The winners of tomorrow’s top of the table clash between Hanging Heaton and Pudsey St Lawrence will finish the season unbeaten and win the league, believes St Lawrence captain James Smith.
The in-form middle order batsman, who became the first St Lawrence skipper to lift the league trophy in 24 years last season and has a wealth of experience in minor counties cricket, called the fixture one of the biggest he’s played in.
“Whoever wins won’t lose again this season,” said Smith, “I really believe that. Whoever comes out on top will gain so much confidence and will be able to play with so much freedom going forward, rather than looking over their shoulder every week at who’s doing what.”
“We’re talking about two quality sides that are the best in the league, who won’t have to play one another again.”
And quality both sides are. Alongside a host of his own players, Smith picked out Heaton openers Gary Fellows and Nick Connolly as two of the division’s most formidable batsmen, and praised the side’s bowling attack, particularly overseas star Muhammed Rameez.
“The opening pair are obviously top players, and from three down they’ve got such destructive batsmen that can really put you on the back foot.”
“Their overseas has taken 40-odd wickets and has made a huge difference. Having a quality left arm spinner in any league cricket makes it difficult for opposition teams. He’s been very important.”
A St Lawrence win would see them stay on course for a historic treble. Smith’s side qualified for the semi-finals of the Black Sheep Trophy on Sunday with a classy comeback at Sheriff Hutton Bridge, having already secured their place in the Priestley Cup final the weekend before. The big games are coming thick and fast, and Smith wants success in these other competitions to spur them on on Saturday.
“Every game from now is massive, we all know that. Sunday’s win in the Black Sheep has given us huge confidence, and we’re now in a position that we feel no total is big enough to beat us.”
“If we get some good weather and both teams play to their potential, which I’m sure they will, I think there will be a lot of runs scored and that it will be a really good advert for Bradford Premier League cricket.”
Despite Smith’s assertions that the title race will be over either way on Saturday, a St Lawrence win might just nudge third-placed Farsley into the conversation if they beat 2014 champions Cleckheaton.
Having only stayed up on the last day of the season last year, the Leeds side have been a revelation this time out, in no small part due to the scintillating form of 618-run skipper Arthur Price at the top of the order. Indeed, the match will have no shortage of quality batsmanship on display with 500-run Cleck’ duo Mohammad Khan and Chris Holliday also set to feature.
At the other end of the table, St Lawrence’s near neighbours Pudsey Congs will be expecting to secure back-to-back wins as they make the trip to Scholes, who are rock bottom of the league and 42 points adrift from next bottom East Bierley.
Congs will be in bullish mood after Saturday’s gutsy win against Woodlands, a result East Bierley themselves will be desperate to copycat this week and turn around a recent run of form that has seen them plummet to eleventh.
They sit level on points with run-shy Bradford & Bingley, who make the trip to seventh-placed Lightcliffe. Scott Etherington’s Bees will be desperate to bounce back from a defeat to Morley that saw them leapfrogged in the table and avoid joining the drop zone only by virtue of games won.
Morley, whose win pushed them up to eighth, will have a tough time repeating the trick as they welcome fourth-placed New Farnley.