3rd XI agonisingly close to victory in entertaining match
Merseyside Commonwealth 212 (Ichira Yahathagoda 75*, Ushan Wewalwala 29, Stevie Pennington 2-35) Rainhill 205-8 (Neil Robinson 93, Oliver Bromhead 25)
Points: Rainhill 9pts, Merseyside Commonwealth 9pts
Rainhill's 3rd XI fell just eight runs short of a dramatic win over Merseyside Commonwealth in a pulsating match.
With the regular 3rd XI depleted over the bank holiday weekend, the line-up included several players from Rainhill's Sunday team: Steve Bell, Paul Millar, Stevie Pennington, Stuart Brown Vinny Varghese, Deepak Gupta and Neil Robinson. Accustomed to playing recreation cricket, each of them proved more than equal to the challenge of "stepping up" and competing against a highly talented Merseyside Commonwealth side. Steve Bell took on the captaincy in the absence of Jeff Fitzhenry.
Rainhill won the toss and opted to field. Usham Wewelwala (29) and Thisaro Fernando (7) forged a useful and highly promising partnership worth 36 runs. This was ended by Paul Millar, who took the wickets of both openers in quick succession. Steve Bell, bowling from the other end, also took two wickets and within a few overs Merseyside Commonwealth had slumped from 36-0 to 49-4. Among the visiting top-order batsmen out was former Rainhill player Mohamed Wafa.
Wicketkeeper Thushara Withanage and Najeebullah Nasiri came together and steadied the ship, adding 40 runs for the fifth wicket. They were out for 25 and 15 runs respectively - both being bowled by Stevie Pennington with the wickets falling in quick succession. The promising partnership ended, Merseyside Commonwealth found themselves on 91-6 and in need of someone to build an innings.
Ichira Yahathagoda gave their innings the impetus it needed and his confident strokeplay frustrated the Rainhill bowling attack. He went on to record an unbeaten 75 - a remarkable knock in the circumstances - but Rainhill were able to finish off the tail with Deepak Gupta taking a wicket on his 3rd team debut. However, Yahathgoda's impressive personal performance had helped his team move onto 212 - a target not likely to be easily chased down.
Rainhill, however, were far from overawed. Not content to settle for a draw, they were determined to play for the win and the top order showed their intentions early on. Ethan Powell was out for 13, but his wicket brought together Paul Millar (23) and Stevie Pennington (23). The duo batted intelligently to add 46 for the second wicket and looked set to press on when they both perished in rapid succesion. Rainhill, having looked comfortable, were suddenly on 68-3. Worse was to follow when Vinny Varghese was out for 6 with the score on 88.
Like the visitors, Rainhill were now in need of someone to build their innings around. Neil Robinson proved equal to the task and, ably supported by Oliver Bromhead, was able to move the score onto 185 before being superbly stumped by Withanage. Robinson had looked to score quickly and ensure that Rainhill kept up with the equired run rate; he was eventually out for 93 - just seven short of what would have been a fully-merited century - which had come from just 94 balls. Robinson's innings had included 10 fours and 1 six.
With the loss of Robinson, Rainhill still required 27 more runs. Bromhead, recognising that the onus was now on him to push the game and see the team over the line, took the initiative and almost pulled it off but frustratingly was run out for 25 looking to score quick runs. It was Bromhead's highest score to date and showed considerable ability as well as a developing tactical nous. Stuart Brown, similarly looking to score rapidly, was out for 2. Deepak Gupta (4 not out) and Steve Bell (1 not out) were there at the end as Rainhill finished on 205-8. It had been a battling performance from Rainhill, characterised by resolve and steely determination, that had come agonisingly close to pulling off an incredible win. It was particularly impressive in that such a fight had been put up by a team heavily depleted in numbers and dependent on Sunday team players to come in and showcase their talent - and there can be little doubt they did that. Everyone contributed something in a match that was as exhilarating as it was entertaining. The fact that a makeshift team was disappointed in securing a highly creditable draw in tough circumstances speaks volumes about the players involved.
Rainhill and Merseyside Commonwealth both remain unbeaten in the 3rd XI (Sunday) 1st Division (South). Rainhill's next opponents will be Whitefield at home on 9th May.
Photo (from left to right): Vinny Varghese, Neil Robinson, Steve Bell, Stuart Brown