Once upon a time, saying you were the best cricket club in Yorkshire would be extremely brave, not to mention difficult to prove.
Everyone thought they were.
We now have the White Rose Trophy where the four champions of Premier Leagues in Yorkshire (or highest-placed Yorkshire team) have a semi-final and final to decide that honour.
The Yorkshire Premier League Play-Off Final was at New Farnley Cricket Club on Saturday September 16.
It saw Woodlands (Bradford Premier League) defeat Sheffield Collegiate (Yorkshire Cricket Southern Premier League) by six wickets and become the first club to retain the White Rose Trophy.
Image: Ray Spencer
Woodlands are in unstoppable form en route to winning the Bradford Premier League for the fourth time in a row. Their captain Brad Schmulian is a lynchpin, contributing an extraordinary 1,540 runs and 90 wickets for Woodlands across all formats in 2023.
But it’s notable how the load is spread across the squad. If we look purely in terms of league runs, Tim Jackson (614), Kieran Collins (547) and Sam Frankland (496) added ballast, alongside their skipper’s contributions (926).
With the ball, they have all bases covered and not many squads could have coped with the loss of such an influential figure as spinner Chris Brice whose knee injury limited appearances.
Muhammad Bilal’s pace (38 league wickets) has been instrumental for early breakthroughs while spin from Schmulian (54 wickets) and Kez Ahmed (33 wickets) offers consistent threat. Thomas Clee has chipped in at key times with 22 wickets and 313 runs.
They are also very used to winning now.
If anything, the deluge of competitions including the Bradford Premier League, League T20, Heavy Woollen Cup, ECB National Club Championship and Club T20 Cup caught up with them eventually.
Woodlands have lost only occasionally but the closest to a bogie team is Richmondshire who beat them in both national competitions.
Their victory at New Farnley confirms the fact that Woodlands are the dominant force in Premier League cricket in Yorkshire, having now won the White Rose Trophy twice in four years.
If we factor in cup cricket then others, not least New Farnley who retained the Heavy Woollen Cup, come into the mix but Woodlands are enjoying an era of dominance for sure.
Sheffield Collegiate: On the up…
As for Sheffield Collegiate, their win over Treeton confirmed them as Champions of the Yorkshire Cricket Southern Premier League, their first league title since 2001.
They aimed to draw inspiration from a number of clubs (Wakefield Thornes, Castleford and Sheriff Hutton Bridge) who won the title in their first final appearance – but it wasn’t to be.
At New Farnley, they were dismissed for 76 in 30.3 overs, a scenario they won’t have envisaged, as Woodlands (78-4) won quickly in 15.4 overs. Muhammad Bilal (4-38), Thomas Clee (2-10) and Brad Schmulian (3-10) were the chief tormentors.
The route to the final had seen Sheffield Collegiate impress with an away win in the semi at Castleford.
Their semi-final total of 160 all out looked low (he says without seeing the pitch), but it proved to be more than enough as the hosts were shot out for 113. Robert Shaw (3-14) and Tate Miller (3-15) doing the damage at Cas.
Jack Timby hit 73 runs in the must-win game against Treeton that secured the league after pressure from Tickhill all season. His fellow opener George Bartlett has 596 runs across all competitions and Shaaiq Choudhry will be a key player given his 649 runs and 46 wickets (all comps).
The former Worcestershire all-rounder will be a key wicket for Woodlands and then his left-arm spin will aim to keep things tight and nip out opponents too.
Sheffield Collegiate’s captain Josh Varley is an intriguing figure in the sense that he hasn’t, statistically speaking, dominated with bat or ball this season. That said, he’s got 5,386 runs and 384 wickets as a long-time servant and is the one to have guided the club to a rare league success.
What he brings is knowledge of his players, the right calls with his bowlers and vital contributions in games that matter, as his 21 illustrates at Castleford after his side had fallen away from 110-4 to 124-7.
What I like about Varley’s story is that he’s gone from turning out for the 5th XI in Division 3 of the Yorkshire & Derbyshire Cricket League to captaining the first eleven of one of the most famous clubs in the country.
