asif came next. In 14 overs he and Parton put on 49 for the third wicket. 50 came up in over 20. Heasley bowled four overs for 16 but included were five wides and a no-ball. Dwyer came on at 56 and scoring slowed to a trickle at his end. But Butler bowled two overs for 11. Then, in his fifth over, Dwyer got Asif. He stepped away to cut but the ball came with the arm and bowled him. 83-3-18. Archer bowled the 31st over. The score was now 84 so 57 were needed in 20 overs.
Dwyer's first five overs yielded only seven. In his last five he bowled three maidens so his 10 overs gave up only 13 runs. The score was 97 after 35 overs. Dwyer was finished after over 40 and the score was 103. Now 38 were needed in 10 overs. Dwyer thought he had Parton caught at the wicket towards the end of his spell. Heasley bowled the 41st over and it cost nine runs including three more wides. With the first ball of the 45th over Heasley had Davies lbw. He had faced 49 balls for his 16 and at this point Parton was 43 and the score 118. 35 balls remained to score 23 when Ralph arrived. The vital over was the 46th bowled by McCallan. Ralph hit a two and then advanced and hit a straight six. After this over 13 were needed in four overs. Heasley's next over gave away six. Butler was recalled for the 48th over. He gave up four runs but had Ralph caught at gully off a wide offside ball. 131-5-10. Those 10 runs by Ralph off 16 balls were vital. Cooke came back for over 49 and the final four runs were scored. Off the last ball Parton hit a two to bring him to 51 and win the match.
Of the Irish bowlers Dwyer was supreme and Heasley, despite his two wickets, was expensive. Cooke and Butler gave up less than three runs per over. Evans Dexter gave the Man-of-the-Match award to Shropshire slow left armer Adam Byram for his four for 24 in 10 overs. He had caused the lower order Irish batting collapse.