Dramatic final weekend brings mixed results
The 2021 season concluded with both delight and disappointment for Rainhill
Rainhill's teams went into the final weekend of the 2021 season with a lot of questions unanswered but knowing that their destinies were in their own hands.
The first team, having not won since the 31st July victory at Leigh, still had a chance of qualifying for the Lancashire Cup. To do this they needed to beat Bootle - unless Formby were to fall to an unlikely defeat at bottom-placed Sefton Park. Bootle were themselves fighting relegation and needed to secure a 25-point win and hope that Southport, level on points, fared less well in their match with Leigh.
The second team faced an altogether different task. They were in relegation trouble and, unless the result of the game between Wavertree and Hightown went their way, they needed to beat Northop Hall to survive. Basically, their home match against the Welsh team was a must-win.
The third team, playing on Sunday, were due to face Bootle away. While the promotion places had been determined, there was an opportunity for Rainhill to finish in third place should they deny fourth-placed Bootle the win.
The women's side faced Bootle's B team, looking for a third win of the season that would lift them out of the bottom two in the Softball Super 8s league.
All in all, there was quite a lot to play for.
1st team v Bootle (away)
The first team won the toss and opted to bat first in their match at Wadham Road. Ross Higham (pictured, left) and Tyler McGladdery opened the batting and put on 35 for the first wicket before McGladdery was caught behind the stumps by Neil Williams off the bowling of Scott Butterworth. Having looked reasonably comfortable, it was unfortunate that the Rainhill opener was lured into playing a loose shot that was edged to the keeper. McGladdery's 18 runs in this match took his season's total in all matches to 950 runs.
Butterworth took the wicket of Sam Kershaw for 0, but Higham and James Clarke defiantly resisted some quality bowling and slowly took the score beyond 60. Just when it looked as if the pair had survived the pressure, a delivery from Jhangir Liaqat rattled into Clarke's pads. Worse was to follow for Rainhill when Rob McKeown was out in similar fashion to Butterworth and the visitors were on 68 for 4.
David Atkinson played a couple of sublime shots that sailed to the boundary but unfortunately came unstuck when attempting a pull shot that only carried as far as Charlie Towie at mid-on. Captain Ben Edmundson followed back to the pavilion after edging a Liaqat delivery to Williams.
With the score on 95 for 6, Rainhill were in real trouble and their pursuit of the all-important 25 points looked in real jeopardy. At this point Mike Rotheram joined Higham at the crease and the new duo began to chart a course out of rough waters. Rotheram helped to increase the run rate while Higham took the approach of seizing on anything short or loose. They shared a partnership worth 59 as Higham reached his half-century and then looked to press on to a bigger score.
With 150 runs on the board, Rotheram and Higham sought to accelerate. It was the right decision but Higham, looking to hit big, was caught by Butterworth. His 86 was an outstanding knock in the circumstances and he had sacrificed a potential century in pursuit of the quick runs his team needed. Simon Brown was in next and made a couple of terrific drives in consecutive balls before holing out to Toby Lester at mid-on. Rotheram, similarly opting for the big shots, was stumped for 27. Jack Lowrie, batting at 11, smashed Shaneil Patel-Ponda for six over long-on before being caught attempting a similar shot.
All out for 189, and with Formby going well against Sefton Park, Rainhill's chances of Lancashire Cup qualification depended on bowling out their opponents. This never looked remotely likely and, in spite of a couple of decent appeals, Bootle's opening pair of Will Hale and former England batsman Owais Shah reached the target without loss of wickets. It was a brilliant performance from Hale and Shah and, in the final analysis, utterly irrelevant: Southport convincingly beat Leigh meaning the batting heroics at Wadham Road were in vain and Bootle were relegated for the first time in their 188-year history.
It was disappointing for Rainhill, whose promising season had nothing material to show at its conclusion. In some respects the team had been unlucky, especially with matches against teams such as Sefton Park, Orrell, Southport and New Brighton either cancelled or abandoned due to rain. There are plenty of positives to carry forward but hopes that the 150th anniversary season could have finished differently were ultimately dashed because, in the last few games, Rainhill were unable to seize opportunities.
