Todmorden have suffered an eve-of-season bombshell with the news that new professional Bilawal Bhatti won’t be arriving until the end of May.
The fast bowling all-rounder has been selected for a Pakistan A tour to Sri Lanka, which takes in four four-day games and four one-dayers.
The Centre Vale club have hastily drafted in South African Francois Haasbroek for Sunday’s Lancashire League opener away to Rawtenstall and are looking for a semi-permanent replacement for the following eight matches before Bhatti arrives.
Todmorden skipper Andrew Sutcliffe said the Bhatti news had come as an unwanted shock.
“It is a big blow for us in the week before the season starts,” he said.
Sutcliffe is confident that they have a top class replacement for Sunday in the towering Haasbroek, who will be playing for Euxton in the Ribblesdale League this season.
“Haasbroek was pro at Lowerhouse when they won back-to-back championships in our league.” he said.
Sutcliffe said that like Bhatti he was a quick bowler who could bat.
Todmorden are trying to avoid having to use stand-in professionals for the first month and half of the season.
“In an ideal world we would like someone who can fly in for eight games but that will not be easy because it would have to be someone with a European passport to avoid visa delays,” said Sutcliffe.
Tod would also be looking for a like-for-like replacement prepared to travel at a week’s notice.
“We are talking to a couple of players at the moment but it would need to be a fast turnaround. If not it would be no-go.”
Todmorden complete their preparations for the season with a home friendly against Rochdale on Saturday.
While last Sunday’s game against Walsden fell victim to the weather, Tod did get some action against Cheadle last Saturday.
The visitors made 153, with three-wicket Martin Harlow the most successful bowler, and the home side then fell one run short of Cheadle’s total in spite of a half-century from Simon Newbitt and 43 from Ben Pearson.
Until the Bhatti news it had been a quiet close season at Centre Vale. Harlow has arrived from Walsden and will open the bowling while spinner Paul Senior has retired.
Sutcliffe is hoping young players such as Kristian Garland, who made major strides last summer, can improve again.
Elliott Gilford and teenagers Pearson and Freddie Priestley are other players the club has high hopes for.
After five years of finishing in the top five, Tod have finished 10th and then ninth in the last two seasons.
Sutcliffe said the team was still rebuilding but hoped to take another step forward in 2015.
He said there appeared to be three sides - Lowerhouse, Ramsbottom and Burnley - who looked better equipped for success than the rest.
Tod were among seven teams who could be fighting it out to be best of the rest.
“We are definitely aiming to finish in the top half and hoping for a cup run as well,” he said.
Rawtenstall finished one place above Todmorden last season and have retained their South African professional Brett Pelser, who topped 1,000 runs and 50 wickets in 2014.