Now that the Premier League season has come to a close, the spotlight shines on the Championship divisions. There are promotion and relegation issues to be ratified in Championship One, while there is a three-club relegation battle in Championship 2.
After looking to have made promotion a racing certainty several weeks ago, Batley are now third favourites after suffering three successive defeats.,
They went down by 65 runs against Keighley after Richard Gould had contributed 84 runs to his team’s winning score of 205-5.
Morley claimed top spot after an easy win against Pudsey Congs with Oliver Halliday (3-12) and skipper Matt Baxter (pictured, 35) claiming the major credits.
Bankfoot are now in second place after their crushing 150-run win over East Bierley. Skipper James Lee made a fine unbeaten 109 which was the cornerstone of Bankfoot’s 252-4. Lee hit four sixes and seven fours in his century and was well supported by Hamzah Iqbal (72).
East Bierley had no answer to the bowling of their former left-arm spinner Andrew Stothart (5-15) and Lee (3-34) as they were bowled out for 102.
The top three now looks like this-
1 Morley 244 points
2 Bankfoot 240 points
3 Batley 235 points
Morley has a tricky away match at Baildon who could make it really difficult for them at Jenny Lane. If their Australian Blair Oakley fires and Jonny Reynolds makes one of his trademark big innings, it could be very interesting. However, Baildon have a habit of folding on occasions, and last week was a prime example when they lost to Gomersal by six-wickets.
Simon Barraclough, the Morley Secretary, is well aware of the threat of Baildon, “We are looking forward to the game and it's fantastic for the league that it’s all come down to the last game. Last Sunday showed us that there will inevitably be twist and turns on the last day for all three teams.
“Baildon will provide a stiff challenge and we won’t underestimate them with the quality players they have in their team. We are just looking to take an excellent performance against Pudsey Congs in to the final game. Saturday was a typical team performance with all the team contributing and it’s that team ethic that has been our strength this season”.
“The club has been buzzing on and off the field this year with our function room refurb, and the encouraging number of volunteers coming forward to do their bit. It’s been great to see, and a win on Saturday would just be the icing on the cake. The forecast looks good and so we should have a bumper crowd up at Jenny Lane, especially with Premier league fixtures now complete a week early”.
Barraclough acknowledges the tough division this season, “It has been a very tough league this year with each club capable of beating the other on its day. The way the league has ebbed and flowed has been interesting to say the least. Teams fancying a shot at promotion four weeks ago now see themselves fighting to stave off relegation, it’s been that close. The top 3 have just proved to be that little bit more consistent and so deservedly go in to the final week with all to play for”.
Bankfoot go to Wakefield St Michael’s who have everything to play for in their desire to escape relegation, while Batley need to aim for maximum points at home to Gomersal.
This could be difficult for Batley if Gomersal replicate the form they showed last week against Baildon.
Callum Flynn led Gomersal to victory with a knock of 102, striking two sixes and 18 fours during a second-wicket stand of 149 with Phil Carter (46). This enabled Gomersal to pass Baildon’s score of 159 with just four wickets down.
As far as Bankfoot are concerned, their Chairman Greg Colehan is under no illusions about this weekend being a defining time, “It is a defining weekend for Bankfoot CC as both our First and Second teams are fighting for promotion from their respective divisions. As Cricket Chairman, our committee and I are mighty proud of our achievements as a club this season, and this is whatever happens on Saturday afternoon”.
“As mentioned earlier in the season, Championship One has been a real hard one to call with most sides being able to beat each other, and it is exciting that the title and promotion places are going to the final day”.
“We travel to Wakefield St Michael’s SM in good spirits, but we also know that they are fighting for their championship survival, so it will be a tough and competitive game”.
Colehan concludes, “We had a bit of a wobble a few weeks ago, but after good wins at Baildon, Batley and at home to East Bierley, it is in our own hands now. All the lads are looking forward to the game and both the batters and bowlers are in good form”.
East Bierley could still go down and will find it difficult against Batley conquerors Keighley. However, their eight point cushion on second bottom Wakefield St Michael’s could prove to be vital.
Ossett have surged up to fourth after their 125-run win over relegated Scholes. A second-wicket stand of 131 between Jack McGahan (79) and Harvey Anderson (58) set Ossett on course for a total of 239-7 in their easy win over relegated Scholes.
They end their campaign with a visit to the neat Intake Road ground of Pudsey Congs. The Congs have faded badly in recent weeks and are now languishing in ninth position.
The local derby, Scholes v Hartshead Moor should go the way of the latter with Iain Wardlaw capable of causing havoc to the home team’s batting.
Championship One Fixtures: Wakefield St Michael's v Bankfoot, East Bierley v Keighley, Batley v Gomersal, Baildon v Morley, Pudsey Congs v Ossett, Scholes v Hartshead Moor.
Most of the issues in Championship Two have been resolved, with Carlton now confirmed as champions to be promoted with runners up Birstall, and Adwalton and Liversedge now relegated.
However, there is a tremendous three-way relegation battle to avoid the third bottom place.
Hopton Mills (168 pts) are the favourites to make the drop, but if they had to win their last match against Buttershaw St Paul’s, rivals Altofts (181 pts) and Northowram Fields (183 pts) will need to gain several bonus points to be safe.
