There is nothing quite like the anticipation of a new cricket season.
And following weeks of rain, the cancellation of almost all pre-season plans, and talk of a blanket cancellation of fixtures in the days leading up to the weekend, it’s fair to say this wasn’t anything quite like the anticipation of a new cricket season.
We had four senior games scheduled for the weekend, and three fell foul of the weather prior to a ball being bowled. Yet thanks to the monumental efforts of our groundsmen, aided by club members assisting them throughout the weekend, we had Evolve Document Solutions Cliffe Park fit and ready for our 1st XI game on Sunday.
And so the 2023 JW Lees Lancashire League season got underway. And just like last year it began with a home game against the much-fancied Crompton.
Last year they had beaten us comprehensively, but we had later in the season taken the points in the reverse fixture, so we went into this knowing we had the ability to win.
Captain Stuart Maher won the toss and asked Crompton to bat. Conditions were grey and overcast but thankfully dry.
Professional Thikshila de Silva had arrived earlier in the week and was available for selection. Chris Oddie had recovered from a serious injury sustained towards the back end of last season and took his place, and we also saw a debut for Hammad Amin, who joined us over the winter from Clitheroe. Hammad would keep wicket.
GHCC Team in full – Stuart Maher (c), Hammad Amin (wk), Caleb Greenhalgh, Ismheel Shakeel, Matt Oddie, Reece Willets, Kasir Masood, Chris Oddie, Ethan Houldsworth, Kasim Masood, Thikshila de Silva
Crompton had lost opener Jake Hooson, who had returned to Walsden after one season with them, but they had been bolstered by the signings of Adam Good, Sam Rigby (both Royton), Aqib Zulfiqar (Bury), and Asif Fazal (Daisy Hill). All four were included.
Crompton: Aqib Zulfiqar, Sam Rigby, Mohammed Jamal, Denis Louis (wk), Asif Fazal, Harry Dean, Hassan Fazal, Simon Wright (c), Mohammed Hamzah, Adam Good, Muhammad Zuhaib.
People – Lots of People
I arrived at the ground several overs in. A steady stream of parked cars either side of Cliffe Lane isn’t something we’ve been accustomed to seeing in recent years, but having not even considered they may belong to spectators I turned into the club to find the car park almost unnavigable. Cars were parked either side of the lane and all the way up to the clubhouse. Committed, and fearing I may need to reverse back down the lane and out onto Cliffe Lane, there was thankfully one spot remaining, and I joyously backed into it.
A well-attended christening was in progress, and in addition to our own members, several match cancellations throughout the league and beyond had brought on a crowd. As I walked around with the little one, in addition to a good number of Crompton followers, I saw club emblems on show from attendees from Rishton, Whalley, Padiham, Darwen and Enfield.
All, it seems, had been ready for some cricket and weren’t willing to let their own matches being cancelled stand in the way of that. It was great to see so many supporting a fellow club, I will seek to visit each of your grounds at some point through the season (Padiham – am I still banned? It’s been a few years now).
Crompton Bat First
Anyway, there was a game going on. By this point Crompton were two wickets down with about 15 on the board. Both openers had been clean bowled by Thikshila de Silva, who was looking sharp.
When professional Jamal was out the same way soon after, and Asif Fazal followed the very next ball, Crompton were 21-4 and reeling.
But they have strength in depth, and in Denis Louis have last season’s leading amateur runscorer. Together with Harry Dean, he helped to start a recovery. The score passed 50, 60, 70, and we looked to have let them gain a foothold and a path to a competitive score.
Then captain Stuart Maher took the big wicket, Louis mis-hitting a shot which looked to be dropping short of mid-on, but a fine low catch from Kasim Masood ended the partnership. Louis gone for 35.
Dean followed soon, caught by Ethan Houldsworth off the bowling of Maher for a battling 20. And when Hassan Fazal was caught by Reece Willets off Kasim Masood, Crompton were 85-7 and struggling.
Thikshila de Silva came back on, looking to clean up the tail, but initially faced significant resistance from Crompton captain Wright, who took him for 16 in his first over back. But an over later he had his 5th wicket, bowling Mohammed Hamzah for 4.
Wright went in the following de Silva over for a counter-punching 27, and when Adam Good fell soon after for 7, Crompton were 127 all out and Thikshila had 7-45, with all seven wickets bowled.
The offering from Lynn and the Green Café is great, and I took the little man along and ordered him chicken and chips. It was excellent. I know this, because whilst it was cooking, the little man saw another child with a grab bag of Hula Hoops and decided he wanted some himself, refusing to even consider anything else. After spending several hours (about 3 minutes) trying to convince him otherwise, I bought him some Hula Hoops. He couldn’t have been happier. I blame The Hundred.
I ate his chicken and chips (highly recommended if you like stealing kids meals – that’s you Rishi) and sampled one of the new impressive range of beers on offer at the bar. The moment I finished the last chip, of course the little man then wanted it. Thankfully I had foreseen such an eventuality and ordered a second serving, so no dramas; he sat munching away at a patio table whilst I settled in to the second innings.
The Run Chase
On the face of it, a straightforward run chase faced Great Harwood. Ground conditions appeared ok and Crompton’s total was more down to a fine bowling performance than any real demons in the wicket.
Of course this meant an early wicket. Ismheel run out. I can’t comment on it as I didn’t see it, but it brought Matt Oddie out to join Caleb Greenhalgh. Caleb hit a six into the fence by the trees but was bowled soon after. 18-2.
Kasir Masood came in at 4 and knew the score. He dug in against some tidy bowling. Matt was a little more fluent and whilst the emphasis appeared to be to not lose any further wickets, the score ticked over at a rate that prevented pressure building.
Matt fell in the 18th over, stumped for 24 off Asif Fazal, with the score on 49.
In came Thikshila de Silva, and he instantly looked immeasurably comfortable. The bowling was tight, particularly from Asif Fazal 2-32 and Hassan Fazal 1-24, but he and Kaz were never drawn into false shots, keeping the score moving along whilst never looking in trouble. As we edged closer to the target, Crompton turned to different bowlers to seek to break the partnership, but this only had the effect of easing the pressure, de Silva hitting Dean for two big sixes on his way to 47.
Both de Silva and Masood (33) were eventually out, but not before the score had reached 123, just 5 short of the target. It was left for debutant Hammad Amin and Reece Willets to bring home the victory, and that they did, the latter closing out the game with a 4 through midwicket.
A great start to the season, with a big win against a side much fancied to be challenging at the top of this division come September.
This game was won early in the first innings, Thikshila de Silva blowing away the Crompton top order in an excellent opening spell. Whilst they were able to recover to post a presentable score, it was going to take an equally special bowling display to give them any chance.
On to next week, and hopefully some dry weather and a full round of fixtures to cover across all four teams.
On Saturday our 3rd XI welcome Bacup to Evolve Document Solutions Cliffe Park and our 4th XI travel to Haslingden.
On Sunday, our 1st XI travel to Colne, who lost at Church in their season opener, whilst our 2nd XI welcome Walsden.
On to the next one.