PLAYERS, officials and fans of Church Cricket Club are furious after a weekend of high controversy which may have deprived them of the chance of winning their first Lancashire League title in 42 years.
The main grumble concerns Saturday when, with Church out of action, their main championship rivals Haslingden played Todmorden.
In an unprecedented move the Yorkshiremen completely turned around their batting order, with skipper Stuart Priestley, who has scored nearly 700 runs this season, going in at number 10 and his normal opening partner Simon Newbitt at number nine.
Earlier, young medium-pacer Hurr Abbass was allowed to bowl 11 overs at a cost of 97 runs, including 37 off one over, while pro Gyan Pandey, who normally bowls unchanged throughout the innings, was not brought on until after 18 overs.
The result was an easy Haslingden win which took them three points ahead of Church.
Church's league representative Jack Houldsworth said his club was "inevitably disappointed'' with how Todmorden had approached the game and said the scorecard told its own story.
He said: "Todmorden knew full well the importance of the game and this leaves a bad taste in the mouth. It was contrary to the spirit of the game.
"This is not a chip shop league and spectators are entitled to see a first eleven play like a first eleven. We don't think Todmorden fulfilled their responsibilities to the game. I have never seen anything like it in all my years in cricket. It affected other teams which are involved in the shake-up at the top as well as us.''
He added that the following day Todmorden had reverted to their normal batting and bowling order.
But he stressed there would be no official protest from Church to the League.
Todmorden captain Priestley could not be contacted for comment but club chairman Ian Highley said: "I assume he was giving the young lads in the team a chance.''
League chairman Malcolm Heywood, who was at the game, said: "I did not notice anything amiss during the Haslingden innings but I think most people on the ground were surprised when they saw the Todmorden batting order.
"But at the end of the day it's up to a captain to arrange his own batting order. I have no idea as to any possible motive."
He added there was no action the League could take.
- THERE was more controversy on Sunday when Haslingden and Church should have met in a potential title showdown.
The game was abandoned without a ball being bowled because of a sodden ground, though Church thought the wicket was playable.
Mr Houldsworth said: "It was no worse than many we have played on throughout this wet summer but Haslingden didn't want to know."
Haslingden captain Paul Blackledge retorted: "It was not fit to play. The pitch was dangerous and someone could have been injured. The two umpires agreed with me so it was three to one.
"I admit that, with us being three points clear, it was not in our interests to take part in the lottery of a 25-over slog."