Although Bacup had not managed to gain any League honours during Harper’s reign, the club won the Worsley Cup in 1993 and were runners-up in 1990 and 1996. Harper’s performances had been consistently of the highest quality and his appointment at Nelson was considered a real "scoop".
The 1998 season was, therefore, awaited with great anticipation, although there was some trepidation concerning new league rules. During the winter-break the League had set up a working party to investigate better ways of developing young players and this committee had proposed a deviation from overs cricket. The proposals were accepted by the league committee and matches became 100 overs affairs. The team batting first could bat up to a maximum of 55 overs and then bowl the remaining overs. Drawn games were re-introduced, making it possible for middle order batsmen to play for a draw if a win became virtually impossible.
In the event, the weather during the season was one of the worst on record and hardly any matches after May managed a full 100 overs. The new rules hardly got a fair trial but the majority of players and spectators alike voiced their dislike of the uneven length of innings. A demand for the return of "overs" cricket was inevitable.
Nelson, however, soon settled into a tactical system and, after failing to win any of the first four matches, promptly won their next four to go to the top of the league table. They remained at the top for the rest of the season and were duly crowned champions with a win at Church in the penultimate match of the season. Harper’s spin invariably had the opposition batsmen in all sorts of trouble and the close catching of Craig Walton, Chris Willan and Jason Warwick gave him all the support he required. Harper captured 96 wickets at an average of 10.15 - his best return in Lancashire League cricket. He took five wickets on nine occasions, the best being 9 for 24 at Ramsbottom.
Nelson rarely needed to chase large totals and Paul Garaghty’s opportunities to build a big innings were few and far between. Batting at number four, he ended the season with 420 runs for a wonderful average of 38.18. Harper, who batted at three, recorded 767 runs at an average of 47.94. The big West Indian’s all round ability did not end there - he also took 15 catches.
Duncan Spencer, captaining the first eleven for the first time, scored 344 runs whilst new-comer, Craig Walton, established himself as an opener with 384 and also as an accomplished slip fielder with 14 catches. Chris Willan, fielding mostly at forward short-leg, took 15 catches whilst Jason Warwick, mainly at silly mid-off, took 10. Marcus Phelan, the gully specialist, took 11 and Trevor Kegg claimed 10, mainly in the "deep". Daniel Kegg showed plenty of promise and was the best of the amateur bowlers with 36 wickets at 14.92.
Nelson’s cup runs were short. After a good win at Church in the Worsley Cup, Nelson lost at Colne in the next round. Then, in the inter-league cup, wins at home to Stand and Accrington brought Rochdale to Seedhill in the quarter-finals but Nelson were never likely to overhaul the Central Lancashire League team’s impressive 183 for 9 and fell twenty runs short with eight wickets down.
Roger Harper returned in 1999 and continued to mesmerise opposition batsmen. He met with even more success than in any of his previous Lancashire League seasons, and passed the "magic ton" for the first time. He took five wickets in an innings on an amazing 13 occasions, the best being 7 for 13 at Lowerhouse when the opposition collapsed to 46 all out.
The Nelson close-catching was again in evidence and no fewer than six fieldsmen finished the season with more than ten catches. Jason Warwick held 16 catches whilst Duncan Spencer and Marcus Phelan held 15 each. Chris Willan, who only played in 10 matches, held 11 and Mick Bradley took 11 to go with his 7 stumpings. Harper, himself, collected 17!
Paul Garaghty was again the outstanding amateur batsman and he registered 689 runs at a brilliant average of 43.06. This took his aggregate of league runs to 9634, beating Chris Hartley’s record of 9027. It was also the eleventh time that Garaghty had surpassed the 500 run mark in a season.
Duncan Spencer (604) and Craig Walton (529) also achieved the 500 mark whilst Roger Harper hit seven half-centuries in an accomplished 893. Harper had amassed over 10,000 runs in his Lancashire League career and taken over 790 wickets, displaying the extent of his all round ability.
The bulk of the amateur bowling was left to the Kegg family. Trevor took 39 wickets whilst his nephew, Danny, claimed 29. Danny, 21 during the season, became one of the youngest to collect 100 league victims and the future looked bright for this young man.
The return to "proper" overs cricket was well received by players and spectators alike as 50 overs per side was introduced. A complicated system of allocating bonus points to defeated sides caused some confusion early on but, in general, the rules were considered a big improvement on the previous ones.
