Little Lever captain Josh Gent has revealed how eight-wicket star Nipun Gaikwad did not give him much choice but to bring him on to bowl during last Saturday’s opening day landslide win against Lostock in the Anthony Axford North West Cricket League’s Premiership.

In a clash of first versus second from last year, champions Little Lever won by 10 wickets after bowling their hosts out for just 34.

Indian overseas amateur Gaikwad claimed a stunning haul of 8-3 from 10.1 overs of off-spin, capping off a memorable weekend which had started for the 24-year-old by watching Bolton Wanderers in the first leg of the play-off semi-final at Barnsley on Friday.

“He loves Bolton,” said Gent. “He went to Barnsley and to the home game. Sam (Fanning), our pro, went to that as well. Nipun’s always wearing his Bolton shirt.”

So, to the cricket. Gent won the toss and elected to bowl first at Chew Moor Lane.

“I knew that would play a big part in the game,” he said.

“We opened the bowling with our new lad from Bury, Mukhtar Nasir. He’s a right-arm medium pacer, and Curtis (Anderton) opened with him.

“Mukhtar is a very good bowler, but they were 20 for one and the majority of runs had come off him. He wasn’t bowling badly or going for many, but you could just see that pace was easier to face than spin. So I brought Nipun on alongside Curtis.

“I was thinking about making the change, but he came over and basically ripped the ball out of my hand and said, ‘It’s time for business’ Then he went and takes eight wickets for three runs!”

Gaikwad struck with his first ball and later took three wickets in an over, narrowly missing out on a hat-trick.

In last season’s Premiership, Gaikwad scored 873 runs at the top of the order and took 58 wickets.

“He’s the best overseas amateur I’ve ever played with,” said Gent. “He could easily be a professional given his stats add up to what a pro would do. But he’s an amateur.

“He’s very settled to the conditions. This is his fourth time over here, so he knows the game. He’s living with the pro. They’re the best of mates. They train together, go running together every day. They’re well at it.”

Which brings us on to Australian professional Sam Fanning, the Western Australia batter who top-scored with 29 in Saturday’s chase.

The 23-year-old left-hander replacement for Jake Lehmann has just won the four-day Sheffield Shield with WA and played in January’s Big Bash semi-final for Perth Scorchers.

Gent continued: “There are six states in Australia - that’s all there is - and he plays for the best state there is. It says he’s a good player.

“WA have won the Sheffield Shield three times on the run, and he’s in that side with the likes of Mitch Marsh, Cameron Bancroft - all these lads. He played in front of 50,000 in the semi-final of Big Bash. No mug does that, do they?

“I’m going to put my neck on the line here. I think Sam will be a top first-class Aussie player when he comes through.

“Jake set it up. He couldn’t come over, but he said, ‘I’ll make sure I get you a top player’. Looking at him, all the signs are that he is.

“He’s living the professional’s life here, and he’s a top lad who’s fitted in well. The lads love him.”

In truth, Little Lever won last season’s league title at a canter and had it wrapped up before they lost their last three games of the campaign. They also won the league’s T20 competition, making it a year to remember.

“We gave teams a bit of confidence towards the end of last season because we lost a few games,” added the skipper. “But we’d already won the league by then.

“People thought, ‘Oh, since Lehmann’s gone, they’re not the same team - they’re not doing this or that’.

“But Lostock have just found out that we’re still a good side who haven’t lost it. We didn’t peak last year. All we did was win the league and take our foot off the gas and enjoyed it.

“It was a tough season for us because we were relentless - non-stop ploughing towards that title. It was a hell of a season given we got to the quarter-final of the Hamer Cup and won the T20. We had loads of games. Once we won the title, there was just that sigh of relief.

“People might have read more into that than we did.

“Look, this win doesn’t guarantee us anything - it’s just one good win - and it will be a competitive league this year. But I still see us as a very strong side.”

Little Lever host Eagley this coming Saturday.