Vaux Northern League

CHORLEY begin their Northern League programme with a home game against Morecambe, bidding to finally get their hands on the championship trophy again after a run of frustrating near misses.

But Darwen have suffered an eve-of-season blow with their new professional Nikhil Chopra being advised not to travel from India as he is suffering from a virus.

Former Darwen pro Peter Skuse, now with Saddleworth, steps in for tomorrow's opener at Fleetwood, with Chopra expected to arrive next week.

Chorley have made their ambitions clear by signing as their new professional giant Australian pace bowler and big-hitting batsman Jo Angel, the former Burnley paid man.

The Windsor Park club have finished runners up in five of the last seven seasons.

But they could not have come closer to their first title since 1980 than last year when they finished level on points with Netherfield only to miss out on the prize because the Kendal side had won one more match.

Angel, who made a big impression with a superb all round performance (77no and 6-21) in his one match as deputy professional last season, recently helped Western Australia win the Sheffield Shield against Tasmania. Skipper Roland Horridge said: "After winning the Shield and also getting married before leaving Australia, Jo will surely be on a high and I am sure the Chorley public will give him a great reception.

"He knows he is coming to a serious league and an ambitious club and we are very much looking forward to having him." Angel replaces fellow Australian professional Ronnie Davis who originally intended to stay on at Chorley as an amateur but has subsequently accepted an offer to play for Bolton League side Little Lever.

Experienced all rounder Gordon Lee has also left Windsor Park but Horridge has high hopes of young quick bowler Matthew Parry who is expected to step up from the second XI.

Veteran leg spinner Keith Eccleshare, who topped the bowling averages last season, is as keen as ever to get among the wickets and former Cambridge University captain Russell Cake will again open the innings.

Like the Lancashire League, the Northern League have introduced a new points system with 15 points for a win if a team bats first and 12 points for a team batting second.

A maximum of three batting bonus points are available and two for bowling in drawn games, in which the side batting first will also claim four points and the side batting second one point. There has been little change in the Darwen ranks as they bid to improve on last season when they had professional problems and were forced to engage substitutes for a number of games.

"With a good professional, I think we could have made the top three last year," said Birch Hall chairman Peter Lamster.

"We have a similar side and some good amateurs, hopefully the new pro will give the team more balance."

Chopra is an off-spinner and Darwen will be looking to him for both wickets and runs.

One significant addition to the squad is wicketkeeper Howard Braithwaite, who has moved to Birch Hall from Ribblesdale Wanderers.

Graeme Parkinson, who played only a few games behind the sticks anyway last summer, has joined Oswaldtwistle Immanuel.

Gareth Cordingley skippers, who have a testing start away to Fleetwood tomorrow.

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