CAPTAIN John Wood praised the match-winning contribution of Tanzeel Altaf after the overseas all-rounder's role in reigning JCT600 Bradford League champions Cleckheaton's 21-run win over second-placed Woodlands and then forecast a bright future for the talented player.
Altaf produced a swashbuckling innings of 56 that included five sixes to enable Cleckheaton to post a challenging 243-7 before taking 6-63 with his leg spin on a responsive pitch as the home side were bowled out for 222 in the Division One showdown.
Not surprisingly, Wood announced that Cleckheaton have already signed the Lahore-based player for next season and said: "Tanzeel has a first-class hundred in Pakistan and takes wickets.
"I think in the next couple of years he will be knocking on the door of international cricket. He is an impressive cricketer and an impressive lad. I am glad we have re-signed him because other teams were interested in him."
The entertaining match will be remembered for some pugnacious batting, featuring 18 sixes, fine spin bowling and some stunning catches – but it was the result that was all-important to Wood.
The maximum 20 points gained gives Cleckheaton a 24-point lead at the top and Wood said: "It's a big win and it gives us a nice little cushion.
"It was a perfect day for us really. I always thought that anything over 200 was going to be a good score on that wicket. We felt it would break up as the game went on, so it was important that we won the toss and batted first.
"It turned square in the second half. It also bounced from a very full length, making it difficult to play."
Left-handed opener Tim Jackson (70) and Ian Nicholson (58) restored Cleckheaton's fortunes with a third- wicket stand of 104 after the visitors had lost Andrew Gorrod and John Wood cheaply before Nicholson was run out.
Jackson's innings ended at 184 when he swung across the line to become one of overseas pace bowler Sarfraz Ahmed's four victims. But Altaf and James Lee (25no) continued to score freely in the closing overs to enable Cleckheaton to make what proved to be a winning score.
Woodlands began slowly and, after slipping from 72-1 to 114-6 in an attempt to boost their run rate, their challenge was as good as over.
Key wickets, all falling to Altaf, were opener Duncan Snell – who hit a six before being caught next ball at long leg by Gorrod – big-hitting Sarfraz Ahmed, promoted in the order, bowled the ball after he had also hit a six and top-scorer Simon Mason (53) eighth out at 154, brilliantly caught one-handed on the extra-cover boundary by Lee, the best of three fine catches by the former Yorkshire player.
Skipper Pieter Swanepoel, who thrashed three sixes in a defiant knock of 44 not out while putting on 34 in a last-wicket stand with Adam Goldthorp, disputed Wood's opinion of the pitch.
He said: "It was one of the best wickets we have played on at Woodlands. I thought they batted well and took the game away from us, whereas some of our batmen showed a lack of concentration.
"Everyone is trying to catch Cleckheaton but it is only halfway through the season and anything can happen."