MIDDLEWICH won a thrilling derby at WEAVERHAM to retain top spot in Division One and trim their odds for taking the title.
Victory for Weaverham would have put them top and changed the complexion of the promotion race, but Middlewich were the side to show their championship credentials.
But the issue was not decided until the very last ball. Weaverham scored 175 (Phil Davies 4-49, Gavin Tomlinson 2-29, James Prime 2-29) and Middlewich 179-5 (Paul Hutchinson 34, David Bates 32, Chris Ainley 31 n.o., Adam Kelly 31, Andy Cole 23)
Weaverham raced to 84 for 1 at the halfway stage of their innings. Jamie Allen (54) in particular was batting with great freedom and recorded a well-deserved half-century, while Rob McMillan at the other end accumulated 38 determined runs before falling to a magnificent catch again by Hutchinson in the gully.
If the first half of the innings belonged to the home side Middlewich fought back to take the honours in the second half. Prime nipped in with two quick wickets and after swapping ends after an uncharacteristically undistinguished first spell Davies settled into his normal rhythm to take four wickets.
After looking set to top 200 Weaverham's mid-innings faltered and in the end had to accept a lower than anticipated total of 175 all out (Barry Crellin 21).
In reply Middlewich also started slowly against some accurate bowling from Alan Bell and Barry Crellin. However, once they settled down their batsmen started to accumulate steadily and only a series of farcical run outs threatened their progress. Paul Hutchinson top scored in his last game before emigrating to Australia. He was eventually bowled by Bell for 34 leaving Middlewich still needing 36 to win from 28 deliveries.
Ainley was the answer and he calmly gathered his first few runs in partner-ship with seasonal debutant Lee Challinor. They added 14 runs leaving a further 22 needed from the last nine balls, a signal to Ainley to unleash the now trademark shots which have transformed many a tight game. A four and a six were taken off Crellin's last three deliveries leaving twelve to win from the last Bell over. Three singles and a two from the first four balls seemed inadequate, but with ultimate brinkmanship Ainley hoisted the penultimate ball of the day high into the evening sky leaving everyone on the ground to ponder its final destination, and with it the destiny of the match and the league leadership.
The ball cleared the boundary for six to bring the scores level with one ball remaining. Weaverham brought all their fielders in to save the single that would give the visitors victory. In true Ainley fashion the last ball was again despatched to the boundary for four runs to win a game fitting the billing of a top-of-the-league encounter.
Weaverham 2nds 110 (Rob Dickenson 35) won at Port Sunlight 84ao (Anthony Mainwaring 3-18, Alan Holcroft 4-36). OAKMERE ran into a brick wall when they had the opportunity to improve their survival chances.
They scored 174-7, Paul Guilford's innings blossoming by way of some massive sixes to 89. Lymm's top order found it hard to make headway but they fought to 119-6 (Peter Hutchinson 2-21).
A stylish 40 runs flowed from Shami Ahmad's bat and under 13 Jamil Kara scored the winning run for Oakmere 2nds, who scored 116-9 after Ashtonon-Mersey had scored 115-9 (Eddie Gibson 4-24, Chris Nelson 2-11).
Ducks, five in all, tripped up DAVENHAM as they chased 205-6 dec at Alvanley (Ian Cwiklinski 2-40, Alan Wright 2-19).
Dave Ashley (71) and Dave Brien (36n.o.) were the best in the score-books, Davenham making 181ao.
Tom Argent smashed 86 and Andrew Cwiklinski 76 for Davenham 2nds, whose 209-6 met with Alvanley's uninspiring 156-2.
Calamitous running, unfortunate lbw decisions, poor shot selection and an uncertain bounce from one end undid the WINSFORD batting with only Chris Brandon (27) able to hold his head up.
Winsford's 78 was woefully inadequate and Holmes Chapel knocked off 80 for the loss of two wickets in 18 overs. The 2nds were winners.
Holmes Chapel were bowled out for 99, with Dave Johnson, Ben Kettle and Mark Brodie, aided by smart fielding, such as that which brought Steve Margerum two catches, destroyed the visitors. After tea, Winsford set off, guns blazing for an early finish but wickets kept falling. They were 50-4 off 13 overs when junior Anthony Ollier came to the rescue with a timely 15. Winsford scored 103-8. BARNTON 155-8 dec (Steve Yarwood 32, Christian Watkins 28) lost to Wirral 158-6 (Jeff Langham 4-49) because they did not master a damp wicket and could not keep the bowling tight.
But the 2nds were smiling: Malpas 116 (Darren Falland 4-18, Dharmesh Manubhai 4-50, Derek Bowyer 2-6) Barnton 120-4 (Paul Coot 36, Falland 30).