THE Towergate Halifax League have defended themselves in the face of criticism from Blackley captain David Townsend over the decision to clear Zimbabwean fast bowler Ian Nicolson to play for Luddenden Foot.
Townsend complained to the league after his side were skittled for 56 by Nicolson's seven for 35 in Division One last Saturday.
Nicolson was in Zimbabwe's 14-man squad for the 2006 Under 19s World Cup in Sri Lanka and according to the internet has played 11 first class games in his homeland.
League chiefs, who have pledged to keep the league an all-amateur affair, discussed Nicolson's eligibility on Tuesday evening and chairman Barry Tennyson, assistant secretary Keith Goulden and umpires representative Peter Taylor met Nicolson and club officials at Foot on Thursday evening.
Goulden said: "We had a full and frank discussion and Ian Nicolson qualifies and is eligible to play in the Halifax League.
"He is a British passport holder so does not need a work permit and he has not been a paid professional cricketer in the last two years."
Townsend was disappointed by the news.
"Our attitude is that first class players should not be allowed in the Halifax League.
"We're not saying Luddenden Foot are cheating but if the league is going down that route any team will be able to sign anyone."
Townsend said Nicolson, who is thought to have a full time job, appeared to be far too good for the middle section of the Halifax League.
"It's not sour grapes on our part - it's a reaction to the league's decision to say it's OK for him to play.
"He was bowling 80mph-plus off four or five paces. We have a strong batting line-up but he ripped us apart."
Goulden said some of the information about Nicolson on the internet "did not tell the full story."
He added: "He paid his own air fare to come over here and is not being paid.
"He is a young man of 21 who would like to play in a higher grade of cricket in England but at the moment he does not have a CV to attract the attention of semi-professional or professional leagues."
Goulden said Nicolson had come to England via an agent, who had not been able to find him a position as a professional because of the player's lack of a track record.
Although Blackley's complaint has not been upheld, it could lead to changes.
Goulden said: "We appreciate the rules are a little lax at the moment and they will be tightened for 2009. But the fact that Ian Nicolson might be too good for the Halifax League is an irrelevance."
Luddenden Foot skipper Andrew Heptinstall did not wish to comment.