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Club histories
Updated: Wednesday, December 14, 2016 21:34
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BIRSTALL
 
by Reg Nelson

 

 

The first cricket club to appear in Birstall was Birstall Albert Cricket Club, named after the Prince Consort. They played six matches per year, including prestigious Feast matches against Holmfirth.

Local cricket historians claim that the team played near the Black Bull in Kirkgate as early as 1854. However, there is much conjecture as to whether this club is a direct ancestor of the current club.

This club had a small membership of around 30 people, and these saw fit to change their name in 1860 to Birstall Victoria – in honour of the Queen.

In 1860 Birstall Victoria moved from near the Black Bull to a site behind the National Schools, in Scott’s Field. The team remained here for 10 years (occasionally competing under the name Birstall Cricket Club) until notice was served for a housing development to take place.

Therefore, a ground move had to take place yet again. Eventually, the club settled at its current location around 1870. In 1883 Birstall Victoria embarked on a brief merger with Birstall Rugby Club. However, this was short-lived and the separation of the two establishments in 1885 signalled the official birth of the present cricket club as an entity.

Success on the field was soon coming when they had two thrilling clashes with Dewsbury & Savile in the finals of the Heavy Woollen Cup in years 1885 and 1886. In 1885 they won a closely- fought match against their opponents from Dewsbury when they scored a winning 243-8 reply to their target of 242.

The following year they retained their trophy in an even tighter match. After being dismissed for 112 they bowled out Dewsbury & Savile for 102 in the final at Batley. Skipper F Crowther had put Birstall well and truly on the map as a force to be reckoned with.

Plans for a grandstand were passed in April 1887 and around 5,000 people were reported as attending that year’s Heavy Woollen Cup semi-final defeat against Dewsbury & Savile. At least they had succumbed to opponents that matched them almost all the way in three epic ties.  

Money was ploughed into ground improvements and in 1892; the pitch was levelled out using pit waste from the local industries. This off-field investment seemed to have a knock-on effect on the field of play - when the club scooped the Heavy Woollen Cup in 1892 for the third time in seven seasons, defeating Batley in the final.

In a torrid but absorbing game Birstall scored 171 batting first which proved to be sufficient as their neighbours Batley succumbed to 144 all-out and 27 runs short. As the team walked home through Batley, some disgruntled opposition supporters pelted the team and the accompanying Birstall Band with grass sods.

This didn’t dampen the celebrations, which lasted for a full week and, as one local historian states, ‘the cup was hardly ever empty of alcohol’ as skipper A Ackroyd celebrated with his team.

Five years later in 1897 Birstall’s fine Heavy Woollen Cup record continued as they reached the final again, this time against Chickenley at Dewsbury. On this occasion they were beaten easily under skipper A Appleyard. Batting first their 133 was no match for a Chickenley side who marched to victory by eight wickets.

In the next 35 years Birstall would win the Heavy Woollen Cup on three more occasions:
1909   Hopton Mills  76                   Birstall            77-0    at Dewsbury
1915  Birstall            201                 Ossett             148     at Dewsbury
1932  Birstall            175                 Thornhill        171    at Dewsbury

Birstall’s last final before a crowd of 3,000 at Heckmondwike on 6 August, 1932 proved to be a memorable match. Birstall batted first and reached the suspension point on 153-6. In reply Thornhill had nine wickets down when the suspension was reached, but Perkins, the number-four batsmen, was well set and in a useful last wicket partnership with Halstead. 

Because of this, Birstall’s captain Thurmand took the somewhat unusual decision to resume their innings, but only 22 were added for the loss of the remaining four wickets. Set a target of 175, the last-wicket pair of Thornhill advanced cautiously and got agonisingly close, surviving four lbw appeals when last man Halstead was controversially adjudicated lbw on 17.  Birstall had won by four runs.

There was a bizarre story surrounding the 1935 Birstall v Ossett semi-final. The tie started on the Saturday and continued on the Wednesday and Thursday evenings without completion. Ossett failed to turn up on the Friday evening, claiming an agreement to continue on Monday had been made. Birstall refused to continue the match on the Monday, claiming Ossett had failed to complete the match on the Friday. The match was awarded to Ossett!

After this dispute, the club left the Heavy Woollen League and spent the 1936 season in the Leeds League before re-joining the Heavy Woollen League for the 1937 season.

The hardships of wartime were evident in the informal nature of a contract to engage W.H. Newell as pro in 1945. His fee was 25/- per match. It was written on the back of an invoice for a 12 volt 6 watt S.C.C. bulb from George Box Ltd.!
The structure of the Yorkshire Council was for ever changing and when the Central Yorkshire League was set-up Birstall enjoyed a newly found stability.

In 1946 promotion was obtained from the Second Division as title winners with J W Lamb winning the league bowling averages taking wickets at a fantastic average of 5.56.

