At the Pewterspear Ground, Warrington on Saturday, Audlem2nd XI engineered that cricketing rarity, a winning defeat.
Requiring 9 points before the match to win Division Four(East), this target was reduced to 4 thanks to the intricacies of the League points allocation system as closest rivals Stretton won the toss and invited the visitors to bat.
By 2.36pm in the 22nd over Audlem 2nd XI became champions as the team reached 100 runs to secure the four points. Stretton had started the innings with a spell of 6 maidens from Will Metcalfe during which time John Wainwright had been bowled for 4, Toby Banfield for 0 and Zar Ahmed had retired hurt with a badly damaged hand.
However, a rare but welcome appearance from Graeme Jones gave solidity to the innings as he quickly raced to an attacking 50. Danny Thorburn (6) gained several fans in the Stretton ranks by walking after the faintest of nicks and Paul Thorburn (17) played an attractive innings celebrating the title by diving to head the ball away to avoid being run out (take note Ben Stokes!).
Jones was bowled for an invaluable 78 with the score at 115-4, Paul Thorburn was caught at the same score and Reg Farnell (1) one run later. Mottershead (14), North (8) and Colclough (11) saw the score through to 164 in an innings that ended with an unexpected appearance from Lyndon Woodcock, carried off to hospital a week earlier with a badly damaged hamstring.
Stretton generously allowed him a runner and he proceeded to outscore three of his team-mates with his 4 not out. Zar had also bravely returned at the end of the innings to eke out a few more byes and leg byes and was last man out.
A few Stretton fans, arriving late, were astounded to hear that an opening batsman was last man out for 2 but on hearing it was the renowned Zar Ahmed they merely nodded knowingly. Next morning it was confirmed that Zar had in fact broken his hand!
An excellent tea of carrot and parsnip soup and assorted cakery was excellent reward for the newly-crowned champions. Possibly as a result Audlem's fielding was less than its usual high standard with five catches going down and with three major injuries struggled to keep the runs down despite excellent bowling.
At one point the only fielders behind the wicket were North and Woodcock, hopping around like a couple of wounded flamingoes and Zar Ahmed, whose broken hand in no way impaired his fielding at long leg.
An opening stand of 69 set Stretton well on their way to victory and they reached their target for the loss of 6 wickets to Jones (3-41) and Mottershead (3-33). The Hogwarts spin graduate Woodcock bravely attempted to bowl but unfortunately had missed the lessons which covered bowling on one leg.
Stretton skipper Richard Taylor was generous in his praise for Audlem's achievement and recognised that the Gorse Croft outfit had showed far more consistency especially towards the end of the season when the pressure was on.
The eleven Stretton cricketers on the field were an excellent team in all departments and showed clearly the scale of Audlem's achievement in overcoming such a formidable opponent over a full season.
Six of this team were also part of Audlem 2nd XI's last promotion 5 years ago which saw the emergence of an inexperienced 15-year-old but this time it was as skipper that Danny Thorburn was able to spray the champagne.
The young captain deserves every praise as a squad comprising amongst others two pairs of brothers, a father and son combination (on occasions two), a thirteen-year-old, two pensioners, two long-suffering Crewe Alex fans and Zar Ahmed requires no little leadership.
The seconds have in addition provided valuable support for the 1st XI who also secured promotion on Saturday, providing batting and bowling reinforcements when necessary and restoring players' confidence (well done Ron Farnell for his invaluable 50 in the firsts' win over their closest rivals).
Crucially tireless work behind the scenes has ensured the team always fields eleven players thus avoiding the critical points deductions suffered by other clubs.
The champions go to Holmes Chapel on Saturday as the season ends with a bruised and battered team reflecting the team spirit that has contributed to the summer's success and the 17 victories are testimony to the ability and application of a side in which every single member has played a part.
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