GRAEME HURLBATT is hoping to bow out in style.
One of the Drakes Cricket League’s great servants for more than two decades, the likeable Zimbabwean born all-rounder has vowed this will be his final season.
And if things continue in the same vein as they have started for his new-look Broad Oak side (currently top of the pile after two games) then he can retire as a very happy man.
It is more than 20 years since Hurlbatt came into the League to play with Broad Oak, since when he has had successful spells at a number of clubs, until rejoining the Colne Valley outfit again last season as skipper and immediately helping them gain promotion to the Premiership after they edged out Marsden in the Conference play-off final.
Having overseen them into the top flight, Hurlbatt is now hoping to leave them with a legacy which will see them both remain there and prosper.
“The plan when I returned here was to get out of the Conference and into the Premiership which is where a club like this really belongs,” said Hurlbatt, who has performed with distinction wherever he has played, be it with Skelmanthorpe or Shelley, both of whom he helped gain promotion.
“Having beaten Marsden in the play-offs, when we were perhaps a bit lucky after losing to them in the League (Hurlbatt proved the inspiration with the bat scoring an unbeaten 37 in a low-scoring rain-affected clash), I was approached by Andy Roebuck (Broad Oak’s former chairman) and his successor Craig McCreadie and asked if I would do another year.
“But this is definitely my swansong. My body is starting to tell me it’s time to call it a day and other things are becoming increasingly important like my family, who are growing up.
“With that in mind I appointed Tom McCreadie as vice-captain this season who, in my opinion, would fill the role as captain – whether the committee see it that way next season is up to them.
“I’ve already told him he will be batting all season at No3, and now is the time for him to step up. Tom has a lot of ability and he has also an astute cricketing brain. He is already running the warm-up prior to matches, and there will be games when I don’t play in which I expect him to take over as captain.”
Probably the biggest boost to Broad Oak has been the return of Australian fast bowler Ben DeAraugo, who was undoubtedly the pick of the overseas men in the Conference last season and, but for his housemate and fellow countryman Tim Welsford, who played at Golcar, may well have lifted the Non-European Player of the Year Award after scooping a League-topping 87 wickets.
DeAraugo hails from Melbourne, and already he has dropped straight into the groove again this season, having started off with two successive six-wicket hauls.
“Having Ben back is such a huge asset,” continued Hurlbatt. “He has a heart the size of a house!
“He is obviously a quick learner, because when he came over last year he tended to bowl a bit too short to start with. But he soon worked it out.
“He does a bit with it, swings it and bowls at the stumps, and he’s a captain’s dream, because he hates it when you take the ball off him. He’ll bowl himself to death for you. And he’s such a massive team player as well.”
Big Ben finished last season with four seven-wicket returns and one six-for in the last half a dozen games. He also knows ‘how to hold a bat’ and it would not be a surprise to see him accrue a few runs this summer either.
It’s been a great start for the Oak with a 12-point maximum out of their opening two games, but Hurlbatt knows only too well there are much stiffer tests to come.
“We had two good pre-season warm-up games, against Golcar, whom we beat, and against Honley, who put out half a side but gave us a real wake-up call.
“We were lucky with the way the fixtures were drawn out with two of the less stronger teams to open with (Meltham and Slaithwaite), and obviously it was good to get two six-pointers, but we know there are some very hard games to come.
“If we have an okay season, we should beat some of the more average sides, but if we have a good season, we might just upset one or two of the bigger teams.
“We have a predominantly young side, but unfortunately I don’t think we’ll see too much of players like Charlie Roebuck and Jack Hargreaves, who are both playing for Yorkshire’s Academy (along with Gurman Randhawa who has transferred from Lascelles Hall).
“If we were able to include them every week, it would make a big difference, turning us from an average team into a pretty good one.
“But we still have a pretty young side, such as Eddie Wilson, who is still only 15 (and the grandson of former Huddersfield Town and England World Cup star Ray Wilson) and now the first choice wicketkeeper, having taken over the gloves from Simon Hoyle.
“I spoke to him during pre-season and told him I thought it was time to give Eddie a go, and to his credit Simon, who like Eddie was 15 when he came into the first team and incidentally, has never had a season off, agreed with me.
“This is the right time to bring youngsters in, and now is the time for them to learn, which they certainly will by playing against people like Matthew Wood and Ryan Robinson. Make no mistake, this is still a very good, strong League with a lot of fine players.
“I’m under no illusions about us winning anything, but I estimate that in order to compete we need to take 150 wickets and score between 3,500 and 4,000 runs this season. And I’ve got to reckon where those wickets and runs are going to come from.
“This is a fabulous opportunity for our lads to show they can step up to the next level.
“Our strength lies in bowling sides out for a low score and then knocking them off, and if we finish mid-table by the end of the season, I can walk away thinking we’ve done our job.”
If Hurlbatt does ‘walk away’ from the game as threatened come September, then a few clubs in the Huddersfield League will owe him a huge debt of gratitude.
As one of the good guys, he will be sorely missed.