A CRICKET star born in Bareilly but bred in Burnley has delivered his insight into the hopes of the town’s two teams ahead of the 2011 Thwaites Wainwright Lancashire Cricket League season.
Pankaj Tripathi played for both Burnley and Lowerhouse during a decorated amateur career, representing the Turf Moor club in 1977 and 1978 while spending 12 years at Liverpool Road over three spells.
Tripathi, renowned for his prowess in the fielding ranks, made just 14 appearances over two seasons at Burnley and spent most of his time playing for the club’s second string. However, he did accrue a number of games for the first team as they clinched the Lancashire Cricket League title in 1978.
Burnley’s 2010 campaign culminated in a disappointing eighth place finish and Tripathi believes captain Steve Brunt faces a tough task to improve on that finish after losing the services of Bharat and Vishal Tripathi, the highly-touted sons of Pankaj.
Though Vishal rarely featured for Burnley last season, Bharat found himself in tremendous form taking a total of 63 wickets, with a personal best 7-28, averaging 14.58.
He said: “They have lost their main bowler in Bharat Tripathi who has now gone to Liverpool as a professional for the 2011 campaign. Vishal Tripathi has also moved to pastures new and will feature as Cheadle’s pro in the Derbyshire League. They’ve lost two huge players for this season and on top of that they’ve also lost the services of Jonathan Clare who has moved to Derbyshire. For any club to lose three major players would prove to be difficult and it’s going to leave big holes in the squad.”
Tripathi added: “Burnley are currently in a process of re-building and they’ve enticed East Lancs bowler Nasir Iqbal in to the ranks this year. However, with Graham Lalor doing very well playing darts for Lancashire he may not be available for the start of the season.
“Also in the batting ranks Daniel Pickup has had an operation on his ankle and he will also be unavailable until he recovers which is expected to be June at the earliest. Hemant Patel has made the decision not to play this season at Burnley as he is unable to get transport to training and matches from Bolton.”
Burnley accumulated 12 wins during 2010 and finished on 161 points mainly through the combination of Bharat’s bowling and Qasim Ali’s heroics with the bat. The latter fired 658 in 25 matches for his side last campaign.
“They’ve got quite a depleted squad but it opens up an opportunity for other players to make a name for themselves which I’ve no doubt will happen,” Tripathi said. “Burnley didn’t do well last season although they were unfortunate to miss out on a place in the Worsley Cup final following an epic semi-final game against Ramsbottom. They just have to keep their fingers crossed in hope of an improvement. The squad has been weakened but it’s up to the players now to make the grade. I think it will be an uphill task for them.”
Following his stint with Burnley, Tripathi went on to feature for the West Enders where he enjoyed more success. In three spells with the club, which saw stints with Bolton and Farnworth sandwiched in-between, he claimed a runner-up trophy in the Martini Cup in 1980 after being beaten by East Lancs and scooped another runner-up medal in the league in 1982, a year which saw Rawtenstall win the championship. However, after returning to Liverpool Road to play the final year of his career, the club won the league title in 2005.
Charlie Cottam’s men finished a place below Burnley last season while their points tally was 10 shy of their rivals. But new facilities at their home venue, coupled with growing talent among the club’s youth, has led Tripathi to believe that Lowerhouse could now be the town’s strongest force: “They’ve improved over the years, prompting the tag the ‘Cinderella’ club. They’ve been known as the number two club in the town for some time now with Burnley ranked first. But Stan Heaton and his staff have done a tremendous job in building the club up to be the biggest force in the town.
“Their junior setup is very good as it is at Burnley but where Lowerhouse take the lead is their facilities at Liverpool Road which are excellent. The nets they’ve built at the back of the club must be one of the best facilities that any amateur club could wish for.”
Last season’s paid man at Lowerhouse Aaron Heal smashed 650 runs in 23 matches with the bat and it will be up to South-African all-rounder Francois Haasbroek to replicate that form for the coming season. Meanwhile, Jon Finch took 63 wickets with a personal best 7-97, averaging 20.11. Finch’s incredible figures of 123 and 4-41 in the 46-run victory over Colne made the 27-year-old the first West Ender to do the amateur double since Jon Hartley in 1980, when he passed 500 runs for the season during his innings.
But it’s the youngsters that Tripathi understands will come to the fore in 2011: “They lost a few players from the Championship winning side of 2005 which gave them the chance to field, nurture and develop a number of youngsters over the years. And that’s now come to fruition with three players to watch out for this season; Jonny Whitehead, Fergus Bailey and Ben Heap while other young players continue to make a vast improvement.”
He added: “I think they should be looking for a top half finish this season. They will be relying on the youth to prosper and do the business for them this year and they have the talent to warrant that faith. I think Lowerhouse will finish above Burnley in the league this season because they still have the nucleus of the squad from last year.”
Head-to-head last year Lowerhouse won by five wickets at Liverpool Road (Jon Finch 58, Chris Bleazard 61 not out) while Burnley won by eight wickets at Turf Moor with professional Gary Brent taking five wickets. In Group C of the Lancashire League 20/20 competition Lowerhouse won by virtue of losing fewer wickets as both sides finished on 100 at Liverpool Road though neither side qualified from group stages.