Cherry Tree believe the signing of off-spinning professional Mickey Copeland will allow them to administer some of the medicine they have had to swallow in recent years.

Six wickets for their new South African, an ex-Proteas under-19s player, helped the Preston Old Road side get their Anthony Axford North West Cricket League Championship promotion bid off to the ideal start with a home win against Walkden on Saturday.

Copeland, aged 22, had an excellent debut with 36 off 23 balls from number four in his side’s 170 all out before he took two catches and, more notably, claimed 6-39 from 9.2 overs as Walkden were bowled out for 135.

Captain Jon Baldwin oversaw a 35-run win in his side’s opening game of 2024 having had a bye week on May 4.

“Mickey bowled really, really well,” said Baldwin.

“I don’t want to speak too soon, but we’re confident we have signed a very good pro. He’s 22, he bats well, he has a good pair of hands, and his off-spin is going to go really well for the rest of the season, I would have thought.

“The great thing about him is that he ticks a lot of boxes we haven’t had before.

“Ross (Bretherton) did a good job for us for two years, but in a game like this one we needed a spinner with a bit more intensity.

“As a batter, there’s that bit of extra pressure facing a really, really good pro spinner.

“We didn’t set that many attacking fields, but we just felt that it was going to be so hard to get him away unless he bowled a bad ball.

“I reckon out of 39 runs he conceded, 32 or 34 were boundaries. They either got after the bad ball or they just didn’t look like scoring against him at all.

“For many years, we’ve playing on here against pro spinners doing the same against us - us struggling to chase scores of 150, 160 or 170 under bags of pressure.

“We drew on that experience knowing that when you’re seven or eight down, 50 runs to get is a lot.”

Copeland’s return with the bat from number four was bettered only by Mark Hadfield’s 52 off 95 balls from number three, with Cherry Tree surviving a collapse from 144-4 as off-spinner Muzamin Niza claimed 5-32 for Walkden.

“Not at 140-4 I wasn’t,” chuckled Baldwin when asked if he was happy with his side’s total at halfway. “I was absolutely furious!

“But I was happy in the sense that before the game I’d said, ‘Listen, this feels like 160-165 pitch’. That was more knowing that early season, scores of 150 or 160 win you a lot of matches. But, from where we were, we should have made 215-220.”

In reply, Walkden got out of the blocks quickly and were 86-2, with Bajan Dario Boyce on 45 before he fell as Copeland’s first wicket.

Baldwin continued: “Walkden, they’re definitely an improved side from last season with some players who will cause teams problems.

“I think they were 75-2 after eight overs. It’s easy to say after winning, but having played a lot of cricket over the years it felt like it could be 120 for six or seven once our spinners got going. And that’s exactly how it turned out.

“Their lad (Boyce) batted beautifully. He hit every ball cleanly, but Mickey bowled so well to him. Once, we got him, we took a wicket next ball - Mickey ripped one through the gate.

“They had a couple of little partnerships, but we felt it was ours to lose.”

Cherry Tree had to remain patient to get their season going: “I don’t remember ever playing the first game of a league season on the second weekend in May,” said Baldwin, who hailed Hadfield’s innings.

“He batted most of the innings and was so patient. He played really, really well.”

And the early signs are positive for Cherry Tree, who could be celebrating a memorable season come September time. Not that the skipper thinks a top-two finish for promotion will be easy.

He added: “I think there’s a couple of teams we will come up against who have improved significantly from last season.

“Atherton look like one of those, I think Read will go well too this year. We played Read in a rain-affected game last year and were battering them, to be honest. But their side is stronger this year, as is ours.

“Our division will be very competitive, no doubt.”

Meanwhile, the NWCL committee have carefully considered the impact of Bolton Wanderers’ appearance in League One Play-off final (4.15pm) on tomorrow’s fixture programme and have opted to carry on as normal.