By Paul Hargreaves
May 20th, 2023
Sometimes we look back at special and memorable matches way back in history but today it’s a remarkable game that deserves more immediate attention. A quick digression first though. The all-California World Series of 1988 between the Dodgers and the A’s, is largely remembered for two things. One was the major earthquake that led to a postponed game and the other, Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run in Game 1. Gibson was so hobbled with injuries he didn’t play but pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth with his Dodger team behind. He limped to the plate and proceeded to hit a ball over the right field fence. This led the renowned commentator Jack Buck to proclaim “I DON’T BELIEVE WHAT I’VE JUST SEEN”
At the end of Lowerhouse’s remarkable win on Saturday, superfan Bob Spencer and I turned to each other and in unison said those exact same words. The victory was achieved by the perfect storm of a ‘House batter making a score 81 runs higher than he’d ever scored before and another player making his first half-century since the last game of the 2017 Lancashire League season. All this was beyond our reasonable expectations. In fact there was a point in the Lowerhouse reply when just getting within a hundred runs of the target looked unachievable. The fact that the ultimate win was achieved against the defending champions and current league leaders only adds to the glory.
On a day that was set fair, Darwen won the toss and batted first. An early setback was overcome as Mirza and Friend put on an excellent and assured 147 for the second wicket. Mirza has had multiple hundreds at Church and Darwen after emerging as a teenage star at the now defunct Blackburn Northern club. He dominated his side’s innings but was well supported by Scott Friend’s half-century. At times Lowerhouse looked ragged in the field and comparisons with a below par outing at Enfield, two weeks prior, were being drawn. To ‘House’s credit they didn’t let things drift completely and no other Darwen batter made a significant impact. Pro’ de Swardt took 5-63 and Ben Heap mopped up with 3-32. It would be an exaggeration to say that Lowerhouse had stolen the momentum at tea but they had got two unexpected bowling points, and a chase of 225 was at least feasible, on a blameless batting surface.
With Francois Haasbroek absent, the team’s chances seemed to reside with the in-form skipper Ben Heap and pro’ de Swardt. Unfortunately, both these players were out in very contrasting styles with the score on a mere 13. Heap to a wild stroke and the pro’ to none. Henri Cottam also went on that same unlucky score. At 13-3 ‘House’s reply looked fatally doomed.
To paraphrase a famous baseball player of the 1950’s, for Lowerhouse it was getting late early. Charlie Cottam helped calm things down but he was out at 39. Sometimes in sport it’s just meant to be your day and this proved the case for Jack Simm, who’d been promoted from the Second Eleven. In most of the previous dozen games in the seniors he’d been mostly used as a fielder who rarely batted. This was an opportunity to shine and he took it grandly. His knock was a mixture of fine, authoritative shots, a few streaky edges and some aerial shots that managed to hit terra ferma in no man’s land. Simm was supported by Paddy Martin’s 24. Although a little slow Paddy’s innings bought time for the succeeding batters and stifled the Darwen bowlers. Martin was out at 108 and the asking rate was a daunting 7 per over.
Could Simm carry on belying his status and could the in-coming Chris Bleazard turn back the clock and kick Old Father Time into touch, for one day at least?
Remarkably they rode their luck and largely kept up or exceeded the required run rate. Darwen fans may have begrudged the good fortune but ‘House fans were starting to feel that mission impossible could actually happen. Only 19 different Lowerhouse amateurs have reached 3 figures since 1892 and Simm was in reach of becoming the most unheralded number 20 when the fairytale abruptly ended. He tried to hit Bowden into the space over mid-on but was caught by Reece Davies. He had made 91 at, considering his inexperience, a more than healthy strike rate.
The asking rate had gone down to six and this gave Joe Hawke just enough leeway to have a look at the bowling rather than having to go all out from the very beginning. Meanwhile Chris Bleazard was playing a masterful innings. Maybe when he was younger and in such a good zone he may have over-attacked but this was a judicious and sensible approach. He took the singles on offer and limited the riskier shots to when necessary. He ended up with six 4’s and two 6’s , all cleanly struck shots. It came down to 22 wanted in the last 3 overs. Some thought the game was in the balance but the fact that 2 of the 3 overs were from the Park end favoured Lowerhouse. It’s nearly always easier to hit the big shots in that direction. It didn’t turn out to be a balance after all.
It was like Giant Haystacks and Jimmy Clitheroe on the same see-saw! ‘House only took one over to crush any lingering Darwen hopes. Bleazard brought up his 102nd career fifty and handed over to Hawke to apply the coup de gras. Hawke’s 16 not out bringing back memories of his cameo against Burnley in the 2018 Worsley Cup Final. There was a massive cheer from home fans as the winning runs were scored. It would have been louder if some of the less than faithful hadn’t sneaked away when things looked hopeless. For myself a mixture of pride and bemusement as I tried to take in and believe what I’d just seen. No doubt a game to remember and although it’s only May it could be hard to better in 2023.