Nelson had been the early pace-setters in the league after annihilating East Lancashire at Alexander Meadows in the first match of the season. East Lancs were bowled out for a paltry 55 and Nelson went on to win by nine wickets. Nelson’s failure to claim bowling bonus points in the middle of the season meant that East Lancs were able to overtake them in the league table. Nelson entertained East Lancs in the penultimate match of the season and again East Lancs were humiliated. Bowling the opponents out for 86, Nelson were able to record an eight wicket victory to go back to the top of the league. A win at Rawtenstall in the final fixture confirmed Nelson’s second consecutive League Championship, their 21st in the history of the League.
In the Worsley Cup, the side went out to Haslingden at the first hurdle but Nelson enjoyed a good Cup run in the Inter-League Challenge Trophy. There were away wins at Stand and Todmorden before a home victory over Rochdale took them into the semi-finals. An exciting encounter then took place at Middleton when Nelson made 179 for 6 in their 45 overs, Harper top-scoring with 72. With three of their overs still remaining Middleton reached 167 for 5 but a sudden fall of wickets curtailed them to just 12 more runs at a cost of 4 wickets. The match was tied but Nelson won by virtue of taking the most wickets. In front of a bumper Bank Holiday crowd, Nelson failed to take advantage of an home tie when Crompton were the visitors for the final. Crompton made an impressive 210 for 5 with the aid of some big hitting in the closing overs of their innings but Nelson fell 13 runs short of their target despite an heroic innings of 74 from Roger Harper.
Nelson faced a long wait during the winter months in the hope that Roger Harper might be able to return as professional in 2000. As it turned out, though, Roger was appointed as National Coach to the West Indies team and had to finally decline Nelson’s offer of a contract. Fellow West Indian, Keith Arthurton, who had previous successful Lancashire League experience, was eventually signed and hopes of another good season were still high.
Winning eight of the first 11 fixtures, losing only two, was a decent start and kept Nelson amongst the early pace-setters. Accrington (75) and Rishton (94) both suffered their worst scores at Nelson since limited overs cricket started with Martin Heap taking 6 for 17 and 5 for 27. He had his most successful season to date, collecting 45 wickets at 13.33 each to head the bowling averages.
Arthurton had not been expected to claim a huge number of wickets but 40 at a cost of 14.73 was a pleasing return. Many supporters thought he ought to have scored more runs but, again, 758 for an average of over 50 was pretty good.
The amateur batting was a little disappointing with Craig Walton missing several matches and scoring only 363 runs. His average of over 30 was impressive enough though. Both Garaghty and Spencer exceeded 400 runs for averages in the low twenties but no-one else managed a total of 150. Consequently, Nelson’s push for further honours petered out and they had to settle for fifth spot. Garaghty did reach a personal land-mark when he passed ten thousand league runs, the only Nelson player to have reached such a figure.
Cup exploits were short lived as an early exit from the Inter-League Trophy was suffered in yet another ‘bowl-out’ at Littleborough and then going down to defeat at Church in the second round of the Worsley Cup.
Attempts to sign a top class professional for 2001 were thwarted at the last minute again and Nelson were left with having to chase a ‘signing’ with only five weeks to go before the season was due to start. Chris Harris, the New Zealand international, was expected to arrive but family ties eventually determined that he would not be available for a complete season. Eric Simons was responsible for recommending an up-and-coming prospect from Natal - Wade Wingfield - and he duly arrived on the back of some outstanding performances for his state side in one-day cricket.
However, Wingfield failed to acclimatise in the early part of the season and Nelson struggled to compete. Craig Walton had returned to Earby and Duncan Spencer had retired and too much was put on the shoulders of Paul Garaghty as the main run-getter. Garaghty was given the responsibility of captaincy and, this too, affected his own form. Youngsters such as Jonathan Finch, Danny Kegg, Khurram Nazir, Saeed Riaz were thrown in at the deep end and given extra responsibility. Some responded well and other youngsters like Simon Pile and Stuart Lemon also came to the fore.
After suffering their worst ever score in limited over cricket - 22 all out at Bacup - the team then won five matches in succession, giving supporters a false sense of optimism. The next 12 matches were all lost to put Nelson firmly on the bottom rung of the league table. Garaghty resigned the captaincy and Wade Wingfield took over but his own lack of experience was in evidence as a disastrous set of results put Nelson firmly at the bottom of the league table. Wingfield suffered a back injury towards the end of the season and could not bowl, so substitute professionals were sought for the last few matches. In one of them, away to Todmorden, Joe Scuderi deputised and hit a fabulous 145 not out in a second wicket partnership of 243 with Paul Garaghty. This constituted a club record partnership for any wicket.
Mick Bradley volunteered to lead the side for the last few matches and ‘doubles’ over Accrington and Todmorden lifted Nelson off the bottom rung. A win in the final fixture of the season would have taken Nelson out of the bottom two places. Garaghty and Scuderi recorded yet another century partnership - their 16th - but a six hit by the East Lancashire number 10 batsman off the last ball of the match sent Nelson down to defeat, subjecting them to the stigma of having to apply for re-election to the league.
