CHAMPIONS Great Harwood face a selection crisis with two crucial players out of Sunday’s league clash with Ribblesdale Wanderers.
Star bowler Stuart Maher is facing a few weeks on the sidelines after pulling a groin muscle last weekend, and opener Allan Armer is unavailable for another game after crafting a useful 44 last weekend.
Their absence heaps pressure onto the experienced shoulders of the likes of rejuvenated skipper Russell Whalley, whose sparkling unbeaten 89 proved decisive in Saturday’s narrow eight-run triumph over Whalley, as well as veteran Paul Houldsworth and pro Raouf Akbar.
And Houldsworth reckons the side can’t afford to continue to be without key men if they have any hope of overhauling a 25-point deficit to runaway leaders BAXENDEN at the top of the Ribblesdale League.
He said: "Stuart’s bowled brilliantly and Allan’s already missed three games in May so if you take your best bowler and batter away from the team you are in trouble. We haven’t got the depth of players at the club to replace them."
Harwood sit third in the table with six wins from eight matches, and owe much of that to the batting form of Whalley, whose knock against his namesakes took him top of the averages on 78. With 410 runs in all competitions under his belt he has beaten his total for the whole of last season by June, although last year’s effort was hampered somewhat by a nagging thumb injury.
Houldsworth said: "There’s nothing complicated about Russell, but he’s a class act. Everybody calls him a slogger but he just says ‘I’m a good slogger’. He gets runs and that’s what it’s all about. If Russell wasn’t in the form he has been in I think we would be below half way in the table. The pro isn’t getting many runs at the moment and neither am I."
He added: "Baxenden have got to slip up, to be honest, with the strength of the team they have got. They have got to have a pretty bad run or for Ian Austin to break his leg for anybody to get close. It’s their’s to lose already."
"Our biggest problem seems to be commitments. Every week we have got three or four different people playing for the first team. In the past it was always that you play for the cricket team every weekend. I know times have changed but we don’t have that anymore with Great Harwood."
Maher’s tight spell of 3/39 from 15 overs sucked the life out of the Whalley reply as they finished on 178/8 despite an unbeaten 56 from Lee Kearsley. Paid man Akbar also chipped in with three wickets - but he has been ticked off for some injudicious early innings shots after another batting failure.
A superb performance in the field dug Baxenden out of trouble as they eased to a 49-run win over OSWALDTWISTLE IMMANUEL in a low-scoring match at New Lane. Austin produced vintage figures of 3/3 off 10 overs and Lewis McIntosh also took three wickets as the hosts were skittled for just 76, despite late order resistance from Andrew Metcalf (18) and Joe Sipocz (22) and a marathon vigil from opener Daniel Metcalf (12).
For Bash, Callum Waddington’s patient 34 at the top of the order proved to be the best innings of the game, after Gerard Metcalf’s 6/26 had threatened to smash their 100 per cent record.
Mid-table Immanuel will be hopeful of bouncing back tomorrow as they travel to strugglers Clitheroe, while Baxenden are at Whalley.