By Paul Hargreaves
Often in this feature we look back on great games from the dim and distant past but today we can peruse a match that took place less than 5 years ago.
This match was the exciting finale to the 2012 Lancashire League season. Going into the last Sunday that September, Lowerhouse were in a unique position in their history. They were in the lead in the League standings, but in a position whereby they could be caught. In 1982 and 1997 they were in second place and chasing vainly the top team. In 1982 the ‘House were head-to-head with the Club above them, Rawtenstall. The disadvantage was that Rocky could do the cricket equivalent of ‘parking the bus’ to deny Lowerhouse the crucial bowling bonus point. In ’97 Lowerhouse had to beat East Lancs and hope that Haslingden drew a blank at a good Enfield team. It was unfortunately only the Dill Hall Lane team that kept their side of the bargain. In 2005 Lowerhouse had sewn up their first title before the last set of fixtures. This was repeated in 2011 when an unheralded Lowerhouse team had took the League by storm and were well clear at the final hurdle. In 2012, though, the ‘House were 8 points clear of an Accrington side facing Burnley at Thorneyholme Road, whilst Lowerhouse entertained an always dangerous and competitive Ramsbottom team. Lowerhouse didn’t necessarily need to win but 5 points would ensure the Club’s third League Championship.
With Ramsbottom batting first Lowerhouse had the twin aims of keeping the score down and taking wickets to get a priceless couple of bonus points. It soon became apparent that those vital points would be hard to come by as Ramsbottom were painstaking and methodical about accumulating a reasonable score without taking undue chances. Their sub-pro Asif Zakir, playing in his one and only Lancashire League game, embodied their approach making a dour 56. He was mainly supported by Jonathan Fielding with 28 and Alex, the younger of the Bell brothers, with 30. Pro’ Haasbroek and Joe Hawke did the bulk of the bowling and took 7 wickets between them, but even a late flurry of dismissals weren’t sufficient to get the bowling points. Rammy finished on 163-8.
Meanwhile the news was spreading about the game a few miles away in Accrington where the match would be over much earlier. That game only lasted a total of 65 overs so the result that Lowerhouse didn’t want to hear was known quite soon into the ‘House’s reply. Lowerhouse fans’ unholy wish for a Burnley victory hadn’t paid off. The Turf Moor team had been out for a mere 103 with ex-Lowerhouse player Q Ali top-scoring with 28. To be fair they did take 7 Accy wickets before all 12 points were wrapped up by Lowerhouse’s rival. In fact only a superb all-round 57 and 6-35 from stellar pro’ Ashar Zaidi had saved them.
Most Lowerhouse fans had used their fingers and toes to work out what was needed. 143 meant the minimum of a play-off. The last play-off had been Nelson’s win over Todmorden on a neutral Turf Moor in 1986. 153 was the crucial score needed to win the League outright and, of course 164 to win the match as well.
I was in a better position to judge the mood of Lowerhouse fans going into the second innings because I’d had to make a tactical retreat early as Ramsbottom’s ‘Yellow Army’ had captured my normal viewing position. There was a good amount of confidence but even those full of Dutch courage didn’t think it was in the bag. I was more wary than most because I’d seen at first hand how it could go spectacularly wrong. Chris Cairn’s Bacup team in 2006 were in an almost identical position to Lowerhouse in 2012. I’d gone to watch the ‘House at Church but after an appalling collapse I deserted to watch Bacup’s bid for glory down the road in Clayton. Most of Bacup were there but the team’s season long over- reliance on their by now half-fit pro’ proved their Achilles heel. Bacup had to lick it’s wounds as Enfield spoilt the party. If it couldn’t get any worse Ken Shapcott, representing Champs elect Burnley, was on hand to rub salt into those wounds. Arguably a decade later and the Bacup Club haven’t fully got over that day and they can’t dream of mustering the crowd that supported them on that fateful occasion.
Lowerhouse showed few nerves early and at 75-1, with only Ben Heap(16) out, fans could hope for a painless path to victory. Jonny Whitehead, on the way to getting a reputation as a nemesis to Rammy, batted assuredly and scored an excellent half century. Home fans wouldn’t avoid escaping without a few more grey hairs though as the innings threatened to go South rapidly. 75-1 became 123-7 and our strong and deep batting line-up would be needed for the season not to end in an anti-climax. Rammy always seemed to have a way of working the umpires and 4 LBW’s went against the ‘House batsmen. Haasbroek looked a little unlucky but got short shrift even from home fans because of his reverse sweep shot. Chris Bleazard could also be rated as somewhat unfortunate. Charlie Cottam got a vital cameo of 19 and it was 136-8 when the Martin brothers came together.
I’ve watched the Club for many years and I can’t remember it ever being more tense than this. The brothers showed great technique and temperament as they concentrated on occupying the crease and waiting for the right opportunities to advance the score. 143 was passed and we knew we’d at least fight another day. By now every bye or leg-bye was being cheered and finally 153 was achieved and Paddy and Joe gave each other a celebratory hug. Not satisfied they stuck together to win the game itself and provided a proud moment for themselves and their family especially.
This game must have been particularly sweet for Stan Heaton and the coaching staff because it had been a game won principally by the Club’s youth policy. The upshot was a fantastic game had been won and Lowerhouse had added the League Championship to their Worsley Cup trophy to complete their first ‘double’ on the Club’s 150th birthday. If that’s not a day and a game to remember then I don’t know what is!