MANY believed promoted Middleton’s Sussex division-two home clash with Bexhill on the opening day of the season would be a routine win for the side relegated from the Premier League – but Rob Willway and co had different plans.
An under-strength Middleton had their work cut out as they attempted to get their season off in a positive manner.
In the absence of skipper Brandon Hanley, Jamie Thompson took over the reins. The club hope his two-year experience in first-class cricket will bring a heightened professionalism in the ranks.
He won the toss and Middleton elected to field.
The new ball was given to overseas recruit Kieran Jones and Middleton’s seaming stalwart Tommy Davies. Although he picked up only one victim, many spectators believe Davies bowled his finest Middleton spell.
Despite early missed chances and the dismissal of Malcolm Johnson, Middleton were leaking runs at an alarming rate. It became damage limitation for them.
Surprisingly, Ed Towner, who had previously bowled only two overs in a six-year first-team career, was called into action. The opening batsman took two for 40 in a 14-over spell of medium-pace swingers. He and strike partner Davies, with two for 72 off 13, helped the home side regain some kind of hold.
Spin twins Willway (1-33) and Searle (2-32) came in to stem the runs.
Bexhill can thank skipper Malcolm Johnson (47), Jonathan Haffenden (65) and Tim Hambridge (35) for allowing them to declare on 249 for eight in the 53rd over.
Middleton didn’t get the best of starts as openers Hansford (13) and Towner (12) went early. This bought Willway (73) to the crease, the debutant looking to impress in his first game.
He notched his runs with consummate ease, punishing the bad ball and dealing with the good ones in a responsible manner.
After a rather predictable collapse, the side came to rely on the combination of Willway and the experienced Neil Pacey to provide resilience and composure.
The Middleton legend helped himself to 25 runs on a welcome return to the first team after a three-year absence. He could be an essential part of the team this year - offering a cool head and years of experience to the young team.
Middletonheld on, finishing on 189 for six. It wasn’t the most entertaining start to the club season but it was a promising one.
Skipper Thompson had mixed feelings and said: “The boys played well. They applied themselves and showed good character at the end. There are a few things to iron out for next week but it’s certainly a promising start.”
See reports from the Sussex League & Invitation League - plus all the fixtures, results and tables - every Thursday in the Observer
Get involved by sending your reports and team pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org