John Fuller looks at some of the lead­ing play­ers to have graced one of York­shire’s top leagues


What do Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, Martin Crowe, VVS Lax­man, Mo­ham­mad Hafeez, Anil Kum­ble & Mo­ham­mad Yousuf have in com­mon?

Glad you asked...well, they’ve all sent stumps cartwheel­ing or lofted fast bowlers out of the ground and earned their brass as over­seas pro­fes­sion­als in the Brad­ford Cricket League.

The Brad­ford League as ev­ery­one refers to it (now of­fi­cially the ‘Brad­ford Premier League’ since merg­ing with the Cen­tral York­shire League last year) has de­servedly held a stel­lar rep­u­ta­tion as a school of hard knocks; an un­com­pro­mis­ing arena where emerg­ing and fu­ture stars of first-class and in­ter­na­tional cricket test them­selves.

At Pudsey Congs, they know a thing or two about high-pro­file sign­ings and qual­ity crick­eters down the years. For club chair­man Ralph Mid­dle­brook, fast bowler Rana Naved-ul-Hasan (signed in 2001) was the model pro­fes­sional and the com­plete pack­age:

“He could crush your toes, he could throw in flat and hard like Viv Richards and he could mur­der the bowl­ing.”

Rana Naved has gone on to play 74 ODIs and nine Tests for Pak­istan, com­pete all around the world (in­clud­ing back-to-back County Cham­pi­onship ti­tles with Sus­sex) and excel in the short for­mats with his mas­tery of a sub­tle change of pace and deadly in­swing­ing yorker.

But as a lad in his early 20s in the Brad­ford League, what im­pressed most was a will­ing­ness to roll up his sleeves, and get the job done time after time.

From 2000, Pudsey Congs won five con­sec­u­tive Brad­ford League ti­tles and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan was an in­te­gral cog. He took 67 wick­ets as Congs re­tained the cham­pi­onship by 14 points from Bail­don and Pudsey St Lawrence in 2001.

A Brad­ford League stal­wart from the his­tory books is Babar Butt who won 17 tro­phies in 15 sea­sons with Pudsey Congs; he came over as an over­seas crick­eter from Pak­istan to play in his teens for Bowl­ing Old Lane in 1984.

Butt re­tired in 2015 but is back in com­pet­i­tive ac­tion this sea­son after be­ing tempted out of re­tire­ment to captain Pudsey Congs’ 1st XI.

Fur­ther back, an­other who shone at Pudsey Congs was In­dia’s VVS Lax­man (de­scribed by Mid­dle­brook as “a very mod­est bloke...pure silk”) who won the Brad­ford League bat­ting av­er­age prize in 1996 with 1,253 runs at 65.95.

A few months later, Lax­man made his Test de­but for In­dia, scor­ing 51 in the sec­ond in­nings against South Africa in Ahmed­abad – and a bat­ting bedrock had been born. Ap­par­ently, VVS still keeps in touch with the club and when In­dia tour Eng­land, he will make a point of vis­it­ing the Bri­tan­nia Ground in Pudsey.

Spot­ting and re­cruit­ing ta­lent on the cusp of in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion has been some­thing of a trend for Pudsey Congs; they had signed Pak­istan bats­man Yousuf Youhana in 1997 – now known as Mo­ham­mad Yousuf – and he snapped up the league bat­ting tro­phy with an av­er­age of 58 be­fore mak­ing his Test de­but against South Africa in Dur­ban the fol­low­ing year.

Youhana had come to Congs from Bowl­ing Old Lane; the only other club who have won five con­sec­u­tive Brad­ford League ti­tles when they dom­i­nated from 1937 to 1941.

West In­dian all­rounder Learie Con­stan­tine played his part in that run as his first sea­son yielded a hat-trick against Spen Vic­to­ria and 76 wick­ets.

Over­seas crick­eters have con­tin­ued to leave an in­deli­ble mark as part of the league’s colour­ful past. In 2004, Bowl­ing Old Lane stunned ev­ery­one when un­known over­seas sign­ing Mo­ham­mad Sid­diq wreaked havoc in the sec­ond di­vi­sion.

The Pak­istani pace bowler bowled a whop­ping 456 overs and fin­ished the sea­son with 110 wick­ets at 11.44 to be­come only the fourth player to record 100 wick­ets in a sea­son in the league’s his­tory.

While Sid­diq stayed just for a year, other over­seas crick­eters have put down roots; none more so than Pak­istani all­rounder Sar­fraz Ahmed who had 16 sea­sons with Brad­ford-based Wood­lands CC dur­ing which time they won the league ti­tle six times.

Ahmed, famed for his pace and foren­sic econ­omy rate, ended his Brad­ford Premier League ca­reer in 2016 with 787 wick­ets at an av­er­age of 14.65. Ac­cord­ing to league his­to­rian Reg Nel­son, Sar­fraz’s en­dur­ing abil­ity to win matches with bat and ball makes him stand out:

“I re­mem­ber the Black Sheep Cup tie at Barns­ley in 2007 when he had the early bats­men jump­ing about in a creaky start that led to their down­fall. The dam­age by Ahmed against the top York­shire League side at the time had ren­dered them de­feated.”

He goes on to add: “I also recall the many oc­ca­sions when Wood­lands were 35-4, 68-7 and even worse and he has turned the match on its head with the most out­ra­geous unortho­dox shot se­lec­tion.

“Has a bat­ter in the league hit the ball fur­ther? Even his mis-hits over cover car­ried com­fort­ably over the bound­ary edge.”

Talk­ing to those that watch the Brad­ford Premier League week-in week-out, the days of su­per­stars ply­ing their trade in York­shire league cricket has been and gone.

That’s partly the fact that the money isn’t there for clubs to bag the likes of an up-and-com­ing Chris Gayle or a Vi­rat Kohli but also that the reg­u­la­tion around bring­ing over­seas crick­eters to the UK has tight­ened con­sid­er­ably around visa re­quire­ments.

Home Of­fice rules as to what con­sti­tutes a pro­fes­sional and the dizzy­ing pa­per­work has flum­moxed and freaked out even the most metic­u­lous administrator – with puni­tive fines that could run to tens of thou­sands.

It didn’t go with­out no­tice that for this 2017 sea­son, only four Brad­ford Premier League clubs (in the top di­vi­sion) chose to sign an over­seas pro­fes­sional.

VVS Lax­man won the Brad­ford League bat­ting av­er­age prize in 1996 with 65.95, a few months later he made Test de­but

PIC­TURE: Mike Baker

Big noise: Sar­fraz Ahmed won six ti­tles with Wood­lands CC

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