Rainhill win in nailbiting finish
2nd XI come out on top in dramatic encounter with Highfield
Highfield 103 (Craig Aspey 53*, Elliot Gaskell 10; Sam Williamson 4-18)
Rainhill 104-7 (Joe Harvey 25, Adam Edwards 24*; Callum Martlew 3-19)
Rainhill (25 pts) beat Highfield (5 pts) by 3 wickets
Rainhill's 2nd team eased their relegation fears after winning a low-scoring match against Highfield.
The result moves Rainhill up to sixth in the First Division, 44 points of 11th placed Ainsdale who have a game in hand.
Highfield won the toss and opted to bat. Unfortunately for the visitors, their innings got off to an unimaginably bad start. James Taylor was out first ball, caught behind the stumps by Daniel Woodward off the bowling of Sam Williamson. Lee Martinus managed a single before he was bowled by Philip Morgan, while Williamson struck again - twice - to remove Callum Martlew (1) and Nicholas Simm (0). Four batsmen were out with only two runs on the scoreboard. To suggest this was a disaster of epic proportions would probably be understating how unbelievably absymal the situation was for Highfield. Rainhill were naturally delighted, none more so than Williamson who had taken three key wickets in a few minutes.
Jack Cunliffe's wicket fell shortly afterwards when he edged a Phil Morgan delivery to wicketkeeper Woodward. The score was now 13 for 5 and the visitors were in all kinds of trouble. At this point it may have seemed a straightforward victory for Rainhill was an inevitability but Highfield - to their great credit - refused to throw in the towel. Craig Aspey and Elliot Gaskell not only offered some resistance to Rainhill's impressively disciplined bowling but began to score at a steady rate. They added a further 30 runs before Gaskell was bowled by Morgan, his contribution of 10 coming from 12 balls.
David Pennington picked up the wicket of Matthew Johnson, leaving Highfield on 47 for 7. Aspey was still at the crease and began to impose himself on the innings, punishing short balls and finding the gaps in the field. Highfield's tail didn't add a lot of runs but Alex Martlew (9), Scott Cornish (3) and Steven Martlew (6) defied Rainhill's bowlers and didn't surrender their wickets easily, allowing Aspey to play his shots. When Steven Martlew was bowled by Sam Williamson, Highfield had managed to reach 103 - something of an achievement given they were 13 for 5 at one stage. Aspey finished unbeaten on 53 from 69 balls.
All the same, 103 represented a moderate target and one that Rainhill should not have found too difficult. However, Rainhill too got off to a dismal start and opener Jack Ellis was also out to the first ball of the innings. (There can't be too many matches in which both team's openers have been out first ball.)
Oliver Powell and Ethan Powell, who have batted so well together in recent games, also lost their wickets early and Rainhill very quickly found themselves on 8 for 3. Joe Harvey and Owen Groom then came together and formed what looked like a potentially match-winning partnership, but their wickets fell in quick succession to leave Rainhill foundering on 56 for 5. Harvey had contributed 25 from 30 balls, while Groom's knock was worth 20.
Highfield's bowlers consistently posed problems for Rainhill and wickets continued to fall. Joe Harvey was out next, for 7, and when Liam Yate was adjudged to be out lbw Rainhill were 29 runs short of the target with just three wickets in hand. The game was delicately poised - something that would have seemed unthinkable a couple of hours previously.
Daniel Woodward and Adam Edwards proved themselves equal to the challenge and their sensible batting saw Rainhill reach their target without further loss. While the result and the points will come as welcome relief, the match will be remembered for many other reasons.
Umpires: Matthew Pennington, Phil Gaskell
Scorers: David Crossley, Nicola Cunliffe
Match ball sponsor: Black Swan Tax Advisors