The Liverpool Competition club have pulled off quite a coup by recruiting Afghan spinner Zia-ur-Rehman Akbar as a late replacement for Pakistan’s Aghar Salman as their 2021 pro.
Lytham find themselves in the first division following relegation from the premier league two summers ago and Matt Taaffe is aiming to lead them back up in his first full season as captain.
Taaffe told The Gazette: “We’ve had a good build-up, with decent weather and two good friendlies (against Clitheroe and Orrell Red Triangle), so we’ve had some time in the middle and we’re ready to go.
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“We’ve set our goal to get promoted and we have a good squad, with an Afghan spin sensation coming to join us!”
That’s no overstatement – leg-spinner Akbar became an instant hit in his homeland with a record 100-wicket haul in his first domestic season (2017/18).
The 23-year-old’s progress has continued unabated, with selection for Afghanistan’s Under-19, Emerging Players and A teams taking him to the brink of senior national selection – and he’s a useful middle-order batsman too.
Batsman Taaffe added: “We had arranged for Aghar Salman to be our pro but then he racked up six or seven centuries and Pakistan came calling, so it’s been a bit chaotic trying to find a pro in such a short time but a couple of contacts helped us to get the deal for Akbar over the line.
“With the short notice and quarantine period, we’re probably looking at the third game before he is available but we hope for some good performances from him.”
The Liverpool Competition season traditionally starts a week later than the Northern League and Palace Shield, and that is all the more welcome for Lytham this year as the easing of lockdown restrictions only made nets possible at the end of last month.
Other new recruits are Josh Holden, back from Longridge, wicketkeeper Richard Staines from Taaffe’s former club, St Annes, and the ex-Blackpool prospect Tom Myerscough.
The skipper hopes more young players will come through at Church Road as the club develops its own system for nurturing talent.
“We’re starting an academy this year,” he explained.
“The idea is that young lads have a senior player to mentor them, so hopefully we’ll have good talent coming through for future years.”
The season begins at noon on Saturday with the visit of an unknown quantity in St Helens Town.
Taaffe said: “They were promoted in 2019. It’s two teams who don’t know this division and don’t know each other, so it’s a good one to start with.
“It’s always nice to start with a home game, even though we won’t be allowed in the changing rooms until May 17. It’s really my first season as captain, having taken the role before the pandemic struck, and I’m raring to go.”
Nearby St Annes stage their first home game in the Northern League against Lancaster (12.30), having lost an exciting opener at Morecambe with Andrew Flintoff and son Corey in their side.
Blackpool and Fleetwood aim to bounce back from heavy start-of-season defeats as they head to Garstang and Netherfield respectively. Blackpool are playing all games away for the next two months as drainage work is completed at Stanley Park.
The Northern League’s 40-over competition starts on Sunday, though the Fylde coast trio all have first-round byes.
They will enter the tournament at next weekend’s quarter-final stage, when Fleetwood and Blackpool play each other and St Annes host the winners of the Longridge v Lancaster tie.
Northern Premier League: Chorley v Morecambe, Fulwood and Broughton v Kendal, Garstang v Blackpool, Longridge v Leyland, Netherfield v Fleetwood, St Annes v Lancaster.
Moore and Smalley Palace Shield Premier Division: Kirkham & Wesham v Great Eccleston, Penrith v Eccleston, Preston v Penwortham, South Shore v Barrow, Thornton Cleveleys v Croston, Vernon Carus v Fylde.
Division 1B: Blackpool 2 v Chorley 2 (at BAe Warton), Fleetwood 2 v Garstang 2, Great Eccleston 2 v Longridge 2, Kendal 2 v St Annes 2, Leyland 2 v Fulwood and Broughton 2
Division 2: Eccleston 2 v Thornton Cleveleys 2, Norcross v Vernon Carus 2, Wrea Green v Preston 2.
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