The Huddersfield Cricket League season begins this weekend and Huddersfield Hub asked former Examiner sports editor Mel Booth to take us through a season preview.
Mel, 62, has been involved in the local cricket scene for over 45 years. He played for Scholes Cricket Club, captained the side and eventually became club chairman.
Holmfirth-based Mel started covering the Huddersfield Cricket League for the Examiner in 2013 after the retirement of cricket writer David Lockwood. Mel himself retired from the newspaper last year having been Huddersfield Town editor.
Mel said: “I loved writing about the Huddersfield Cricket League. It’s a prestigious league and there are lots of great stories, clubs and players. It’s a very historic league with many clubs stretching back to the 1800s.
“Last season was difficult for all concerned and I think the league did the best they could in the circumstances. It’ll be good to get back competitive cricket again.
“This season promises to be a good one and let’s just hope that Covid stays away. The three divisions are really strong and that makes for some great cricket to be played.”
Mel has been the Scholes CC chairman since 2007 and was a Lady Sykes Candlesticks winner as a player. He is now an honorary life member of the league.
In 2019 Hoylandswaine won the Premiership, the top division, winning 18 games from 26 and ended the season on 119 points. Mel believes they will be challenging once more.
“I expect Swaine to be very strong again,” he said. “They have been the team to beat over the last few years.
“They have lost a good batter and strong left arm spin bowler in Gurman Randhawa. However, they have been able to bring in Max Morley who is equally as good so they will be well balanced. They always are at Hoylandswaine.
“Arron Lilley will also be able to play a bit more from what I understand. His current county contract makes him available for Swaine fixtures especially at the start of the season which is good for them.”
As regards who might challenge Hoylandswaine for the Premiership title this year Mel gave his thoughts on the chasing pack.
He said: “I think Moorlands look strong, they finished 2nd in 2019 and have signed Shoukat Ali who is a very good cricketer.
“You look at Golcar who have someone like Steve Whitwam. He is the record batting holder and has taken over 1,000 wickets. His knowledge of the game is invaluable to them.
“I also think Shepley will do well – they are always quite strong. They have signed an overseas player called Numan Akbar who is a 1st class player from Pakistan so it will be interesting to see how he goes.
“I don’t think you can write off Barkisland either; they have signed a few players from the Halifax league.”
On his own club’s hopes Mel is looking for Scholes to be as competitive as possible.
“We are hoping to have our two Yorkshire players Ben Birkhead and James Wharton available as soon as possible,” he said.
“Skipper Brad Birkhead will be looking to build on his excellent form of last season and, in addition to all-rounder Yaasar Imtiaz, we are expecting the three Brook brothers, Tom, Louis and Josh, to be very influential.”
Mel also offered his thoughts on who could potentially come up from the Championship.
“If you look at Shelley they were relegated in 2019 but I’d expect them to be strong in the Championship. I also think Denby look good. They have signed a player called Archie Greaves who is a very good player.
“Finally, I would say people should look out for Almondbury Wes who have made one or two great signings including Danny Moorhouse from Armitage Bridge.”
Mel was also delighted to see that the Huddersfield Cricket League have set up a Sunday league.
“New to this season is the Sunday league,” he said. “This will give players a chance to play when they either can’t play on a Saturday or just can’t get into the team. It’s good to see at least 10 clubs dedicating their efforts to the new league.
“I also think it will offer an opportunity for juniors who just aren’t quite good enough for Saturdays to get some real competitive action in on a Sunday.
“It’s worked well in the Halifax league so I don’t know why it couldn’t work here.”