It’s difficult to know which captain looked the most surprised.

New Brighton’s Matt Thompson had just top-edged a four and a six to wrap up his side’s hair-raising pursuit of 245, with just two wickets to spare; Firwood Bootle’s Neil Williams had seen his side lose having been 161/0 a few hours earlier, because once again they couldn’t take 10 wickets.

“Surprised” perhaps isn’t the word for Williams - he’d told the ECHO ahead of the game that the lack of a frontline spinner was costing his side this year in the ECB Premier Division. Still, he can’t have expected such a stark example to come so soon.

It was slow left-armers Ashraf Nawab and David While who’d put the brakes on the hosts after openers Will Hale and Vishal Tripathi had threatened to put the game out of reach.

Yet later, when While and Pite van Bijon kept finding the gaps between the fielders in their stand of 85 for the visitors’ third wicket - and when Louis Botes and Danny Cook ignored the fielders altogether as they added 93 for the fifth - Williams had nowhere to turn.

But as Thompson pointed out, Williams’ five-pronged seam attack included a current county pro, Keith Barker, a recent one, Toby Lester, and stacks of experience and quality. If they looked one-dimensional, it’s a sign the batters were doing one hell of a job.

Botes in particular deserves plenty of credit, for his approach as much as his execution. He was joined by Cook at 105/4, just after Jahangir Liaqat and Will Purser had removed While and van Bijon in successive overs for 47 and 32 respectively.

Faced with a stiff target, Botes looked at the friendly pitch and the fast outfield and took the fight to the home bowlers in a situation where many would have retreated into their shells.

Thompson said: “I hope this is a bit of a landmark innings from Louis - he should take a lot of confidence from it.

“What’s pleasing to hear is that when he came off the field, he knew the job wasn’t done and he wanted to see it home for us.”

When Williams turned to the occasional spin of Tripathi, the batters tucked in - Cook launched him into the practice nets in his first over, before Botes celebrated bringing up his 50 by clubbing successive fours either side of the wicket.

Barker returned for a hostile, rapid second spell which tilted the game again - first Botes fended to slip for 68, then Cook couldn’t keep out a yorker on 40. With two new batters at the crease, the visitors needed 36 to win - the target seemed a lot more distant than it had been a few minutes earlier.

Jonathan Fowler chipped to mid-on and Barker had Adam Sandalls strangled down the leg side, but Lester relieved some of the tension with two no-balls in an over, and Thompson’s top edge did the rest.

“A top edge over the keeper’s head isn’t quite the way I’d have wanted to do it,” he said. “But it goes in the book as four, six, job done.

“It’s very rare that you chase 240, let alone away at Bootle, let alone against a championship winning bowling attack.

“We played with no fear - the lads got in and just kept going - it was great to watch.”

Thompson’s jubilation was all the sweeter for how far the game had come since its beginning. For the first two hours, Hale and Tripathi looked both solid and positive, picking off the too-frequent short balls from the visiting seamers then easing on the gas after passing 50 - Tripathi gave Botes an early lesson in the correct approach by fizzing three straight drives in one over across the rock-hard turf.

But neither looked as comfortable against the spinners. Hale went for 68 and Tripathi for 90 - and once the dam was breached, the wickets flowed as the Bootle middle order had to try to accelerate the scoring while playing themselves in against quality spin bowling.

In the end, in a game of tiny margins, that made all the difference.

“We all know that to be genuinely competitive this year, you need to have a frontline slow bowler,” added Thompson. “They provide so much more control.

“At drinks, we were staring down the barrel of chasing 300 potentially - the spinners bowled brilliantly and they stumbled to 240 rather than cruising to 280.

“I think that was the game, for us.”

It was quite a day for surprise results and tight run chases in the Premier Division.

Leaders Northern slipped to their first defeat of the season thanks to Tyler McGladdery’s unbeaten 120, as Rainhill chased down 241 with two wickets to spare. Tom Sephton took his usual five-for, but this one cost 109 runs as McGladdery marshalled the chase superbly; earlier, Liam Grey, Chris Laker and Andrew Clarke had all scored half-centuries to set the target.