3rd team v Bootle (away)
The third team was due to play Bootle on Sunday afternoon, seeking to secure a top three finish. Bootle's first team, nursing the disappointment of relegation, were playing in the Ray Digman T20 Cup finals day on their own ground, beating league champions Northern to face Wallasey in the final. Availability of the field had an effect on the third team's fixture and Bootle withdrew from the third-place decider match, giving Rainhill the win and 25 points.
Rainhill would have preferred to have played the game but the third placed finish is reward for how they have played throughout the season. The third team have developed into a highly competitive side, capable of beating anyone, and have played fearlessly. With so many talented players making their mark this year, there will be hopes to go further next season and secure promotion.
Women's Super 8s v Bootle B
Rainhill's women faced Bootle B at home and were looking for a win that would lift them out of the bottom two. Rainhill started well, taking three wickets in the first three overs, before Bootle fought their way back into the game and posted a creditable 267.
Rainhill's pursuit began with Vicky Graham and Katie Roberts leading the charge, hitting 21 without loss in the first four overs. Liv Reilly and Chloe Gillespie then continued to keep the runs flowing. The next pairing, Susan Rotheram and Bobbie Grant, found it more difficult to score as Bootle adjusted the field and began to exert pressure. However, the Rainhill pair responded well, typified by a classy cover drive from Susan Rotheram.
Lucy Strettle and Julie Foulkes were the last to bat for Rainhill. Closing in on the target, Rainhill looked favourites to win until Strettle was caught at short fine leg, taking five runs from the total. A fraught final couple of overs ensued, with Rainhill looking to get bat on ball and Bootle bowling some fantasic deliveries, much to the home side's frustration. It was nervous but Strettle and Foulkes denied Bootle a further crucial wicket and scored the runs to secure a well-earned victory. The joy of their watching teammates was tangible - and, indeed, audible.
Lucy Brown said that the game showed "our batting has improved so much" while Bobbie Grant felt that the match was "the best we've played as a team".
Vicky Graham (pictured, right), who played as wicket keeper, said: "It was a close match. We did well opening out with 21 and we've progressed a lot since the start of the season. We're much more tactically aware now and we've learned how to adjust our batting against certain bowlers. I think other teams have seen us as an easy win, but we proved ourselves today.
"Bootle are a good team and for us to beat them is fantastic. We needed this - it's a great ending for 2021 and gives us a massive boost for next season. We have shown we are competitive and will give it our all. "
Rainhill finished ninth out of thirteen teams and will surely progress further in 2022.
2nd team v Northop Hall
Meanwhile, the second XI were playing a team that wasn't called Bootle.
Knowing that they needed a win for First Division survival, the top order batted well with Luis Duffy (29), Ethan Powell (31), Owen Groom (21) and Paul Ford (35) all making solid contributions. Rainhill were also helped by Liam Yate's 36 from 37 balls and Joe Harvey's quickfire 14 as they posted 193 for 9 - a good score but not an unassailable one.
Rainhill's bowlers then set about dismantling Northop Hall's batting attack. They did well to remove key batsmen Adam Littler (11), David Perry (13), Renit Adke (14) and Jack Smallwood (0) early, but as long as dangerman Evan Withe continued at the crease Northop Hall had a chance. Daniel Edwards was caught by Owen Groom off Sam Williamson's bowling for 21 and Withe himself finally succumbed to Rainhill's pressure when Adam Edwards found his pads. Withe had made a commendable 55 from 89 balls but, with no-one else able to stay with him, it seemed likely the impressive knock would be in a losing cause.
All that stood in between Rainhill and the win was Northop Hall's tail. It may have seemed easy in theory to knock over the final four batsmen but there was still work to do and captain Liam Evans-Ford, batting at 8, for a while offered some defiance and scored 11 before he was bowled by David Pennington (pictured, left) - who finished with 3 for 28. When Williamson bowled Matthew Edwards for 0, Northop Hall were all out for 132 and Rainhill had secured a 61 run victory.
The win had not only guaranteed survival but had lifted Rainhill to the dizzy heights of seventh in the league.
And so that concludes another season of cricket at Rainhill. It's been at various times exciting, enthralling, frustrating, inspiring, disappointing and uplifting - and that's the nature of the game. It was a fascinating final weekend to end a season that cannot easily be described in a few superlatives but which will no doubt live long in the memory.