Blez Week – Day 6 – A Game to Remember

‘Game to remember’ Rawtenstall versus Lowerhouse Sept. 16th, 1990

Most games to remember are characterised by either exciting finishes or extraordinary feats of batting or bowling. Although this finale to the 1990 Lancashire League season produced 3 fine innings, it will be remembered largely by the statisticians for the records set that September day. Rawtenstall were in a solid third place whereas Lowerhouse were in eleventh and interest surrounded whether the Rawtenstall pro’ Colin Miller and the Lowerhouse amateur batsman Chris Bleazard could reach personal milestones.

Aussie pro’ Miller had already achieved 1000 runs that summer and needed just 3 wickets to become only the third player in League history to do the ‘double’. In first class terms he wasn’t much better than a journeyman player until in the twilight of his career he changed his bowling style from fast medium to off-spin. He then played 18 Tests and took 69 wickets. The 2 other players to do the 1000 runs-100 wickets double were Cec Pepper (Burnley) and Vijay Hazare (Rawtenstall) both achieving the great feat in 1949. Pepper was a great character of whom many stories still abound in Lancashire League and Central Lancashire League territory. He was easily a Test standard player but his outspokenness had seen him burn his bridges with the Australian authorities. Hazare was a star all-rounder in the Indian Test team. He only pro’d for 2 seasons but in an era of no replays, achieved fifties on every Lancashire League ground. A remarkable accomplishment!  I would strongly recommend “Rawtenstall C.C. – Cricketers all 1949” on YouTube where Hazare is in action against Bacup and Everton Weekes. It is a real eye opener on the golden age of local cricket.

Lowerhouse fans had their own record to look out for. Playing in his first full season after leaving University, young amateur Chris Bleazard had quickly established himself as a top batsman. Going into this game at Rawtenstall he needed 31 runs to erase Steve Gee’s 1977 record of 804 runs from the record books.

I remember the day itself as a bright, fine day with no possible weather problems foreseen. I hadn’t long passed my driving test and this may have been my first away game as I pointed my Ford Fiesta Ghia in the direction of the Worswick Memorial Ground. Definitely no sat nav in those days! Mind you thinking about it I still haven’t got that.

Rawtenstall won the toss and inserted Lowerhouse no doubt wanting Miller to get his wickets early for celebrations to begin. Indeed the spectators would know by tea whether both players had achieved their goals. The ‘House made an awful start and were soon 31-5 but the only consolation was that Blez wasn’t one of those victims. Pro’ Morgan, Heaton and Moorhouse hadn’t troubled the scorers. Meanwhile, though, only Phil Astin (1) had been taken by Colin Miller. Bleazard was playing cautiously trying to hold the innings together and had a slice of luck when a sharp chance was spilled at slip. He gradually counted the runs down and was able to raise his bat after a stylish boundary brought up the record. Crowds in Rossendale generally know their stuff and home fans joined ‘House fans in generously saluting Chris’s feat.  Jez Hope (17) and David Whalley (19 not out) were able to give Blez support but in truth he proceeded to dominate the innings, as his confidence visibly grew. I particularly enjoyed him putting that thorn in Lowerhouse’s side, namely Keith Roscoe, into the car park at the town end. Eventually with Blez on 83 the wily Kes had his revenge as Chris holed out on the long on boundary. He’d set the new record at 857. Meanwhile Lowerhouse had made Miller really sweat but by clean bowling Hope and Brian Higgin he got the 3 wickets he’d needed but no more than that. There was rightly a great ovation for Miller. As well as it being a great accomplishment the man himself was a very popular personality with the home fans. Lowerhouse finished on 172-9 which marked a fine recovery from the mire of 31-5.

Lowerhouse fans hoped the score would be competitive but that soon proved wishful thinking. That fine amateur Peter Wood (65), and later Miller (58) played highly destructive knocks to make the chase seem simple. A bad day for the Gee family saw Steve’s son Marcus go for 29 runs in just 2 overs. It would be his last game for Lowerhouse. Rocky made the game seem one-sided when passing their target with just 3 wickets down and 20 overs to spare.

I dread to think the mood of Lowerhouse players and fans going into the winter months if Chris Bleazard had have been caught out before achieving his new record because it gave us a good consolation despite the comprehensive defeat. We also knew that we had an elite player who would go up against the likes of Roscoe for years to come. With hindsight I’m not sure we realised just how many years! It is also notable that Bleazards record set that day still stands with the man himself coming closest to bettering it, a year later in 1991 and in 2001 and 2003. Five years later Ramsbottom’s Chris Harris became the fourth and last player to do the ‘double’. With the changes to the bowling rules he’ll probably be the last. So in conclusion it’s the importance of the records that were set that day which will make the 1990 curtain call between Rawtenstall versus Lowerhouse a ‘game to remember’.