A YOUNG and popular cricketer who helped Clitheroe to their 2010 Ribblesdale League title success has died suddenly.

Tom Hardman, described by shocked former team-mates as “the most genuine guy you could wish to meet”, would have been 22 on Monday.

The former Lancashire second team player spearheaded the Chatburn Road side’s glory bid two before a back injury ruled him out for the final few weeks of the season.

He was still in regular contact with Clitheroe’s players and title-winning captain Peter Dibb admitted he was “totally gutted” by the news.

“Tom stayed in touch with all of the lads here and I was only speaking to him last week,” said the batsman. “I couldn’t believe it when I heard the news, I still can’t believe it but my thoughts are with his family and friends.

“He was expected to be captain of the Leeds/Bradford MCC University side next season and he was telling me how excited he was about that.

“Tom was a lovely lad, the most genuine guy you could wish to meet, and a great cricketer and I felt numb when I received a phone call telling me. I still feel gutted.”

The Bury-born Hardman, who had played in Australia for the University of New South Wales and for the Cheltenham club in Victoria, was out of the game with his back injury in 2011 but made a successful return to action this year for Middleton in the Cental Lancashire League where he scored almost 800 runs.

During his time at Clitheroe, Hardman scored 355 runs in 15 games and claimed 27 wickets as they went on to lift the league title.

“Tom picked up his injury and we had to finish the season with substitute professionals,” said Dibb. “But he was a big part of our title season. We were on top of the league when he was injured and we would probably have gone on to win it.

“All of our players are stunned, they were all close to him. It is a really sad time for everybody.”

The news shocked Darwen’s Lancashire star Alex Davies who said: “Some things remind you how lucky you are, Tom was the world’s nicest lad.”