Sheffield Collegiate inevitably is mentioned in the same breath as Michael Vaughan, Joe Root and Billy Root. But in club cricket, it’s the current squad who have risen to the top and are forging their own reputations.
There are other emerging players too, Henry Eldred’s 34 wickets and 219 runs mark a decent return while overseas signing Abdul Faseeh enjoyed a fine year in South Yorkshire, topping the club’s run-scoring charts with 707.
The Pakistan Under-19 batter doesn’t hang about either. Not long after lifting the trophy at Abbeydale, he was on a plane home for domestic first-class cricket in Pakistan with Rawalpindi Region.
Availability of key players is a theme for clubs at this stage of a long season but it’ll ultimately be about who sticks their hand up in a one-off, winner-takes-all match at New Farnley.
Of course, there are only so many nuggets you can glean from Play-Cricket without the context of the matches as they unfolded and the stories to go with them.
Previewing this fixture was impossible to gauge for a one-off game with so many variables. Sheffield Collegiate’s form read WLWWW as opposed to Woodlands looking like this: LLLWW. Any wiser? Didn’t think so.
In the years since I’ve covered these knockouts for Premier Leagues in Yorkshire, what we’ve seen is a variety of winners from across the region. It speaks to the overall strength of club cricket that no one team dominates completely.
In the end, that’s what we saw.
If we were to look for any trends, Wakefield Thornes have won the Yorkshire Champion Club title twice, appearing in three finals and that mantle seems to have passed to Woodlands.
This was Woodlands’ fourth final appearance (more than anyone else), losing narrowly each time, to Sheriff Hutton Bridge in 2019 and Castleford in 2021 before a heavy win over Appleby Frodingham in 2022 and now Sheffield Collegiate in 2023.
I’ve seen a bit of chat around New Farnley being picked to host the 2023 final. It’s a practical step based on the fact that the county season is longer this year so Headingley is not an option.
Incidentally, neither is Abu Dhabi, where Wakefield Thornes, inspired by a David Toft century, beat Pudsey St Lawrence in the sapping heat of the UAE. (Must have been a pot of cash down the back of the sofa to fund that one).
If the Barry Jackson Ground doesn’t quite have the glamour or Star Trek roof of the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium, their Lawns Lane HQ in the Western suburbs of Leeds is very well looked after and has hosted cup finals over the years. I like the upgrades they do there as an attractive venue for spectators, with excellent facilities and food.
It probably lent a better atmosphere to the occasion too. While the players inevitably would like to step out at Headingley, it is a cavernous experience with pockets of supporters not able to create the noise, buzz and intimacy that a smaller ground like New Farnley.
So, there you go, a Woodlands win that consolidates their status as Yorkshire’s top Premier League side.
Sheffield Collegiate (from): Josh Varley (Capt), George Bartlett, Jack Timby, Shaaiq Choudhry, Sam Hunt (wkt), Sam Meadows, Jamie Carrington, Henry Eldred, Robert Shaw, Louie Owens, Tate Miller, Tom Currie, Matt Tyas.
Woodlands: Sam Frankland, Tim Jackson, Brad Schmulian, Tom Clee, Kieran Collins, Liam Collins, Muhammad Bilal, Greg Finn, Scott Richardson, Elliot Richardson, Kez Ahmed.
Umpires: Martin Kellaway & Carl Williams.
2016 Wakefield Thornes 296-6 bt Pudsey St Lawrence 257 by 39 runs (Abu Dhabi)
2017 Hanging Heaton 231 bt Wakefield Thornes 228-6 by 3 runs (Headingley)
2018 Wakefield Thornes 98-3 bt Great Ayton 93 by 7wkts (Headingley)
2019 Sheriff Hutton Bridge 212-6 bt Woodlands 210-8 by 2 runs (Headingley)
2020 No Competition (Covid)
2021 Castleford 241-9 bt Woodlands 235-9 by 6 runs (Headingley)
2022 Woodlands 151-1 bt Appleby Frodingham 150-9 by 9 wkts (Headingley)
2023 Woodlands (78-4) bt Sheffield Collegiate (76) by 6 wkts (New Farnley)
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