THIS season the Second Division has been re-named the Frank Platt Championship, which promises to be a real scrap both for promotion and to avoid relegation. Here DAVID LOCKWOOD looks at the prospects
IT’S not uncommon for the relegated teams from the previous season to be installed as pre-season favourites for promotion 12 months later – and this year is likely to be no exception.
Of the three who lost their Premiership status last season, Clayton West, Meltham and Micklehurst, it is CLAYTON WEST who probably carry the biggest threat to all their Frank Platt Championship rivals.
The loss of Jonny Butterfield to Premiership Honley will be a big blow to skipper Mark Firth and his side, but they do have two bonuses to look forward to, the first being the return of Australian all-rounder Chris Thompson, whose season was cut short abruptly last year after being violently assaulted in Leeds.
Up until then he had scored almost 250 runs and had taken 16 wickets in eight matches, and the Back Lane men will be hoping to see the 27-year-old – who has English qualifications – fulfil his potential this season, alongside a contribution from his Aussie teammate Greg Davis.
A top-order batsman and first change bowler, Davis plays first grade cricket with the same Mount Lawley club in Perth as Thompson, and Clayton’s previous overseas man Correy Verco.
A big season from the Perth pair and an improved performance from Stuart Rank – who scored two tons, but still managed fewer than 500 runs last term – and Firth could be viewing a return to the top flight come September.
LEPTON HIGHLANDERS missed the Conference play-off by a single point last season and with a strengthened line-up this time, I would expect them to be in the promotion shake-up once again.
Mumtaz Ali was third in the Conference bowling averages with 79 victims (the fourth highest wicket-taker in the entire League) and returns for another season, along with Dale Winterbottom who also took 42 wickets last summer, despite being unwell in the latter stages of the season.
The Wakefield Road side have also recruited 20-year-old top order batsman Steve Brown from Ossett, who will be vice-captain to skipper Sean Mulhall and is also an off-spinner.
Luke Webster takes over the wicketkeeping duties (dad John will act as first-team coach) and another in-comer is Sohail Khan, who played last year at Church Fenton.
Paul Baxter will take charge of the Seconds as they make a concerted effort at promotion.
Following their success in reaching the Conference play-off final last September (where they lost out to Marsden) KEXBOROUGH will be aiming to consolidate in the more competitive Championship this year.
The side will be led by the excellent Mark Bray, one of the best British-born batsmen outside the Premiership who finished second overall in the averages last year (56.00), who along with Michael Jepps, Adam Wiles and Darren Donoghue will provide one of the best top four line-ups in the division.
Teenagers Jordan Geldart, who impressed with 44 wickets in his debut season in the Drakes League, and all-rounder Jepps (42) will form the opening attack, along with spinner Ian Giles.
On the downside, the Bence Laners have lost Ben Potter and Ankur Sondhi.
SHELLEY have a new captain in the shape of all-rounder Scott Dyson, who has moved the short distance from Skelmanthorpe.
The other top recruit at Westerley Lane is the much-travelled Scott Marsh (ex of Scholes, Kexborough, Cawthorne and Linthwaite) but their effectiveness and title challenge may ultimately depend on their alleged signing of Richie Kapoor. The big-hitting Indian was supposed to have signed for Linthwaite last season but never materialised, so the rest of the division will be waiting with bated breath, especially as Shelley have lost Bradley Parker and Chris Schofield, who promised much but in the end delivered less than was expected.
Otherwise Dyson will need a massive season out of Marsh as well as himself and support from some of the club’s up-and-coming younger players, such as Jack Greene and Josh Scott.
HALL BOWER had a disappointing 2009 season, especially considering they had the very talented Zimbabwean-born batsman Sean Barry carrying their batting in excellent fashion, and they will be delighted he is returning once again.
The English qualified opener hit a fabulous 978 runs (ave 54.33) to finish third in the Conference averages, and would surely have made the magical 1,000 mark had he not missed the final game of the season against Rastrick.
He had an excellent conversion rate, too, having passed the half-century on seven occasions, and going on to make a century three times, including a huge 169 against Linthwaite.
Ben Dunne skippers again and will be looking at bringing in one or two juniors, and just possibly (maybe) a rare appearance from club president Andy Booth!
ALMONDBURY finished a creditable fourth, just behind Shelley in last year’s Frank Platt Conference, and they will again be looking towards all-rounder Mirza Mobean for the bulk of their runs.
He passed the 500 mark 1ast year, thanks to a season’s best 131 against Kexborough, but he also weighed in with 42 wickets, making him a valued member of Dermot Lucid’s side.
The Fernsiders have lost Amer Qadeer to the Bradford League, but Wasim Khaliq remains, and he, too, proved a valuable source of both runs and wickets last term.
MELTHAM have had a fair old clear-out during the winter, and therefore a host of new faces will be looking to steer the Mean Lane side back towards happier times after last season’s fall from grace.
No stranger to Huddersfield clubs, Stephen Lane is back in the League after spending last year with Milnrow, and he joins Meltham as skipper, along with ex-Milnrow teammate David Bebb, who is a batsman and slow bowler.
Two of Lane’s former Lascelles Hall teammates Will Parker and Ben Cockshaw have also traversed town, as have ex-Primrose Hill and Kirkheaton father and son pairing of Mohammed Taj (the dad) and Mohammed Usman.
Last year MICKLEHURST relied heavily on 975-run man Andrew Gleave, but this year financial constraints mean ‘no paid players at Castle Lane’ and they will be relying mainly on several returning old boys.
Two players back at the club after a spell at neighbouring Greenfield are father Mark Chamley (a left-arm spinner) and son Stuart, a quick bowler, along another quick bowler, Andy Battye.
Ryan Devlin is another returning after 10 years away to boost new skipper Paul Barrow, who joined them towards the back end of last season.
With contact details in the handbook wrong, anyone wanting information about Micklehurst should check the club’s website.