My impressions of the game were changed after watching Earlestown Griffins v Rainhill
What exactly is LMS cricket?
LMS - or Last Man Stands - has been around since 2005 and is played by over 180,000 people around the globe. There are LMS leagues and competitions in the places you may expect - cricket-playing nations such as England, Australia, South Africa, India, Pakistan and so on - but also in countries where cricket is still growing as a participant sport. For example, there are thriving LMS leagues in Romania, Kuwait, Vietnam, Rwanda, Panama and, bizarrely, the British Overseas Territory of St Helena.
Part of the appeal of LMS is surely the enthusiastic support of its global ambassador, one AB de Villiers. Having someone of his calibre as patron lends the format credibility as well as giving it some useful publicity. LMS is a game that would be well suited to Mr de Villiers' cricketing talent.
But what is LMS? When I first heard about it three years ago I was told is is a "crazy form of cricket". While I can't really dispute that there's a little more to it. One quick look at the website will tell you that this is a game that likes its rules. If T20 is a format for people who find the 50-over game too slow, LMS is a format for people who feel the one day game lacks sufficient rules.
And there are plenty of them, which may come as something of an affront to cricket purists. Firstly, teams bat for 20 five-ball overs, meaning that LMS is basically "The Hundred" without all the razmatazz. Then there are rules concerning "The Steal" (a non-striking batsman can "steal" runs when the striker is caught out if they run two), "Double Play" (two players can be dismissed from one delivery if one is caught out and the other run out), "Last Man Stands" (the last batsman continues to bat on without a partner) and "The Home Run" (a six scored off the final ball counts double). Confused? And that's before I tell you there are only eight players per side, that the next batsman in serves as the square leg umpire, batsmen retire at 50, extras are added to the batter's score and ten overs are bowled from one end before changing to bowl from the other.
Does that make sense? I attended Rainhill's LMS match against Earlestown Griffins on 25th August. Rainhill had finished top of the Warrington and District League, while Earlestown had finished as runners-up and had beaten Rainhill earlier in the season. There may have been little to play for but pride, but the game easily lived up to expectations.
Rainhill fielded an unfamiliar LMS line-up. With regular players such as Jack Lowrie, Joe Harvey, Sam Williamson, Simon Brown, Jack Ellis and Luis Duffy all unavailable, Lucy Strettle, Thomas Lewis, Neil Robinson and Asif Junaid made their LMS debuts. Paul Millar was playing in only his second LMS match, while Matt Pennington was taking part in only his fourth. To say Rainhill's team were inexperienced in this version of the game was something of an understatement.
Earlestown Griffins batted first and got off to a flying start. Opener Liam Fletcher scored 46 from 22 balls before he was caught out, looking to reach 50 in spectacular style. Mark Almond was the first to reach his half century and retire (from 24 balls) before Eddie Platt also recorded his 50. Platt's scoring had been a bit slower, taking 41 deliveries to reach his half-century.
As the batting stats suggest, LMS is a game for big hitters. Several sixes were launched over the perimeter fence and into the gardens of the houses opposite (and, on one occasion, into a line of oncoming traffic). But, given the space created by having only 8 players per team, it is also a game for those who know how to find gaps and turn singles into twos. There was a lot of quality batting on display and it wasn't - to my surprise - all about smashing the ball all over the place.
That said, it is evidently a batter's game. You're not going to see many maidens bowled. I imagined LMS would be the last kind of thing that I - very much the accumulator of quick singles - could see myself playing, but actually it is a game that is suited to all levels of batting ability. There will always be opportunities to score.
After Platt and Almond retired Rainhill were able to take several wickets - Paul Millar taking two in successive balls - and Earlestown finished on 168 for 5. There was, unfortunately, no home run to celebrate. 168 was a pretty good score, but not an unassailable one. Could Rainhill's team of relative novices get revenge for the previous defeat?
Well, yes. Although Millar was out early for 10, Neil Robinson (pictured, right) and Ethan Powell both hit unbeaten 50s (from 36 and 26 balls respectively). Asif Junaid scored a 7-ball 25 (including 4 sixes) before being spectacularly caught attempting another big hit. With Rainhill ahead of the required run rate, David Pennington and Lucy Strettle saw Rainhill home with eight balls remaining. It was quite a result.
Most importantly, it was quite a game and a terrific spectacle. Of course, purists will never like LMS and it is a very different game, but it's a bit more than a "crazy form of cricket". At its best, LMS is the perfect format for trying out shots, for gaining useful experience and building confidence. It's probably the perfect kind of cricket for a midweek game, as it's all over within a couple of hours.
So that's LMS in a nutshell: a quick but entertaining form of the game that is enjoyed around the country - and the world - every week. It may lack the glitzy marketing of The Hundred, but it was designed to be played by amateur cricketers rather than as a professional franchise with an intended audience of people with little or no interest in cricket. To my mind, it is all the better for it.