The 2002 season continued to be a period of transition as several youngsters were ‘blooded’ at first eleven level. The return to the club of Joe Scuderi as professional was a significant factor in the general improvement of results. Scuderi himself was an inspiration, notching 1129 runs at an amazing average of 94. His success helped some of the amateurs to regain some form and Paul Garaghty hit 692 in passing a career total of 11,000 league runs.
Lincoln Marshall was highly successful as an opening batsman and, in his first full season, exceeded 500 runs. Colin Pemberton broke his own record by scoring 60 in an opening stand of 161 with Garaghty and Danny Kegg won the Young Player of the Year award at the League’s Annual Dinner after taking 46 wickets to head the club’s bowling averages.
The team finished the season in a creditable equal-fourth position after defeating East Lancashire in the final match of the season. In this encounter, Scuderi compiled his twentieth league century for Nelson. During the season, the Garaghty-Scuderi combination also took their century partnerships up to the twenty mark.
With Joe Scuderi retained as club professional, the 2003 season proved to be a highly successful one although the club narrowly missed out on any league silver-ware. Colne Cricket Club introduced a new competition - a flood-lit tournament where Colne, Burnley, Lowerhouse and Nelson competed for the Burnley Express Cup. Nelson won both the "under 17s" and the Senior competitions.
After leading the Lancashire League table for a good number of weeks, Nelson lost four of the last six matches, winning only one to finish in third place - still an improvement on the previous campaign. Scuderi again passed the 1,000 run mark, equalling the league record of seven occasions whilst Paul Garaghty and Lincoln Marshall went past the 700 and 500 runs marks respectively. Danny Kegg reached the 50 wicket target for the first time, finishing with 57 at a cost of a little over 15 runs each.
The return of Paul Beech to the team after a gap of 13 years gave the team substance to the middle order and an extra option in the bowling attack. He managed 367 runs and 22 wickets whilst the promising youngster, Stuart Lemon collected 346 runs and 31 wickets, winning the League’s "Young Player of the Year" award. And Stuart’s younger brother, Sean, began to make an impression. He made his senior debut early in the season but, on promotion to the opening bat spot with three matches still to play, he excelled with a quick-fire 59 against Colne to stake a claim for a regular opening place.
If there was ever a disappointing season it was 2004. Joe Scuderi retired from professional status and, having made his home in Nelson several years earlier, joined the amateur ranks. A back problem prevented him from bowling and this was one reason he did not seek further professional engagement. A fast bowling professional was appointed in the form of 6’7" West Indian, Cameron Cuffy. The weather was incredibly inclement and this giant of a man hardly ever had a hard, fast wicket to bowl on. He had returns of 5 for 41, 5 for 35 and 5 for 11 amongst his first eight matches and totalled 41 wickets by the half-way stage. Unfortunately, he only took 17 more wickets in the remaining fixtures, four of which were washed out by rain.
Although Scuderi collected 611 runs at an average of almost 34, he was disappointed not to score more. Paul Garaghty topped the averages with 687 runs at 38 and took his total of ‘career’ runs to 12,611. Mick Bradley was consistently sound behind the stumps, taking 24 catches and 10 stumpings and his total ‘victims’ rose to 622 - still chasing the club record of 711 held by his father-in-law, Alan Haigh.
Paul Beech put in some valuable all-round performances and finished with 323 runs and 25 wickets whilst Martin Heap was the leading amateur wicket taker with 29. Danny Kegg, after his 50 wicket haul in 2003, took a disappointing 24.
The Lemon brothers, Stuart and Sean, failed to build on their promising starts but two more youngsters came to the fore. Thomas Lord and Neil Thompson both gained first team places towards the end of the season. 16 year old Thompson hit a sparkling 34 in only his third innings and 15 year old Lord hammered an unbeaten 59 at Colne.
Despite starting the season as the bookies favourites to win the league title, Nelson ended the season in seventh place. The cup run was ended at home to Haslingden in the semi-final but a club and league record was broken at Rishton in the first round. Joe Scuderi joined Paul Garaghty at the crease when Nelson were 2 for 1 in the first over of the match. Scuderi was out in the 48th over for 155 - the highest score by an amateur in the history of the competition - and 264 had been added for the second wicket - again, another record for the competition. Garaghty went on to score his first ever century and finished unbeaten on 106.
