JUST 24 hours before the start of the Drakes League season, cricket writer DAVID LOCKWOOD takes a look at the top-flight contenders who are bidding to dethrone champions Scholes. As he outlines, most clubs have new-look line-ups and there have been some fascinating transfers
IT would be far easier to pick a winner in the Grand National than it would to choose where the Byrom Shield will be heading this summer!
So many teams have strengthened, and (at least on paper) so many clubs have genuine claims to the Drakes League Championship crown.
Honley aside, the record books show that retaining the League title is never that easy, but with virtually the same team that shook the top flight last year, SCHOLES will again fancy their chances and can’t be overlooked.
Having the League’s prize-winning batsman, Iqbal Khan, and the League’s top bowler Andy Alsop both ready, willing and champing at the bit to again do the business certainly helps skipper James Noble’s cause, with great back-up provided by Mohammed Shahnawaz, Ibrar Latif and incoming Australian opening bowler Luke Bird.
Noble will also be looking to the club’s younger players like the returning Tom Love, Tom Brook and Louis Sykes to continue their learning curve.
Whether Khan can repeat his 1,000-run feat at a tremendous average of 79.92 and Alsop can match his 65 wickets (ave 12.72) remains to be seen, but one thing is certain, the Chapelgate side will definitely not creep under the radar this summer.
SKELMANTHORPE had a tremendous season last year, finishing second in the League to Scholes and pushing Golcar hard before losing in the semi-finals of the Romida Sykes Cup. And with the signing of Indian Test opener Wasim Jaffer (which sent shock waves round their Premier rivals) they could well be capable of matching the 17 League victories of last summer and getting among the silverware.
Unquestionably they will miss the little maestro that is Max Joice, who after many years at Lidgett Lane has decided on a change of scenery and Scott Dyson, who has taken the main job at neighbouring Shelley.
But as well as Jaffer, they still have plenty of firepower, on both fronts, with Sarfraz Ahmed having topped 1,000 runs last season, while opening bowlers Craig Glover and James Crossland both had brilliant returns of 77 wickets each, to finish third and fourth respectively in the League’s averages.
Another surprise package last time were SHEPLEY, and with an even stronger looking side this year, there is absolutely no reason why they can’t replicate their third place finish – or even better!
Ten of last summer’s regular starting 11 are back, the exception being the overseas man, with Australian grade one pace bowler Leigh Millar replacing Romain Grenville, while they have also recruited highly-rated young all-rounder Liam Wiles.
Last season Wiles topped the Central League’s batting averages and was sixth in the bowling while impressing with Cawthorne. He will join a strong batting line-up that includes SP Singh and Tim Rees, both of whom reached 1,000 runs in all comps last year.
They will be supported by Sam Haigh, Tom Denton (when soccer allows) and Sri Lankan Bandula Don Ranjith, while the bowling will be spearheaded by Danny Glover, who had a tremendous first season as captain, picking up 81 wickets to finish second in the averages and joint highest wicket-taker.
Of course it would be foolish to rule out the traditional big guns, Elland, Delph & Dobcross and Honley, all of whom have new faces.
ELLAND were without an overseas player last year, but still reached the Sykes Cup final and finished fifth. They could be even better, given the arrival of New Zealander Chris Cooper, although the 6ft 4in fast bowler from Christchurch is not overseas, as he holds a British passport.
Skipper Ryan Robinson, Greg Finn and Lee Baxter were all among the runs in 2009 and with Greg Buckley capable of also going ‘big’ runs should not be a problem, especially with dangerous strikers like James Thornton and Richard Whiteoak down the order.
And with new boy Cooper as strike bowler alongside Craig Fletcher (42 victims last year) and wicket-taking slow bowlers Thornton (56) and Buckley (51) the pieces may now be in place to step up another gear.
Matthew Wood’s exit is a loss to HONLEY, but Rob Moore’s side do have plenty of consolation in the arrival of Max Joice from Skelmanthorpe, Tom Craddock from Holmfirth and Jonny Butterfield from Clayton West.
Joice was the highest wicket-taking keeper in League and Cup last year with 46 victims, but I am reliably informed Richard Jakeman will continue as gloveman allowing Joice to concentrate on his batting.
Butterfield can fill a dual role well, while Craddock took 72 wickets with his leg spin and could prove to be a huge signing – depending on the outcome of county trials.
The bad news to Premiership rivals is that Harlon Haye will again be thundering in at one end.
DELPH & DOBCROSS are always there or thereabouts and will once again surely be a force.
Grant Jones again skippers and they are waiting on overseas all-rounder Bilal Khiljee, who has still to obtain a work permit.
Carl Jump will not be playing this year, nor will Mike Smethurst, but surely more than making up for the latter will be Zimbabwe-born opening bowler Mathew Norval, who is English qualified and last year played for Swinton Moorside.
