Read have eyes on the prize

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READ skipper Warren Eastham has got his eyes on the prize as his side battle it out with high-flying Baxenden for a place in the Ramsbottom Cup final.

The two club’s, who face a three way fight for the Ribblesdale Cricket League title alongside Barnoldswick, will lock horns at Back Lane on Sunday with the clash commencing at 1 p.m.

“We’ve got a big cup weekend which we are looking forward to,” said Eastham. “It’s a big game and we always love playing Baxenden. I think they love playing us as well. We’ve had some fabulous, close games with some high scores and good cricket. Last time we beat them it could have gone either way.”

A 102-run victory over Cherry Tree in the first round of the competition was followed by a five-wicket triumph over Clitheroe in the quarter-final. Meanwhile, Baxenden have beaten Settle and Earby to reach this stage. Now Eastham wants his men to put in a performance to warrant a place in the final.

“They are one of the sides in the Ribblesdale League that are ultra-competitive and like to squeeze everything they can out of you,” he said. “Whoever wins this one would be the favourites going in to the final. But Whalley are no mugs, as Baxenden found out at their peril in the league, and I fancy them to get past Ribblesdale Wanderers. It will be a massive game for both sides and I hope our performance can do the occasion justice.”

But first up it’s Clitheroe in the league and, though Eastham expects nothing less than victory, he’s aware that Clitheroe have danger men among their ranks. He said: “We’ve got to expect a win in the league first though. Clitheroe will definitely pose a threat and they’ve got some dangerous players. Joshua Marquet bowled extremely well against us in the cup, taking 3-15 off 10 overs, and he’s a big part of their ammunition. He’s one of the best amateur bowlers in the league.”

Eastham, who wants a quick cure from the weekend’s disappointing tie versus Earby, added: “These are the games we need to win though if we are to consider ourselves championship material. Clitheroe are capable of turning teams over so we will be respectful of that, but we’re confident. They are in a false league position though all their strengths lie in three or four players. The league table is an indication of how they’ve been performing though.”

Elsewhere in the Ribblesdale Cricket League, Padiham skipper John Bushell has found written proof that his army of Arbories youngsters are marching in the right direction.

At the halfway stage, Padiham sit in mid-table mediocrity though they can close the 13-point gap on fourth place Whalley when the sides meet tomorrow. But the individual ingredients in Padiham’s performances have shown signs of improvement.

Bushell said: “We are definitely progressing and heading in the right direction. In terms of batting, bowling and fielding the statistics show that we are in a much more advanced position now, in comparison to where we were at this stage last season. We are improving in all areas of the game and I’m delighted with the standard.”

Padiham recorded their first victory of the season against their weekend opponents as Nesir Mehmood’s late flourish with an unbeaten 65, batting at number nine, helped them to a 59-run win at Station Road.

“We had a great win against Whalley away from home,” Bushell said. “It’s a difficult game because they’re an improved side but we’ve already proven that we can beat them. We’ve recently beat Baxenden and we beat Read in the 20/20 so we’ve shown that we are capable of beating the stronger sides in the league. The next stage of our development will be trying to get that consistency to our performances. It will take time and confidence but we will get there.”

But Bushell will be looking to ‘Bash’ Baxenden again tonight in hope of gaining that final spot in the 20/20 semi-final. Baxenden have already qualified for the knockout stages after running out Group 2 winners though a win for Padiham could steal the final spot by merit of best runner-up. Bushell’s side would join Baxenden on six points with victory but the group leader’s have a much better net run rate.

“Baxenden will be planning to get one over on us after the weekend’s result,” Bushell said. “They’ve already progressed to the semi-final of the 20/20 but we can still advance as the best runners up so it’s an important game for us. We need to give ourselves a chance and we’ll be looking to make a good evening of it at the Arbories.”

He added: “Recently we’ve been looking like a more mature team. We’ve got a lot of young kids in the ranks and it was just a case of instilling that belief in to them. That’s been starting to show of late and there’s been some good, mature performances. It’s nice to see them developing and you can take a lot of pride and satisfaction out of nurturing them and helping them progress.”

In the Lancashire Cricket League, Lowerhouse will be looking to regain top spot when they travel to Enfield tomorrow. Just three points separate the West Enders from league leaders Todmorden who travel to Acre Bottom to go head-to-head with reigning champions Ramsbottom.

Liverpool Road chairman Stan Heaton said: “We’re not too concerned with other results, it’s all about how we play. Our perfoemances are the only thing in our control.

“We just want to keep winning and picking up points. Enfield have some dangerous players in captain Adam Bracewell, Liam Jackson and their pro (Werner Coetsee). We’ll have to be at our best, though we’re without Jonathan Finch.”

Meanwhile, rivals Burnley could do Lowerhouse a massive favour by throwing a spanner in Accrington’s title chase at Turf Moor.

“Accrington will be expecting to win that game but Burnley will be buoyant by their latest victory,” Heaton said. “It would be nice for them to do us a favour but I’m sure they’ll be wanting to win the game for themselves.

“Anybody can beat anybody in this league.”