SALTAIRE Cricket Club chairman Simon Hicks is proud of his side, after they won their first ever Aire-Wharfe League Division One title last weekend.

Perennial champions Otley are down in third, but even on top form they’d have struggled to stop Saltaire, with the Bradford side having won 16 of their 20 games so far to seal the trophy with two matches to spare.

Hicks said: “We were confident we’d be competitive at the start of the season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we thought we’d win the league.

“I think we have a better balanced and more experienced team than in the past.

“It’s been a team effort, with things like the lower order coming to the rescue after a bad start and getting us up to a competitive score.

“I think we’re a better fielding side now too.”

Hicks felt the games against Otley were key this season, and he said: “We got off to a good start by beating them in a high-scoring game at the start of the year, which gave us a boost.

“Even at theirs, though we lost, it was a close game. We just lost a bundle of wickets in succession at one point which killed our momentum.

“That was one of two games in a row we lost, with the other against Burley. But we stayed in both of those games and weren’t thrashed, so we were confident we could get back on the horse afterwards.

“Otley are a well-balanced side with lots of experience, and they know how to win, so the watch word for us all season was just to take it one game at a time, and not look too far ahead, which the lads took on board.”

Key to Saltaire’s title win was captain Usman Munir, with Hicks saying: “We call him Boxer, and he’s been a consistent presence at this club for so many years.

“He’s only in his thirties but he’s been at the club for over 20 years, so he’s linked generations and teams.

“He’s not changed since being a junior really, he’s still the relaxed presence he always was, and he never panics when the team are in a precarious situation.

“He’s had Sajad Ali alongside him too, who did leave us for a bit but has been at the club for many years too.

“He and Boxer work well together and give us continuity. Boxer has a bit of a recurring Achilles injury, so Saj has been able to step in and take over as captain when he wasn’t fit to play.”

But even Munir and Ali weren’t at Saltaire the last time they won a top-flight title, with Hicks saying: “I think we might have won a Bradford League one in the 1960s, but I’m not sure.

“Before that, I think you’d have to go back to when we had the great (England Test bowler) Syd Barnes in our team in the 1920s.

“These kind of wins don’t come around too often for most teams, so we’ve told the players this is something they can look back on fondly when they’re older and tell the grandkids.”