FOCUSED captain Ben Raven-Hill believes bowling strength could be the key to Thongsbridge going one better than last year and lifting the Oddfellows Cup.
The 22-year-old’s Holme Valley line-up – beaten by Clayton West in the showpiece last summer – will be at full strength tomorrow and have home advantage (1pm) against their opponents from the Cedar Court Conference.
Thongsbridge have eyes on winning promotion from the Frank Platt Championship into the Drakes Premiership in the next few weeks, but they have faltered recently on the League front and hope a Cup success can jolt them back into top form.
"If we turn up and play our best then we will be very difficult to beat," said Raven-Hill, an English graduate from Manchester Met who is a teaching assistant at Longley School.
"I think we have a right to be confident because of the way we’ve gone this season and knowing we’ve got some quality in our team, but equally we have just lost three in succession and we need to make sure we turn up.
"You could say that Almondbury are playing us at an ideal time for them, because we have just lost what was a healthy lead in the Championship, but I am going into the final really hoping and expecting us to do well.
"We are mindful that Almondbury knocked over Barkisland, who are top of our division, en route to the final and they have clearly got some very good players who are capable of hurting teams, but so do we.
"It’s all about turning up and doing the business on the day. If our batsmen do well then we will be difficult to stop, because I really believe in our bowling attack."
Leading the way for Thongsbridge on that front will be Ijaz Shah and Iqbal Zafar.
Shah has several five-fors on his summer CV while Zafar’s season-best of seven for 27 put the skids under Emley not too long ago.
Thongsbridge are aiming to emerge victorious from an important League assignment against Armitage Bridge today with momentum gained for the Cup.
"Losing in the final last year has definitely given us more incentive this time around and having home advantage is great – because it’s the first one we’ve had this season and I’m sure being at home worked in Clayton West’s favour last season," he added.
"Last year was a bit of a learning curve for me as captain, particularly with managing five or six bowlers when we normally use two or three, but we have picked our team accordingly this time and we are strong in that department, so I genuinely believe our bowlers give us a good chance of winning.
"Ijaz and Iqbal were two of the top three bowlers in the League last year and they are not far away this time. They take a lot of wickets and don’t go for a lot of runs and, when you are the captain, they are the ‘real deal’ to have in your team."
Raven-Hill admits the Miry Lane batting has not really clicked into top gear on wet wickets, but he’s hoping August will herald a return to better weather and more prolific run-gathering.
"We have struggled at times to put up big scores, but we do have decent players," he said.
"Guy Parkin is an experienced player, although he came back to the game only last year after a long break. He’s had a couple of 30s and 40s and we feel like he’s ready to press on a bit, hopefully starting in the final.
"My brother Tom is also looking in good nick again, so hopefully there will be something from him, but I don’t think we are on our own with batsmen struggling to get lots of runs, it seems to be across the League.
"We’ve got the likes of Alex Kemp, Tom Kemp, Max Berry and Richard Wagstaff who are all much more capable than their season’s stats would suggest – so we know we’ve got lads who have done it in the past and are good players itching to perform."
So is a League and Cup double high in their thoughts?
"Up until three weeks ago we had a healthy lead at the top of the table, so we have to turn our recent form around if we want to go up," he answered.
"We definitely have aspirations to go up, even though we know we’ve won some games when other people have been rained off, but we are the sort of team who, if we get only 120 for instance, have the bowling attack to knock teams over – we have proved that several times and done it against good opposition.
"I was asked the other day whether I’d prefer six points against Armitage Bridge or the Cup win and my honest answer was the points, but everyone loves a Cup final and, having lost out last time, we are desperate to win it at the second time of asking.
"When you look at where we are in the League and where Almondbury are, you would have to say the stats suggest we are far more likely to win, but we know what they have achieved in the competition so far and we know it’s essential we turn up with our best form."
The final of the Second XI competition, the Earnshaw Cup, will be played at Clayton West tomorrow between the hosts and Delph (1.00).