Yorkshire League South: Azeem Rafiq’s return key as Sheffield and Phoenix United survive along with Collegiate

Azeem Rafiq's return was key for Sheffield and Phoenix United
Azeem Rafiq's return was key for Sheffield and Phoenix United
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The final week of the regular season in the Yorkshire South Premier League saw Collegiate and United involved in games affecting the relegation places at the bottom of the table.

Rotherham Town’s fate had long been sealed, but the fight was on to avoid the remaining place between United, who hosted Treeton and Doncaster, who welcomed Collegiate.

A Collegiate loss would put pressure on United to take points off near neighbours Treeton, whose recent form had seen the move up the table to safety.

United were glad to see the release of Azeem Rafiq back to the club for this last game from his Yorkshire exploits. Captaining the side, Rafiq inserted the visitors, promptly opened the bowling and took the key wicket of Steve Foster to his first ball. With the attack all pitching in, wickets were taken at regular intervals and the highest Treeton partnership was 31, coming for the third wicket between Chris Cobb (34) and Greg Norton (14).

Bilal Anjam took 3-12 and Suleman Saleem finished with 2-24, but Rafiq’s return to the attack helped polish off the innings as Treeton slumped from 63-3 to 110 all out, Rafiq the pick with 4-37. So a target of 111 would see United preserve their Premier League status for 2017, so would superstition win out or would it be a canter to the line?

Over at Doncaster, Collegiate batted first in a game reduced to 42 overs. Michael Topp picked up the early wicket of league debutant Alex Moore but solid contributions from Dan Priestley (38) and Tom Dunn (39) took Collegiate up to 73-1. Luke Townsend (3-68) reined Collegiate in by dismissing Dunn and Simon Guy, but Michael Simpson responded in trademark style. He scored 60 off just 28 balls with eight sixes, taking Collegiate up to 197-7 from their allocation and leaving Doncaster a stiff task in achieving the win needed to give hope of survival.

The Treeton attack got stuck into their task and nerves were clearly running through the United dressing room when Vinnie Ogden took the third wicket of the innings and United were 39-3. Anjam and Rafiq then combined to calm the nerves, with a partnership of 45, before Anjam fell for 42, Mohammad Attari’s second wicket. Matthew Taylor (15*) stuck with Rafiq (30*) to see their side safely home by five wickets in the 35th over.

Attari’s 2-24 made him the most successful bowler, so United survived and condemned Doncaster to relegation to the South Yorkshire League Championship in 2017.

The result at Bawtry Road became academic as Collegiate’s bowling attack enjoyed the last session of the season. Luke Shutt, only recent back in the side after a long injury lay-off, and Henry Eldred tore through a shell-shocked Doncaster line up reducing them to 37-8. A brief period of respite came through Will Street (14) and Harry Ashton (10*) but with skipper Matt Dixon picking up the final wicket with his second ball, Doncaster’s innings closed at 64 all out; Shutt the pick with 5-17 and Eldred finishing with 4-47.

In the end the gap was significant and with United having won both games against Doncaster, could be well justified.

But as in every winter, there will be some serious recruitment required at Bawtry Road to avoid another battle against the drop – Rafiq’s availability being key. Collegiate had a fine year, finishing fifth and with an appearance in the national rounds of the Twenty20 cup, but will want their main players at the start of each innings to stay fit to give them a consistent start to their games.

League winners Wakefield Thornes face Harrogate of the Yorkshire North league at Scarborough on Saturday, for a place in the play-off final in the Middle East.

FINAL STANDINGS: Wakefield Thornes 216; Appleby Frodingham 164; Whitley Hall 152; Wickersley 150; COLLEGIATE 144; Cleethorpes 126; Aston Hall 122; Barnsley 122; UNITED 110; Treeton 104; Doncaster 90; Rotherham 36.