LOWERHOUSE begin their defence of the Lancashire League title this weekend.
Charlie Cottam’s side travel to Lanehead where they take on Bacup in the opening game of the 2012 campaign.
The West Enders, who were beaten by 115 runs against Bacup on the first day last year, ended last term 30 points ahead of runners up Accrington but, despite maintaining the nucleus of the championship winning squad, chairman Stan Heaton has warned his side against complacency.
“We don’t want to become big-headed or complacent,” he said. “Logically, with everything still in place, there’s no reason why we can’t perform as well as last year.
“We won’t have that surprise factor this year. Last term were were league leaders by the halfway mark and I think a lot of other clubs thought that would be temporary.
“Our credentials had been stamped by the time they realised it wasn’t. Everyone will try harder to beat the champions and we expect a difficult ride from our opponents.”
Lowerhouse have retained the services of the majority of last season’s squad, minus Jonny Russell who announced his retirement from the game and Matt Doughty who has moved to the Ribblesdale League with Read. But Joe Hawke is now available for selection for the starting XI and South African Francois Haasbroek has stayed on as professional.
“It’s all a jigsaw in sport and the professional is a very important piece of the puzzle,” said Heaton. “He’s a year wiser but other players will have had the chance to grow wiser about him. It stands us in good stead if he does as well as he did for us last year.”
The Liverpool Road club is renowned for its unrivalled success in blooding talented youngsters and, under the watchful eye of Heaton, among others, that will continue to be the case. Jonny Whitehead, Fergus Bailey, Patrick Martin, Ben Heap, Joe Martin and Matt Walker all played a part in last season’s success and they may be joined by more starlets from the camp this campaign.
“We have a 13 man first team squad,” said Heaton. “Hopefully we won’t have to change things too much throughout the season. What we want from the youngsters in the second string is for them to get a good season behind them. Last season they were very erratic. We’ve blooded Jack Edgar who is a County under 16 player and I am sure he, among others, can come in and do a job if needed.”
And, having not really impacted on the cup competitions since the historic Worsley Cup success in 2004, Heaton is intent on adding a good cup run to the campaign.
“Since winning the Worsley Cup in 2004 we’ve been very moderate in cup competitions,” he said. “We’ve only got one 20/20 final place under our belts in those years. The players are fully committed to both cups and we will give every game our best shot.”
And Burnley captain Steve Brunt is hoping for better fortune this season.
The Turf Moor outfit recorded a disappointing 12th place finish last term but the club has been buoyed by the return of Bharat Tripathi.
The talented 22-year-old spent a season away from the club, becoming professional at Liverpool. But he’s back and ready to spearhead Burnley’s season.
Bharat smashed a 30-year-old post-war bowling record at the club in 2009, beating Trevor Jones’s seasonal haul of 72 wickets that was set back in 1979.
“We’ve made two very good signings with Bharat Tripathi coming back and Yakub Bhamji joining us from Darwen,” beamed Brunt. “They’ve really added to the squad and strengthened us. Dan Pickup will also be available for us for the whole season as well which is another plus.”
He added: “Bharat holds the post-war bowling record at Burnley which says a lot about him. He’s a quality left-hand spinner and a very good top order batsman. It’s like having two players in one.
“He’s always been around the club even when he was professional at Liverpool so we’re delighted to have him back playing. The whole team has developed since last year, we’re all pulling in the same direction, and there’s plenty of optimism within the camp.”
Burnley open their season against Haslingden at Bentgate, hoping to get off to the best possible start. And with the addition of Pakistan professional Adnan Rasool they’ve got a real chance.
“Our professional, Adnan Rasool, is also a very good off-spinner who will add to our very strong bowling attack,” Brunt said. “He comes very highly recommended from Saeed Ajmal. He’s got a good reputation.”
Brunt added: “I don’t want to predict where we are going to finish or how we are going to do but I’m confident that we’ll do better than last year. I think we’ll surprise a few people this time.”