As we enter the second-half of the season, we have a clear leader in Woodlands who are 41 points ahead, and will need to slip up on several occasions to be caught. The relegation zone is crowded with as many as four teams in the mix, and is probably the most open in years, writes Reg Nelson.
1- Woodlands (172 pts)
If unbeaten Woodlands replicate the same points gathering for the second half of the season they will be champions for the first time since 2012. New captain Cieran Garner has engendered a great team spirit in the side, and with experienced heads like Chris Brice and Tim Jackson around him, his transition has gone very smoothly. The overseas signing Brad Schmulian has made an immense difference with both bat and ball, adding a balance to the team that was lacking last season. The early batting problems from last season have been resolved as openers Tim Jackson and Sam Frankland have invariably made good starts, and their three spinners have been very influential. They start the second half of the season against New Farnley who has yet to fire consistently, but remain dangerous opponents.
2- Pudsey St Lawrence (131 pts)
It was thought that this term would be a transitional season for Pudsey St Lawrence given that they have replaced their departing players with young rookies. However, they are second in the league at the half-way stage and their policy appears to be again bearing fruit. Young spin bowler Archie Scott might well turn out to be the latest gem from their conveyor belt of home grown talent. His wicket haul is remarkable given that this is his debut season in the First Team. Jordan Thompson’s availability has been a big plus, albeit he is usually restricted bowling-wise by Yorkshire. Skipper Chris Marsden’s niggling injury has negated his undoubted worth to the team, and in the circumstances the team has done well to be in such a high position for much of the time. A late addition to the team comes in the shape of wicket-keeper/batsman Joel Curtis They won’t get easy points at Methley on Saturday despite their opponent’s plight at the bottom.
3- Bradford & Bingley (126 pts)
Bradford & Bingley have had a few mixed seasons, but shrewd signings have ensured the team would be in the higher echelons of the league. A fit again Jack Hartley has spearheaded an effective seam attack with Bailey Wightman, backed by spin bowler Bradley Reeve who gives little away. The batting still creaks a little from time to time despite the acquisition of overseas batsman Muhammed Afridi, but down the order Ed Brown bails them out a time or two. This week they go to scenic Lightcliffe hoping to confirm their high placing.
4- Hanging Heaton (126 pts)
If one team can claw back 46 points in the second half of the season to catch Woodlands it is multi-talented Hanging Heaton. They had an early season wobble, and were also beset with nagging injuries, but were back in top form before their two-run loss to Cleckheaton. To win the league from this position they will probably have to go the rest of the season unbeaten, and take a few `maximums’ to put pressure on Woodlands. The array of batting is obvious for all to see, and in the bowling, Tom Chippendale seems to have added another dimension to his bowling. The signing of young Callum Bethell from Whitley Hall is turning out to be a shrewd one as he learns his trade in the rarefied atmosphere of the Bradford Premier League. They face a Farsley side this weekend that have two Yorkshire spinners that are capable of derailing them. However, they will be determined to bounce back this week.
5- Farsley (109 pts)
Farsley started slowly as availability problems took their toll. New recruit Ben Morley from Otley struggled to make an impact with the bat, as did most of their frontline batsmen. When Yorkshire’s James Logan was fit to play he made the world of difference to the team, and in tandem with fellow county player Josh Poysden is capable of bowling most sides out. Overseas player Pat Kruger arrived late and he soon served to be extra insurance in the team with bat or ball. It will be a good test for them at Hanging Heaton.
6- Cleckheaton (105 pts)
Cleckheaton have been an enigma again, but will probably finish in some comfort in the middle regions of the table when they should be top five. On the face of it, one might think they should be challenging with the likes of Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Azeem Rafiq, Nick Walker and John Wood to call on. One week they look an impressive unit, they next week they just implode. The thrilling win last week against Handing Heaton demonstrated what they can achieve, and also showcased the mercurial talents of Nick Walker. It won’t be easy at Townville, and it just depends which game they will bring to Poplar Avenue.
7- Townville (100 pts)
With skipper Jack Hughes back in action this season, things looked like they’d pick up. However, the side have lacked the zip, and consistency they have had in previous seasons, albeit they are still in a good place in the table. Harry Warwick has been a good addition, and with Jonathan Booth, have been the mainstays of the batting. Hughes has not quite rediscovered his past batting form, but is as effective as ever with his left-arm spin. The mercurial Conor Harvey is the leading bowler, and his explosive hitting with the bat has to return shortly. They face Cleckheaton this weekend in a game that could go either way.
8- New Farnley (97 pts)
New Farnley were tipped to challenge strongly this season after further recruits Andrew Waite and Dan Hodgson joined up at Lawns Lane. However, they have undoubtedly missed Simon Lambert who can anchor an innings, and the versatile Richard Atkins. They have also missed their genuine quick bowler Andrew Brewster through injury. They remain a side with quality players and most teams would relish Lee Goddard, Steve Bullen, Waite and Hodgson in their first four in the batting order. They also have Alex Lilley, who is one of the leading seamers in the league. New Farnley go to league leaders Woodlands who were probably going to win the corresponding match at Lawns Lane earlier in the season, when rain halted proceedings. However, it is just the game for New Farnley to show their true credentials.