Three years later in the First Division E Snowden replicated this feat in the higher division taking 35 wickets at a higher average of 9.28.

Birstall were progressing as a club and in 1951 S Naylor won the First Division Batting Averages with 304 runs at 38. This appears to be a modest performance, but one must acknowledge that on uncovered wickets this was a mighty feat.

True history was made when Birstall Cricket Club claimed a remarkable treble in 1954: scooping the Central Yorkshire League, the Heavy Woollen Cup and the Wheatley Cup.

Led by skipper H Hainsworth who won the First Division Bowling Averages with 48 wickets at 10.02, Birstall claimed the league title for the first time. To illustrate their class in 1954 they also won the Heavy Woollen Cup for the seventh time beating Ossett by two wickets in a closely contested final at Batley.

The icing on the cake came when their strong Second Eleven made it three club trophies in the season when they won the Wheatley Cup.

Unfortunately, Birstall failed to build on this momentum and relegation soon followed, coupled with a losing Heavy Woollen Cup Final appearance at Dewsbury when Ossett took revenge with a five wicket victory in 1955. The volatility on the field continued when they won the Second Division title in 1957.

After some difficult years in the mid-1960s, the club started to plan for the future, and in 1969 a new bar was opened. Later in 1974 a clubhouse extension was then officially opened by Brian Sellers, the former Yorkshire captain, and in the following year the bar was extended.

The seventies were far from sensational on the field, but there was a remarkable sequence of Birstall bowlers winning the Second Division League Bowling Averages:
1975   Ken Haley                  45 wickets at 8.77
1976   Ken Haley                  61 wickets at 7.85
1977   Charlie Manby          66 wickets at 9.56
1978   Andrew Townsley     98 wickets at 8.90

Townsley completed a brilliant season in 1978 by also winning the Second Division League Batting Averages with 961 runs at 48.10. This performance was largely instrumental in Birstall obtaining promotion as title winners under the leadership of Charlie Manby.  

Castleford born Townsley was on Yorkshire’s books, playing regularly in the Second Team, graduating to two first-class matches for in 1974/75, and a handful of one-day matches. A left-handed batsman, Townsley scored 22 first-class runs, with his best score being 12 against Sussex. He scored 81 runs in one day games, with a best of 34 against Somerset. A right arm medium bowler, he failed to take a wicket in either form of the game.

The club gained a reputation of being a yo-yo club- finding it difficult to sustain longevity in the top section, and making little impact in the Heavy Woollen Cup. The only other silverware this century came in the guise of another Second Division title win in 1985.

Notable players with Birstall associations are Peter Ingham the Yorkshire & Northumberland batsman, and wicket-keeper batsman Steve Rhodes of Yorkshire, Worcestershire and England fame.

In 1990, Birstall finished high enough in the top flight to qualify for the Yorkshire Council Play-Offs, and actually won the competition, despite the all conquering presence of Mirfield.

By 1997 Birstall were a major force in the First Division finishing fifth in a season where Methley and Mirfield battled for the title. All rounder Paul Blakeley was their outstanding player scoring 519 runs and taking 65 wickets.

In 1998 Birstall decided to take a chance on the 24 year old New Zealand cricketer Eric Austin who had just started playing first class cricket as a wicketkeeper for Central Districts. He topped 700 runs in his first two seasons where he made his name as a flamboyant early order batsman; never taking a backward step and playing outrageous reverse sweeps and switch hits before they became de rigeur.

Later in the early 2000’s Blakeley was arguably the most outstanding player in the league. Blakeley, a right handed batman, and right arm medium-pace bowler played Minor counties cricket for Shropshire from 1993 to 1994, making 14 appearances.  

He made only one List A appearance against Somerset in the 1993 NatWest Trophy. He had a reputation of bowling extremely accurately and was very difficult to score off in league cricket.  His batting ability was unquestioned; often scoring runs when they were most needed. To prove his all-round class he won the Premier League All Rounder Award in 2000 and 2001 with 622 runs & 47 wickets, and 603 runs & 48 wickets respectively in successive seasons.

Like most senior leagues a Premier League had been formed and Birstall were very much part of it and to prove it they won the title in 2002 after being on top virtually from the start.

Blakeley was the inspiration and topped the League Bowling Averages with 51 wickets at 17.33. Paul Marlow, the captain was another key figure in the side.

Ostensibly it was a side with few stars but it gelled together well to produce a top team spirit. It contained a mixture of youth and experience and remained unbeaten for the first half of the season. They finally won the league by the end of August having lost just three matches.

The regular 2002 title winning side was Paul Marlow, Martin Pickersgill, Rob McFarlane, Craig Russell, Will Smith, Dave Fozard, Chris Purslow, Richard Sidle, Cameron Merchant, Paul Blakeley, Chris Hill.

