BY STEVE MCHUGH: Heywood Cricket Club will be praying that the rain relents for an important early season double header this weekend (1.30).
The whole of the Central Lancashire League programme was washed out for a second successive week last Sunday, when Heywood’s proposed home clash with Unsworth became an inevitable victim despite enthusiastic work by the groundstaff throughout the morning.
Now Heywood have their sights set on two games featuring clubs being tipped to make an impact in the CLL title race.
They entertain Royton on Saturday in a repeat of the last game of the 2011 season, when Heywood pipped the Oldham area side to fifth place in the table earning a place in this year’s Lancashire Cricket Board KO Cup.
On Sunday they go to Middleton, last year’s runners-up to Norden and winners of the John Willie Lees Wood Cup, underlining their powerful credentials.
Royton’s professional is Mohammed Zaman Khan, who is a former paid man with Littleborough and Crompton in the CLL and who has also spent two seasons with Cleckheaton in the Bradford League.
The Pakistan all-rounder is regarded as a shrewd signing for Royton, for whom he was deputy professional on the 2011 final day at Crimble and took five wickets with his off-spin – only to then see his side fail to reach their victory target of 84 by just one run.
Middleton’s professional is prolific South African batsman Michael Smith, in his second permanent engagement at Towncroft after missing the opening day defeat at Radcliffe.
Smith, who has arrived back in England after rumours that he would not be returning, last year hit 97 in the league game at Crimble in June and 55 in the return match at Towncroft in August, topping the league averages with 1,615 runs at an average of 70.22.
A big capture for Middleton is all-rounder Tom Hardman, who came through the junior ranks at Heywood. But he missed the opening day defeat at Radcliffe and his early season appearances are set to be limited owing to university commitments.
Heywood’s own professional Travis Townsend had another successful stand-in stint for Barrow in the Northern Premier League last Saturday, claiming two wickets as Chorley were bowled out for 69.
And although the South African failed with the bat, being adjudged lbw for a duck, Barrow still cantered to victory by five wickets.
Heywood will have a full-strength squad to choose from for the Royton and Middleton games, with Lee Grogan and Steve Wallwork back after being unavailable for the Unsworth abandonment.
Their return will also have an impact on the second team, who are top of their division after winning their opening two games of the season.
Simon Dawson has a prior engagement but skipper Roger Smethurst’s men will be in confident mood for the tough tests, particularly at home to Middleton on Sunday against the side which won the Second Division title in 2011.
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