KEEP CALM and carry on. That is the message from Pudsey St Lawrence cricket chairman Paul Hutchison to the ECB Bradford Premier League leaders, who are suffering a high-summer July wobble for the second year on the spin.
Back-to-back defeats to top-four sides Farsley and New Farnley have cut St Lawrence’s lead at the top of the table to just seven points ahead of second-placed Hanging Heaton, with the Tofts Road outfit enduring an unwanted sense of déjà vu after their fortunes last July when they lost three out of four matches to tighten up the title race considerably.
Looming away tests coming up at Woodlands and second-placed Heaton have further added to the sense of intrigue at the summit, with both sides beating St Lawrence during their rough patch last July.
James Smith’s side visit Albert Terrace tomorrow and go to Bennett Lane in a mouth-watering match-up on July 30 and despite a poor start to July, Hutchison says the alarm bells are not quite reverberating with gusto.
Not quite yet, at any rate.
Last Saturday’s 24-run loss to near-neighbours Farsley, despite a half-century from Adam Waite, had followed a narrow three-wicket loss to Farnley, when captain Smith hit 52.
The hope of Hutchison is that St Lawrence can now replicate their traits of early-season and come out on the right side of a few close encounters after being edged out in the past fortnight.
Hutchinson said: “We are playing against some decent teams who are on form and we are slightly off our game.
“We aren’t getting steamrollered by anyone, but have just been slightly off it and are losing close games, whereas earlier this year, we were winning them.
“But we are a year wiser and know how to turn it around. We will get back to practising that little bit harder and we also might have a little shake-up of the team also.
“We have some big games against Woodlands and Hanging Heaton and if we can get back to winning ways in both these games, we will probably see that gap come back and give us a bit more breathing space.
“Although if we continue to play as we have been, it will make it very interesting.”
One enforced change tomorrow will come in the bowling ranks with Ollie Ashford out for the rest of the season with a leg injury sustained in Sunday’s Twenty20 Cup semi-final loss to Bradford and Bingley.
The loss represents an untimely one, with Ashford having been in good form with the ball, but Hutchison says the club have the cover to cope.
He added: “There’s a position available following Ollie’s Ashford’s injury.
“Josh Wilson, who played in the first team for the whole of last year, was injured at the start of the year but is now back available, so he is an option.
“As is Jordan Moore, who played the first nine games of the season. So we have cover in the bowling department and is a case of who we decide to come in.”
SCHOLES are set for one of the biggest weekends in their recent history, as they take on the Bradford League’s top two.
After Sunday’s seven-wicket victory over Lightcliffe in the Priestley Cup – coming just a day after the league fixture between the two was abandoned due to rain – James Stansfield’s side now face champions Pudsey St Lawrence in the semi-finals on Sunday.
And though that clash offers the chance of reaching a major final, Saturday’s league match against second-placed Hanging Heaton is just as important for the Premier Division’s bottom side. Captain Stansfield acknowledges it will be tough against two teams that Scholes have failed to beat so far this season. But he remains quietly confident.
“We’ve got nothing to lose,” said Stansfield. “We have to go out there, play to our best ability and hope that comes off. They both like to play on a good wicket with quick outfields and small boundaries. Ours is a decent-sized ground and we’ll make sure we produce a wicket to suit our strengths.”
With lady luck now seemingly on Scholes’ side – Rizwan Ahmed was dropped while still on nought before hitting a match-winning 79 not out in Sunday’s cup win – Stansfield has no doubts they will avoid the drop in their first season in the Premier Division.
“Rizzy’s got lucky on Sunday, but hopefully it’s the turning point for him and for us,” he added. Fingers crossed we can go a bit further in the cup and survive in the league. I don’t think it will be a problem as I can count three or four teams I believe we are better than.
“Being in the semi is great. We’ve only been in the Bradford League a year, we got promoted straight away and now we’re in the last four of one of the biggest competitions about.
“It’s a massive step for the club, from the start of the season I said we had to aim for survival and a decent cup run.
“I’ve never been worried. We will be all right.”
In the other semi-final, Woodlands visit holders Bradford and Bingley. Further top-flight action on Saturday sees second-placed Hanging Heaton visit Scholes. A derby with ramifications at both ends of the table sees high-flying Farsley visit lowly Pudsey Congs. Elsewhere, Morley head to Lightcliffe and Cleckheaton welcome B&B. Fourth-placed New Farnley go to East Bierley.