TRYING to predict the winner of the Drakes League Premiership is a bit like trying to pick the winner of the Grand National, when sometimes throwing a sharp implement at the ‘Pinstickers Guide’ is as good a method as any!
However, if last year’s closing stages of the cricket season are anything to go by then one of the teams I would definitely be tipping to add to their silverware collection is SHEPLEY.
Brilliantly-led by Danny Glover, the Marsh Lane club banked both the Sykes Cup and Heavy Woollen Cup last summer in stunning fashion, and with a stronger-looking squad and the self-belief those two cups triumphs have given them, it will come as a surprise if Glover is not celebrating further success in 2012.
The only departure from the side which finished fifth, having taken five six-pointers from their last six games, is that of Amar Rashid, who has moved across to Hoylandswaine.
But on the plus side, Shepley have recruited former Yorkshire all-rounder Greg Wood who has joined from Elland, plus Arman Hussain, a pace bowler and middle-order batsman from Batley in the Central Yorkshire League.
Wood didn’t have the best of seasons at Hullen Edge last year, but still managed over 650 runs, and his spin bowling will give Glover yet another option, alongside SP Singh (who has had an operation over the winter).
Liam Wiles has been tuning up in Australia over the winter, and with Tom Denton being available most of the season along with Tim Rees, Wood and Singh, and Danny Glover leading the bowling attack (he had 81 wickets last term, and brother Craig 69), Shepley should go well.
HONLEY will be looking for another hat trick of Byrom Shield-winning seasons (they also won it four times in a row from 05 to 08) and although all the serious Premiership ‘pot hunters’ look to have strengthened, it would be unwise to bet against the canny Rob ‘Archie’ Moore and his proven winners.
There will certainly be no Tom Craddock this season (he is with Essex), but in his place Honley have recruited young left-arm spinner from Holmfirth Max Morley, and a left-arm swing bowler to give the skipper more variation.
Siddharth Sharma is a 23-year-old university graduate, and although Indian born, is now English qualified through residency, and has just moved here to work at Cummins.
He has previously played with Coventry in the Birmingham Premier League and Luton Town in the Bedfordshire League, and should give Moore an alternative to League prize-winning bowler Ritchie Howarth and Harlon Haye, who are both reported to be firing on all cylinders.
John Greaves and Mike Fraine are taking a back seat this season, and Honley are still on the lookout for another batsman, although Zahid Ahmed has returned from Paddock.
DELPH & DOBCROSS finished runners-up to Honley last season, just two points adrift, but lost four matches to the weather compared with the champions’ one!
If they do better with the weather this time, don’t be surprised to see them lift the Byrom Shield for only the second time (after 2003).
Matt Norvall, who played at Delph in 2010, has re-joined after a season at Swinton Moorside in the Manchester Association, and he has recommended fellow Zimbabwean Kevin Hook to sign on also. Norvall is an English-qualified opening bowler, while Hook is a top-order batsman, to play alongside Bruce Cruse, Irfan Zahoor and Faisal Butt.
Adnan Ghous took 58 wickets last term, and with Norvall in combo and the all-round talent of Arron Lilley, I fancy Grant Jones could get to lift some silverware this summer.
Batting should not be a problem for SCHOLES, who are delighted to welcome back former Indian Test opener Wasim Jaffer, while the club will again be skippered by Ashley Pamment, who led them to the title in 2001.
After a spell at Golcar, Pamment returned to Chapelgate last season, but mainly in the Seconds, where he won the Premiership Two League batting prize. However, he was offered the captaincy of the first team this summer, and admits he found the offer ‘irresistible.’
Pamment has recruited Adam France, with whom he played at Golcar, and rates him as a talented all-rounder, while a third new face is Liam Fletcher, who hails from Leicester.
The new skipper says he intends to blood some of the club’s youngsters this season, but they are also hoping for big things from the likes of Tom Brook and Tom Boorman.
Although Scholes have parted company with Mohammed Shahnawaz and Ibrar Latif, they still have the quality of Iqbal Khan.
KIRKBURTON were right there in the title hunt all last season and there is every reason to suggest they will be in a similar situation this summer, with much the same personnel.
Skipper Matthew Wood has lost Charlie Roebuck to Lightcliffe, but the former Yorkshire and Durham hopeful did not contribute much last term because of a back injury, and Kirkburton should benefit greatly on the bowling front from the signing of Craig Fletcher from Elland, who should be able to give Tom Burkinshaw good support at the front end of the attack.
Andy Smith came of age last year as an opening batsman in the Premiership (he’s spent the winter in New Zealand), and batting alongside his captain was responsible for giving Burton plenty of good starts. And with Ryan Robinson and Greg Buckley to follow in the order, runs flowed freely at Riley Lane.
Jonny Butterfield has been to India during the winter with the Leeds/Bradford University squad and will start his first full season since moving from Honley.
Another team bulging with batting potential should be ELLAND, who (after Jaffer), have recruited probably the top signing in the division with the capture of Lorenzo Ingram, the 29-year-old Jamaican batsman who has won the Bradford League batting prize for the last two years in succession.
Last season Ingram helped his then club Farsley finish just behind Division I winners Woodlands after scoring 1,140 runs (ave 87.69) and with a top score of 153 not out, all of which makes him a pretty exciting capture.
