Injury-stricken Conisbrough CC are limping towards the finish line in Division One of the South Yorkshire League - but club officials remain confident that they can reverse their recent poor form and secure an automatic promotion place.
The St Peter’s Drive outfit blazed a trail through the league at the start of the season, winning their first 12 games of the season and storming to the summit of the Division One table.
But since then, however, they have won just once and lost four, and have dropped to third in the table behind Tickhill and Darfield.
Skipper Gary Strephan, plus opening bowlers Scott Lowe and Stuart Bellwood, have been carrying injuries over the last three games, and Strephan is set to miss Conisbrough’s next two games after undergoing a minor knee operation.
Bellwood and Lowe, who have taken 35 and 31 wickets respectively this term, are also struggling for fitness, and Conisbrough may have to rely on a number of their second-teamers to take up the challenge and overhaul the two-point defecit behind second-placed Darfield.
“Stuart has been struggling with a bicep injury, for the second half of the season,” Conisbrough secretary Peter Smith said.
“And so to lose him, plus Gary and Scott, is a real blow, especially at this stage.
“We’ve lost our captain, our leading run scorer and our three leading wicket takers. These are the guys tha we build a team around, so it’s now up to our second teamers to step up and fill the void left by these guys.”
Doing so will not be easy. Strephan has smashed 784 runs this season, at an average of over 46 with a high score of 191*, and has also taken 38 wickets.
Much of the bowling responsibility will now be shouldered by Mark Neale, who is the club’s leading wicket-taker this season with 39.
He could only take one on Saturday, however, as Conisbrough extended their Division One winless run to four games after a five-wicket defeat to Aston Hall.
It is now over a month since they last tasted victory, against Barnsley on July 20, and Smith added: “It is disappointing, there’s no way of getting away from that.
“We’ve been in good positions to win games, but then we’ve not finished teams off, through either a combination of poor batting or lacklustre bowling.
“But the injuries have hit us hard, and we can only hope that Gary is back for the last couple of games of the season.”
Smith admits that winning the league, which once seemed a foregone conclusion, is now an unlikely target, but he takes heart from the fact that Conisbrough still have to play both their top two rivals away from home in the coming weeks.
“There’s only a slim possibility of us winning the league now,” Smith, whose son Nathan captains Rotherham Town in the Yorkshire League, said.
“I don’t think Tickhill will lose another game, apart from maybe the one against us! So it’s all set up for a final-day showdown against Darfield, to see who gets promoted.”
Smith added: “Premier Division cricket would be a big boost to us, both in terms of status and the quality of cricket.”