Rishton signings of greatness

Philip Barton visits the Lancashire club that Allan Donald will play for this year
Click to follow
At the edge of Blackburn's industrial sprawl lies an unremarkable village with a remarkable cricket club. Not only have Rishton won the Lancashire League six times since they joined in 1875, but they also have an enviable record of signing overseas professionals that most counties would be happy to have in their sides.

In 1981 Michael Holding turned out for the team; Viv Richards played for them in 1987 after leaving Somerset while this year they will be served by Allan Donald, the South Africa pace bowler who won the Championship with Warwickshire last season before going on to play in the World Cup.

The signing of Donald is all the more of a coup because he is at the pinnacle of his career. Three committee members individually had the idea of approaching him when he announced that he would be forgoing the grind of county cricket this season in favour of coaching for Warwickshire during the week. "To be honest we didn't think he would sign but we thought we would ask on the off-chance," the club chairman, Rod Simpson, said. "In the end he was one of the easiest signings we have ever had."

When the South African arrived for the annual pre-season, "Meet the Pro" night the club was swept with a boyish enthusiasm. Literally in the case of the players in the Under-13, team who received medals from Donald for being runners-up in their league last season. Spiritually in the case of the captain of the First XI, John Warde, who could not disguise his delight at meeting one of his cricketing idols.

But despite ambition and big stars, Rishton have not always performed on the field up to their own expectations. They won the league last season (with the help of the West Indian Phil Simmons), but that was for the first time in 40 years, which proves that overseas stars are no guarantee of success.

David Shepherd, a former League umpire and a Rishton committee member, knows this all too well. The club were disappointed with Michael Holding's performances until a local player made some ill-advised remarks about his bowling ability: "Holding took nine for 13 that afternoon," Shepherd said, "and broke the lad's nose."

While Rishton will not be requiring any violence of Donald, they will want him to inflict a certain devastation, something of which he is aware. "I'm here to experiment but certainly not to cruise," he said. He can expect that any lapse will be pointed out to him. "It's up to Allan to perform if he doesn't want to bowl too many overs," Simpson commented archly.

He certainly started well. Rishton won their first match of the season last Sunday against Ramsbottom, last year's runners-up, by 30 runs. The South African bowled 18 overs straight through in damp conditions and finished with four for 40. Not a bad debut for the young hopeful.