Match Report: Worsley Cup 2021 Final

By Paul Hargreaves

The 2021 Worsley Cup final matches the relatively new Lancashire League boys (2017), Clitheroe C.C. as they entertain founder members (way back in 1892) Lowerhouse C.C.

The visiting ‘House team have been to four previous final games. The first was in 1980 when they were well beaten by ‘double’ winners East Lancashire, for whom a young Queen Elizabeth Grammer School boy, Kevin Hayes , was a deserved ‘Man of the Match’.

Since then, though, Lowerhouse are unbeaten in finals. Although all have resulted in considerable nail biting by their loyal followers. In 2004 a brilliant 152 run partnership between Chris Bleazard and Charlie Cottam set up the club’s first senior honour.

In 2012 it was Lowerhouse’s turn to have a ‘double’ winning year. The cup final was over in Oswaldtwistle and opener Ben Heap starred with a well made 77 out of 192. Despite some uncharacteristic sloppy fielding ‘House hung on by 15 runs. Finch bowling Church’s excellent pro’ Saeed Anwar jnr. for 70 being the crucial turning point.

So to 2018 and the only Lowerhouse-Burnley cross town final. At 109-8 Burnley’s goose was almost ready for the table but creditably they reached a competitive 169 all out. Lowerhouse were reeling at 47-5 but sub-pro’ Cosgrove and Cottam stabilised the innings and cameos from Bleazard and Hawke saw the West Enders through to a proud victory.

It took Lowerhouse 60 years to reach a final. Since then the gaps have been 24 years, followed by 8 years, then 6 years and now just the 3. Now I might not be as good as a mathematician as Blez but even I can see that sequence will soon lead to Lowerhouse being in every Worsley Cup final!

In contrast this will be the host club’s first final. Their most successful season was their debut season of 2017 when they were pipped in the league by fellow new boys, Darwen, but had the consolation of being Twenty20 champs.

The relationship between Clitheroe and Lowerhouse started in the 2017 season as being very frosty. Lowerhouse, and to a lesser extent other clubs, were hostile to Clitheroe’s conduct. Harry Brooks , ‘House’s greatest ever benefactor, criticised the Chatburn Rd. team for aggressive recruiting of other teams’ talent, with financial inducements being more than hinted at. Brooks saw this as a blatant breach of the amateur code and a pamphlet and judicial review into Clitheroe’s behaviour followed.

To be fair there now seems to have been a thawing between the players and the two clubs. That might not mean reciprocal invitations to cocktail parties (probably more prevalent in Clitheroe than Lowerhouse) but it’s unlikely that bad blood will spill over, even in so important a game.

Unlike, say in 2012, there is little controversy in ‘House’s team selection. Despite an inconsistent league campaign there has been little competition for places in the amateur line-up. Those in the Second eleven who are old enough aren’t considered good enough and those thought good enough, not old enough! The big talking point is that for different reasons both sides will be using a sub-pro’. News came through that the experienced and talented Indian Harpreet Singh would be Clitheroe’s man. He is having a fine season in the Bradford League and looks to be an excellent choice. Lowerhouse, meanwhile seemed reluctant to make an announcement down past the eve of the match. Now I have an ex-university friend who works for the Kremlin and knows absolutely everything. He could tell me what Boris Johnson had for breakfast but couldn’t enlighten me on who my own club had chosen to be their sub-pro’. Perhaps it would come to a helicopter bringing the sub-pro’ in echoing Viv Richards’ arrival at Rishton in 1987. Sometime after the eleventh hour Lowerhouse announced South African born Ruhan Pretorius as their sub-pro’. He is a gifted all round player now resident in Northern Ireland and almost certain to represent the Irish national team when eligible.

All in all, Clitheroe are having a better season; doing better than Lowerhouse in the league standings and going further in Twenty20. That fact added to home advantage means ‘House will be the underdogs for the first time since 2004. A bookmaker trading m, just above bankruptcy levels, as ‘Honest Paul’ has quoted Clitheroe 4/7 Lowerhouse 6/4. And yet bookmakers don’t always get it right and there is a suspicion that Lowerhouse are a better team when all the chips are on the table of the big occasion. This really is a big occasion. In the old days of my dim and distant youth the final was always massive and no vigorous promotion of it was necessary.

Nowadays the final depends on how well it’s promotion is managed by the host club. Clitheroe have, taking a leaf from Lowerhouse’s playbook in 2004 and 2018, been brilliant at promoting this match and if the crowd passes the 2,500 mark it could be the most watched sporting event in town history. That would be a remarkable achievement because this isn’t a new town like Milton Keynes or Welwyn Garden City but a town overlooked by a Norman castle!

