RADCLIFFE finally kick-started their Central Lancashire Cricket League season by picking up all five points from the trip to Rayner Lane on Sunday, after defeating perennial strugglers, Ashton.

However, 24 hours earlier the Racecoursemen first had to sample the bitter taste of defeat, losing at home to Lancashire League club East Lancashire by six wickets, in the Inter League Challenge Trophy.

"It was a difficult wicket at Ashton, very slow with no bounce in it, but the top five got the runs like they should and despite a close finish we got the win," said skipper Graeme Simpson.

"Toby McLean bowled very well, claiming the opener and the pro in seven overs. Pasan Wanansinghe then bowled very tight and Phil Hayes and Stu Kelly did well, too.

"They needed 30 off six overs with nine down and we just about did it, we'd have been ticked off if we hadn't won that one."

However, he admitted it was always going to be tough against East Lancs.

"They won it last year so we were always going to be second favourites, but we hit a reasonable score and competed all game long, so I've no complaints there."

At second-from-bottom Ashton, Radcliffe got off to a promising start, with Hayes and Bruce Cruse producing 29, before Hayes was bowled for 17.

Cruse and pro Wanansinghe then extended the lead to 79 with a magnificent half-century between them.

The pro then went to a catch, with his contribution on 30, and was replaced by Simpson,

Partnering Cruse, they added another 58 before the big hitting Aussie fell victim to Hussain, having contributed yet another top score, this time 57.

Hopes were high of hitting the benchmark figure of 200, but apart from Simpson's 42 the tail-enders yet again struggled, and Radcliffe had to make do with 168-6. Hussain, with 3-40, was Ashton's main weapon.

Determined to not let this game slip from their grasp, the Radcliffe bowlers constantly chipped away, and their efforts were rewarded with a steady procession of batsmen trudging back to the pavilion.

Wanansinghe (3-20) and Hayes (3-30) were on fire, with McLean showing signs that he is returning to match fitness after his recent illness with 2-31, and Kelly adding 1-9, as the home side were bowled out for 141.

The one negative to emerge from the game was Radcliffe's prevailing tendency to bestow gifts on their opponents, with the extras tally of 38 being Ashton's top score.

In Saturday's game, first and third wicket stands looked to have gave Radcliffe a promising start, but once Cruse, Hayes and Wanansinghe went, there was too much for skipper Simpson to do to stretch the score beyond 200, falling two short for a nevertheless substantial lead.

Openers Cruse and Hayes struck an impressive 85 before Hayes fell lbw to the visitors' new pro, Quinton Friend, with his knock on 31.

Joined by paid man Wanansinghe, the Racecourse faithful were no doubt relishing another increase in the score, but Cruse was caught a couple of runs short of his half-century before the two could get going.

Hopes were raised when Simpson joined Wanansinghe at the crease, and between them they added a further 92, before Wanansinghe lost the battle of the pros, bowled by Friend for a top score of 67.

In tandem with Gorsi, Simpson put on a further 21 before the youngster became another of Friend's victims, with the score on 196.

It also signalled the end of the innings, as tail-enders Farnworth and Nicholson went for ducks and Radcliffe, on 198-6 off their allotted 45 overs, wondered if it would be enough. Friend was the pick of the East Lancs bowling attack with 4-53.

In reply, the reigning champions had Paul Turner's top score of 66 largely to thank for seeing them through to the second round.

Although the first wicket went rather cheaply (Bolton, bowled Toby McLean for 5) with the score on just 12, surviving opener Mercer put on a second wicked stand of 67 with Turner, to show the visitors' intentions.

Mercer was then caught by Cruse off a Hayes' delivery, having added 33 to the score and was replaced at the crease by Friend.

Together with Turner the visiting pro put on another 38, before he was stumped by Farnworth of a Stu Kelly ball with the score on 117.

But any hopes Radcliffe had of witnessing a collapse were demolished, as Turner and Lomas put on another 71 between them, before Turner went for 66, bowled by Cheetham.

The difference between the two sides was the tail-enders, and in Lomas and Claque the visitors had batsmen who continued to keep the score ticking over.

They added 30 and 23 respectively and saw East Lancs safely to their target of 199 with 14 balls to spare.

It was a close run thing with McLean, Cheetham, Hayes and Kelly all doing their bit claiming a wicket apiece.

This Saturday Radcliffe host third-placed Norden, then on Sunday the attention moves to the Wood Cup and a trip to The Coppice to take on Werneth.

"We beat Norden three times I think last season," said Simpson: "but their game revolves around the pro, Mujtaba. If you get him out it can even things out a heck of a lot, if you don't he invariably hits 100, nothing less!"

As far for Werneth, he was again optimistic: "It may be tempting fate but we win most times we play at Werrneth, and we'll be looking for another win come Sunday."

In the2nd XI fixture, Ashton hit 203-9, with Radcliffe bowler Sajewicz claiming 6-60. In reply Radcliffe were all out for 176, with Taylor top-scoring with a half-century.