Spotlight is on new arrivals

Rival skippers: Todmorden's Andrew Sutcliffe (left) and Walsden's Nick Barker (right) are former teammates at Centre Vale but they will be in opposition on Saturday
Rival skippers: Todmorden's Andrew Sutcliffe (left) and Walsden's Nick Barker (right) are former teammates at Centre Vale but they will be in opposition on Saturday

All eyes will be on professionals Michael Neser and Umesh Karunaratne when Todmorden and Walsden cross swords at Centre Vale on Saturday.

The clubs will be completing their preparations ahead of Sunday’s league openers against Colne and Rochdale respectively.

South African-born quick bowler Neser, who is based in Australia, is due to fly in today to link up with Lancashire League club Todmorden.

He had a couple of three wicket hauls and a knock of 40 playing for Queensland against Western Australia at Brisbane last month.

He also hit an unbeaten 128 for the state under 23 side against South Australia at Adelaide in late February.

Sri Lanka Karunaratne was due to arrive yesterday.

He is also in good form prior to linking up with Central Lancashire League champions Walsden, having hit 101 and taken five for 80 with his off-spin for Chilaw Marians CC in a top tier match in his home country recently.

Nick Barker will lead Walsden into battle at Rochdale in the absence of banned skipper Chris Dewhirst.

Expectations are high at Scott Street following successive titles and Walsden wouldn’t mind the Wood Cup either following last season’s final defeat by Heywood.

Barker, a batsman and occasional bowler, said: “We are hoping to do the double and we have got the side to do so.”

Walsden’s confidence is understandable as they have added Karunaratne to the vast majority of last season’s team.

They have been able to do that because ex-county spinner Richard Sladdin, who stepped in as pro late on and took 50-plus wickets, is playing as an amateur this year.

Shubum Harkal is not coming back but Walsden have revealed they could have an overseas amateur after all.

A Canadian-born player of Indian origin, who is an early-order batsman and off-spin bowler, has applied for a work permit and if successful could arrive in around three weeks.

Matt Dawson has a bad back and misses the opening action but Walsden hope the semi-retired ex-Minor Counties player will play in around half of the matches.

Danny Brown could take the gloves this weekend.

Walsden took their catches last season and Barker said a similar effort in the field, to back a deep and varied bowling attack, was important.

Rochdale were bowled out for 125 at Todmorden last Saturday before the heavens opened but Barker said: “They are a dangerous side. They have a new Asian pro and Scott Butterworth is a good all-rounder.”

Walsden’s friendly at Elland last weekend was off but Todmorden have some match practice under their belts.

After half a game against Rochdale, they lost by 17 runs to Halifax League side Mytholmroyd on Sunday.

Captain Andrew Sutcliffe said: “It was a good run out for us as all of our bowlers got a bowl and the wickets were shared.”

The Sutcliffes did well, Andrew taking six for 57 and Ben making an unbeaten 79.

The Senior brothers also shone, Paul picking up three wickets and hitting 52 to take Tod close after Steve had made 90 in Royd’s useful 216 all out.

Tod are looking to improve on last year’s 10th-place finish. Zeshan Shoukhat has joined and Bilal Abbas gone to Church.

Sunday teams

Walsden (away to Rochdale): N.Barker, J. Rawlinson, R.Sladdin, S.R.Barker, J.Shackleton, J.Hooson, Josh Gale, Joe Gale, K.Halstead, D.Brown, U.Karunaratne. Meet at Scott Street 11.15 am

Walsden II (home to Rochdale): S.Hanson, P.Marrow, D.Bailey, D.Howley, R.Howley, J.Lord, C.Hanson, T.Illingworth, M.Halstead, G.Connor, A.Butcher. Meet at Scott Street noon.