It is impossible to capture the impact and importance of this crazy match in a brief report – so it might not be all that brief!
Fourths went into the game at home to Orrell knowing that only two wins from their last three fixtures would keep them in the Premier Division, this being the first of those three. Bonus points may yet play a part, but the first priority was victory, coupled with the need for a Thirds win at St Helens, which would see Thirds safe and leave St Helens, today playing their final fixture, catchable. Formby may well yet be within sight too, but still having two games to play before this weekend, overtaking them could not be taken for granted. Still with it? Then read on…….
To get the easy bit out of the way first, reports from St Helens as this game progressed indicated a comfortable win for the Thirds, which proved accurate, so ultimately no complications there for this match report. However, Fourths' successes this year have all come batting second – so skipper Edwards promptly lost the toss and Leigh were invited to bat!
Newly-wed Tim Dykes, desperate to return to playing action after the longest wedding build-up and aftermath in history, lasted 3 balls for a swashbuckling 2. The Dempsters took the score to 40 before Richard, having heavily outscored his senior partner, was bowled for 28 by a great delivery. Paul accelerated to 24 before he too saw his stumps dislodged, bringing together the partnership that was to prove decisive, between Kev Robinson and Adam Shallcross. Matching each other almost run-for-run, the pair each passed 50 in a stand worth 118, until an unfortunate yes/no call from the striker saw Robinson run out for 57 whilst backing up.
Meantime, much debate was taking place off the field as to the timing of a declaration. Runs had been coming “too quickly” but then slowed, as the visitors bowled their overs at a fast rate, leaving time remaining rather than runs on the board as a key decision for Leigh, knowing Orrell to be a strong batting side. The balance between simply going for the much-needed win and seeking 25 vital points was a tough call, but the decision was made when Shallcross and Federer Rajcoomar (“one-handed backhand shots a speciality”) plundered 23 runs from the last two overs of the 45, leaving Leigh on 216 for 4. This gave Orrell a challenge, whilst the home side backed their bowlers to do the job. Shallcross finished on an undefeated 80 after a superb flowing innings.
Richard Dempster and the evergreen Chris Melia seemed the ideal combination to get things going for Leigh, but some lusty hitting from opener Lynn saw only the wicket of his partner fall to Dempster in the early stages as the score moved rapidly forward. As the Orrell innings developed, and despite the loss of two further wickets to Robinson and Cameron Foster, it has to be reported that a succession of dropped catches by Leigh, including two absolute “dollies”, saw the visitors progress from 85 for 3 to 190, with batsmen Baybutt and Leaford in total control, albeit the latter riding his luck to some degree. Orrell were cruising to a comfortable victory, courtesy of Leigh's own shortcomings, with 15 overs still remaining.
Enter Alex Owens, a late substitute for the rugby-delayed Rob Drake. Owens' magnificent spell of 5.3 overs for six runs, with a wicket in each over, effectively won the game as Orrell (having seen one player leave for home at the tea interval) lost their remaining 6 wickets for 15 runs in 11 overs, with just four overs remaining. Significantly, Owens clean bowled three batsmen, including the two who were set, and with the support of three well-taken catches, having bowled in exactly the right areas, this was most certainly his moment in the spotlight, and was thoroughly merited.
Make no mistake; this was in the end a deserved victory literally snatched from a position of no hope. In fairness, Leigh's early bowling merited a much more comfortable win, which looked like being undone by the catching lapses. However, in a season where every single point is both precious and vital, this result leaves the Fourths with a real chance of survival – but only if they take their chances in the remaining fixtures. Watch this space………