The hopes for a record crowd were offset by cool, cloudy and intermittently wet conditions which plagued the first half of Lowerhouse’s innings. After being understandably put in there were no less than four relatively brief rain delays. Nevertheless ‘House made a pleasing if steady start. After 10 overs the visitors were 37-1 with Joe Martin being the victim for 10 as he was caught behind by his counterpart of Sam Halstead. Halstead was carrying an injury but toughing it out for his team. Ben Heap was joined by Jonny Whitehead and for the most part they had little difficulty progressing the innings. Both played some lovely , cleanly hit drives off the various Clitheroe bowlers, whether the excellent spinner Ross , or the volatile Cole Hayman. The latter, because of his past association with a team based at Turf Moor, came in for a lot of stick from the ‘house contingent. His no balls and wides were given derisory cheers. After 30 overs Lowerhouse were 112-1 and soon after skipper Heap became the first ‘House player with multiple fifties in cup finals. The partnership ended at 123 runs in bizarre fashion as a running mix up left both batsmen at the same end. Heap was the one to walk the plank for 67. There followed a serious collapse which looked like undoing the innings’ achievements. Whitehead was caught at long off for 44 and Haasbroek and Paddy Martin got first ballers to the ever divisive Hayman. 148-1 had in the blink of an eye become a wobbly 154-5.

Charlie Cottam averted the hat trick. A Hayman hat trick would have been unbearable and might have led to mass vomiting. Cottam along with his old mucker Chris Bleazard would play a valuable, but a very much supporting role to ‘House sub-pro’ Pretorius, who played one of the most destructive innings in Worsley Cup history. Initially cautious because of the early carnage he’d witnessed from 22 yards away; he gradually took over the match. Lowerhouse had reached 200-6 at the end of the 47th over but added another 54 in the mere 3 remaining, as Pretorius hit a barrage of 6 hits. Twenty-four came off the last over alone and a really healthy target of 255 was set for the home team. Pretorius making 79 (six 6’s and six 4’s in just 45 balls) out of the 106 runs that were scored whilst he was at the crease. A brilliant knock that will both remembered and treasured forever by the ‘House faithful.

Clitheroe must have been reeling after the late onslaught but didn’t show it as they made an encouraging start. ‘House fans must have been hoping Hawke and Haasbroek could reprise their fine bowling against Walsden in the semi. This didn’t happen and Lord and Ross batted positively hitting a string of boundaries before the latter was out to Haasbroek for 17 at 41. Lord went his merry way and hit some impressive shots before fine fielding by Paddy Martin saw him run out for 40.

Clitheroe were ahead of the run rate and had pro’ Singh and premier amateur Jack Dewhurst at the crease. It was vital that when Paddy and Finch were introduced into the bowling attack that they slowed the run rate down and hopefully got another breakthrough. It couldn’t have gone better as both got vital wickets in their very first respective overs. At 95-4 the hosts were in trouble but a painstaking 60 odd run partnership from skipper Dibb and Mulligan gave hope to the Chatburn Road team. It all went wrong as an increasing required run rate left the batters taking too many risks. Francois Haasbroek was the main beneficiary and he polished off the tail in decisive fashion. The last wicket to fall, as  Frankie caught and bowled the hapless  Cole Hayman, caused such chaos as the inevitable pitch invasion ensued; that nobody noticed he’d achieved a hat trick. Mind you with the amount of beer many had consumed there were excuses for many but not sadly for a sober minded guest reporter! The popular ex-pro’ ending with a brilliant 6-35. Clitheroe at 187 all out were a vast 68 runs short of the target that Heap , Whitehead and particularly Pretorius had set for them.

In conclusion, Lowerhouse were generally regarded as underdogs for this clash but, just as they had done versus Walsden, had done themselves proud when the stakes were highest. Ben Heap’s half century and Francois’s excellent bowling figures will be well remembered but not nearly as much as the remarkable denouement to the Lowerhouse innings that was provided by Rahul Pretorius.

Even if he never plays another game for us he will be regarded with everlasting gratitude in the village.

Lowerhouse had won their fourth Worsley cup final in a row. On a slightly negative note, with the team getting older, will this be a last hurrah for a team languishing in mid table in league terms? Maybe but it was still quite a hurrah!

This has been Paul Hargreaves with yet another guest report for our excellent website.

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