Questions for the Skipper – An interview with Ben Heap

For the second year running, the Lowerhouse historian and Park End spectator Paul Hargreaves decided to put some questions to club captain, Ben Heap. Ben kindly abliged to answering these and we thought it would be a great introduction to the 2018 season, which is quickly approaching.

1. Lowerhouse finished 5th in the Lancashire League in 2017; were knocked out in the first round proper of the Worsley Cup; reached the last 8 of the 20-20 comp. and had a great run to be joint Lancashire Cup winners. On a 1 to 10 scale Ben how would you grade your first season as Club Captain?

If 10 was winning the treble and 1 was finishing bottom and knocked out first round of every cup then I’d say around the 5 mark. Our performances in the Twenty20 and Worsley Cup were extremely disappointing. The league position was a fair assessment of where we were as a side in 2017, capable of beating anybody but inconsistent. 

The LCB cup run was a fantastic effort and we showed great mental strength at various stages. Being in 4 competitions drains not only the players but their families too. Everybody played their part and we showed we had a good squad behind us. 

2. The Old Trafford final versus Ormskirk was a proud moment for the Club and the great support heartwarming. How frustrating was it for you and the other players for the weather to have the final say that day and indeed, at Stanley Park a week later?   

Very frustrating and at the time I was very disappointed at Old Trafford. I look back slightly differently now and proud to have lead the team out on to Emirates Old Trafford. That will live with me and many a ‘Houser for ever. 

3. A last adieu to last season concerns a certain player passing a record that had stood since 1905. Tell us what you remember about that historic innings at home to Great Harwood?

Well what can I say ? Some things are just meant to be. For a long time I’d been the nearly man. Amateur centuries don’t happen that often at Lowerhouse and I was beginning to feel like it would never happen. The day it’s self I’ll probably look back on a bit more when I finish playing but I can assure you that finally getting one meant everything to me.  

The record itself at the time I wasn’t aware of. I did know though that no amateur of recent years had passed 150 for Lowerhouse so that was my target once I’d got the three figures. 

4. A positive for Lowerhouse this season is the return of an old friend in Francois Haasbroek . He was a successful and popular pro’ from 2011 to 2013. What will he bring as both a player and a dressing room influence? 

Francois I’ve no doubt will fit straight back into the Lowerhouse dressing room. Francois may not be the Super Featherweight he once was but will he still get good players out and score big runs? Of course! 

5. On the negative side there is the somewhat surprise loss of Joe Halstead. He can be added to a list of talented young players, who for various reasons have been lost to the Club. Matt Walker, Jonny Whitehead, Jack Edgar and the Bailey brothers would be on that list. How much does their loss affect competition for team/squad places and the chances of winning silverware?

Losing any good young player will always effect the club in different ways. Will it effect our short term success? Perhaps not. Was Joe part of our long term plans? Absolutely, yes. 

6. Should Lowerhouse as a club, or indeed other clubs, be put off nurturing young talent when it is so often lost to other teams and leagues?  As an observer it seems to be like a vulture situation whereby one team does all the hard graft, only for another to reap the advantages.

I agree yes it’s very frustrating. But I feel the day clubs stop working with youngsters is the day League cricket is done. More often than not the successful clubs have a production line and a good youth set up. 

On players leaving and I speak only for myself on this topic and not the club. I’ve personally no problem with players leaving to have the opportunity to play 1st team cricket, go Pro-ing or even to the get highly paid in a open league. We all have mouths to feed. 

However jumping ship because things haven’t gone your way and got tough or for £50 a game is a bit poor in my book. I’ve played with Blez and Charlie for 15 years and never once have I heard them moan about where they are batting or lack of opportunity. True club men are getting harder to find. 

7. There are 7 new teams for the 2018 Lancashire League season. What do you know about the standards these teams are likely to bring to the Competition?

I don’t know a great deal, although I work with and coach with a few at The Cricket Asylum over near Halifax. Matt Dawson (Walsden) and Chris Schofield are my colleagues. A Couple of young lads on the programme I work on are in and around various 1st Teams who are joining and we’ve had some good banter this winter. Rumour is Walsden fancy it and don’t mind a word or two! 

8. In relation to this, because of the success of newcomers Clitheroe and Darwen , many League fans I’ve spoken to during the off-season are pessimistic about the number of the 14 ‘original’ Lancashire League teams likely to make 2019’s First Division. Many saying it might be as low as 5. What do you think?

I don’t think you could possibly predict this in March I’m sure by June July all will become clearer.

9. By your very nature, I’m sure you’ll be attacking on all fronts but which competition do you think gives your current Lowerhouse squad the best chance of 2018 silverware?

We hope to have a good Cup run again in one of the three that we are in. In the league some one might just run away with it. In this format we are playing if you can put an unbeaten run together, you’ll be tough to catch. 

10. How important is it, and one could cite the example of the 2008 team, one of the strongest on paper in the Club’s history, but who made an awful start and didn’t really get back on track, that the team hit the ground running early in the season?

Yep for sure, we’ve some interesting fixtures early on against new teams and I’m sure they’ll be looking to put down a marker by beating Lowerhouse so we will have to be right at our best from the off! 

11. On a personal note Ben, you’re now in your prime years as a batter. Given less League fixtures and no replays, is your Uncle’s 1990 single season batting record of 857 runs a possibility for you or probably now out of reach?  

I think it’s still a possibility but of course it’s much more unlikely now. It will take a good summer weather wise and a purple patch of form. Big consecutive scores are not to rare given the drop in standards of professionals compared to the 1990’s, no disrespect intended but it’s the truth. 

12. On the team front, give us a name who will step up greatly on their 2017 figures and surprise us in 2018?

Don’t be surprised to see Dom Stuart rip through some sides once he’s back from University and I expect Dean and Toxy to keep improving now they have had a year to settle. Ben Uttley and Jack Simm both will get a taste of more 1st eleven cricket but both need to be given time to learn at that level. 

13.  Finally there was a well publicised dispute between our Club and Clitheroe C.C.  Do you feel that can now be put to bed or is a little on-going resentment still likely?

I think the players and members will do the right thing and put this behind us and get on with the game.  Once proceedings got to a certain point I think all parties involved not just Lowerhouse and Clitheroe were simply looking after there own clubs reputation and no body should begrudge anyone for that!

Thanks for your time and insight Ben. It just remains for me to wish you and the team good luck for the new season. Let’s hope the quality of the play and weather make it an enjoyable one?

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