Mar 102013

HCC20120349Once you pass Christmas, there’s only one way for a cricket buff to cope with the dreary months ahead before we can once again play and watch the greatest of games. That’s to allow the mind to wander to better things.

Before the New Year, I was happy with the break we had from cricket. Now, though, talk in the pubs and bars of Heywood (Engineers!) often turns to how we will do in the new 8-team Premier Division of the CLL. And talk then, inevitably, has also turned to Heywood’s professional, Travis Townsend.

Townsend made a good impression in his first season at Heywood. There were more than just glimpses of his talent with the bat – there was ample evidence of it. And with the ball, he surpassed our expectations.

That’s not to say we don’t expect more. And Townsend himself readily admits that.

So just as we are looking forward to sun-drenched summer, how much is Heywood’s pro looking forward to his second season at Crimble?

“On a scale of 1-10? Probably 10. I like Manchester as an area and Heywood is a fantastic club, so I’m hoping 2013 will be an all-round success.

“In terms of a club setup, you’ll go a long way to find a better one and obviously I felt (on why he came back) like I had something to prove.

“Crimble is a lovely place to play and I enjoyed the support from the terraces. We as players really do appreciate the patio support and hopefully with the super-hot summer on its way, we’ll see an even bigger turnout.”

From Western Province, Townsend, 27 but with a strong English background, came to Crimble after successful seasons in Wales and Cambridgeshire and some experience in the Liverpool Competition with Northern.

Travis celebrates his ton against Middleton

Travis celebrates his ton against Middleton

He came as primarily a batsman who, it was reported, could bowl some off-spin. However, he surprised us all in his first match with the ball, taking 5-7 with accurate medium-pacers as Heywood got their season off to a great start with an 83-run hammering of Milnrow.

Better was to come with his finest innings of the season at Middleton when he smashed the home side all over Towncroft in a magnificent innings of 125 for a heavy defeat of the Moonrakers. As he said after his innings was over, he maybe could and should have got a double century!

While he performed well at other times, maybe Townsend was a little inconsistent and often seemed to throw his wicket away just when he looked set to dominate the bowling. As he told me, when I lambasted him unfairly a couple of times at the bar after too many Peronis, he was just trying to dominate the attacks.

He ended the season with 740 runs (@ 46.25) and 42 wickets (@ 11.81), a good return for a first season and one which, I reckon, he will surpass considerably if he performs to his full potential.

He told Heywood CC: “Obviously from an overall runs perspective, I know that I could’ve achieved more, but in saying that, I felt like I stood up in big games.

“I got runs (important contributions) against everyone in the top eight, however the rain did play a massive part in our season and our ability to bowl sides out for low scores made 2012 frustrating at time as batters.

“With the ball, I thought I did a good job, always room for improvement and I’m keen to use the experience in 2012 to make 2013 a more successful year.

“Runs wise, I’ve obviously got an idea what I’d like aggregate wise, but cricket’s a funny sport, so I’ll say this: I’d like to take as many wickets and score as many runs as the club needs to win silverware. Hopefully I can entertain along the way.”

A straight bat

A straight bat

It’s certainly not wise not to give away too much!

2012 brought many high points for Heywood, although the fact we were unable to test ourselves against the worthy champions of Walsden was disappointing.

That said, there were several performances that rank up there with the best I have ever witnessed, none more so than at Ladyhouse on a cool August day. There were also some notable lows.

Townsend continued: “My best moments were undoubtedly the Middleton games and the ‘Milnrow Massacre’ (they were rolled for just 24 with Townsend and Hamish Paterson blowing away the home side and takingfive wickets apiece) just because of who they were. It’s nice to dominate your rivals.

“Worst moments? All our defeats – the Wood Cup loss, Bamford loss, 20/20 semi final loss, Monton and Weaste loss, Rochdale loss, Clifton loss and Norden loss.”

Back home in South Africa, the first-class game is not Townsend’s main aim these days. Don’t take this as a sign we have got someone who is not focused on improving his game, however.

There is far more to being a top professional in the Central Lancashire League than being a flashy, county/ state player. We’ve seen countless pros who have either underachieved (Danny Morrison/ Hansie Cronje, to single out Norden for example) and countless who have understood what being a pro is about (our own Colin Lever, Clinton Perrin, even Monton’s Paul Green).

I thoroughly believe we have got someone who understands what being the paid man is in Townsend.

As he says: “I’m not involved with the first class side anymore in Western Province. My focus has solely gone into England.

“But whilst I’m here I’m playing Premier League Club Cricket. The season has been okay, I’ve got hundreds and some fifties, but we’ve just come back from the Christmas break so we’ve got a large portion of the season to go.

“It is good to see friends and family when I’m back and obviously the weather has been fantastic. I suppose I miss the lifestyle of living in Cape Town the most, but I do enjoy the UK.”

These words mean, to me, that Townsend is thinking hard about being a professional, with all that comes with it. That means coaching and setting an example on and off the field, something he certainly did well in his first season at Crimble.

The fact he has strong views on the future of the CLL and its split into two divisions also enhances my opinion that he is committed to Heywood and understands the history of the league. His thoughts on the coming season further underline that.

“Losing Hamish (Paterson) this year is a blow. He was a big personality, a big presence as a bowler and a handy slogger! So it’ll depend how we handle that loss, but I would like us to be competing again this year and have a better showing in the Wood Cup.

“The split is good, but the only drawback is that there are probably 10-12 teams that could be playing in the top division.

“However, I understand that the split had to go down the middle. I hope the clubs who are struggling manage to turn things around as there is a lot of history in this league, but from a playing perspective, the change is good.

“I’m not sure if it can maintain being an 8 team league. I think eventually what will happen is certain clubs will fall away and the CLL will revert back to one division of, let’s say 12 teams.”

Time to draw this to a close. Suffice to say, I’m looking forward to the return of Townsend. I found him a man who is passionate about his cricket, and about Heywood CC. He was willing to give out advice, and maybe take on board some bits of constructive criticism. Above all else he cares. That’s crucial.

One last thing. Some of you may know Townsend is a Gooner. I thought it would be worth giving him a chance to share some thoughts on his side’s season so far. Not that he’s bitter …

“We’ve been up and down. We’ve showed signs of being a serious contender and then showed the same weaknesses as previous seasons.

“I’d say we’re probably 3 or 4 short in quality of squad depth and maybe 1 or 2 world-class players short.

“It’s tough to compete against Middle Eastern and Russian teams!”

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