Zaidi Masterclass Dashes Darwen Dreams

Stag Park was the centre of Lancashire League attention on Sunday, as defending champions Darwen arrived knowing a maximum-point win would guarantee them retaining their title. Norden were looking to play the role of party poopers and Ashar Zaidi, playing his final game for the club, was the man to play pooper-in-chief.

Norden chose to bat on a tacky surface and lost two wickets in two balls with the score on 4 as Lee Crabtree and Jack Taylor fell to Darwen skipper, Kamran Anwar. The big 2 partnership of Zaidi and Josh Tolley was together early, and they looked relatively comfortable until Dave Bowden got one to grip and take Tolley’s edge. Spencer Allen was a good foil to Zaidi and the pair added 40 before Greg Butterworth replaced Allen. Butterworth contributed just 10 to the partnership of 57 as Zaidi started to accelerate. The Norden cause was helped by Anwar choosing to bring himself back on in place of professional Punit Bisht, who had bowled 5 overs of off-spin for just 15 runs. The seamer was much easier to face on this pitch and Zaidi helped himself to 20 runs from the 45th over and a further 11 from the 47th. Zaidi brought up his hundred from 126 balls, an incredible knock given that no other batter was to make it to 20 in the match. Norden’s 197 was a massive score in the conditions and the champions were to get nowhere near it. Zaidi was pumped and his spell of 9 uninterrupted overs from the scoreboard end produced figures of 4 for 6, with each wicket celebrated vociferously. Lukas Debnam chipped in with 3 wickets in his final game before returning home to Australia, taking his total to a very creditable 47 in all competitions. Darwen were bowled out for 85, meaning that Burnley’s washout against Lowerhouse was enough to give them the title. Zaidi finished as the league’s leading wicket-taker with 46 and Tolley was 2nd amongst amateur batters with 664 runs. Special mention should also go to Scott Butterworth, who had an excellent season with 38 league wickets. Norden finished 5th in the 1st Division table, just missing out on Lancashire Cup qualification, but also wondering what might have been had they beaten the two relegated teams, Walsden and Ramsbottom, in the two games prior to this one.
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The 2nd XI were in a similar position, with Darwen just a win from the title. What was different in this game was that there was just one league-appointed umpire and Darwen elected to take advantage of this as a run-out appeal was turned down in the 1st over when Darwen opener Zac Whalley appeared to be at least several yards short of his ground. Whalley went on to make a crucial 45 on a very difficult pitch. Norden’s bowlers stuck to their task and Oli Kirkby and Usama Malik both took 3 wickets in bowling Darwen out for 146 in the final over. Rain interruptions brought DLS re-calculations which, in truth, brought Norden into the game but some fine hitting from Malik wasn’t quite enough and Darwen won by 12 runs to take the Junior League title. A 7th place finish for Docker’s men was probably about right given the lack of runs from key men through the season, but the excellent cup run and the introduction of some extremely promising young players gives great cause for optimism. In terms of individual efforts, Mo Munawar must be congratulated for leading the league’s wicket-takers with 38. There were also 29 for Malik and Oliver Kirkby’s 19, to go alongside a maiden half-century, only underline his potential. Kabir Ahmed led the run-scorers with 340.
2nd XI Scorecard:

It was a real mix of young and old as the 3rds closed their season with a 4th successive victory. Alan Howard rolled back the years to make 79 against Clitheroe 4th XI, the heat being much more of a challenge to the veteran than the bowling. The real star of the show, though, was 14-year-old Oli Yates, who struck his 1st Norden century. Remarkably, Yates had just 68 to his name with 2 overs of the Norden innings remaining. He freed his arms to take 15 from the penultimate and when the 1st ball of the last went for 6, the hundred was on. He got there with a ball to spare, and the young man raised his bat aloft to the delight of the healthy crowd. I don’t think there’ll be many betting on this being his last century for the club. Will Hindley and Jake Hill then took over with the ball, taking 3 wickets each and Clitheroe were bowled out for 125. Having been promoted last year and starting with a couple of heavy defeats, it is of huge credit to Jimmy Drury and his young team that they have climbed to a 5th place finish. Very rarely has there been more than one or two players in the 3rds who have also played in a higher team that week and the future of the club looks in great hands with this group of young players. Yates finished as leading run-scorer with 311 and Stan Kearns made 239; both will be looking to have a real impact in the 2nds next year. Charlie Gooding’s 23 wickets came at an average of just 10 and Will Hindley had another good year with 17 wickets, the same number as Mohsin Iqbal.
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