It was never going to be easy to predict how well Heywood were going to do in the new and ‘improved’ Central Lancashire League of 2013.
With two divisions of eight teams, an untried overseas player and a very young team, sure there were hopes of going one step further than 2012 and winning the CLL title.
As it turned out, this was just beyond Bobby Cross’ team as they faltered in the final few weeks of an, at times, gruelling season. Defeat at Clifton really knocked the last bit of stuffing out of the side, and the season ended with some limp performances.
However, if we pundits and fans had been told we would win the 2013 John Willie Lees Wood Cup, would get to the semi-finals of the Lancs KO Cup and maintain a challenge in the league right into the last weeks of August, wouldn’t we have snapped that soothsayer’s hand off?
Indeed we would, and it’s on these fabulous achievements that 2013 has to be judged as an outstanding success. There really have been some magnificent performances this season from some very dedicated young and senior players who have given us so much to cheer. That there has, at times, been some murmurings from the faithful at the poorer performances is down to raised levels of expectations and the passion of the supporters, rather than there being anything to really moan about.
Rather than do a blow by blow account of the season, here are some of my highlights of the campaign, and some individual accolades.
1. For those who were there, Ormskirk away in the last 32 of the Lancs KO Cup was one of the great days out. Ormskirk were, at the time, the team to beat in the Liverpool Competition, and Heywood travelled to their fine home ground minus pro Travis Townsend, who had injured his hand against Rochdale in the T20 two days before.
There was optimism we would perform well, but perhaps deep down we thought it may be too tough an ask without Travis. But what ensued was a team performance of guts and pride which proved that when the belief is there, Heywood can beat anyone.
The tone was set with some great fast bowling from Humza Naeem and Riley Paterson, but the key spell came from Joe Lovell. On a small ground, with players who like to hit straight as they are brought up on good tracks, Lovell ended with the figures of 9-0-36-2, and combined with spells from Chris Kaye and Lee Grogan – and a tight last over from Andy Dawson – Ormskirk were restricted to 214-9 off their 45 overs.
Heywood’s reply got off to a flying start, with Andy Dawson deciding he wanted to take apart a quick home attack. He hurtled to 45 before being adjudged run out, but the damage had been done. Although Heywood lost Danny Pawson and Bobby Cross at key times, the middle order showed their true worth and some blistering hits by Lovell, in particular, got the away support roaring. When Grogan edged one for four to bring up victory, it brought forth real emotion from the fans.
A great day out.
2. The Wood Cup final was a tour de force for captain Bobby Cross. He was at his brilliant best to lead Heywood to another Wood Cup victory on their home ground. With the game going into its fourth day, Cross held the Heywood innings together to finish unbeaten on 88 to take Heywood past Walden’s target of 163. He shared a crucial fifth wicket partnership of 74 with Andy Dawson (35) that broke Walsden’s spirit.
The victory had been set up on the Sunday with a superb performance with the ball and in the field. Pick of the bowlers was Chris Kaye, who finished with 3-12 off 10 overs, while Riley Paterson bowled superbly to pick up 3-32. To beat the best team in the league like this was a fantastic achievement.
3. Littleborough had made victory look easy at Crimble in May, but come the first trip to Hare Hill, Littleborough ran into a very different Heywood side. Travis Townsend and Danny Pawson showed every bit of their class as they shared a 145-run partnership to help Heywood chase down Boro’s 201-7 off 45 overs.
Boro’s experienced attack was rendered virtually ineffective by Townsend and Pawson, Travis falling for 74 and Pawson finishing unbeaten on 82. Home all-rounder Chris Schofield was left resorting to increasingly desperate appeals as the pair made scoring look easy and Heywood won by a massive seven wickets. Boro looked a laboured side in the field as they were manoeuvred all over the big old ground.
There were a few poor performances over the course of the season, mostly at home where Heywood lost half of their league games. Home is supposed to be a fortress, and Crimble should offer natural advantages to a side used to playing on it. However, too often Heywood were made to look like strangers.
Perhaps the worst performance of the season came at home to Rochdale, although that is no shame as Rochdale are potentially the team to watch over the season. In the first game, Heywood made Dale Highton look like Derek Underwood as the middle and lower order batted appallingly around deputy pro Brad Moses and were held to just 162-9. Although the bowlers – particularly Humza Naeem – tried to wrestle the game back Heywood’s way, there were just not enough runs on the board.
Losing twice at home to Norden was disappointing, but two excellent victories at Woodhouse Lane negated this. And losing to Walsden at Scott Street after superb performances from Kaye and Lovell hurt hard.
INNINGS OF THE SEASON
There were contenders – Bobby Cross’ century at Norden, big runs from Ross Zelem at Middleton, Travis Townsend hitting form at Littleborough and Woodhouse Lane – but Danny Pawson’s knock at Barnoldswick in the Lancs KO Cup quarter-final was exceptional.
Heywood were chasing a big total of 236 to win, but Ross Zelem and Pawson put on 152 to set up victory. Pawson was in inspired form, smashing the home attack all over the ground and running superbly with his young partner-in-crime.
We expect a lot from Danny, which is a lot of responsibility for the young man especially with the demands of captaincy on his shoulders, but this innings showed why we hold him in such high regard.
BEST BOWLING OF THE SEASON
Again, numerous contenders, but for me it was Lovell’s performance at Ormskirk. Yes, Humza Naeem shone despite being surrounded by some of Lancashire’s brightest stars, but Lovell showed control and a mastery of his art that belied his 19 years. He defended the small, straight boundaries like a veteran.
FIELDING OF THE SEASON
We go way back to Middleton in the second match of the season for Humza Naeem’s two bits of magic in the deep. Firstly, he held a stunning catch on the boundary, making ground and diving to catch stand-in pro Brad Wadlan.
Then he pulled off an incredible catch to send back Grant Jones, caught and bowled with his right hand after is looked like the ball was past him. Tremendous stuff.
In summing up, this was, despite the downsides of having to play the same teams week in, week out, an excellent season for Heywood. The ground was in fabulous condition thanks to the work of so many volunteers, teas were excellent, the bar was well staffed and the weather was even quite good.
On the back of it, Bobby Cross and his team served up some memorable moments, most notably the Wood Cup final victory.
That we didn’t sustain our league challenge right to the end is nothing to be ashamed of. In Walsden, Heywood came up against a very strong side, and teams like Norden and Rochdale showed that they have plenty to offer in the coming seasons.
Heywood basically ran out of a bit of steam, lacked a bit of experience in the middle order and were occasionally left asking for more from the top order and professional Travis Townsend when the chips were down.
But to ask for much more would be grotesque. We have cheered on the team and enjoyed its success, and need to understand that it is young and will benefit from extra experience.
Here’s to more of the same in 2014.
Part II – My look at the rest of the league, appraisal of the new CLL structure and thoughts on the future.
- Heywood Name Youthful Team For Friday’s T20 Clash
- Weekend Preview: Cross Challeneges Heywood To Keep Momentum Going
- Kaye And Slawson Hold Nerve As Heywood Win Thriller With Scorecard (Full Report And Pics On Monday)
- Heywood CC Review Of The Season – Part 2
- Cross: Young Team Ready For JW Lees Wood Cup Final Challenge
- Five Points For Heywood But Royton Push Us Close
- Townsend Knocks Over Littleborough, Before Zelem, Cross And Pawson See Heywood To Five-Point Victory
- Cross In Top Form As Heywood Cruise Past Flixton
- JW LEES WOOD CUP: Cross Leads Heywood Home
- Lovell Keeps It Tight To Send Horwich Into A Tail Spin