THE old adage that ‘catches win matches’ was never so true as in yesterday’s Conference play-off when one of the most amazing catches by Mark Firth secured a 21-run win for Clayton West over Broad Oak.
With just 22 runs needed from three overs, and Simon Hoyle and Gareth Durdin having put on 39 for the ninth wicket (and looking like snatching the game at the death), Durdin launch a fierce drive wide of long-on, where Firth set off to his right, took off and clung onto a staggering one-handed catch, millimetres off the deck.
It was a catch worthy of winning any game, especially in the gathering gloom at 7.40pm, and it certainly wrapped up an entertaining play-off and took Clayton West into the Premiership.
It was a wonderful game of cricket, spoiled only by a 15-minute shower, which swung one way and then the other until Firth’s dramatic late swoop, with several excellent individual performances on either side.
Paul van den Berg made 46 early in the piece for Clayton, having been sent in to bat by Oak skipper Stephen Rushworth, and the decision looked a good one as the home side lost their top five batsmen for 108.
However, Stuart Rank took advantage of an early life to build a solid century partnership with Mark Butterfield (36no), putting on a crucial 122 for the sixth wicket before falling to Charlie Roebuck for 79, which included 10 fours and three sixes.
Chasing Clayton’s 248-6 total Broad Oak were soon behind the clock as James Howson and Rushworth made a cautious start to their reply.
But after playing themselves in they began to open up, with the Oak captain reaching a finely-made 50 in the 23rd over, while also bringing up his side’s century.
Having reached 110, and suddenly looking slight favourites, it was the turn of Clayton West skipper Steve Glover to step in with the first of his seven-wicket haul, bowling Howson for 47.
Van den Berg gained the first of just two successes when he bowled Rushworth, while Glover turned the tide in Clayton’s favour by having Roebuck smartly stumped by Rank and then bowling Craig Ruscoe to leave the visitors on 134-4.
After Firth had run out Richard Metcalfe and held a catch to dismiss Tom McCreadie, Max Freeland (32) threatened to take it the Oak’s way once again, until Glover struck with his sixth victim, just leaving Firth’s miracle catch and a first-ball duck for last man Alan Wadsworth to send Clayton’s supporters wild.
They will now exchange places with Slaithwaite, who became the final club to be relegated from the top flight, despite hammering Hall Bower in Saturday’s League finale.
Dennis Lonergan cracked an unbeaten 120 as Micklehurst crucially defeated 10-man Emley, which left Slaithwaite’s efforts fruitless, Martin Welsh (66) having led them to 250-5.
Chris Kilner and Asim Naseer each then claimed four Bower wickets, but all to no avail.