By SCOTT McHUGH: There was always a sense, thanks to the brilliant pre-season success of NatWest Cricketforce Day, that Heywood’s first XI could do something good this season.
That they did is indisputable, but there were a couple of slack performance surrounded by a host of brilliant ones that just cost Heywood their place at the top of the CLL this season.
That blip came after they had entered the clash with Bamford Fieldhouse and their ‘superstar’ team in the LCB KO unbeaten and seemingly untouchable. That game against Bamford looked to dent Heywood’s confidence a little, and from there they embarked on a run where they lost four games on the bounce, were knocked out of the Wood Cup and slipped down the table while Milnrow and Walsden flourished.
What happened after that was little short of remarkable, and showed the gulf between Heywood and the rest of the CLL – Walsden apart – was very wide indeed. How Heywood and Walsden would have fared against each other – oh what a question! I suspect the they would have been tight games and I also suggest that the top order batting of Heywood would have been a different test for Dhammika et al than the rest of the league posed. But, it’s no use speculating and as many people said pre-season, if you finished above Walsden you’d win the league. So it proved.
I’m going to do three articles on the season (including this).
I’m going to firstly break down the team into five sections – top order, middle order, pace bowlers, spin and fielding.
Then I shall look at the top five performances as a team over the course of the season.
Finally, I shall break it down into three final sections – The Pro, Player of the Year and Most-improved Player of the Year.
I will then summarise the season and give some suggestions for next season. Just take it all as it is meant to be taken – one person’s view of the season, and enjoy!
Heywood’s biggest strength, and because of this strength sometimes their weakness, if you bear with me into a later point. Heywood have the remarkable Bobby Cross opening the batting, and a better amateur there probably hasn’t been in the CLL’s history. Some of his innings this season were simply sensational. Battering hapless attacks like Ashton and Oldham all over Crimble is one thing (he made this look easy) but his unbeaten, match-winning 77 against Radlciffe on a lively Heywood track was a treat. He is THE player anyone in CLL cricket should watch because of the way he uses his crease and can play both spin and fast bowling because of this.
Ross Zelem showed great sticking power throughout the season and eventually finished with over 600 runs. While he struggled early on some of the stickier wickets, when the pitches improved he showed the class we all know he has, playing beautifully at Royton to anchor the run chase. When he starts to play with more aggression he is undoubtedly a top-class player and a potential 1,000 run man.
Pro Travis Townsend found himself frustrated at times by the alien-nature of the pitches, and at times looked to get out due to this frustration. However, early season he saved his best form for Middleton, blasting 127 at Townscroft then 75 at Crimble to hammer the Moonrakers. And he was in brilliant form at the end of the season, fully deserving a century against Clifton when he played on for 99. In between, we shared his frustration at getting out to loose shots, sometimes advancing down the track at the wrong time, other times trying to make the impossible happen. When he hit straight he was excellent.
And then there’s Danny Pawson. At Middleton he was peerless and he put together some great runs early season. He was frustrated by lack of opportunities as Cross often scored big runs and Zelem occupied the crease, but he’s a marvellous player of spin off both the front and back foot. He’s a fabulous player to watch – my favourite at Heywood – but has to sometimes realise he can’t smack every ball to kingdom come.
This is what I meant earlier. The middle order at Heywood has been so protected in recent seasons that when the time came for them to dig deep and rescue their side – at Milnrow, against Norden, at Monton and against Rochdale – they just couldn’t do it. There’s a lot of talent from 5-8 in the Heywood side, with Dale Latham, Joe Lovell, Humza Naeem, Andy Dawson and Curtis Maguire all being batsmen capable of scoring runs. But none of them did when it really, really mattered, when the top order failed, and this is perhaps what caused Heywood the most damage in terms of the title chase and the Wood Cup.
There were times when it needed someone to dig in and grind out 50, but only Latham came close to this and that was really when Heywood were doing well.
All the players can play well, but there is more than being able to play flashy shots. There’s coaxing another 60 from the last four wickets, for example. Walsden had this to fall back on on a number of occasions. There’s a big chance for players to establish themselves at five and six in the first team, positions that bring with them a lot of benefits in terms of being able to play freely when the team is doing well and earn the kudos by digging in in more difficult times. Heywood did miss Steve Wallwork, there’s no doubt about that.
We had a number of excellent options with the ball this season. Hamish Paterson came of age and provided real bite and aggression and the sort of pace amateurs aren’t used to these days. In tandem with Naeem, Townsend and Maguire Heywood generally had a cutting edge.
Townsend was the unexpected bonus in this attack, as he proved in the first game at home to Milnrow then in the mauling of the Ladyhouse team at their home ground when they were dismissed for just 24. In other teams he would have bowled more, but in this varied attack he didn’t have to.
Maguire, when available, showed real pace and aggression, but sometimes pitched too short. But on his day he and Paterson formed as good an amateur opening attack as there is in the CLL.
Naeem benefited from being moved to first or second change, although he never seems to have as much luck as he deserves. It’s hard to remember he is just 16 and if he can find that yard of pace, God help the rest of the CLL.
Overall, this was the best pace attack in the league, without a doubt. When one failed, someone else stepped in and filled their boots. It’s hard to find fault here.
In other clubs, Heywood’s three spin bowlers would have been used to far greater effect, but with the opening bowlers doing so much damage so regularly, I think all three of Chris Kaye, Rob Slawson and Joe Lovell will feel underbowled this season. Kaye was his usual self when called upon but was never going to get anywhere near his 90 wickets of 2011 as there were so many options. He picked up a lot of key wickets – including pros – but at times looked as though he needed more overs under his belt to really get into the groove.
The same can be said about Slawson and Lovell. Two off-spinners in the same team is hard to accommodate, and at times both looked like they felt they should be bowling when the other one was. However, both took vital wickets at vital times – Lovell primarily early season, Slawson late – and both contributed greatly.
However, and this is my opinion, there were too many spinning options and too many people had to be kept happy, a difficult task for Cross. It will be interesting to see what happens with this next season, as three spinners is not sustainable.
At times, Heywood were simply superb in the field. From Ross Zelem pouncing at backward point, to Humza Naeem like a panther at cover and Cross peerless at slip and anywhere close to the bat, Heywood had it all in the field. There are few weak links in the field in this team.
Cross was magnificent all season, taking stunning catches all around the wicket. His catches in the rout at Milnrow at first slip were simply sensational, and no one can take a run to him. Link that to the cat-like reflexes in close of Naeem and the the agility of Zelem, and singles become hard to take.
Out deep Paterson proved himself safe under the high ball, and everyone has an arm. It’s part and parcel of playing at Crimble.
Once again, I can’t compare Heywood to Walsden, but Walsden would be a great team in the field indeed to better a Heywood side who set new standards this season, backing up their excellent bowling attack with magnificent and aggressive fielding.
Coming shortly – Part 2: Five of the best performances from 2012
- Heywood Struggle Again As Rochdale Ease To Second Win In 24 Hours
- Heywood CC Review Of The Season – Part 3
- Top Order Fails As Kaye And Lovell’s Super Spells Go Unrewarded
- Heywood Batting Woes As They Crumble At Crimble
- Crossy: I’m As Confident As I Have Been For A Long Time
- Kings Of Swing And Dawson Power Send Heywood Into Wood Cup Semis
- First Team Review Of The Season – Part 1
- Jennings’ Late Burst Leaves Heywood Stunned
- Edmeades Brilliance In Vain As Zelem And Townsend Set Up Heywood Victory
- Heywood Crush Werneth To Confirm Gulf In Class