But Elland haven’t stopped there, as they have replaced Craig Fletcher (Kirkburton-bound) with Slaithwaite’s Ibrar Younis, along with two other batsmen, Niall Lockley (formerly of Barkisland and Lightcliffe and netting at Yorkshire) and Simon Wheelwright, who has also joined his ex-Barkisland teammate Paul Winrow, now skipper at Hullen Edge.
The ability to take 10 wickets may be where Elland’s deficiency could lay, but Younis will be backed up by youngster Jack Hendy, new signing Warwick Green and senior spinner Chris Goulden.
As if they needed it, HOYLANDSWAINE have strengthened their batting even further with two new captures this season, one of whom is returning to the Huddersfield League after many years starring in the Bradford League with Hanging Heaton.
Alan Mynett is a batsman and accomplished wicketkeeper – who made his name with Kirkburton. That’s the area which new skipper John Sadler felt needed strengthening. His batting (which yielded the highest individual knock of the year last season of 178 not out) is a bonus!
The other incomer is Amar Rashid (brother of Yorkshire’s Adil) who has joined from Shepley, and is a genuine all-rounder. Swaine have lost Calvin Flowers and Gary Montgomery, but Sadler will be pleased to see the return of leading wicket-taker Michael Cranmer, the Aussie finishing with 75 victims last term. Luke Potter is another new recruit.
GOLCAR had a steady season in 2011 finishing fourth, and with Steve Whitwam continuing to show why he is the best all-rounder in the League (he has now won the Jack Gledhill Trophy SIX times in the last seven seasons) they will continue to be competitive.
And this season they have significantly strengthened their bowling attack after signing Broad Oak’s former Yorkshire second teamer Jack Hargreaves to partner Will Hinchliffe in a genuinely potent pace combination, along with Danny Rhodes.
The Swallow Lane side have lost batsman James Sykes, but hope to have more than replaced him with Andrew Chalkley, a left-handed top order bat from Melbourne (from the same club as Ben DeAraugo).
Michael Illingworth takes over the gloves.
The enigmatic SKELMANTHORPE are also plotting a better return on their investments after finishing eighth last term, although they did reach the final of the Sykes Cup.
New skipper James Crossland will realise that consistency is the key and will be eager to impress that on his new recruits, principally Chris Hansbury, a 24-year-old Aussie from Subiaco, in Perth, where he is a teammate of Paul Davies, who was their overseas last season.
Hansbury will spearhead the bowling along with Crossland and Peter Lombard and all-rounder Alex Scholefield, who previously played with Barkisland and Milnrow.
As well as replacing Davies, Skelmanthorpe have also lost Haroon Rashid and Jordan Greaves, but have signed Ryan Mayes, Emley’s Matt Ramall and Lancashire all-rounder Luke Procter, the 23-year-old from Oldham, while Josh Ingham has gone back from Kirkburton.
MARSDEN provided last season’s ‘Houdini’ act when they beat Cup stars Shepley on the final day of the season to preserve their Premier status and condemn Broad Oak to the drop.
They achieved it with limited help from their overseas Honey Garg, and captain Matt Butters will be hoping to get more out of this year’s overseas, leg-spinner Imran Haider Mirza.
The Hemplow side who frequently punch above their weight have also recruited Tauseeq Raza, an early-order left-hander from Batley.
Chris Kilner and Jason Longmore will lead the bowling, along with newcomer Mirza, and Butters will be hoping to get a few more games out of Nicky Clee this season.
SHELLEY have tempted Bilal Khiljee away from Delph & Dobcross, and with their capture of East Bierley’s fast bowler Mohammed Azar Ullah look to be in better shape.
Khiljee is an excellent performer with both bat and ball (he scored 750 runs and took 69 wickets last term), while Ullah is a 60-wicket man in the Bradford League.
Shelley’s batting line-up will also be strengthened by the signings of Louis Sykes from Scholes and Nick Sharpe from Elland.
Promoted HALL BOWER are probably plenty of people’s favourites to go straight back down, but the Castle Hill club have replaced over half of last year’s Championship runners-up side, with Wayne Swift coming in as skipper.
And the former Primrose Hill, Elland and Kirkburton man has swept through the club like a ‘new broom’, bringing in ex-Scholes duo Mohammed Shahnawaz and Ibrar Latif, who are both proven quality Premiership players.
Also entering the Bower mix is opening bowler Gideon Foster from Todmorden, early-order batsman and leg spinner Shabir Rashid from Gomersal, and Ben Robshaw, ex Golcar and Lascelles Hall.
CLAYTON WEST went up as Championship winners, and captain Mark Firth hopes their recruitment of South African all-rounder Murray Spence will help them stay up.
No stranger to English conditions, Spence has impressed in the Birmingham League, and he will be joined at Back Lane by English qualified Kiwi bowler Michael Stevenson (a middle order bat).
A third new signing is ex-Almondbury bat David Swan, who will probably find himself in the middle order behind the Barber brothers.
There are several new faces in the fold up at Hill Top, where SLAITHWAITE are skippered by Ian Holt. They have lost opening bowler Ibrar Younis and look certain to play Ronan Bruce purely as a batsman.
New recruits are Kashif Talib from Batley in the Central Yorkshire league, and Australian David Hutchinson from Canberra.
Talib is an all-rounder, while Hutchinson is an opening bowler and early order bat who will be joined by Jamie Clayton (ex-Scholes) and David Longworth from Westborough.