CHAMPIONS Lowerhouse face an interesting opening to the season as they bid to retain the Lancashire League title.
With last weekend’s game at Lanehead against Bacup CC postponed due to excessive rainfall the West Enders, weather permitting once again, will begin the defence of their crown versus runners up Accrington.
But, despite Sunday’s frustration, club chairman Stan Heaton joked it was a much better start than the previous campaign when Charlie Cottam’s side lost to Bacup by 115 runs.
“It wasn’t the start we expected, but it was a vast improvement on last year when we were all out for 47,” Heaton said. “Fortunately we had our pre-season preparation with a few friendlies so it could have been worse.”
Lowerhouse finished the season 30 points ahead of Accrington as they lifted the trophy for only the second time in the club’s 150-year history. And even with the return of talisman Jon Finch, Heaton is aware that Accrington have quality in abundance.
“We’ve got Jon Finch back so we’ve got the unenviable task of leaving somebody out that doesn’t deserve to be left out,” said Heaton. “It will be discussed by the committee - the first team manager, captain and myself - though ultimately it’s Charlie Cottam that takes out the team that he wants on the field.
“The squad will get rotated from time-to-time because we are in the fortunate position where we can choose horses for courses. Unfortunately we can only choose 11 men.”
Heaton added: “In recent years Accrington have always been dangerous and they are well suited to playing on damp tracks. They’ve found success there before so it’s going to be a huge challenge.”
But whatever the outcome of this weekend’s clash, Heaton is expecting the title race to be even tighter than last year due to the ever-improving state of the league.
“I think this season, the side that wins the title will lose more games than in previous seasons,” he said. “The league has strengthened; there’s some great pros and some very good amateurs. Some sides have improved and others will keep on improving. I think the champions could lose around seven games, rather than four like us last season.”
Meanwhile, Burnley captain Steve Brunt is intent on ending the period of under-achievement that the Turf Moor club has endured.
Burnley won just seven of their 26 fixtures last term, losing 17 in total, which saw them finish the season in 12th. The opening game away to Haslingden was abandoned and Brunt isn’t holding out to much hope for this weekend.
“It was very frustrating,” he said. “Especially when a couple of games got played on the opening weekend. We were just left kicking our heels. The forecast isn’t great either so we may struggle again. I’ve been down to the ground and it’s already very wet.”
Brunt’s side are scheduled to play Ramsbottom on Sunday, an opponent they’ve done well against in the past. “We normally do okay against them,” he said. “They are probably the strongest team in the league alongside Lowerhouse but we fancy our chances. We are full of confidence and just want to get the season started.”
It may sound extremely premature, but the first double-header weekend in the Ribblesdale Cricket League could have a major influence on the outcome of the title chase.
Read face fellow contenders Clitheroe and Barnoldswick respectively, both at home, and the table could start taking shape.
The Whalley Road side remained at the division’s summit alongside Barnoldswick after picking up maximum points against Whalley, though their victory was less than convincing.
Read’s paid man, Lancashire all-rounder Jordan Clark, showed his class to make 65, which included seven boundaries, out of the visitors’ 109 total. Jon Harvey’s sensational stint of 5-23 off 13 overs then sealed maximum points as Richard Palmer’s men fell 26 runs short at Station Road.
“We want to carry on our good start,” said Read skipper Kyle O’Connor. “It would definitely give us breathing space if we were to win both of them. They are both very good sides; Barnoldswick’s batting line-up is very strong and Clitheroe are strong in all departments.
“These are the games you need to win to have a chance of being up there. Picking up points against these sides, teams that will be challenging, early on would really set us up for the rest of the year. That’s where we slipped up last year.”
Padiham skipper John Bushell has targeted the double-header weekend for his side’s first success of the season.
Despite losing to both Barnoldswick and Ribblesdale Wanderers the Arbories side have picked up five bonus points. “We’ve picked up a few bonus points for our bowling,” he said. “We are bowling really well but not performing well enough as a whole to get maximum points. With the weather we haven’t had many decent net sessions and I think we’re just lacking that practice at the crease.”
He added: “Chris Holt has done well with both bat and ball and has inspired the team while Steve Meehan got his first five-wicket haul for the club at weekend. It’s a terrific achievement for him and you’ve got to give every credit to the guy. He’s a very under-rated player.”
Padiham, who welcome Nesir Mehmood to the side who scored 650 runs and took 35 wickets last term, travel to Station Road tomorrow to face Whalley before entertaining Salesbury at the Arbories on Sunday. And Bushell is looking for a full performance from his players.
“We need a good display as a whole rather than just giving half a performance.”