Fortunes dipped a little, but in 2006 John Carruthers returned to the club after an illustrious career with Hanging Heaton. He had won every honour possible and was widely accepted as one of the leading pacemen in the Bradford League in the post-war era. He might have lost some of his fire but his experience would keep Birstall very much in the higher echelon of the league.

By 2008 Carruthers led a side that could challenge the all-conquering Wrenthorpe who were the team to aspire to be. After an early season victory over Wrenthorpe it was clear that Birstall were the real deal and the title battle would go to the wire.

The fact that they finally prevailed after beating Scholes on the last day proved that this was one of the best Birstall teams in history. Scholes were bowled out for 67 and Birstall knocked off the runs in seven overs without loss. Carruthers claimed 5-34 and Blakeley 4-25 in a commanding end of season performance. Although Wrenthorpe ran them close they were deserving winners having lost just the one league match all season.

Rob McFarlane’s introduction that season as a hard-hitting opener made a big difference to the side and he finished off with an unbeaten 44 in just 16 balls at Scholes – including 32 off the last six balls faced. Also, a highly credible seamer, he weighed in with 725 runs scored at a fair rate.

The top batsman was Indian Vikram Rathour who scored 818 runs, followed by another Indian Connor Williams who scored 765 runs. Rathour was a prolific run scorer at the first class level, scoring 11,473 runs at an average of 49.66, including several fluent, stroke-filled centuries. In his test career, he scored 131 runs in 10 innings with a highest of 44 against South Africa at The Wanderers.

Connor, a left-handed opening batsman was another Indian first class cricketer, who played for Baroda. His performance in the 2001 Irani Trophy where he scored 143 in the first innings and 83 in the second brought him to the attention of the test selectors. He was rewarded with a place in the Test squad later in the year for the tour of South Africa when he played in the Centurion Test.

The successful seamers for Birstall were Blakeley (56 wkts) and Carruthers who won the Premier League Bowling Averages for a mere 10.31 per wicket. Seamer Danny Busfield and spin bowler Richard Pearson both took 35 wickets.
The 34-year old Pearson represented England in two Youth Test matches in 1991, and went on to play first class county cricket in England between 1992 and 1997 for Northants, Essex and Surrey. A right-arm off-break spin bowler, Pearson's career featured 98 matches across the one and four-day formats of the game, where he captured 137 wickets. Birstall also advanced to the semi-final of the Heavy Woollen Cup before losing to Barnsley.

The titlewinning side of 2008 comprised of a pool of twelve players of - John Carruthers, Paul Blakeley, Paul Marlow, Sam Newman, James Keen, Matthew Butler, Connor Williams, Vikram Rathour, Robert McFarlane, Danny Busfield, Richard Pearson, Mick Kaye.  

Carruthers returned to Hanging Heaton in 2010 as Cricket Chairman and took Nick Bresnan and McFarlane with him.
Silverware proved to be more elusive but this did not hamper the exploits of Connor Williams who scored even more runs than before.

 In 2010 he scored 1064 runs at 81.85 to finish 2nd in the league batting averages, followed by 854 runs in 2011 when he finished 4th. In 2012 he took the Premier League Batting Averages with 960 runs at exactly 80 per innings.
Birstall struggled in 2013 and narrowly escaped relegation. This was despite Eric Austin re-joining them and contributed 748 runs. Austin had played in the formidable Wrenthorpe side which dominated the Heavy Woollen Cup circa 2007-2010.

The 2014 season was notable for Craig Wood winning the Premier League All Rounders Trophy for his feat of 523 runs coupled with 41 wickets. It was also notable for the club reaching the Jack Hampshire Cup Final where they met champions-elect Methley.  Birstall batted first and struggled all the way to 169-6. Only Austin’s determined 69 at No..5 took the score to respectability. Methley coasted to victory by 8 wickets with only Nick Kaye bothering the batsmen with a fine spell of 2-26.

In the early 2015 season Birstall made the momentous decision to leave the Central Yorkshire League to join the Bradford League. Knowing the value of breeding their own Birstall had great satisfaction seeing spin bowler Ben Twohig represent England at Under-17’s level, and then earn a contract with Worcester in 2015.

Birstall’s last season in the Central Yorkshire League was not a happy one with twelve defeats and a third bottom placing. Skipper Craig Wood was the only qualifying Birstall batman in the league averages with 421 runs at 21.05, and he also contributed 31 wickets.  Things could have been better if Eric Austin had been available more than ten matches- he scored 545 runs at 77.86 with a top score of 77.86.  

After a very shaky start to their Bradford League career, the club made a late flourish to their season to secure qualification to Championship One for 2017.

Nick Kaye was their leading batsman scoring 482 runs at 40.17, while Craig Wood contributed 382 runs. The cutting edge of the bowling was supplied by Kamran Khan and Alexander Debs who both topped 30 wickets.

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