Armitage Bridge are rather enjoying this Drakes Premiership cricket lark.
Only three years ago the Dean Brook Road club scraped up as one of five promoted clubs from the Cedar Court Conference, as the league expanded to allow in more clubs.
They avoided an immediate relegation in 2014 and, since then, simply haven’t looked back.
Progress on and off the field has been rapid, and even the big step up to the top flight for this summer has failed to halt them in their tracks.
Skipper Andy Gledhill is delighted they’ve become the ‘surprise package’ of the Drakes season and feels they can build on a joint second-place standing and a place in the quarter-finals of the All Rounder Sykes Cup.
“The first match at Broad Oak when we lost by six wickets was a bit of a leveller, but since then we’ve gone on really well,” said Gledhill.
“We have definitely surprised a few and we’ve been getting such good runs that a few down the order haven’t been getting much of a bat.
“I think this is a difficult place to come for some clubs because they don’t know the ground, the don’t know the wicket and they don’t know us.
“We’ve definitely given everyone a good game so far and, while we’ve got a tough draw away to Delph in the Sykes Cup, I think we still have plenty of room for improvement in our team.
“We have a good balance, a good team spirit, everything around the club is buoyant and I can’t point to anything that isn’t going well.”
Founded in 1839 and involved in the first ever league game, against Lascelles Hall on Easter Tuesday 1892 (it had to be abandoned because of rain with the Bridge on 46-3), the club have a rich and proud history and are planning for a fruitful future.
Work has been carried out on the clubhouse and changing rooms, with a new electronic scoreboard in place, there’s an outside patio area for a growing band of supporters and a much-improved square for the playing members.
The squad includes two New Zealand-based players this season in Jaycob Curtling and Dylan Steyn from Auckland club Birkenhead City, plus a fast-emerging Huddersfield talent in all-rounder Jack Hinchliffe, signed from Meltham.
Gledhill explained: “There are a lot of positives on the field and we are getting a lot of people down to support us, with the club being packed pretty much every matchday and people all around the ground.
“We are definitely going in the right way and we’ve invested a lot in the facilities, with the wicket going from absolutely nothing to 250 being a par score.
“The next thing we need are off-the-field nets, but I’ve noted a lot of people who haven’t played here before coming into the ground and just going ‘wow!’, so it’s a happy place at the moment.”
They’ve lost only to Broad Oak and Hoylandswaine (by one wicket) so far and they are enjoying the ride.
“Matthew West has been scoring good runs at the top of the order, and scoring them quickly (295 at 29.5), and the emergence of Jack Hinchliffe has been brilliant,” said the skipper, a renowned coach.
“The only thing holding Jack back at the moment is the face he can bowl only seven overs in a spell and then has to come off (he has 19 wickets at 12.89).
“Carl Jump adds a lot to our bowling attack, Danny Moorhouse is bowling really well (he leads the way with 24 victims at 16.04) and Jaycob Curtling didn’t bowl much last year but has come back and taken his share of victims with his off-spin.
“He kept asking to have a go last season but, when I brought him on, his first delivery bounced three times and he didn’t get on again!
“But he has really worked hard back home over our winter, he kept messaging me to say he’d got three-for, four-for and five-four and he’s come back and shown that improvement for us, in addition to his runs up the order.
“Dylan has come over with him and, typical of many first-time players here, he has had to work hard to adapt to the conditions, but he looks a classy left-hand bat.
“Both of them are unbelievable in the field, too, and I think that’s an area where we have improved massively as a team.
“Jack Hinchliffe has been a great signing for us, and I don’t think I quite realised what a good prospect he is until he started playing down here.
“I really think he could have a future in the game. He is only 17 and I certainly think he could go a long way with his incredible array of shots and his bowling, which is quicker and better than people think.
“He’s not just been picking up wickets, but cleaning up some big names like Nawaz, Cranmer, Joice, Baxter and Rashid, and there are more to come, because he has a lovely run-up, a lovely action and pace.
“Like I say, the only problem is having to take him off after seven, and I think we might lose some of these promising young lads because they are going to get to 20 and they are going to be used to bowling only short, quick spells. Sometimes you just don’t get the opportunity to get them back into a game.
“Imran Malik has been a good capture for us, too, bringing runs and experience from Linthwaite, and he is doing a great job in the middle order (242 runs at 26.89).”
The Bridge are also thriving at Junior level and Gledhill is confident the future is bright.
“We have 50 to 60 kids down to practice every Friday night and that’s something we haven’t really had for the last five or six years,” he explained.
“They are starting to come through and push for the second team, and we are in the fortunate position of having too many players for the second team when many other clubs are struggling.
“I know it might swing around again, but recently we’ve been glad of the double-headers because it has allowed players to get at least one game in on a weekend.
“Everything is just going well and, when people come down and spend their time and money here, they can see the improvements which are being made.”