Sky's the limit as champions Goodmayes drop out
Sky captain Rizwan Siddiqui believes the new Victoria Park Community Cricket League season will be the most open championship in years
By JONATHAN CLEGG
Sky captain Rizwan Siddiqui believes the new Victoria Park Community Cricket League season will be the most open championship in years after double winners Goodmayes were forced to withdraw from the upcoming campaign.
Title holders and cup winners Goodmayes opened the new season by slipping to a seven-wicket defeat against a President's Select side on Monday night, but will not be competing in the remainder of the competition following the loss of two key players.
And Sky skipper Siddiqui, who was last month named league chairman for the forthcoming season, insists the absence of last season's champions has thrown this year's title race wide open.
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"It's a shamewe've lost Goodmayes but they had real issues with availability last year and now they've lost a couple more players, so they didn't feel they could get through a full season," he said.
"But it means that anyone can win it this year. Goodmayes were a new team last year - they had played in the cup competitions previously and won it the year before, but last year was their first in the league.
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"And they managed to win the league and the cup in their first season, so it's even possible for a new team to come in and win the title."
Siddiqui admits that the league's fast and furious format also makes it difficult to pick a championship favourite.
The Victoria Park League is set up in a similar vein to the Twenty20 phenomenon, although each match is 16 overs-a-side and teams are made up of just eight players.
"It really is crash-bang-wallop cricket. We're kind of a pre-cursor to Twenty20 actually - we've been going for 18 years and it's a similar format.
"But one of the things about the 16-over game is that it can turn on a single over. If you get a couple of decent players in good form, they can very quickly turn a match on its head."
In such a fast-flowing version of the game, experience is crucial ("You can always tell the new teams in the league because their fielders tend to be in no-man's land - in our game, you're either saving one [run] or saving four," Siddiqui says) and the Sky skipper is optimistic that his side can regain the title this year.
The Clapton-based outfit, originally known as Mola Jutt, have been crowned champions five times in the past decade and were double-winners two years ago, although Siddiqui admits they will face a battle to return to title-winning form.
"We like to think we're the Manchester United of the league, but Island gave us a really good game last year, we lost to Victoria Park Juniors, and Caldeonian Conquerors and Tower Ravens are always strong. It looks very competitive."
Indeed, matches in the league's top division can become so fiercely contested that Vallance Bow last year resorted to recruiting a high-profile signing in a bid to maintain their title challenge.
The Tower Hamlets outfit fielded Bangaldesh star Enamul Haque Jr in their match against Sky - although Siddiqui reveals that the league's astroturf wicket negated much of the bowler's superior quality.;
"Victoria Park's a great leveller - there's only six fielders in the outfield, so it was just a matter of watching the ball and giving it a tonk," he recalls.
Full coverage of the first round of matches in the Victoria Park Community Cricket League begins next week.