Coincidentally, Altofts and Northowram Fields clash this weekend to add to the intrigue.
Northowram Fields secured a thrilling win over third-placed Yeadon to give their chances of avoiding relegation a huge boost. Hammy Shahzad set up their success with 5-26 as Yeadon were skittled out for 113.
Yeadon ensured that Northowram Fields also found runs hard to come by as left-arm spinner Gareth Lee took 6-15, but they managed to edge home.
Yeadon’s league campaign is ending disappointingly after at one stage of the season looking like promotion favourites.
As for Northowram Fields, who reached the JW Lees Brewery T20 Group B Final last Sunday, skipper John Lister knows exactly what they need to do to avoid relegation, “We currently require six points to guarantee safety and avoid relegation from Championship 2! We are away at Altofts, so it’s sure to be a tough game as they have dropped below us in the table and are also in the relegation mix. It’s been a tough season for us - we have a very young side and the batting has cost us”.
“I believe our bowling unit is very strong, but poor batting has been our downfall (from the senior players I must add). A couple of weeks ago we probably looked favourites to go down, but we have managed to secure` back to back’ victories away at East Ardsley and at home to Yeadon (very tense just scraping home by one wicket) and we have therefore given ourselves a massive shot at survival”.
Lister, above, acknowledges the importance of staying up, “It’s imperative we do stay up. With this group of players we have should not be at the wrong end of the table and we know where we need to improve. Our philosophy as a club is to develop our youth, and to do that we need to be playing at the highest standard possible (no disrespect to the Conference). Hopefully we can finish the season strong and ensure survival”.
As regards the T20 Final, Lister says, “It was a great effort from us getting to the final. However, we just didn’t bowl/field to our capability in the final and Jer Lane fully deserved the victory. We had far too much to do with that bat and ultimately came up short! We enjoyed the occasion and would like to thank Birstall for their excellent hospitality and congratulate Jer Lane”.
Altofts went down by 17 runs in their clash with East Ardsley. Even an unbeaten 87 from Imran Patel and 39 from Sam Huitema were not enough as their side were dismissed for 217 in response to East Ardsley’s 234-7.
The eight bonus points Altofts received could well be enough to save them from relegation.
Hopton Mills were defeated by Bowling Old Lane last week who are ending the season with some much needed consistency..
Jer Lane, who won the JW Lees Brewery T20 Group B trophy last week, are in a cluster of clubs that might end up fourth or as low as eighth. They face relegated Adwalton this week aware that they their opponents had an impressive seven-wicket victory over Hunslet Nelson last week.
Other teams in this cluster are East Ardsley who travel to Yeadon, Spen Victoria who play relegated Liversedge, and Bowling Old Lane who have a challenging game with title-winning Carlton.
Birstall, who have young All-rounder Josh Haynes in peak form, end their campaign at Hunslet Nelson.
Championship Two Fixtures: Altofts v Northowram Fields, Hunslet Nelson v Birstall, Carlton v Bowling Old Lane, Jer Lane v Adwalton, Hopton Mills v Buttershaw St Paul’s, Yeadon v East Ardsley, Spen Victoria v Liversedge.
With the promotion place decided a fortnight ago, most of the fixtures have little consequence apart from jostling for higher positions.
Great Preston might have missed out on promotion, but they have more or less won two prestigious individual trophies. Tyson Freeman is way ahead in the batting averages, while his colleague Cullum Jordan is bossing the bowling averages.
They finish their season with an away fixture at East Leeds who can move up a position with a victory. However, the ten wicket loss last week to Sandal suggests they will struggle.
Gildersome & Farnley Hill are assured third position after making substantive progress this season. They should be expected to win at Brighouse who have disappointed this year, when they were expected to challenge.
Champions Sandal end the season with a free date knowing that their trio of bowlers Ryan Bishop-Perrett, Lee Geldard and Sam Noden will be a threat in the Championship, if all available again.
Skipper Kristian Shuttleworth, above, has moulded a good team unit and could do more than consolidate next season. Last week Noden continued his good form with a bowling analysis of 7-28.
Fourth place Oulton also have a free date after a season of solid performances. Players like Jonathan Henshaw, Jack Andrews and Joseph Sykes have all had `big’ seasons and are capable of improving their side’s fourth position in 2020.
However, last week they had an inglorious defeat at the hands of Windhill & Daisy Hill who have now shot up to fifth. Windhill should be able to stabilise their position when they finish their campaign with a home match with Heckmondwike & Carlinghow.
However, Heckmondwike hauled themselves off the bottom of the league with a surprise three-wicket win over third-placed Gildersome. Paul Cooper (57) and Adam Holt (47) led the way as they chased down Gildersome’s score of 70, despite the efforts of Josh Edmondson (5-20).
Crossbank Methodists are now in danger of finishing bottom unless they beat Rodley this week. Rodley could not cope with the batting power of Great Preston last week who amassed 318-8.
Conference Fixtures: Brighouse v Gildersome & Farnley Hill, Crossbank Methodists v Rodley, East Leeds v Great Preston, Windhill & Daisy Hill v Heckmondwike & Carlinghow. Free: Sandal, Oulton.