BOBBY Cross fervently believes that Heywood will be one of a select group of sides challenging for the Central Lancashire League championship in 2012.
The season gets under way on Sunday when Milnrow – who finished seventh last year – are the visitors to Crimble (12.45).
And Cross is keen to banish any thoughts of the side only aiming for a top eight spot and making the First Division of the new set-up that the CLL are introducing on a trial basis next year.
“There is no reason why the group of players we have got now can’t win the league,” said the 29-year-old Cross, who has been captain of the side since 2004.
“I would be hugely disappointed if we are not right up there. I think this is the strongest squad we have had since we did the double of the League title and the Wood Cup in 2006.
“Our new professional, Travis Townsend, is obviously key and if he has a good season then we will be right in the mix. I’m as confident as I have been for a long time.”
The 26-year-old Townsend, a South African right-hand bat who can also bowl some overs, is due to arrive on Thursday in time to play in the final friendly game at home to Enfield on Saturday (1pm).
He comes well recommended from previous league clubs he has played for, Northern in the Liverpool Competition, Usk in the Glamorgan and Monmouthshire League and Ramsey in the Cambridgeshire League.
Townsend went to the University of Cape Town and made his first-class debut for Western Province in 2009, before focusing on carving out a career in the UK.
The new man is set to bat at No 3, behind openers Cross and 17-year-old Ross Zelem, with talented 21-year-old wicketkeeper batsman Danny Pawson coming in at No 4.
And Cross believes that quartet, if they show their true ability, are all capable of scoring 1,000 runs.
The accent will certainly be on youth with new 18-year-old recruit Joe Lovell, who spent last season at Milnrow after coming through the ranks at Royton, a promising all-round prospect who bowls off-spin and can make useful runs down the order.
Cross, Townsend, Steve Wallwork, Lee Grogan, Rob Slawson and Chris Kaye will bring a touch of experience, but it will still be one of the youngest first team line-ups in the club’s history. And that’s just how Cross likes it.
He added: “We have had a young side for the past few years and at times it has possibly been to our detriment. But this season I think it will be a good thing, particularly when it comes to fielding.
“A lot of the younger players have played in the first team for a while now, so they have that maturity despite their ages.”
Supporting that view are Zelem, 19-year-old Dale Latham and 16-year-old all-round prospect Humza Naeem, the latter being backed up in the opening seam bowling attack by Hamish Paterson, the 20-year-old Australian overseas amateur who is in his second season at the club.
“I think that Ross Zelem will have a good season and we saw in the friendly against Bury that he has got stronger and more mature,” said Cross.
“Danny Pawson has had his first winter off for a couple of years and that will probably do him good. If he gets into full flow he is as good as anyone around.
“Humza is a year older, and looks bigger and stronger to me, and I believe that Hamish will do a lot, lot better than last time. He has been chomping at the bit to come back and is really keen to do well.
“In fact, Humza and Hamish could be really important for us. I think that the problem we have had is that we have not knocked over the big players at the top of the order from other teams, so there will be a lot of emphasis on them to get a couple of early wickets.
“The fact that Hamish has now turned 20 and there are no restrictions on how many overs he can bowl is important, too.
“Humza is still limited in that respect because of his age, but he is a tremendous all-round prospect.”
Heywood will certainly be strong in the spin bowling department, with Lovell adding to the established Kaye and Slawson.
Kaye had a fantastic 2012 with his best-ever return of 92 wickets, taking his career total to 724, in sight of David Fare’s club record of 789. And Cross is confident that he will have another rewarding season.
“He is a lot better bowler than people give him credit for,” said Cross. “He varies his pace and flight, and a lot of players have tried and failed to hit him out of the attack.”
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