Heywood came close to pulling a rabbit out of a hat at home to champions-elect Norden, but just fell short of a major victory at a warm Crimble on Saturday.
Norden have made some major improvements to their team over the winter and maintained their unbeaten record with a three-wicket victory over their close rivals.
But they were made to fight every inch of the way by a young and largely home-grown Heywood side, and with Chris Kaye leading a late charge with the ball it looked as though, briefly, Heywood could defend their below-par total of 125.
But the lack of runs counted, and despite Heywood’s best efforts Norden overhauled their target with three wickets to spare.
The day had a dramatic start in more ways than one. Firstly, Norden captain Simon North was called away on a personal matter, meaning Norden were effectively down to 10 batsmen, then the region’s air ambulance caused a mini dust storm as it landed on the neighbouring BMX track to tend to an injured rider.
Heywood looked to have everything set up for a solid innings when Bobby Cross and Dale Latham put on 38 for the first wicket. But when they went in quick succession, along with captain Danny Pawson, Heywood were in trouble.
The main cause of discomfort was former Oldham paid-man Martin Smith, who was accurate and hostile on a pitch that seemed to be a little two-paced as several Heywood batsmen, including pro Farhaan Behardien – soon to depart for South Africa after being called into his country’s A team – were out playing aerial shots.
Only Andy Dawson seemed capable of taming Smith, but he when he was out driving for 27 Heywood’s innings was in a bad state and a total of 125 never seemed like it was enough. South African-born Smith finished with 6-33.
Two more Norden new-boys in pro Danny Salpietro and overseas Simon Harman got the Norden chase off to a decent start before Riley Paterson got rid of Salpietro for 10.
This left Harman to hold together the innings, and he looked every inch the professional cricketer-in-the-making in his match-winning knock of 68. He looks a throwback to the egregiously good overseas amateurs of the 1990s such as Temple and Tuckwell and played everyone with the proverbial a stick of rhubarb.
However, Andy Dawson removed Oli Makin and Steve Wild to keep Heywood in with a chance, then Kaye produced a subtle change of pace to have Harman caught and bowled.
This sparked a bit of panic in the ranks, and Kaye teased the visiting batsmen with a spell of high quality, picking up two more wickets.
At 117-7, Norden still needed nine to win but only had two wickets left to them and the tension mounted at Crimble.
But yet another Norden new boy in keeper Matthew Williams and bowling hero Smith kept their heads and saw Norden home.
Heywood paid the price for failing to score enough runs, but the difference between the two sides was the quality of Harman and Smith, the two ‘gun’ newcomers who have moved Norden up several notches from last season.
R Cross c Williams b Buckley 22
D Latham b Smith 17
D Pawson c Harman b Smith 1
F Behardien c Fitton b Malik 8
R Paterson lbw b Smith 9
B Thulborn c Makin b Malik 0
A Dawson c Williams b Smith 27
S Dawson c Humphreys b Smith 9
T Blundell c and b Salpietro 4
H Naeem c Williams b Smith 1
C Kaye not out 0
Total (38.3 overs) 125
Fall of wickets: 1-38, 2-47, 3-57, 4-65, 5-66, 6-104, 7-115, 8-120, 9-125, 10-125
Bowling: Smith 15.3-4-33-6, Buckley 6-0-32-1, Malik 8-2-22-2, Makin 4-1-11-0, Salpietro 5-0-18-1
S Harman c and b Kaye 68
D Salpietro c Behardien b Paterson 10
O Makin c Pawson b A Dawson 12
S Wild c Blundell b A Dawson 2
M Williams not out 18
H Fitton lbw b Kaye 0
D Buckley b Kaye 6
H Malik c Cross b Paterson 0
M Smith not out 9
Total (for 7 wkts, 40 overs) 129
Fall of wickets: 1-29, 2-45, 3-75, 4-97, 5-97, 6-115, 7-117
Bowling: Paterson 10-1-44-2, Behardien 10-3-22-0, A Dawson 7-1-26-2, Naeem 4-0-13-0, Kaye 9-3-24-3
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