REPORT BY STEVE MCHUGH: THE LIGHTS finally went out on Heywood’s escape route in the Greater Manchester Premier League on a dramatic final day of the season.
The clash against Clifton turned to be a winner-takes-all survival showdown. And it had a dramatic conclusion, ending in near darkness after a three-hour delay produced a 30-overs-per-side game that finished at 7.35pm.
Clifton managed just 105-7 on a bowler-friendly wicket. That proved to be just enough, with Heywood struggling to 96-9 and condemned to life in Division One for a second time in three years.
Another 10 runs and the home team would have survived with the visitors taking the drop.
It was particularly cruel on the Crimble ground crew and volunteers who worked tirelessly during the morning and early afternoon to get the wicket and square into what seemed reasonable shape after overnight and early morning rain, then a killer downpour around 11am.
Despite their efforts play did not start until 3.30pm, with home skipper Travis Townsend winning the toss and inserting Clifton. And it soon became obvious that any total in three figures would be tough to chase.
The crucial part of the innings was, in retrospect, the opening overs as visiting professional Gareth Cross and Adam Holt put together a partnership of 33 before Simon Dawson struck pivotal blows.
He removed Holt and the dangerous Cross courtesy of catches by Bobby Cross, while producing a snorting yorker in between to account for highly-rated youngster Sam Dorsey for a first ball duck.
At 48-3, Heywood were back in the game. But Clifton had clearly assessed the conditions and grafted to take the total beyond the 100 mark despite commendable bowling spells by Townsend and left-arm spinner Jack Morley.
Townsend claimed 4-26 from just six overs, and how Morley finished wicketless from his maximum allocation of nine was a mystery.
He produced one of his best spells of the season, beating the bat with regularity, as the ball arguably turned just too much find the edge of the bat.
Clifton dug in despite adversity with Liam Hurt contributing a significant 20 in the middle order, and they clearly believed at the break that they were in with a big shout of containing Heywood.
Their confidence was not misplaced.
Heywood’s top batting order struggled in the face of Clifton’s opening seam attack, with Gareth Cross proving once again what a reliable professional he has turned out to be in a lethal spell of 4-19.
He accounted for his namesake Bobby Cross caught behind, Riley Paterson to a ball that popped off a length and lobbed to point, and then a second ball lbw to get rid of Danny Pawson as the ball kept low.
He followed up by bowling Sean Burrill, and, with Hurt having had Andy Dawson well caught on the deep square leg boundary in between, Heywood were in deep trouble.
The situation was exacerbated when Townsend was trapped lbw by Clifton’s own left-arm spinner, Joe McCann, and at 45-6 Heywood looked dead and buried not helped by the fading light.
But Wes Hunt – helped by a couple of dropped catches at slip – again stepped up to the plate in a partnership of 28 with Morley until the latter pulled a catch to deep mid-wicket.
And the killer blow came five runs later when Hunt, on 20 and Clifton sensing that he was the danger man, swatted McCann towards the long-on boundary.
It looked a certain four or six. But Hurt, fielding some 15 yards off the edge, back-pedalled and leaped to take a stunning one-handed catch as the ball looked to have disappeared over his head.
Considering the impending darkness and the gravity of the situation, it can be rated one of the best catches ever seen at Crimble.
It certainly proved to be the coup-de-grace with the run rate getting out of control. And despite a valiant 11 from 13 balls by Simon Dawson, including a big six over backward square leg, the game was up.
Heywood finished nine runs short and cannot really complain about the fatal outcome.
G Cross c R Cross b S Dawson 22
A Holt c R Cross b S Dawson 19
S Dorsey lbw b S Dawson 0
J McCann c McQuinn b Townsend 9
W Davidson retired hurt 13
L Hurt c McQuinn b Townsend 20
S Cheetham b Townsend 12
D Ainscough c Grogan b Townsend 0
J Evans not out 3
C Lord not out 1
Total (for 7 wkts, 30 overs) 105
Fall of wickets: 1-33, 2-33, 3-48, 4-64, 5-76, 6-101, 7-101
Bowling: T McQuinn 4-0-19-0, S Dawson 9-2-24-3, J Morley 9-1-21-0, T Townsend 6-0-26-4, D Pawson 2-0-13-0
R Cross c Evans b G Cross 2
R Paterson c Holt b G Cross 12
A Dawson c Davidson b Hurt 7
T Townsend lbw b McCann 8
D Pawson lbw b G Cross 0
S Burrill b G Cross 5
W Hunt c Hurt b McCann 21
J Morley c Dorsey b McCann 10
S Dawson c Ainscough b McCann 11
M Grogan not out 8
T McQuinn not out 1
Total (for 9 wkts, 30 overs) 96
Fall of wickets: 1-7, 2-18, 3-27, 4-27, 5-39, 6-45, 7-73, 8-77, 9-89
Bowling: L Hurt 7-0-23-1, G Cross 9-1-19-4, J McCann 8-1-21-4, S Cheetham 6-0-27-0
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