At the clubs’ pre-season meeting at Treeton last Wednesday, there was the usual anticipation and optimism for the season ahead. The forecast for the weekend was good, and the action was about to begin. 
Elsecar bathed in sunshine for the opening match of the season  
Muhammad Saeed Anwar on his way to a century 
The decision to start our season on Easter Saturday had not been unanimous, but when the day dawned it looked a good one. My only misgiving was that some clubs were without their overseas players, who were not due to arrive until the beginning of May. 
 
I arrived at Elsecar just after 1.30, where with Matt Higgins and Saeed Anwar going well, the home team had made a fine start. The first person I met was David Ward, who was doing his usual rounds of different clubs. We were joined as we walked round the ground by my father-in-law, a convert to our league last season – probably finding it a more relaxing pastime than his winter one of following Manchester United. The ground was liberally sprinkled with cricket-watchers enjoying the sunshine, and we were agreed that we could not remember a better opening day. We caught up with Mark Beardshall and Chris Marples, who, I think it is fair to say, were less than impressed with what they were seeing from their team. With Anwar recording a debut hundred to hold the innings together, Elsecar made an impressive 263-3. Not an impossible target, but Barnsley would need to bat well, and would need a big innings from someone. 
 
Kirsty had gone to the Heritage Centre with her family – it was her birthday and we were going out for tea afterwards – so I only had a light snack at tea time. Before play resumed, I popped into the scorebox for a word with Jim Beachill and Kev Motley. Jim was insistent that next time I must have a proper tea with them. That is very kind, and it is good that the club are proud of their teas. When we introduced the Club of the Year award, I thought that it was right that teas should be one of the criteria – this may seem trivial compared to bigger issues like junior cricket, but teas are a significant part of the match-day experience for visitors. 
 
Walking round the ground again after tea, I had a long talk with Jason Booth, another Barnsley absentee, this time due to injury. Jason is another of the players in our league who has great experience in the game and whose views are always worth listening to. We had a wide-ranging discussion, that also touched on rugby league. He is a Leeds Rhinos fan and both our clubs are struggling at the moment; but whilst I cannot see any cause for optimism at Rovers, Jason is very upbeat about Leeds’ prospects after this season. 
 
On the field, Barnsley lost wickets too regularly to sustain a serious challenge, and by the time Kirsty had joined me and it was time to go, Elsecar were on the brink of a famous win. Barnsley can only improve, and the arrival of Harpreet Singh with give them a huge boost, but for the home side the win will give them some confidence and something to build on in what will undoubtedly be a tough campaign. 
My overall impression of the day was that Elsecar are a very good addition to our league. Cricket grounds always look at their best in sunshine, but it is a very good ground, and the presence of a fair number of spectators lends it some atmosphere. I was made to feel welcome, and look forward to returning later in the season. 
 
We then went to the Old Post Office at Haigh, near Woolley. Mark associates it with steaks – and they do specialise in them – but they also do very good fish dishes, which Kirsty and I both like, and we each had a whole lemon sole. They also serve Hop House 13 lager – which I think of very much as the acceptable face of lager and actually like. There is no need for concern though – I have certainly not abandoned real ale! 
 
There were important matches elsewhere, of course, and whilst the other promoted side, Tickhill, lost, they gave Doncaster a very good game, and I have no doubt that the men from Town Fields will be one of our top sides again. At Field Lane, Shaaiq Choudhry made an excellent debut for Collegiate, following up his three wickets with an unbeaten 73 that steered his side to an otherwise unlikely victory over our champions. Thornes were another team who were without their overseas player, as well as their leading batsman, and I do not read a lot into this result in terms of their prospects. Treeton could also be contenders this year, and they too got off to a good start with some fireworks from skipper Sam Drury, who reached 50 in only 27 balls. Cleethorpes are missing a couple of key players, but another league debutant, Luis Kimber, recorded a hundred to set up a very valuable win for them. It was also good to see Hallam, missing skipper Nick Dymock, get off to a winning start after their recent difficulties. Overall, as Jason remarked to me, it is pleasing to see clubs strengthening from outside the league, and a number of the new players made impressive debuts. 
 
We had family round for tea on Sunday, so I was spared having to go to Craven Park to see our team get embarrassed by Warrington. I buy two season tickets to support the club, which assuages any feelings of guilt when I don’t go. 
 
I will be at Abbeydale for their open night on Friday, but with Saturday’s weather forecast less conducive for cricket watching than last week, we may entertain our grand-daughter this weekend instead. 
 
Finally, I have had further ‘complaints’ about our website. Please bear with us – we are sorting it and I hope to launch our new site very soon! 
 
Till next week,  
 
Roger 
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