LUKE Woodcock has finally arrived at Church - and steps into the biggest weekend of their season.
The new visa laws, introduced this year, held up the 27-year old Kiwi’s first visit to the Lancashire League despite him actually landing at Heathrow Airport in April but being put in a holding cell and sent straight back home due to work permit complications.
The all-rounder did wonder whether to come back as he hadn’t had any trouble in his previous four visits to England to play professional cricket.
But he and Church stuck with it, applying for a new visa, and he was greeted with big smiles when he finally made it onto the Blackburn Road pitch for net practise on Tuesday.
And he needs to get going quickly with Church in the semi-finals of the Twenty20 competition tonight - at home to Burnley - followed by the last four of the Worsley Cup against Ramsbottom on Sunday.
"I know it is a big weekend for the club and I hope I can do my bit for them," said Woodcock who plays for Wellington Firebrands at home.
"But I am just relieved to be here. I can’t actually believe it as it has been such a long time.
"I have just been sat at home for two months, keeping fit, waiting every day for the letter to drop through the door to say my work permit had been granted so I could get on a flight back.
"Getting turned back was horrific, especially spending hours just waiting in the holding cells, and I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone.
"I did think long and hard about coming back but, when I spoke to Church officials, they were positive.
"My season finished in April in New Zealand and it has been frustrating but I have been keeping myself fit and hope, now I am finally here, I can play my part."
Woodcock will not let the work permit chaos sour his experience of the Lancashire League, where he is playing for the first time after competing in Surrey over the last few years.
"I enjoyed playing in Surrey and played for three clubs in their Premier League," said the New Zealand A international. "It’s a high standard and Weymouth won the league when I was with them so I enjoyed my time there.
"But when I heard about the Lancashire League interest I wanted to come. I know fellow New Zealander’s Shanan Stewart, Brandon Hiini, Chris Harris and Craig McMillan were here over the last few seasons and they have talked highly of the league.
"And there have have been some big names in the past like Viv Richards and Shane Warne. The league has a good history and I am just pleased to be part of it."
And Woodcock can put his name in the history books if he performs this weekend for the Blackburn Road side.
"I am an all-rounder - a left hand bat and a left arm spinner - and I hope I can bat in the top four and bowl a lot.
"Also I have plenty of experience that I can pass onto the younger players and hopefully, in the two-and-a-half months left, I can help them."
Woodcock, who left a cold winter back home, continued: "I have looked at the league table as well and it is very close at the top.
"Eight or nine teams still stand a chance of winning the title and if we can get a run of four or five wins then we could be up there.
"But I can’t wait for the Twenty20 tonight as I have played it back home for three or four seasons and it is usually a good crowd, a good atmosphere and I really enjoy it. The main thing is though that I am finally here."
Mid-table CHURCH lost to a Robin Peterson-inspired Nelson on Sunday. The South African dominated proceedings taking eight wickets in Nelson’s five wicket win.
ACCRINGTON remain top of the table thanks to their show from sub pro Anil Rideegammanagedera - the man with the longest name in first class cricket. He was standing in for injured Roy Silva (calf) who is back this weekend.
David Ormerod’s side were struggling on 18-4 until "Ridgee" got going with the bat (81) and formed a strong partnership with Graham Lloyd (53) to secure a 54-run win.
ENFIELD missed out on moving into second spot with a loss to fellow title challengers Haslingden. Adam Bracewell made 48 in their 182 but Haslingden passed it with seven wickets to spare.
And RISHTON, with sub pro David Weisee in for the injured Aaron Heal, couldn’t see off Ramsbottom. Tiarnan Hamill top scored with 57 but they fell to a two wicket loss.