Saturday saw Bramhall visit Cheadle in a fixture that would give the victors some breathing room towards the bottom of the Cheshire County Premier League, given that the Beavers also retained a game in hand.
With a wicket possibly offering a hint of assistance to the bowlers, Bramhall chose out the home side into bat with weather conditions veering between overcast and sunny throughout the day. Now back to full fitness after early season injury, Lancashire prospect Chris Sanders immediately found form with the new ball. He induced an edge behind in the first over, trapped Cheadle’s number three LBW and then bowled the opposition skipper to leave the hosts reeling at 15-3. At the other end, veteran spinner Simon Wilkinson was bowling an absurdly tight spell, aided by the Cheadle top order not wishing to take any more risks. Wilkinson, who will bowl much worse and take 5 wickets on another day, finished wicketless but conceded just 24 runs from 17 straight overs that included 8 maidens.
Despite the run rate barely exceeding 2 per over, home opener Ryan O’Brien and number five Josh Dooler resolutely refused to give their wickets away and inched the score past 100. O’Brien had just passed his fifty and looked ready to increase the pace when he was run out by his partner to leave Cheadle 101-4 with around 15 overs remaining.
Bramhall sensed their chance to further limit the total when Ryan Macciocchi grabbed a wicket for himself 10 runs later. However, Will Holmes at number seven quickly started to play some fluent drives and within a few overs had started to put the pressure back onto the visitors. Dooler soon joined in on the act, after a laboured fifty of his own, and the pair added an unbeaten 95 in quick time to leave Bramhall a little disappointed that they weren’t chasing a total substantially less than 200. Holmes timed his innings perfectly, and his 58 came from just 38 balls in his side’s eventual 206-5.
After the break, Bramhall came out knowing that the pitch was good enough to allow a comfortable chase, without requiring significant risks to be taken. Ashley West (25) again looked in great form, before being strangled down the leg side whilst pulling. This took the Bramhall score to 38-2 after another mis-timed pull had seen the first wicket fall just 5 runs earlier.
Australian Liam Banthorpe looked in decent touch, too, but he was controversially caught for 21 to leave the visitors on 66-3. This theme of frequent dismissals followed as the 4th and 5th wickets went down at 88 and 102 respectively.
It was only then, when Matt Higginbottom – playing his first game of 2018 after a lengthy illness – joined Iftikhar Naseer at the crease that the Beavers started to apply the pressure on the home side. Despite some slices of luck, a number of quality strokes soon followed with the boundaries being peppered with regularity. Naseer was well past 50, and the pair had added 60, when he played a poor shot to be bowled. At 162-6, and after their last ball heroics the previous week, Cheadle dared to dream again.
As has been seen on a number of occasions this season, panic seemed to set in amongst the Bramhall batsmen and the wickets duly fell. 3 wickets fell with the score on 166 to leave the game all but over… Bramhall 41 runs short and their last pair at the crease. But that pair consisted of Wilkinson and Macciocchi, surely two of the better 10 and 11s in the league. Generally playing the seam and spin of Cheadle with ease, they slowly started to chalk off the runs required. A few steady singles mixed in with some welcome boundaries saw another bonus point reached at 190, and suddenly it was just 10 runs required. Cheadle looked a little shocked at the prospect of losing, and Bramhall’s supporters looked as though they genuinely thought it was to be their day.
However, in a cruel twist, Macciocchi dragged an attempted sweep shot onto his stumps – the ball hitting his glove and then rolling into the ash just in time for him to see the bails cruelly dislodged.
Cheadle had won another tight game, and Bramhall’s haul of just 5 points was enough to keep them in the fight near the bottom of the table – although helped by none of the other teams around them being able to win themselves.
In the first of a tough run-in against the league’s current three top sides, Bramhall host leaders Nantwich at Church Lane from 11.30am this Saturday.