Runaway leaders derailed
Northern: 240-3 (Andrew Clarke 73*, Liam Grey 63; Peter Kelly 2-76)
Rainhill: 243-8 (Tyler McGladdery 120*, David Atkinson 31; Thomas Sephton 5-109)
Rainhill (20 pts) beat Northern (9 pts) by 2 wickets
Rainhill inflicted Northern's first defeat of the season in dramatic circumstances at Moor Park, thanks to a battling team effort and a spendid individual knock from in-form opener Tyler McGladdery (pictured).
That Rainhill would have been in with a chance of winning this game may have seemed absurd to the impartial observer for much of the match. In a classically fluctuating game, Northern controlled and even dominated much of it and will be asking themselves how they managed to end up on the losing side.
Northern have seemed invincible in 2021 and were deservedly 46 points clear at the top before Saturday's round of fixtures. Their success has been the result of a number of factors but the strength of their batting line-up is certainly a key component. So too has been the form of Tomas Sephton, who has taken 39 wickets already this season including an incredible 7 for 77 at neighbours Formby. When Rainhill put them in to bat, Northern's intentions were made immediately clear.
Indeed, the home side were out of the blocks very quickly. Northern's opening pair of Liam Grey and Jack Boardman, so impressive in 2021, continued their excellent form and their partnership of 51 was only ended when Boardman edged a delivery from Jamie Harrison into the gloves of veteran wicketkeeper Simon Brown. Chris Laker then joined Grey, but if Rainhill were hoping for further quick wickets they were to be disappointed. Not only were Laker and Grey equal to the challenges posed by Rainhill's enterprising bowling attack, they punished anything too full or too short and accelerated the run-rate.
However, spinners have had notable success in the Premier League this season, including Rainhill's Peter Kelly, and it seemed inevitable that one of this his teasing deliveries would earn the next wicket. Kelly eventually got his reward when Grey, having passed the half-century mark and looking to press on, holed out to Jamie Harrison. Grey seemed disappointed to be out for 63 when a bigger score looked well within his grasp.
Grey was replaced by Andrew Clarke, coming in at number 4, who adopted a far more belligerent approach and soon he and Laker were playing some elegant drives and, most importantly, scoring rapidly. Laker became Peter Kelly's second victim of the afternoon when he was superbly stumped by Brown, having struck an impressive 61 from 55 balls - including two huge sixes. With the score at 168 for 3, Rainhill will have hoped for either further wickets or to decelerate the rate at which the home side were scoring. Neither were forthcoming, and Clarke became the third Northern batsman to record a half-century. Together with Ryan Maddock (16 not out) he helped add a further 72 runs to the total before Northern declared. At the declaration Clarke had reached 73 from a mere 50 balls.
Northern's innings total of 240 for 3 had been achieved from 46.5 overs. So impressive had their run rate been that Peter Kelly, the pick of Rainhill's bowlers, still averaged 4.5 per over. However, the number of overs still available meant that - crucially - Rainhill had plenty of time to reach their target, however unlikely, with disciplined and focused batting.
In an ordinary game 241 would be tough to chase down, and would be a lot to ask for any team, let alone one that had meekly surrendered to Formby only two weeks previously. But this was to be no ordinary game.
Rainhill openers James Clarke and Tyler McGladdery played with their usual purpose until Clarke misjudged a ball from Ryan Maddock, which clattered into his stumps. Sam Kershaw then joined McGladdery and the new pair took the score on to 84 before Kershaw fell lbw to Tomas Sephton. Sephton's introduction into the attack precipitated a mini-collapse, as Rainhill also lost the wickets of Ross Higham (16) and Mike Rotheram (0). With the visitors reduced to 117-4, Northern appeared to be still very much in control of the game. However, to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, if you can keep your keep your wicket when all about you are losing theirs then there's always a chance of success. Wickets did continue to tumble, but one man was immovable: Tyler McGladdery. He played with simple ease and excellent timing, with both defiance and fluency, in what was - in the circumstances - an utterly remarkable innings. Against some excellent bowling, and when the odds were stacked against his team, McGladdery never wavered from his task.
When Rotheram's wicket fell there was much work still to do. A partnership between McGladdery and David Atkinson threatened to turn the momentum in Rainhill's favour but, when Atkinson was caught and bowled by Sephton for 31, with the score on 167 for 5, once again the target seemed a formidable one. The next batsman in was captain Ben Edmundson and, after him, only the four tail-enders stood in Northern's way.
The insouciant Edmundson, however, showed no intention of surrendering and forged a promising partnership with opener McGladdery. The pair had added 58 for the seventh wicket when Edmundson finally succumbed to Sephton's bowling; Thomas Grey holding the catch that Northern hoped would turn the game finally and decisively in their favour. Still needing 16 runs for the win, Rainhill wobbled. Jamie Harrison (Sephton's fifth wicket of the day) and Peter Kelly were out quickly and, with Rainhill eight wickets down, the game was set for its grand finale.
With the pressure on, McGladdery was focused only on the winning line. Simon Brown batted out a few dot balls (a vital contribution in the circumstances) to hold the end before the opener hit the final runs - fittingly, via a perfectly timed boundary. McGladdery finished on 120 not out, but it was the importance of the knock rather than the score itself that proved significant in the context of the game. His approach and focus, combined with the ability to coax the best from those playing with him, proved match-winning. Northern had experienced their worst nightmare... a nightmare called McGladdery. Club captain Mike Rotheram said of the innings: "It was the best knock I have seen from any Rainhill player in the 27 years I have been playing at the club. Tyler is the best amateur player I have ever seen and deserves to be playing professional cricket." After yesterday's performance, no doubt Northern's players agree.
Umpires: Peter Crook, Ian Laurence
Scorers: Paul Delve, Andrew Finney
Match ball sponsor: Black Swan Tax