By Paul Hargreaves
We make no apologies for the fact that most matches in the ‘games to remember’ feature result in victories for Lowerhouse Cricket Club. In the interests of balance, though, we shall take a look, for once at least, at a game that didn’t go Lowerhouse’s way but was an epic match nonetheless.
It was played on June 25th, 1988 at home to Rishton C.C. The year before the visitors had the magnificent Viv Richards as pro’ and in 1988 they signed another great player in Indian batsman Mohammed Azharuddin. He played 99 Tests scoring 22 centuries. He is the only player to score hundreds in each of his first three Tests. That fact was part of a televised quiz from the Rovers Return Inn, Coronation St. Weatherfield, nr. Manchester. If memory serves it was unbelievably Mavis “I don’t really know” Riley/Wilton who got the answer. When I say unbelievable I don’t want to disparage those who insist that Corrie is real life. Whether it was injury or the culture shock of a cold Lancashire April, Azharuddin lasted only 4 games. Rishton had to go the rest of a long season with sub-pros. For this game at Lowerhouse fellow Indian Rajinda Singh Ghai was appointed and this eventful game was his only ever Lancashire League appearance.With even fringe players in the IPL making a fortune it is rare now to see Indian players in our League.
On a lovely, sunny day it was little surprise when Lowerhouse decided to bat first when winning the toss. An almost disastrous start ensued as Jez Hope and No. 3 batter Pankaj Tripathi were both out for ducks. Down the line Jez would soon play the role of opening bowler much more impressively than the opening batter role. With no amateur reaching double figures 9-2 became 70-6. One of those victims was current Lowerhouse Treasurer Keith Fairclough who became the 200th Lancashire League wicket for Rishton’s Robbie Walsh. Walsh was an upright, straight-backed bowler with the ability to hit the seam.
Some supporters were already lamenting a possible early finish on such a nice day. Lowerhouse’s consolation and redemption was the form of their Pakistani Test pro’ Mansoor Elahi. In 42 games for Lowerhouse he scored 1413 runs and took 117 wickets. He was a popular figure at the Club but his departure just after mid-season in 1989 was controversial. His main employer in Pakistan insisted he return home and therefore break his contract with Lowerhouse. Through no fault of his own he would be barred by the Lancashire League.
On this day a year before that tumult he scored his highest score for the Club. He scored 132 not out in a most brilliant and convincing fashion drawing favourable comparisons with the great Kirti Azad. His lofted straight drives, of which he played plenty this day, were particularly reminiscent of his predecessor. He eventually got support from Brian Higgin with 17 and later, in the only partnership he didn’t dominate, with skipper Alan Holden. Holden scored 36 out of a partnership of 52 for the ninth wicket. He was a tall man with a long arcing back lift. Not an elegant or consistent batsman but still a dangerous one on his day, Holden departed at 194-9. Although incoming No 11 Bob Ormerod didn’t score he hung about as Elahi took the score to 227-9 off the 46 over allocation. Bob was the son of Burnley stalwart Don and brother of Lowerhouse batsman John. In those days 200 was rarely reached at the Lowerhouse ground and fans were confident of victory at half-time with the thinking the last few runs scored were overkill.
Although Rishton put on a slow-paced fifty for the first wicket nothing had warned us home fans that the game wasn’t in safe keeping. Craig Smith(17) and David Wells(43) were the openers. The latter’s effort saw him pass 5000 career League runs. Lowerhouse then took 4 relatively cheap wickets. With the pro’ being one of them it was looking dire for the visitors at 80-4.
With the run rate almost reaching double figures, which was considered almost impossible to achieve 30 years ago, 24 year-old Phil Sykes played probably the innings of his life. It was very much the mirror image of what the Lowerhouse pro’ had done earlier in the afternoon. Elahi with 4-69 off 22 overs continued to have an impressive day but the Lowerhouse amateurs couldn’t keep the runs down at the other end. David Whalley’s promise as a spinner had taken knocks and this was another game to blight his confidence. His 6 overs cost 54 runs. Holden manfully took the responsibility himself but failed to stop Sykes’s onslaught. John Ainscough(32) provided a perfect foil. He was a long serving Rishton amateur and very much the epitome of a steady player. The visitors wanted 80 from 8 overs but with the unstoppable Sykes hitting the balls to all parts, victory was achieved with 11 balls to spare.
It had been a breathtaking match and a fantastic win for Rishton with Phil Sykes very much a ‘Boy’s Own’ hero. He would soon move over to Church, where he played the majority of his career. He later became one of the elite Lancashire League batsmen with over 10,000 League runs. Of his many excellent innings surely none surpassed this one in June,1988. Meanwhile the game had exposed Lowerhouse’s weakness in the amateur bowling department. Alan Holden was at the veteran stage and most of his 513 Club wickets were behind him, and whilst this was David Whalley’s most successful season with 33 wickets, there were already well-founded concerns about his bowling going forward. Indeed Dave played the equivalent of 9 full seasons at the ‘House but over half his 99 wickets came in just a 2 year span. Maybe it’s about this time that Jez Hope decided to work hard on his game to fill the obvious void.
A game to remember? Certainly, even if for many Lowerhouse players and fans it was one they’d like to forget.