IT was a quiet off-season at Pudsey St Lawrence – and with good reason, according to cricket chairman Paul Hutchison.
The former Yorkshire player, part of the Tykes’ County Championship-winning team in 2001, has a wealth of cricketing experience and has been around long enough in the game to know that successful sides are the ones who keep their changes to a minimum year after year.
It’s the maxim that brought Bradford League top-flight title trails to both Pudsey Congs and Woodlands in the not-so-distant past – and it is one which Cleckheaton seem to be adhering to as they chase a third consecutive championship.
For St Lawrence, you have to go back to 1991 for the last time they lifted the big prize, but when it comes to proven operators over several seasons, they have a fair number.
The likes of James Smith, Mark Robertshaw and Adam Waite have provided sterling service with the bat with others such as Steve Watts and Chris Marsden showing their wares with the ball and the belief in league circles is that a real tilt for the title won’t be long in coming.
Hutchison is too shrewd to put his neck on the chopping block and openly say that silverware is the aim, but he does view the race as wide open.
And his side’s start has been sound enough, with Saints leading the early table after three games in an admittedly rain-affected first three weeks.
Hutchison, whose side visit Saltaire tomorrow, said: “I don’t think it is a one or two-horse race this time.
“I think there’s five or six teams in the mix for the title race and there will also be the spoilers out there – the ones that don’t win it, but who can beat teams quite easily.
“We want to be challenging and the idea is that we will be in the shake-up come the end of August.”
He added: “We have only one change with Oliver Ashford stepping out to go to Rastrick and having a settled side was always part of the plan.
“You look at the decent Congs sides of the nineties when they changed one player a year, once they got their team in place.
“It is the same as the Woodlands team when they were dominating. They were very consistent in their team selection.
“The idea when I came back was changing the team to get it how I wanted, but then making the changes as minimal as possible.”
Saints stole a march on their rivals by beating the rain to sink New Farnley last weekend, with Waite guiding them home after competing in the London Marathon six days earlier.
The game also saw young Josh Wilson make his debut and take two key middle-order wickets with the Tofts Road outfit happy to claim some belated luck with the weather.
Hutchison said: “It is similar to what it was a couple of years ago when Monday to Friday seem fairly fine and Saturday is awful.
“So it was nice to get out there last week and have good fortune for a change.
“Normally, it is us washed out and other people around us getting wins.”
Elsewhere tomorrow, Farsley welcome champions Cleckheaton, while Woodlands visit Hanging Heaton in an intriguing clash.
Pudsey Congs host Bradford and Bingley.