Earby captain Chris Walton hopes sub professional Ockert Erasmus can help the club lay the foundations for significant progress over the next season or so.

Walton’s side sit 17th in this season’s Anthony Axford North West Cricket Premiership table having won five matches.

He accepts they are unlikely to finish inside the top 12 ahead of next season’s two-divisional split, but believes that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

A young squad, including two 14-year-olds in Harry Brindle and Evan Dobson, has shown significant promise over the last couple of weekends in particular, including a strong performance amidst rain at Ribblesdale Wanderers on Saturday.

At the start of the season, they also beat now second-placed Farnworth.

When rain came on Saturday, they were 56-2 after 11 overs chasing a revised 68 target in 21 having bowled the hosts out for 99. They needed to face 20 overs in the chase to ensure a result. The Saturday before, they beat Atherton at home.

It seems that whilst the likes of Adam Hodge and Luke Hipgrave are having a notable influence, so to is South African Erasmus, who has replaced compatriot Rubin Hermann in the last couple of weeks.

Hermann had to go home early due in part to a shoulder injury as well as franchise commitments. Though he did struggle for consistency at William Street.

“Nothing against Rubin at all,” said Walton. “He tried his best. But he’s a youngish lad who wasn’t used to conditions - 26 - and it’s a completely different game to what he plays back home.

“We noticed quite a difference with Ockie in his first game last week. He’s brought that experience and know-how.

“He’s been pro’ing around the leagues for years, and I’ve said to the lads, ‘There’s lots to be learnt, listen up, ask questions and he’ll advance your game’.

“Straightaway, last week, he took it upon himself to do the warm-up, and everyone was desperate to impress him.

“We’ve got a very young side apart from myself and Iain Clarkson, who has been around a bit. The next eldest I think is 26, and we have two 14 and two 18-year-olds, who have been playing most of the year.

“Realistically, I don’t think top 12 would be great for us. We may have a late dart at it, but it would be a bit of a double-edged sword.

“I played at Colne for a few years, and we got promoted to the top division and struggled all year.

“I think we’d fit better in the second division, strengthen and have a crack at it that way.”

Erasmus is available for the lion’s share of Earby’s remaining games. He claimed two wickets on Saturday and was seven not out when the rain halted their seamless chase.

Walton was actually unavailable to play on Saturday but followed scores closely and would have seen Hipgrave claim four wickets and Adam Hodge open the bowling and batting with 3-17 and 24.

All-rounder Hodge, 18, has been Earby’s standout player this season with 363 runs and 33 wickets.

Walton said: “He opens the bowling left-arm and gets a good bit of shape in towards the batter. He will be a very good cricketer. He usually bats five or six.”

That an all-rounder has been Earby’s standout player kind of figures from a club whose most famous son is Lancashire legend and current coach Glen Chapple.

Walton says Earby’s current league position is “fair”, adding their batting has been their Achilles heel this year.

In the last two Ribblesdale League seasons, they finished mid-table with eight and seven wins. A similar return this year would be realistic and would provide an excellent platform for 2024.