WITH the start of the cricket season imminent, three Craven clubs take a step into the unknown in the new North West League.

The merger of the Ribblesdale and Bolton leagues means that Settle, Barnoldswick and Earby face new challenges, not the least being travel requirements.

The 2023 fixtures are interim arrangements leading to a full promotion / relegation structure next summer. All first teams play each other once in a senior league to emerge as a Premiership and Championship. Our second teams play locally in Conference North, combining with Conference South in 2024 to produce three divisions. T20 and knockout cups continue with modifications, but the Development (3rd) teams carry on as before.

Settle are clearly still the club to beat, winning the Ribblesdale Senior championship for the fourth consecutive summer and scooping the Ramsbottom Cup, while the second team have topped Division One for the last two years.

Chairman Andrew Davidson admits that new competition is needed for Settle as they have been runaway winners for some time and weaker sides struggle to make a contest.

However, he is disappointed that the new league has put T20 opposition teams at the furthest distance. “We have never played them before owing to the distance and travel time - peak rush hour on a Friday evening. It will be impossible for players to get there for a 6.15 start. This is going to be a problem.”

It is no secret that Settle was one of three clubs voting against the merger, mainly because of travel.

Davidson continued: “Communication has been sent to the league about this but it has fallen on deaf ears. It is unfair to the players, and I am amazed at the lack of empathy and understanding of the reality.”

Despite this issue, Davidson is upbeat about the future, retaining almost the full playing squad. Settle have great local strength in depth, so the loss of Harry Snowden to Burnley will allow young paceman like Harris Dinsdale and Edward Bradley to step up. The club has a thriving junior section feeding into the senior teams.

There is excitement about the new Overseas Amateur, 19-yeat-old left-arm spinner Tremaine Dowrich, previously selected for Barbados U19s. And the club retains their outstanding pro, Sri Lanka’s Ashen Silva, who has done all-round wonders on and off the field.

On 15 April, all three Craven first teams make the long haul to Bolton clubs. Barnoldswick head for Blackrod while Earby go to Lostock, both with two-hour round trips. At the league extremity, Settle will be two and a half hours on the road to face Eagley, a challenge for players and spectators alike, but one they have to accept in pursuit of raising standards.

This Sunday (April 2) Settle Cricket Club are hosting their 'Get Set Day' in line with the new season getting underway just under two weeks after.

The club commented: "There are plenty of jobs to be done to get the ground ready for 2023. On Sunday (2nd April) starting at 10am, there are lots of jobs that need doing from painting to general maintenance. If you can spare some time and expertise, even a couple of hours it would be greatly appreciated. If you have anything useful; spade, paint brushes, power washer, tools or a wheelbarrow please can you bring them with you."