Rainhill in two-wicket home defeat in spite of valiant half-century
Rainhill 193-7 (Mike Rotheram 51, Rob McKeown 41; Sam Ellis 4-54)
Formby 194-8 (Ryan Brown 70, James Seward 64; James Clarke 4-14)
Formby (23 pts) beat Rainhill (8 pts) by 2 wickets
Rainhill were beaten by Formby for the second time this season but it was a game that the hosts could - and arguably should - have won.
Opting to bat first on a flat wicket, Rainhill got off to a dismal start as both openers were dismissed without scoring. James Clarke was out to the third ball of the innings when he edged a Sam Ellis delivery into the hands of wicketkeeper James Seward. Tyler McGladdery, the source of so many runs for Rainhill this season, followed in exactly the same way a few balls later.
Buoyed by their positive start, Formby's bowlers - especially Ellis and Dewi Jones - created further difficulties for Rainhill and the new pairing of Sam Kershaw and Mike Rotheram did well to negotiate some disciplined and relentlessly accurate bowling. The Rainhill duo made steady progress and Formby were unable to inflict further blows until Jones drew the edge of Kershaw's bat for Seward to take his third catch of the afternoon.
Kershaw and Rotheram's patient approach had helped take the score onto 65. The next man in, Rob McKeown, adopted a completely different style and if Rotheram was determined to emulate Chris Tavare then McKeown's manner was more akin to Allan Lamb. He hit 41 from 51 balls and looked set to record his first half-century for the 1st XI until he misjudged a delivery from Sam Oldham that dislodged his bails. While clearly disappointed with his dismissal, McKeown's contribution had taken Rainhill onto 131 for 4, quite a recovery given the nightmare start.
David Atkinson was next in but also fell victim to a full length ball from Sam Oldham that rearranged the stumps (pictured, left). Having built a solid platform Rainhill now needed to score quickly and press on, which is what captain Ben Edmundson was clearly determined to do. Edmundson and Rotheram began to accelerate and the latter was able to celebrate a well-deserved half-century (pictured, top) with a nicely timed cover drive. The 50 was his first in the league this season.
Unfortunately Rotheram was bowled by Ellis for 51. It had come from 155 balls but he had done the hard work and played the defiant innings his team needed in the circumstances. Edmundson, aided by Liam O'Toole and Simon Brown, took the score beyond 193 with a six over deep square leg and then - having secured the extra batting point for passing the 190 mark - declared.
The declaration surprised some spectators who felt a few more overs with Edmundson and Brown hitting the ball around would have given Formby more of a mountain to climb. The timing certainly demonstrated the faith Rainhill's captain has in his bowling attack.
Chasing 194, Formby started well. Spinner David Atkinson made the breakthrough when opener Ollie Sutton was caught by Jack Lowrie at leg slip. James Seward and Ryan Brown then built a dangerous partnership that frustrated the Rainhill attack. Rainhill seemed to have few answers to the questions being posed by Seward and Brown and - as the Formby pair marched on with relative ease - reaching the target of 194 increasingly appeared to be inevitable.
Rainhill, however, refused to throw in the towel. Mike Rotheram held a catch to dismiss Seward for 64, breaking a partnership worth 130. Brown was still at the crease and, with Sam Oldham, continued to move quickly towards the finish line. With 175 on the scoreboard and with Formby in apparent control, the game changed dramatically if not decisively. Whether the introduction of James Clarke into the bowling attack was an inspired decision or the last throw of the dice is difficult to say, but I'll opt for the former. Clarke can bowl a bit but he'd only bowled 13.1 overs in league games prior to this match. Almost immediately he took the key wicket of Ryan Brown - superbly stumped by Simon Brown for 70 - which seemed to induce panic in Formby's middle order. Seemingly cruising at 175 for 2, Formby quickly slipped to 190 for 8: Peter Kelly picked up the wickets of Oliver Gallagher and Michael Booth before Clarke struck three more times to remove Tom Simpson, Saad Humayan and Dewi Jones.
This set up a thrilling finale with under-pressure Formby requiring four runs for victory and the confident hosts in need of two wickets. The dramatic batting collapse was like nothing we've seen since, well, the last time Rainhill played Formby.
Formby's Sam Oldham refused to press the panic button. Oldham, who had watched from the other end as six wickets tumbled, steered Formby home and finished on an unbeaten 29. Whether a few more runs from Rainhill would have proved decisive is difficult to say, and credit should go to Seward and Brown for their fluent strokeplay.
While defeat will be frustrating for Rainhill, there are several positives to take from the game ahead of the visit of Northern on Saturday: the resilience of Rotheram, the aggressive and determined contributions of McKeown and Edmundson, Clarke's best ever bowling figures and the way in which Rainhill were almost able to turn the game around completely.
Umpires: Peter Crook, Ian Laurence
Scorers: Andrew Finney, Kenneth Miles
Match ball sponsor: JD Wilkes (Optometrists)