Champions Little Lever are back on top of the Anthony Axford North West Cricket League’s Premiership division after a Saturday stroll to victory at Padiham, who they beat by eight wickets chasing a target of 87.

Josh Gent’s side now lead Blackrod by just one point after eight rounds - 86 points to 85 - with both sides having won seven matches so far in 2024.

Blackrod also brushed Farnworth Social Circle aside by eight wickets at home.

Little Lever left-arm spinner Curtis Anderton continued his superb start to the season with a new-ball 5-28, the chief architect of Padiham’s downfall to 86 all out. Anderton is now the NWCL’s leading wicket-taker with 37 in all cricket this term.

In reply, Indian overseas amateur, Nipun Gaikwad, top-scored with 42 not out added to two earlier wickets with his spinners.

Blackrod are proving a dangerous rival, however. They restricted Social Circle to 175-9, with three wickets for Thushendra de Zoysa. But their standout performers on the day were Sri Lankan professional, Navod Paranavithana, and Bajan OA, Antonio Greenidge.

Both men claimed two wickets and then hit 82no and 59no respectively, Paranavithana leading an unbroken third-wicket partnership of 113 having come together at 64-2.

Blackrod claimed 10 points, but were overtaken by Little Lever with a maximum 12-point haul.

Salesbury jumped back into the top three in the Premiership, on 76 points, following their sixth win in eight - this time by six wickets at home to bottom side Astley Bridge (151 all out).

Spinners Josh Bristol and Liam Parkinson claimed three wickets apiece before Australian OA, Brandon Faber, led a successful chase with an unbeaten 50.

In the Championship, Read strengthened their grip on top spot with a thumping 157-run win at home to Feniscowles, who were bowled out for 119 in the face of a daunting 276-9 total from their 45 overs.

Read’s sixth win from seven games was set up by Joe Halstead’s aggressive middle-order 86 with four fours, before South African OA, Zadian Muller, struck four times with his seamers in defence.

On 73 points, they are 11 clear of Walkden in second and, more importantly, 18 clear of Brinscall in third.

Those two sides played each other on Saturday, a thrilling clash won by hosts Walkden - the margin just three runs.

Walkden’s fifth win in seven saw Muzammil Nizam’s middle-order unbeaten 54 in 218-7 before he struck once in a defence which was very close to failing.

Brinscall fell to 111-3 before Sri Lankan pro Madura Madushanka and South African OA, Divan van Tonder, set up a thrilling finish, scoring 67no and 45no, respectively. They went into the final over, bowled by Faisal Hussain, needing 10 to win but finished on 215-3.

Back into the Premiership, and Farnworth are into the top five having beaten second-bottom Ribblesdale Wanderers by 25 runs away from home defending a 208 target.

Farnworth’s fourth win from eight came after six sixes in 64 from Simon Booth featured in 207 all out. Yasir Rashid took the new ball and struck four times as the hosts were bowled out for 182.

Wanderers, for whom sub pro Jacques Snyman starred with five wickets and 71, are now the only team in either the Premiership or Championship to be winless.

Tonge also claimed their fourth win - away at Lostock by 21 runs having posted 199-5.

Their Sri Lankan pro Hashan Dumindu had a memorable day with 101no and three wickets, Lostock finishing on 178-6.

Eagley’s third win came at home to Kearsley, who were bowled out for just 79 in reply to 151 all out.

Will Shuttleworth top-scored with a middle-order 46 for Eagley, but James Fallows was their standout with a superb new-ball 6-31. Kearsley lost their last eight wickets for 26.

Atherton, one of the pre-season promotion favourites, continued their stuttering start, losing for the fourth time in seven games - this one at home to Whalley by 27 runs.

Whalley’s 134 all out was underpinned by opener Stuart Crabtree’s 49, though he was one of six wickets for Harry Morgan.

Pro Levi Wolfenden then claimed a new-ball 5-39 with his seamers in Atherton’s 107 all out. Whalley won for the second time in seven.

Cherry Tree (296-7) won a high-scoring game at Baxenden, who slipped out of the top two courtesy of a 77-run defeat.

Cherry Tree skipper Jon Baldwin opened up with a fine 94 before Andreas Sudnik struck twice in Baxenden’s 219-6, including fifties for Blair Walsh and Adam Masood.

Like Cherry Tree, Barnoldswick (226-5) also won for the third time this season, at home to Earby by 45 runs.

Sub pro Kieran Grimshaw hit 86 for Barnoldswick and added three wickets in Earby’s 181-9.