By Gerry Wolstenholme
In conditions more suited to outdoor ice hockey, St Annes and Lancaster served up some extremely entertaining fare in an effort to warm the cockles of those brave enough to sit outside for the duration of the game. The start was delayed until shortly before three o'clock but when the action started it was non-stop for five hours.
St Annes won the toss and invited Lancaster to bat, a decision that was always going to be a good one on such a day but which turned out to be doubly so when Lancaster lost their opening batsmen for 17. Craig Heywood was the first to go when Stephen Twist clipped his bails when he had made three and Lancaster had progressed to six. They had added a further 11 runs when David Heywood edged Twist to Duncan Whalley who gratefully accepted the offering.
Luke Phillips kept deputy professional Brad McDonald company while the total moved on to 28 but then he found a ball from Joe Davies lifting on him and he could only edge it to Whalley. Raymond Shah made five before St Annes Australian professional took his first Northern League wicket on a day when he wished he had been at home. He bowled with some pace and fire and trapped Shah back on his stumps and Lancaster were 36-4.
There followed the best partnership of the innings between McDonald, who began to blossom after a watchful start, and Ian Parkinson as the pair added 27 runs before the latter was caught by Whalley off Twist for 12. Jamie Heywood made one before Twist had him leg before wicket at 73-6 and it was 78-7 when Harwood took the catch of the day to dismiss Chris Glover for one. Glover drove Michael Baer over mid-off only for Harwood to run backwards and then take a gigantic leap to catch the ball one-handed over his head. The batsmen had crossed and in an effort to get the strike back McDonald called poor Ben Morgan for a chancy single and Hegan's underarm throw defeated the non-striker who was run out without facing a ball. That was 78-8.
McDonald had progressed to 45 when he chipped Baer to Hagen at mid-wicket and Lancaster were 95-9. Paul Dennison, an unorthodox five not out, and Grahame Barnes, four not out, saw Lancaster through to a modest 102-9 at the end of their 41 overs as a relatively simple catch was missed in the final over that would have had the visitors all out.
While not a mammoth total, anything was possible on such a day but the only result that looked likely after Lancaster's opening overs was a win for St Annes. Darlington started in fine form, cutting successive threes off Barnes and Shah, and with Gareth Evans, took the score comfortably to 35 before Evans fell to the day's second stunning catch. He drove McDonald through extra-cover but Phillips leapt high to made a stunning one-handed catch and Evans was gone for 12.
With Twist as his partner, Darlington carried on the attack and St Annes had reached 60 with no serious alarms, even though McDonald was producing one of the finest spells of leg-spin bowling seen at Vernon Road for some time, particularly in the freezing cold conditions. McDonald then bowled Twist for 16 and St Annes began a self-destruct programme that saw them lose four wickets in the space of 14 runs.
First to go was Harwood, who had struck one beautiful cover drive. He tried to pull McDonald for six, did not get enough power and Glover at deep mid-wicket took a very good catch so the professional had gone for 11 and St Annes were 74-3. Davies obviously did not learn from his professional for he too, after one well struck boundary, holed out to Glover in exactly the same position off McDonald and that was 83-4. Whalley failed to score as he flat-batted Glover to Barnes at mid-off and then the third wicket to fall while the total remained stuck on 83 was that of Darlington who tried to sweep McDonald and was bowled for 30.
Fortunately St Annes had kept back Hagen and he and Ashworth brought some stability back until the latter was run out for two at 88-7. A limping Adam Cotton joined Hagen and together they scored the runs that took St Annes to victory. But it was not easy as both McDonald and Glover bowled very tightly until Glover strayed off line and Cotton swept him for four and followed this with a cover drive to the boundary that left him 10 not out and with Hagen nine not out, his side had achieved victory by three wickets with 13 balls of the innings remaining. McDonald did remarkably well to return 5-28 from 14 very tight overs and he was happy to return to the warmth of the fireside, as were the hardy souls who had seen the game through.