9- Lightcliffe (94 pts)
When Lightcliffe defied all the odds to beat Hanging Heaton, it confirmed that they should be looking towards the top half rather than the bottom. They subsequently slipped into the relegation zone, but showed character to beat Methley to temporary move away from danger. However, their last defeat against Pudsey St Lawrence plunges them back into the bottom four and only 16-points above a relegation place. They have been unlucky with seam bowler Yassir Abbas picking up an early injury, but his batting has been crucial, particularly his match-winning innings against Hanging Heaton. Christian Silkstone has been a bonus with some hard hitting innings after his move from Halifax League club Triangle. Overseas all-rounder Suleman Khan remains the key player, digging the side out of trouble with bat and ball. The player availability problems in the first half of the season could yet come back and haunt them. It should be an intriguing clash with Bradford & Bingley, and another test of their character to get out of trouble.
10- Wrenthorpe (82 pts)
After losing their prolific wicket-taking opening bowlers Jonathan Rudge and Awais Ejaz in the close season, Wrenthorpe were expected to struggle. The fact that they were joint-leaders early on, said much about their tenacity under skipper Jordan Sleightholme. They have been on a losing run, but have not been outplayed and they appear to be up for any possible relegation fight. Irfan Amjad and Will Bates have been shrewd signings and have performed consistently for most of the time. It’s a huge match against Undercliffe, and even at this stage of the season they dare not lose.
11- Undercliffe (78 pts)
Undercliffe suffered bad luck early season with a bad injury to one of their prospective new signings Jason Marshall and the late arrival of their overseas player Khalid Usman. They compensated with the key signing of Simon Lambert, and Scottish international player Mark Watts and this allowed them to win two on the trot after an awful start. They have the talent to steer clear of relegation with the aforementioned players along with match winners Zeeshan Qasim, Farrouk Alam and Craig Wiseman.
They will have to kick-start their revival with a win against Wrenthorpe; otherwise it’s going to be a long, hard season. A key to their survival hopes is the availability of Mark Watts who is a contracted Derbyshire player, and of course Khalid Usman.
Cricket chairman Dean Skillicorn is banking on Watts’ availability, “He won’t be available this weekend, but we hope to have him for the rest of the season. He plays for Derbyshire Seconds and as long as he isn’t picked in the First Team’s Twenty/20 campaign we’ll be able to play him.
”Skillicorn is making no excuses about his team’s struggles this season, “To be honest we are still finding our feet in a very competitive, tough league. We had a massive hiccup with our overseas Khalid Usman who arrived late, and we have lost matches in key areas”
“We are where we are for a purpose; we aren’t blaming the weather, umpire decisions or bad luck in any shape or form. Having played the game long enough, you create your own luck. But, we’ve half a season to put it right- we have to win at least four games, hopefully against teams in or around us”.
“We need to get 100 points in the second half of the season- even when losing we can pick up valuable bonus points. Against Hanging Heaton we were chasing a massive score and fell short, but at least we picked up maximum batting points, and that’s what we aim to do.”
Skillicorn was obviously delighted with his club’s JW Lees Brewery T20 Cup win when they pulled off a surprise three-wicket win over Vitality ECB Club T20 champions Hanging Heaton, “It was a great team effort mainly in the field which in previous weeks this has let us down. It was very pleasing to see Farrouk Alam continue his good form with the bat from last Saturday. It’s bound to give us more confidence beating one of the `big boys’ like that, and Sunny Matharu chipped in with a couple of vital wickets. He’s something of an unsung hero”.
Skillicorn concluded, “We play Wrenthorpe on Saturday and we are taking nothing for granted. They have a class overseas player in Khalil Ullah Khan, and they gell together very well as a team. Jordan Sleightholme is a very good player too”.
12- Methley (60 pts)
The promise of pre-season at Methley has evaporated as both Yorkshire players Matthew Waite and Jarred Warner have spent time on the sidelines through injury, and other availability problems have also negated their progress. Despite this, they have strength in their batting to get out of trouble with Jordan Laban, Grant Soames, Marcus Walmsley, Adal Islam and Adam Patel all capable of big scores. Their latest defeat against New Farnley was disappointing given the modest target. Few punters would have predicted that Methley would not win a league match in the first half of the season. Luckily for Methley they are not getting cast aside as several basement clubs continue to lose. However, they must make home advantage count this week when they entertain second place Pudsey St Lawrence.
Premier League fixtures: Methley v Pudsey St Lawrence, Lightcliffe v Bradford & Bingley, Wrenthorpe v Undercliffe, Townville v Cleckheaton, Hanging Heaton v Farsley, Woodlands v New Farnley.