Irfan Zahoor, Bruce Cruse, Graeme Simpson and the impressive young Aaron Lilley are back.
Two clubs hoping to ‘do a Scholes’ will be promoted Hoylandswaine and Kirkburton, who both look to have invested heavily.
HOYLANDSWAINE are in only their second year in the League, having won the Cedar Court Conference and the Romida Twenty/20 last term.
Ex-Yorkshire player Alex Morris is captain, who is joined by his brother Zac and Kexborough’s promising teen all-rounder Ben Potter.
The big signing is Yorkshire first teamer Joe Sayers – but it’s not certain how much he will play.
John Ashton will be looking to back up the Conference batting and bowling awards with more top displays in the top flight.
Another well capable of holding their own are KIRKBURTON, who have tempted former county opener Matthew Wood from Honley, along with another high-profile signing in all-rounder Greg Lambert, who has made waves in the Bradford League with Yeadon and Spen Vic, for whom he scored seven tons in 2000.
Lambert is more or less a straight swap for Lesroy Irish.
The other newcomer is Yorkshire second teamer Charlie Roebuck who has moved from Broad Oak.
Wood of course will shoulder the bulk of Burton’s batting hopes, having hit over 1100 runs at Honley last year.
GOLCAR will be looking to build on winning the Romida Sykes Cup for the first time in their 118-year history.
Craig Horner, who confirmed his retirement at the end of the season, has now been persuaded to have at least one more by new skipper Steve Whitwam, who also welcomes overseas newcomer Leigh Kentish and keeper/batsman Eddie Wilson.
Kentish is a left-arm opening bowler from Carlton (same as Jeremy Brown and Tim Welsford ) in Melbourne.
Ex-Broad Oak player Wilson who scored a brilliant 97 in the Joe Lumb Cup final, will be one to watch this summer.
HOLMFIRTH have John Sadler all season as he’s been installed as second team skipper at Derbyshire, leaving his weekends free to play in the Drakes.
Last summer he hit five centuries, scoring 1,093 runs and despite missing a staggering NINE matches!
Skipper Gary Jakeman can also rely on new signing Andrew Gleave, who fell just 25 short of 1,000 runs last year for Micklehurst.
Other newcomers are Thomas Hanman, a fast bowler at Leeds University (and teammate of Matt Gummerson), who has played with Kent Under19s. And they have added non-EU player Javed Iqbal, who failed to arrive for last season.
BARKISLAND had a mid-table finish last year but have since lost Paul Winrow (again) and Alex Scholefield, both heading for Milnrow, leaving opener Simon Wheelwright as the new captain. Incoming at Woodfield are Indian all-rounder Dhiraj Goswami and Ossett batsman John Bowett, plus Gary Colman, who has returned from Golcar, and Adie Gawthorpe, from Holmfirth.
Bowett will probably open the innings with Wheelwright while Colman is a very useful cricketer, both with bat and as a slow bowler, and should team up again with Matt Steers in an all-spin attack, while youngster Isaac Pollitt, a member of Yorkshire’s Under 15s, promises much.
SLAITHWAITE are very much as they were last season, but with a change of Australian overseas player in the shape of Scott Pickering, a 22-year-old batting all-rounder. Pickering has been recommended by Matt Hughston, who plays for the same Sutherland club, along with former Yorkshire player Phil Jaques.
Martin Welsh again skippers the Hill Top men while Matthew Payne has returned after a season at Barkisland, joining former Scholes second teamers Harry Bryson and Tom Graham..
Bowler Ronan Bruce has had an ankle operation and may miss the early part of the season.
MARSDEN are the third of the promoted sides, having won the Conference play-off game against Kexborough last September. They too have strengthened.
South African-born Peter Lombard – now working part-time at New College Cricket Academy – has gone to Ossett and has been replaced by slow left-arm bowler Patrick Hartland from Auckland in New Zealand.
Also joining captain Matt Butters at Hemplow is batsman Chris Coleman from Middlesex, along with Ibrar Ul Haq, who previously played with Micklehurst but has been playing in the Saddleworth League. Another newcomer is James Farrell who has joined brother Alistair from Meltham.
BROAD OAK are another of the Colne Valley sides hoping they have enough firepower to stay out of the bottom two (only two sides will be relegated from now on, with two promoted from the Championship).
They have recruited West Indian born Australian quick bowler Romain Grenville, who took 50 wickets and hit around 500 runs for Shepley.
New Oak skipper Tom McCreadie will need him to at least match that to compensate for the loss of Ben DeAraugo.
Broad Oak have also lost Eddie Wilson to Golcar, along with Charlie Roebuck to Kirkburton and Jack Hargreaves to the Yorkshire Academy.
McCreadie’s other worry will be how much he can call on Graeme Hurlbatt, who has stood down as skipper but agreed to continue playing on a ‘less-than-regular’ basis.