SLAITHWAITE have a new skipper following the decision of popular Hill Top figure Martin Welsh to stand down.
After leading them to Conference glory in 2008 and ensuring mid-table respectability in their first season back in the top flight, the likeable Welsh told Slaithwaite secretary Chris Payne that maybe a fresh approach might not be a bad idea following an indifferent start to this season.
So up-stepped John Booth as the most likely candidate, and the former Lascelles Hall man began his tenure with back-to-back wins over Barkisland over six days in Spring Bank week to move the side halfway up the table.
“On paper we didn’t start very well this season, with just a couple of wins over Holmfirth and Elland,” admitted Booth.
“But when you look at last year, we didn’t have a single point to our name after five games and we still finished mid table, so I suppose you could say we’ve had a better start this time.”
Booth of course is no stranger to the role of captaincy, having skippered the League’s representative sides at both Joe Lumb Cup and White Rose levels, as well as having a couple of stints in charge at Lascelles Hall, which is where he moved from last season after looking set to see out his career there.
“I think my move across town probably surprised a few people, but I had one or two offers, and I chose Slaithwaite because they are such a good set of lads,” continued Booth.
“Players like Ian Holt and Welshy are just genuinely nice people, and Chris Payne was a big influence in me moving to Hill Top,” admitted the 42-year-old, who is also now well-established in MCC circles.
He is the main man behind the up-coming fixture at Lascelles Hall when an MCC side will take on Dave Weston’s Huddersfield New College Academy team on Wednesday, June 30.
Booth will no doubt be a member of the MCC team, for whom he now plays half-a-dozen times a year, and for whom two years ago was lucky enough to go with them on tour to Brazil and Chile.
“It was a fantastic trip.
“We played in San Paulo, Brazil, as well as Santiago in Chile, and it was five-star accommodation all the way, and I get to play with some really good players at very good venues like Jim Love and Andrew Bairstow at Ampleforth College and Ashley Metcalfe at Silcoates School.”
Back at home, Slaithwaite are no longer in the business of employing ‘big names’ but they have enough players with sufficient ability to ensure they continue competing in the top flight and have been boosted by a couple of very good signings this season.
Talented Australian all-rounder Scott Pickering is probably the best overseas player the Hill Top club have recruited for many years, and has already plundered two tons and is now well on his way to 600 for the season (and that on what can sometimes be described as a not-too-batsman friendly track!)
Pickering comes from the same Sutherland club in Sydney that Matt Hughston (once of Kirkburton), and Aussie Test players Phil Jacques and Steve Smith hail from, and he looks set for a busy summer with Slaithwaite.
“Scott is a very good cricketer, and I’ll probably use him a lot more as a bowler than he has been, especially with Ronan Bruce only just coming back from an ankle operation.
“The bowling has been a bit of a problem up to now with Ronan missing and Ijaz Khan (last year’s leading wicket-taker with 41) struggling for consistency this season, and on top of that we lost spinner Dave Berry who has taken a season off (and is now playing Evening League cricket).
“Fortunately, Ronan is now on the way back (he took four for 31 at Barkisland last week), although my problem will be ensuring he gets back gradually because he’ll no doubt want to bowl 15 overs a game straight away, but we also have another new all-rounder in Bjorn Taylor, who came to us as a bowler, but is already impressing with the bat.”
Taylor, who comes from Sheffield and previously played for Shire Green in the South Riding and plays soccer for Goole Town, has just played five games for Slaithwaite.
After being recommended to the club by Holmfirth’s Darren Lockwood, Taylor made an unbeaten 49 against Shepley and was particularly impressive when hitting a half-century against Barkisland.
The other newcomers are GregAlexander from Holmfirth and Tom Graham from Scholes.
Booth is under no illusions as to the difficulty of keeping the Hill Top side competitive in the top flight.
“This is a new challenge for me, and whenever you take on a challenge you want to do as well as you can, which is even more relevant at a club like Slaithwaite, where the supporters are very passionate about their cricket.
“When you look at the Premiership, there is natural split between the top half and the bottom half of the League, and if we can finish at the top of the bottom half, I’ll be reasonably happy.”
One of the biggest developments at Hill Top is the soon-to-be-built new changing rooms with integral scoreboard, work for which has now been started by the building firm belonging to joint presidents Tim and James Garside.
Club secretary Payne explained: “Although there is no timescale, we are hoping to complete what is a substantial project by the end of the year, for which we are indebted to Claire Howe from Kirklees Cultural Leisure Services, who has co-ordinated things through Kirklees Leisure Capital Project.
“It will certainly be up and running for next season, and hopefully can be used by local soccer team Slaithwaite United, and local schools.”