The 2005 season was much better in terms of weather and performances, and Nelson climbed to third place in the league table. It could have been second place but a defeat by Ramsbottom in the penultimate match of the season meant that Ramsbottom won the Holland Cup instead. Joe Scuderi continued to play as an amateur and produced many memorable innings, hitting another two centuries and nine fifties. He easily beat Ian Clarkson’s twenty-two year old club record of 888 runs and went on to register 1,135. The number of his club centuries stood at 25, an incredible achievement. The number of century partnerships with Paul Garaghty also increased to an amazing level - 24! That figure became unlikely to increase again as Garaghty announced that he would retire from league cricket at the end of the season. In the last match of the season, in front of home supporters, Garaghty hit his 91st league half-century and pushed his league aggregate of runs up to an astonishing 13,074.
The professional for 2005 was Nathan Hauritz, an Australian off-spinner on the verge of the Test squad. He missed seven matches through a wrist injury but still managed to take 62 wickets at just over 17 runs each. It was his batting prowess that surprised many of the supporters as he was not expected to shine much in that department. However, he hit two centuries and 5 half-centuries in accumulating 750 runs at an average of 62.5, well on target to reach 1,000 runs by the end of the season. Unfortunately he had to return to Queensland for specialist treatment in early August and Nelson had to find substitute professionals for the last six matches. The substitutes did not let the team down though and most produced notable performances. Saeed Anwar hit 99 before being run out at Burnley and Ryan Nurse hit a swash-buckling 78 at home to Colne before taking 5 for 39. Nurse also took 6 for 59 against East Lancashire whilst Ryan Cunningham took 5 for 49 against Ramsbottom.
Some of the young amateurs flourished too. Khurrum Nazir was promoted to open the batting on several occasions as a ‘pinch-hitter’ and he responded by hitting three fifties. His 76 not out at home to Burnley was particularly outstanding as he shared an unbroken first wicket stand of 143 with Scuderi. The pair then hit 156 for the first wicket at Accrington, Scuderi going on to score 102 whilst Nazir made 67. David Crotty ‘came of age’ with a stylish 68 not out at Burnley and Gary Grimshaw ‘tamed’ the formidable Keith Roscoe at Rawtenstall, hitting an undefeated 41 when all others seemed to struggle.
Mick Bradley broke the club record for the number of ‘victims’ behind the stumps in a season. He claimed a grand total of 46 (34 caught and 12 stumped) to beat the record of 44 his father-in-law, Alan Haigh, set in 1969. He also went to 667 career victims, within 45 of setting another record.
With other youngsters like Neil Thompson, Billy Jamil and Thomas Lord gaining valuable experience, the future continued to look rosey. Thompson, in particular, carried his promising start into 2006 when he accumulated 334 runs to finish as the highest amateur run scorer for the season.
The professional for 2006 was South African fringe player, Robin Peterson. He was a genuine all-rounder who bowled slow left arm spin and he had scored 367 runs at an average of over 52 and taken 37 wickets at under 12 after only 9 matches before he was called away to represent South Africa "A" on a tour of Australia. He was expected to return later in the season but he was promoted to the full South African squad and Nelson was left high and dry without a pro’. Substitute professionals had been engaged in mid-season but, when it was known that Peterson was not returning, a New Zealand international was signed to complete the season. Craig McMillan played in the last 8 matches, including the Worsley Cup-final - in which he made an outstanding 99 not out - and he scored 285 runs at an average of 95. He also took 19 wickets at 19 each and signed a contract to return to the club in 2007.
The summer was hot and sunny for most of the time but it was marred by persistent rain on Sundays and Nelson suffered more than most from abandoned matches. Seven of Nelson’s fixtures were declared ‘no-results’ and only three points were acquired from each of them. Other teams were able to play and gain either ten or twelve points. Despite this set back, Nelson achieved a meritorious fourth position in the league table.
The highlight of the season was, of course, the Worsley Cup-final, when Nelson went to Burnley and conquered the side that eventually won the league championship. Apart from McMillan’s brilliant undefeated 99, the other outstanding performance came from Marcus Phelan whose 55 earned him the ‘Man of the Match’ award.
Another highlight was the bowling of Joe Scuderi at Haslingden. He stood in - at the last minute - as a substitute professional and produced one of the most outstanding feats a bowler can perform. He came on to bowl his second spell after 42 overs had been bowled and Haslingden were looking to build on their 121 for 4 in the final eight overs. After two singles had been scored, Scuderi took wickets with each of his next four balls! Scuderi took 5 wickets for 2 in his second spell as Haslingden fell from 123 for 4 to 123 all out! After being 33 for 5, Nelson went on to win the match by 3 wickets with David Crotty hitting a fighting 46 not out.
Nelson’s top bowler for the season was Khurrum Nazir and his 35 wickets cost just over 11 runs each. He also performed well as a batsman, registering 310 runs.