The pride of Yorkshire do battle for 135 years of history
John Fuller reports on the longest-running cup competition in club cricket - Yorkshire’s Heavy Woollen Cup
The Heavy Woollen Cup is a feast for the eyes; a gorgeous hulk of solid silver handcrafted by jeweller Thomas Fattorini who are the artisans behind the FA Cup
Alittle over a mile, as the crow flies, from Batley Town Hall is Hanging Heaton Cricket Club where this year’s Heavy Woollen Cup Final pitted Bradford Premier League against Huddersfield Cricket League.
Many club cricket cup competitions across England boast a long and illustrious history but none have been played continuously since 1883, when Heckmondwike’s 136 was too much for Dewsbury & Saville.
For the Heavy Woollen, geography is everything. In that opening year, teams could enter only if they were within a six-mile radius of Batley Town Hall where the textile production for a particular cloth was prevalent.
Fast forward to 2017 and as the sun beat back a pernicious morning breeze at Bennett Lane, Woodlands, third in the Bradford Premier League, prepared to face Huddersfield Cricket League leaders Hoylandswaine in a repeat of the 2015 final.
A stray throw as the squads warmed up shattered one of the black match stumps so there was a rummage for a set of natural wood replacements; as if the cricketing gods were issuing a gentle reminder that tradition wasn’t to be displaced entirely.
To catch a flavour of what this competition means, Hanging Heaton’s secretary Andy Hunt was on hand to lend his perspective as the 2013 champions but also as one of the few clubs selected to host the final on a rotational basis:
“We consider ourselves at the heart of the Heavy Woollen; we love playing in the competition and to host the final is a fantastic honour. When we host it, it’s not about ourselves, we’ve got to put on a perfect day for the two clubs. It’s about giving them and their supporters a great day.”
The inter-league rivalry is as fierce as it ever was and the Heavy Woollen Cup taps into that though it faces a continuing fight for relevance among each individual league’s cup contest allied with numerous other club trophies up for grabs across the county.
Pudsey St Lawrence were at home to Wakefield Thornes in the Black Sheep Yorkshire Champions Trophy semi-final so this wasn’t the only Sunday cup match between a Bradford Premier League outfit and another league.
After the midday start, the crowd grew steadily with folding seats eased into place, thermos flasks unscrewed and supporters meandered back and forth for a pint or a burger from the barbecue. Inside, orders were flowing for pie and peas with a vat of gravy loaded with onions on hand to seal the deal.
So, to the cricket itself. Hanging Heaton had scored 291-1 from 43 overs against Pudsey Congs the day before but it was an altogether more circumspect innings that saw Hoylandswaine reach 213 all out. Underpinning that was a breezy 51 from 61 balls by Chris Holliday at three backed by Gurman Randhawa’s lateorder 57 that dragged the batting up to respectability.
The Woodlands bowling attack was led by Elliot Richardson’s three-wicket burst, head frequently thrown heavenwards in exasperation as ball conquered bat to begin with. Mark Lawson was economical yet fruitless with twin spells; first with pace then latterly with leg-spin but it was acting skipper Chris Brice (2-23) who put the brakes on and checked Hoylandswaine’s ambitions.
The experienced left-arm Woodlands spinner was stand-in captain for the day as Tim Jackson was on holiday; an absence deemed a startling sin by a few of the die-in-the-wool faithful gathered. Miss the cricket? Nay, lad. Not in my day.
Walking the boundary at the break,
the consensus was that Hoylandswaine were light on runs but Woodlands would rely on the top-order potency of opener Sam Frankland, having a lean season by his standards in the league.
Match day manager Paul McFarlane, who serves on the Heavy Woollen Cup management committee, believes the Cup retains its prestige but managing fixtures continues to be a conundrum, given the spaghetti junction of permutations across leagues and scope for rain to delay matches being fulfilled.
Again, the theme of clashing competitions rears its head. Once upon a time, the Heavy Woollen Cup would have been the marque trophy for clubs but now sides find themselves less keen to play every Saturday and Sunday throughout the season and also have to juggle their resources.
When prompted for a favourite match in recent years, Paul recalls the 2008 final at Spen Victoria between Barnsley and Wrenthorpe with both sides ending level on 237 and the latter claiming victory, courtesy of losing one fewer wickets.
Calling it was a nightmare: “We had the different ribbons on the Cup and we must have took them on and off three or four times because the game swayed so much! It came down to the last ball of the match and there was a dispute even about that because it was debatable if it was above waist height.”
Next to us, there was a conversation underway in sign language between a group of men including one of Hoylandswaine’s bowlers, Adnan Ghani, a member of Pakistan’s team who won the Deaf ICC Championship final in Sharjah last year against England.
The Woodlands run chase was orchestrated by a telling second-wicket stand of 107 between Sam Frankland (67) and wicketkeeper Greg Finn (53). Ghani managed steep bounce from the far end framed by a wall of poplar trees but held animated discussions with a spectator about the slant of the wicket affecting his inswinger.
It was Nasir Jamal, Shepley’s overseas bowler, who had claimed 5-29 against Hoylandswaine in the league on the Saturday; a handy source of inside knowledge on the sidelines. Apparently Ghani was at reduced pace due to a groin strain and Hoylandswaine suffered a further injury when their wicketkeeper walked off gingerly with a jarred shoulder.
Ultimately, Woodlands edged to a three-wicket win, having built up enough credit that they could afford to lose four wickets for 14 runs and still sneak over the line.
In truth, it had not been a scintillating final but still showcased the quality of upper tier league cricket in Yorkshire; punctuated with eye-catching mini battles and a workmanlike approach to please the purists. As ever, it was those off the field swapping stories and sharing insight of the game with such affection that stuck out.
The Heavy Woollen Cup is a feast for the eyes; a gorgeous hulk of solid silver handcrafted by renowned jeweller Thomas Fattorini of Bradford who are the artisans behind the FA Cup.
Winners get to lift it only in celebration rather than act as custodians; a valuation of tens of thousands of pounds breaches a club’s insurance premium so it is swiftly returned to a vault for safekeeping.
The price of making history, eh? For Woodlands Cricket Club, they have the considerable satisfaction of having their name once more added to the trophy with 135 years of Yorkshire club cricket engraved across it.
Late contribution: Gurman Randhawa hit 57 for Hoylandswaine
Three wicket burst: Elliot Richardson bowls for Woodlands
Highly valuable : The Heavy Woollen Cup