THERE was an unbelievable end to the Central Yorkshire League season last Saturday when Birstall produced a sensational escape to avoid relegation from the Premier Division.
Batley recorded a 29-run victory over Carlton, while Northowram Fields overcame New Farnley by 184 runs, which meant Birstall had to beat Altofts to maintain a top flight status they have held since 1978.
Other results had filtered through to Leeds Road and one of the most enthralling finishes to a league campaign was watched by a crowd of over 300 as players and spectators from other clubs descended.
Altofts knew a bonus point would be enough to save themselves and send Birstall down as long as the visitors were not bowled out.
Altofts appeared to be cruising to their bonus point target of 177 when they reached 164-5 only for Birstall to fightback with four wickets falling for eight runs.
James Byrne was handed the responsibility of bowling the final over, with Altofts needing five runs to save themselves and condemn Birstall to the drop.
With the last pair at the crease Byrne restricted Altofts to two runs from the first five balls.
With every player, including the wicketkeeper, on the boundary, Andrew Armitage played and missed the final ball but set off for a single.
Young wicketkeeper Joe Gott threw the ball over Byrne’s head and the last pair set off for a second run only for Chris Goodair to run Armitage out, as Altofts ended 175 all out, and spark pandemonium among Birstall’s players.
Veteran all-rounder Paul Blakeley answered an SOS call from Birstall has he came out of retirement to play his first game in two years and he ended with 2-29 from 15 overs, including the key Altofts wicket of Simon Steel.
Kevin Watson claimed 5-33 in his final game before retiring but star of the show was Byrne, who earlier dug Birstall out of a hole to top score with 85.
Birstall had been reduced to 103-5, despite the efforts of Robert Peregrine (46) and Stewart Clifton (33), before Byrne smashed 85 from 62 balls, including eight fours and five sixes to help boost Birstall’s total to 235.
But few at Leeds Road could have predicted the drama later in the afternoon as Birstall secured a win that saw Altofts relegated in the most dramatic fashion.
Byrne said: “It was an unbelievable game to play in, certainly the best I have been involved in.
“We have players like Kevin Watson and Paul Marlow who have played in cup finals but they said Saturday was better than anything they’ve seen before, it was an unbelievable finish.
“We looked dead and buried and were moping round the field thinking we were relegated.
“Altofts were cruising and at no point, until right at the end, did they think they would be relegated. I certainly had a few beers bought for me on Saturday night.”
Batley have produced several great escapes over the years and they did it again with a late flurry of wins.
Batley will remain in the top flight following victory over Carlton on the final day.
Overseas star Naweed Ghany again led the way for Batley as he hit five fours and two sixes on his way to 62 as Birstall were bowled out for 167.
Huzaifa Patel (4-33) ripped through Carlton’s top order to leave them 16-4 and although Chris Leaf (34) and Stephen Cooper (40) made useful contributions, the visitors were dismissed for 128 as Muhammed Tahir chipped in with 3-31.
Mark Gilliver smashed 135 as Northowram Fields posted 293-6 before dismissing New Farnley for 109 to preserve their Premier Division status.
Champions Wrenthorpe suffered a 46-run defeat to Hunslet Nelson in their final match, although they did make several changes.
All 10 fielders bowled for Wrens, who also fielded secretary Phil Allen.
Michael Lambert smashed 56 from just 25 balls, while Daniel McTernan (41), Daniel Calverley (35) and Tom Suggitt (25) steered Nelson to 234-9.
Wrenthorpe then reversed their usual batting order and although Tom Glover hit 32 at the top of the innings, they were reduced to 111-7.
Luke Patel came in at no9 and made 26 not out and shared an unbroken 28-run stand with no11 Gary Fellows (20no) as Wrenthorpe closed on 188-9.
Townville reached 8-0 in their final game at Mirfield Parish Cavaliers when the game was abandoned owing to a wet wicket.