ATHERTON insist the job is only half complete after securing promotion back to the Bolton League’s Premiership despite not bowling a ball on Saturday.

Their immediate return to the top flight was secured in bizarre circumstances at Darcy Lever as both teams surveyed an unfit pitch.

Captain Jesse Dinnie was at a loss to explain how all other areas of The Levers ground were dry, apart from the all-important 22 yards.

“They mustn’t have had the covers on all week. It was really strange,” said the Australian. “It was just mud which looked like it had been rolled and rolled.

“I have never seen anything like it.”

After a league inspection, Atherton are set to be awarded seven points – the equivalent of a bonus-point victory - subject to it being ratified by the league this week. 

It means they hold an unassailable second place in the table and sit six points behind leaders Heaton, who they host in a title showdown at Higham Park on Saturday – the final round of the summer.

Dinnie said: “Every team starts the season wanting to get promotion and win the league. We’ve got promotion, but we aren’t going to relax. We want to win this league.

“It will be an exciting occasion.”

Atherton’s promotion was set up by winning their first seven games played this season, added to a couple of rain-forced abandonments.

“We didn’t lose a game in the first half of the season in the cups as well, beating teams from the Premiership,” said Dinnie.

“We’ve had a few setbacks since, but I guess no season goes completely to plan. Thankfully we’ve adapted well enough to stay in the title race.”

Dinnie and fellow all-rounder Manelka de Silva, their Sri Lankan professional, have starred with 361 and 268 runs respectively, added to 36 and 23 wickets.

“We’ve had alright seasons, but we’d have liked to have done more with the bat. It’s been tough to bat, though,” said the skipper, who has been trialling with Derbyshire and Northamptonshire this summer through second-team cricket.

“I would like to do a pre-season with a county if possible.

“I feel if I do, it will set me up well for next season if I play some more second-team games.”

Dinnie says discussions over his return to Atherton will begin imminently, although there is no desperate rush, given he and his girlfriend are remaining in the UK until close to Christmas.

“We’ve always wanted to do things like the Christmas markets,” he said.

Whether or not he returns to the club in 2020, he is confident Atherton will be able to avoid another relegation from the Premiership.

“We’ve improved our off-field stuff so much,” he added. “On a Tuesday we’re now getting the full group training.

“We probably get 20 lads down to training, including the second team. Last year, we were maybe getting four.

“There are also plans already in place for some players for next season to make sure we stay up.

“We probably need to make more runs and get a spinner. I’m the only spinner at the moment, and I don’t even bowl back home. That’s the main one.

“But our core group of local players are very strong. It’s a good group to work around.

“We know what to expect from last time as well.”