Rainhill stay in second spot after taking maximum points against Sefton Park
Sefton Park 144 (Huzaifa Zubair 36, Mark Chappell 32; Jack Lowrie 4-26)
Rainhill 145-6 (Ben Edmundson 37, Mike Rotheram 24; Raheem Kasser 2-19)
Rainhill (25 pts) beat Sefton Park (4 pts) by 4 wickets
Artists come in various forms. Some are sculptors, some direct movies, some are photographers and some are poets. Other artists achieved fame painting matchstick men in urban landscapes. Still others express their art in the way they make a ball move unpredictably off the seam, the effortless way they bowl at pace, the variation and creativity of their deliveries and the ways in which they deceive opposing batsmen.
Dennis Lillee famously wrote The Art of Fast Bowling, but anyone who has watched cricket at any level understands the artistic qualities of the pace bowler. Such artistry was on display yesterday as Rainhill's two attacking quicks - Jack Lowrie (pictured, versus Colwyn Bay) and Liam O'Toole - wore down and bowled out a stubbornly defiant Sefton Park side.
The visitors won the toss and elected to bat. It seemed a sensible decision but Lowrie was in the mood to prove a point or two and removed opener Scott Aitchison, lbw, without scoring. Lowrie struck again moments later when he sent down an almost unplayable ball to Benjamin Percival, who could only edge behind into the gloves of Ross Higham. Bamboozled by Lowrie's brilliance, Sefton Park had lost both openers with the score on 17 for 2.
Worse followed for the visitors when O'Toole bowled Kemar Smith for 1. With Lowrie and O'Toole bowling well and hungry for wickets, new batsmen Adam Taylor and Huzaifa Zubair faced some challenging overs. That they survived them is credit to their technique and resolve and they began - slowly - to put some runs on the board. It was painstaking to watch at times - after 26 overs the score was 39 for 3 - but, having avoided the fall of further wickets, Taylor and Zubair were focused on resistance rather than playing aggressive shots.
Taylor's tenacity was finally broken by spinner David Atkison, who tempted him into pushing at a delivery that carried through to Higham behind the stumps. His contribution of 23 had come from 80 balls. Peter Kelly picked up the next wicket - that of Robert Supira - with Ben Edmunson taking a decent catch.
Sefton Park were now on 67 for 5 and needed to accelerate, but still they found it difficult to score freely against Rainhill's bowling: after 37 overs, the visitors had moved on to 71 for 5. Zubair was still valiantly holding out and he was joined by Mark Chappell who, in spite of hitting an impressive six, showed similar defensive instincts. While the pair put on 42 for the sixth wicket, this was achieved at a rate of around 2 per over.
The next man out was Zubair, caught by Sam Kershaw off O'Toole for a 114-ball 36. At the 55-over mark Sefton Park had moved onto 116 for 6 and, sensing the need to push on, Chappell and Ayan Madhu began to play more positively. In the next 6 overs they added 28 more runs as they sought to post a respectable total.
The batsmen were showing some confidence and Rainhill still needed four wickets to bowl the visitors out. Just the scene seemed set for the batsmen to play some colourful cameos before making a declaration, O'Toole and Lowrie conjured them out almost at will. Lowrie scattered Madhu's stumps before, in the next over, O'Toole trapped Chappell lbw for 32. O'Toole's next delivery bowled Raheem Kasser for a duck. Lowrie fittingly formalised the closure of Sefton Park's innings when he took the wicket of captain James Dixon, also for 0.
The visitors' diffident batting performance presented Rainhill with a target of 145. Batting was initially little easier for Rainhill and Huzaifa Zubair struck early to remove in-form opener Tyler McGladdery for just 12. Given McGladdery averages nearly 70 in league games this season, it was a prize wicket for Sefton Park and Zubair knew it. Zubair, bowling with understandable confidence, then bowled Sam Kershaw for 8. With the score on 23 for 2 Rainhill knew they could ill-afford to show complacency.
Mike Rotheram and Ben Edmundson played intelligently as they chased down the target. Edmundson showed urgency and produced some nicely-timed drives to frustrate Sefton Park's bowlers. The duo's partnership was worth 44 when Rotheram's dogged defiance was finally ended by Kemar Smith, but his solid contribution of 24 had helped move Rainhill steadily towards the target.
Next in was Rob McKeown and he and the captain continued to make progress and eat into the visitors' lead. They had taken the score onto 110 when the umpire adjudged that Mark Chappell's delivery would have gone on to hit Edmundson's stumps. The Rainhill captain had hit 37 from 47 balls; with him out the required total seemed that bit more daunting. McKeown followed a couple of minutes later when he was caught by Ayan Madhu off Raheem Kasser's bowling for 22. David Atkinson also succumbed to Kasser's bowling and Rainhill were in a bit of trouble at 116 for 6, needing a further 29 runs for victory with the tail exposed.
If there were any nerves then they didn't show. Ross Higham (14 not out) and Liam O'Toole (19 not out) provided some entertainment as they smashed the ball around wih confidence. O'Toole's knock was especially aesthetically pleasing, plundering 19 from 14 balls including 2 sixes and a four as Rainhill reched the target from 36 overs.
The result means Rainhill take maximum points and remain in second place in the LDCC Premier League but it was far from a routine win. The next match is away to Leigh, tough opponents but not unbeatable - it should be a cracker!
Umpires: Paddy Brown, Alistair Davies
Scorers: Andrew Finney, Robert Durand
Match ball sponsor: Black Swan Tax Advisors