EARBY owe a debt of thanks to understanding wife Helen Tilbury after reaching the semi-finals of the Jennings Ramsbottom Cup.

Having been married little more than 24 hours earlier, Helen gave husband Paul the go-ahead to play in Earby's last-eight clash at Padiham.

And watched by his new bride, Paul responded by hitting a crucial 46 to take Earby through from a game he was desperate not to miss.

He said: "We got married at 11.30am on Saturday and I wanted to play on Saturday but that was a no-go. However, with the help of my father-in-law I got to play on Sunday and we got round it that way.

"I love my cricket and I have played at Earby for about 20 years now. It was good to play and get a few runs and I wanted to play because the week before we'd had another nail-biter against Padiham when their professional hit me a few times in the ribs and on the gloves and I wanted to have another little battle.

"I just wanted to see if I could handle the pressure and this time he didn't bowl quite as quickly."

Tilbury came up with the goods but his match-winning knock wouldn't have happened without the help of Helen, who has "started to get into cricket" since the couple got together.

"She is special," admitted Paul, who even sneaked out of their reception after the wedding in Helen's home village of Trawden to phone Earby and check on their progress in Saturday's league win over Ribblesdale Wanderers.

The pair are guests at another wedding this Saturday but Paul will be hot-footing it from the church to turn out against Blackburn Northern before returning for the evening reception.

And even though the newly-weds will get away for a holiday next month it will, of course, be a strictly mid-week affair to avoid clashing with any further games as Earby chase a league and cup double.

Local rivals Barnoldswick now stand in Earby's way in the cup, but Paul believes his side can go all the way.

"If all 11 Earby lads perform on the day there's no reason why we can't go on and pick up the trophy," he added.

At Padiham, Paul had come to the crease with Earby wobbling at 46-3. However, his 81-run partnership with opener Stephen Pickles put the visitors back in control and by the time the groom went for 46, made off just 55 balls with five fours and three sixes, Earby were just 27 runs away from victory.

"I'm pleased for Paul. He's a smashing lad and he's just had had two fine knocks for us. We were delighted when he made himself available and I don't think many wives would have allowed that.

"He thought he might not get back in the team if he didn't play !" said skipper Ian Clarkson.

Competition for places is a key factor at Applegarth this summer and Clarkson admits he wasn't looking forward to last night's selection meeting.

"The good thing about our side is that we've got people who can come into the first-team. We have got 14 or 15 first-team players but unfortunately I can only pick 11," he added.

Chris Walton and Steve Rushton both came into the side last Saturday and made 40-apiece as Earby beat defending champions Ribblesdale Wanderers to boost their title hopes.

Neither played the following day after the team had been re-selected and Clarkson hopes that the club's strength in depth will be a telling factor in their pursuit of a league and cup double.

After a slow start to the season, Clarkson's men have started to click in recent weeks and the captain is hoping for a repeat of events of nine years ago when he last lifted the championship trophy.

He added: "I've always said to the lads that you can only really lose five games and we've lost three already. We didn't have a good start but the last time we won it in 1992 we lost five then, including three out of the first four, so I hope that's an omen.

"We have got a game in hand and play Settle on Sunday. So if we could pick up 10 or 12 points from the weekend we would be right up there.

"If we play to our potential we are in with a shout. We are certainly in a better position than we were four weeks ago."