As the biggest battle in Test cricket got underway this week with England and Australia competing for the Ashes urn, Paul Stansfield’s Lowerhouse have a crucial set of fixtures of their own.
While the sport’s aficionados amalgamate at Nottingham’s Trent Bridge, the place to be locally this weekend is Liverpool Road where the West Enders host the Twenty20 final against holders Ramsbottom tonight (6-15 p.m.) before entertaining Lancashire League leaders Accrington on Sunday, start 1 p.m.
Since relinquishing their Worsley Cup crown with defeat to rivals Burnley in the semi-final, which was followed by a two-wicket loss to Church, the Lowerhouse revival began with subsequent victories over Enfield in the 20 overs competition and Bacup and Nelson in the league.
Stansfield is hopeful that his side can continue that run in a bid to dethrone Ramsbottom - who have won the Twenty20 trophy for three consecutive years - and burn Accrington’s advantage to cinders.
“It’s a massive weekend because there’s a trophy at stake and then you move on to the league where it’s first versus second,” he said. “They don’t come much bigger than that.
“Every team starts the season with the ambition of reaching a cup final so it’s a massive bonus to reach it. It will be good financially as well because the competition is well supported. There’s a lot of people at the club that have been working hard behind the scenes to ensure that it’ll be a success.
“Ramsbottom have won it for three successive years so you could say they’re the Twenty20 kings. But somebody will have to beat them eventually and hopefully that’ll be us tonight.”
‘House reduced the deficit to 23 points at the summit as Accrington surrendered their 100 per cent record with defeats to Ramsbottom and East Lancs. But Stansfield is expecting a reaction from his opponents.
“The entire place was a bit down after the defeat to Burnley but we’re in a cup final and we’ve closed the gap on the league leaders,” he said. “We can’t complain really. We suffered a bit of a setback but we’ve recovered well.
“Accrington are a very strong side with some good individuals. Their pro Ashar Zaidi is a dangerous all-rounder, they’ve got an ex-England international in Graham Lloyd and David Ormerod takes plenty of wickets. They certainly won’t be a pushover.
“It’s a game we need to win but it’s not over yet. We thought we were out of sight when we won our first 11 games last season but we only won the title on the final day.”
He added: “This weekend provides us with a great platform to kick on. Securing that first trophy would be great for confidence in front of a big crowd ahead of the Accrington game. We’re not scared of Ramsbottom, we won’t let them dictate our game, but we’ll be the underdogs.”
Meanwhile, Burnley skipper Bharat Tripathi is praying his side can extend their purple patch when they travel to Acre Bottom to face Ramsbottom on Sunday.
Burnley have won their last five games in all competitions, climbing to sixth in the process on 91 points. Another triumph would edge the club closer to an elusive top five finish which they last achieved in 2007.
“It’s been brilliant,” said Tripathi. “It’s just what we needed at this time of year. We turned a corner against Nelson at the beginning of June and that followed on with a win over Ramsbottom in the cup. Since then we’ve realised that what we’ve got here is perfect in terms of bowling and batting options. We’ve just got to keep this run going now.”
The latest wins over Haslingden - a dress rehearsal for the Worsley Cup final - and mini-derby rivals Colne has seen confidence soar at Turf Moor but Tripathi is still expecting more from his players.
“There’s been some great individual performances but there’s more to come,” he said. “Graham Lalor has been the unsung hero in recent weeks. He’s not high up in the wickets column but he keeps the pressure on and allows Cole Hayman, who has been flying recently, to play his game.
“Qasim Ali has been in fantastic form as well but some players haven’t even scratched the surface of what they’re capable of yet. There’s many uncoiled springs in the squad so we’re expecting a good back end to the season. Confidence is sky high at the moment.”
Tripathi added: “Ramsbottom will be a massive test for us and they’ll be wanting to overturn that cup result.
“They are a dangerous team but we should have our pro (Adnan Rasool) back so we can fight fire with fire. They have their final tonight but we’re treating every game like a final now. We want to push towards the top end.”