Formby began the day in second but ended it in fourth after their two-wicket defeat to Wigan - their second consecutive loss to a newly promoted side. Vinay Choudhary took 5/54 to restrict the hosts to 179; Aaron Redmond’s 67 broke the back of the chase before Patrick Howley got the visitors over the line. Jackson Darkes-Sutcliffe’s 5/81 was some consolation for Formby.

Orrell Red Triangle's Duvindu Tillakaratne walks off after wrapping up a one-wicket win at Wallasey Picture by GARY HAYES
Orrell Red Triangle's Duvindu Tillakaratne walks off after wrapping up a one-wicket win at Wallasey Picture by GARY HAYES

Orrell Red Triangle’s win at Wallasey was even tighter - they had just one wicket to spare when Duvnidu Tillakaratne hit the winning four. All looked lost at 40/5 in pursuit of 234, after Sumit Ruikar’s maiden Comp century and a fifty for skipper Alex Eagles had put the hosts in the driver’s seat. But the lower middle order rallied through Richard Everett’s 76 and Chris Riley’s 55, before Tom Jones’ 42 off 19 balls set up the knife-edge finish.

There was no grandstand chase for Southport & Birkdale at Ormskirk, despite the hosts being spun out for 140. Harvey Rankin, who had top-scored with 50, ripped through the visitors’ middle order with his leg breaks, taking 5/21 as they collapsed from 55/1 to 101 all out.

Leigh saw off Sefton Park thanks to 73 from wicketkeeper Matty Hurst followed by 5/23 from Adam Shallcross.

Shubham Ranjane scored a century for Ainsdale against Lytham Picture by ROGER GREEN
Shubham Ranjane scored a century for Ainsdale against Lytham Picture by ROGER GREEN

Sam Rotherham’s 6/35 kept Highfield top of Division One, sealing a 53-run win over Old Xaverians. The hosts’ innings was a team effort, with five batters reaching 29 but none passing 36 as they posted a total of 170.

Newton-le-Willows occupy the other promotion slot - their 204 included five ducks as Fleetwood Hesketh’s David Christie took 5/48, but it proved to be more than enough as the visitors fell for 110.

Liverpool are third after they recovered from 38/4 to post 188 at Birkenhead Park, thanks largely to Dan Kelly’s 64 as Alex Baker took 5/64 for the Wirral side. In reply, the hosts had no answer to Dan Clubbe’s 6/59 as they fell 46 runs short.

Shubham Ranjane hit 121 for Ainsdale against Lytham - the next highest score was 22. The hosts’ total of 214 seemed within reach when Richard Staines’ 51 helped the visitors to 152/5 - but Martyn Farrell’s 5/41 sealed a 29-run win.

Northop Hall’s Jac Kennedy and Jamie Hodgson put on 150 for the third wicket to set up an imposing total of 252/8 against Rainford. But despite reducing the visitors to 29/5, they couldn’t find a way to dislodge skipper John Dotters, who scored 102 to bat his side towards safety; they closed on 200/8.

The other game in North Wales also ended in a draw - Adam Campion finished unbeaten on 114 as Colwyn Bay set St Helens Town 230 to win; the visitors’ James Davies helped his side to safety with 62*.

With Division Two leaders Maghull out of action this week, the teams in second and third both blew their chances to keep up the pressure.

Caldy’s Chris Edwards carried his bat for 41 in their total of 112 at Prestatyn, as Sampath Perera took 5/38; the Sri Lankan all-rounder then finished unbeaten on 54 in a five-wicket win for the Welsh side.

And Southport Trinity fell just 12 runs short of the 164 posted by fourth-placed Wavertree. Sean Cragg and Craig Black each took 5/41 for Trinity, but Stewart Guy’s 5/29 kept the visitors at arm’s reach.

Sutton earned a six-wicket win over Norley Hall, with Joseph Noctor hitting 51 in their chase of 121; and Hightown St Mary’s 257/6 was too much for Alder, who fell 84 runs short.

Spring View’s 222/8, with David Gornall scoring 72, was too much for Parkfield Liscard, who were bowled out for 93 after the top three all made ducks.