Heroic captain Dan Birch led from the front to keep the title fires of ROLLS-ROYCE LEISURE burning right up to the last game of the Notts Premier League season.
Lowering himself to number four in the order, Birch blasted a magnificent, unbeaten 137 to fire Rolls to a four-wicket victory at home to Mansfield Hosiery Mills.
And with leaders Cuckney slipping up at Caythorpe, the win meant the Hucknall side could still mathematically steal the title on the final day of the season this coming Saturday.
They remain in third place, fully 14 points behind, but play Cuckney in that last fixture. The snag is that even if they win, it still might not be enough if second-placed West Indian Cavaliers take their final game at Clifton Village.
Birch’s spectacular innings was one of the highlights of the thrilling cricket Rolls have dished up at their home ground this term.
Chasing a target of 215, his side had got off to a decidedly sticky start, slumping to 29 for three and 53 for four.
With Matt Wright (three for 36 in 15 overs) using the new ball well, Adeel Shafique fell for seven, Matt Roberts for three, James Taylor for 12 and then Matt Anderson for one.
But if ever there was an example of a skipper leading by example, this was it, as Birch battered the Hosiery Mills attack into submission.
The former Derbyshire CCC batsman thrashed no fewer than 11 sixes, plus the same number of fours, in an assault spanning only 80 balls.
At the other end, two more cheap wickets fell, including Liam Andrews for 20, leaving The Rollers on 97 for six.
But the dismissals merely invigorated Birch’s hunger as he single-handedly kept his team’s title ambitions afloat.
In Tom Lungley (25 not out, four fours), he found a partner to hold up the other end and the pair shared an unbroken stand of 120 for the seventh wicket.
It knocked all the stuffing out of the visitors, and Rolls’s winning boundary came in the 43rd of the allotted 50 overs.
Earlier Birch’s decision to put Hosiery Mills had just about been justified -- but not before a splendid innings by opening bat Gareth Curtis.
Curtis compiled a patient 75 (one six and 11 fours) to guide his side to 85 for one and 177 for three, with help from skipper Matt New (43, two sixes and three fours) and Guruge Sudesh Fernando (22).
However, progress wasn’t quick, and when the visitors tried to up the tempo at the death, wickets fell.
Spinner Roberts (two for 65 in 13 overs) removed Curtis before Liam Andrews (two for 24 in six overs) dislodged New in successive overs.
From there, Michael Millwood and Adam Shepherd took over for Rolls with figures of three for 49 in 15 overs and two for 46 in 12 respectively.