Big Interview: Andrew Starkie
There was a time in his long Preston Cricket Club career when bowler Andrew Starkie felt like he was playing in two games at once.
Such is the 42-year-old’s longevity at West Cliff, he can remember the days when the ground was big enough to accommodate two pitches next to each other.
Every Saturday during the summer months, two Northern League fixtures would often take place at corresponding times.
As a swing bowler, Starkie would often be asked to field on the boundary edge when it was not his turn to bowl.
And he admits there were times when he needed to have eyes in the back of his head to ensure that he was not struck by balls hit for six from batsmen playing on the opposite pitch.
Nowadays, there are no such dangers for deep lying fielders at West Cliff as Preston Hockey Club’s artificial facility now lies where one of the former cricket pitches once did.
“I remember the days when the hockey pitch wasn’t there and so you would have the second and third teams playing on the same pitch next to each other,” Starkie recalls.
“You would have two games going on at once, which wasn’t too bad unless you were fielding on the boundary right in the middle.
“You wouldn’t know which way to look at times. It was quite a dangerous fielding position knowing that you might be getting hit from behind.
“You definitely had to be alert at all times fielding there.”
If Starkie may have needed some head protection back then, last season he and his team-mates probably could have done with a tin hat and a flak jacket!
Disgruntled supporters of the South Meadow Lane -based club were forced to endure one of the worst seasons in living memory.
A lack of funds coupled with the loss of a number of key players on the eve of the opening weekend, contributed to Preston’s nightmare of a campaign.
The club failed to pick up a single victory all summer in the Northern League Division One – and finished rooted at the bottom of the table with a paltry points tally of just 24.
They finished a huge 89 points behind second-bottom Kendal, while eventual champions Morecambe accumulated a whopping 260.
For a proud and historic club like Preston – which is believed to be one of the oldest clubs in the world and has played at West Cliff since the middle of the 1800s – it was a chastening experience.
However, from rock-bottom, the club has stuck together and hauled itself up off the canvas.
Chairman Younis Patel has managed to entice some old favourites, such as all-rounder Lukman Vahaluwala, back to the club for this season
The first green shoots of recovery were seen during the first month of this campaign when they recorded a remarkable win over the reigning champions.
It was their first victory in nearly two years as Morecambe were bowled out for 204, chasing 218 for victory, with Starkie the star of the show with a six-wicket haul.
Preston have since gone on to register further wins – more than tripling their points tally from last season.
While there is still much work to do to make Preston a force to be reckoned with once again, Starkie believes the club can be proud of the way it has responded after last season’s debacle.
“Last season was hard but I think a lot of credit has to go to the lads who have stuck with it,” he said.
“Quite a few of those players involved from last season are still playing this year.
“It’s been pleasing to get some wins under the belt.
“Obviously Lukman Vahaluwala has come back and made a massive difference.
“There’s Irshad Desai, who has come in and hit a few 50s this year, which has been pleasing.
“Mohmedrafik Patel has bowled really well, although he’s not always got the wickets that he’s deserved.
“Lukman has been doing a good job for us and everybody else has been chipping in with runs or wickets.
“So yes, we have got three or four new additions, but a lot of the faces from last year are still around the club and it has helped strengthen the second team a little bit.
“The second XI are playing quite well this season and the first team have had some good results so things are looking better.
“So I think credit has to go to the lads who turned up week in, week out last season. We know there are lots of things we need to improve upon and need to work on.
“If we can do that then who knows? We might be able to get a top-half finish this season.
“We would be chuffed if we could do that.
“We will keep fighting and putting in performances – full team performances– where everyone is taking responsibility.
“When the top two or Lukman, for example, don’t get any runs, the others must step in and the same goes for the bowlers.”
While the future looks rosier for Preston – who have been crowned champions three times in their history in 1967, 1970 and 1983 – Starkie admits they will always face a battle to compete against teams with greater finance.
“I think a lot of it does boil down to money – last season sponsorship dried up a little bit,” he said.
“We are taking on teams who are paying many of their players...or so I believe.
“We just don’t have the money.
“You go to some clubs and their clubhouse is like a local pub – it’s bit like going for a pint at the Black Bull.
“They are obviously taking in a lot of money over the bar, whereas the money at our club goes into our set-up as a whole because we are a sports club, not just a cricket club.
“The cricket club does get some money, bits and pieces.
“But the money is not really there for us.
“As a club we have to try to find some sponsorship to help us.
“But I think what is quite impressive this season is that we are taking on a lot of these teams who are paying money to a lot of their players and giving them a game at least.
“From not winning last season, hopefully we can win a few more over the course of the rest of this season and who knows where that might take us.”
Off the pitch, the club is looking to build firmer and stronger foundations by improving its junior set-up and working more closely with the neighbouring hockey club.
“The ground is looking really good – that has improved,” Starkie said.
“We have had people in to look at that and I think that has improved the overall atmosphere at the club.
“We have had a few curry nights to get all the lads together.
“I think we are getting there, slowly but surely. We have been able to welcome along a few new players, so things can only get better from that point of view.
“Lukman has taken on a coaching role at the club. The younger teams have been winning a few this year.
“The youngsters have improved quite a bit and hopefully they can push on and start playing in some of the senior teams.
“There have been a couple who have turned out in the Sunday XI this season so that’s good.
“I remember a long, long time ago when I was a youngster, there was a very good junior set-up and we need to get back to that.
“Part of the problem is nowadays lots of players move around to lots of different clubs and it’s harder to keep hold of people.
“I think there are only two or three of us who have come up through the junior set-up and are still playing in the first-team set up.
“Back then we had Clive Henderson, who is our president now.
“He used to play well before my day but he was in charge of the junior set-up.
“He was connected to the Lancashire junior section and he basically taught us everything we know.
“Clive would encourage us to get our fielding right, get us to bowl straight and then just keep improving on that.”
Now in his early 40s, Starkie has enjoyed his best years as a cricketer over the past 10 years after spending the previous decade primarily in the second team.
A late developer, he is determined to keep on pulling on his whites despite him entering the realms of veteran status.
“I am 42 now, so I’m starting to feel the aches and pains. My reactions are not quite what they used to be,” he said.
“It’s more the bad weather which does for me.
“The good old Great British weather can be the biggest problem.
“You can be in a situation where there might be lots of jobs to do back at home but you can find yourself sitting inside a changing room while it rains outside thinking, ‘I could be at home now doing this and that’!
“I don’t really know what life is going to throw at me but as long as I am still enjoying it and taking wickets – getting the odd run or two – I will keep on going.
“I started off the season really well.
“I got the six wickets against Morecambe, then I think I got a five-for and three-for.
“But then I chipped my finger and I was out for a couple of weeks.
“My form has not quite come back to me since.
“I haven’t always been a regular first-teamer. I played a lot of the time in the second team and I have sort of worked my way up.
“With the first team at one time it was a case of, ‘We are short this week – let’s get Starkie in’.
“But I moved up and started playing well for the first team.
“It was quite late on I suppose before I got into the first team properly.
“I would have been well into my 30s before I started having a regular run in the first team.
“It took me until my 30s to get to a level where I was able to make it difficult for the batsmen to get runs off me.
“Then it was a case of frustrating them enough to get some wickets.
“I was pretty consistent in the second team.
“I remember one year picking up 61 wickets in a season, so I’ve just tried to keep up that level over the years.
“Without really thinking about it, I have managed to turn myself into a first-team player.”
Starkie will be aiming to help Preston to more success this afternoon when they travel to Barrow for a Division One fixture.