ARBROATH will launch the defence of their CS Eastern Premier title on Saturday when they entertain Grange, but the Lochlands club will have to see off nine rather than seven rivals this season after another bout of reconstruction resulted in an expanded ten-team league.
As part of last winter’s machinations, Cricket Scotland handed over the administration of cricket in the west to the Western Union, where the status quo will remain with a top division of eight teams.
It wasn’t such plain sailing in the east and north of the country, though, where a consensus between the East of Scotland Cricket Association (ESCA), the Strathmore and Perthshire Cricket Union (SPCU) and Cricket Scotland proved elusive.
Indeed, the governing body refused to endorse the two-leagues-of-ten structure for which the majority of clubs had voted.
Instead, a compromise was reluctantly reached whereby ten clubs will compete in the top flight, with ESCA and SPCU running their own ten-team Championships, the winners of which will play-off for a place in next year’s Premier Division.
Thus, Corstorphine, Dundee HSFP, Freuchie, Glenrothes, Penicuik and West Lothian, who competed in last year’s Cricket Scotland League, have dropped down the pecking order.
While he may not be in total support of the manner in which the change came about, Marc Petrie, the Arbroath captain, sees no reason why the addition of two teams will dilute standards and believes that trying to retain the title will test his side to the limit.
“It’s often said that defending a title is more difficult that winning it for the first time,” said the wicketkeeper/batsman, who earned the last of his seven Scotland caps four years ago, but who, at just 24, is keen to force his way back into the national set-up.
“Having said that, it was really hard last season with three teams in contention all the way and I can see it being at least as competitive again.
“The big Edinburgh clubs are always strong and I expect Carlton and Grange to be among the main challengers again.
“But our boys are buzzing for it and we want to adopt the same approach that worked for us last season, with every player concentrating on pulling their weight and executing our skills individually and as a team.”
That team will show several enforced changes now that talismanic veteran medium-pace bowler Benny McGill has opted to become a father figure to the second XI, while Darren Spink is unlikely to play due to work commitments and Alvin Pollard, cousin of West Indies star Kieron, has moved away.
However, youngsters such as the Scotland under-19 captain Ross McLean and the even more youthful Harris Carnegie and Ryan Cameron will be handed more responsibility.
“We have a great blend of youth and experience,” added Petrie.
“Even quite a few of our young players have picked up tremendous experience from playing in the Scotland age-group teams.
“Last season was the best one in the club’s history and we know it will be tough to match that but we’ll give it a real go.”
Elsewhere, there will be much interest in the performances of Carlton following the appointment of Pete Steindl as their senior head coach.
Steindl was, of course, relieved of his Scotland duties after the failed T20 qualification bid but will prepare the Grange Loan side during the week before heading off to play for Corstorphine in the ESCA Championship on Saturdays.
Grange, led once again by Neil McCallum, will be formidable, especially with young players such as Chris Sole and the Edwards brothers, Henry and Will, another year better and more experienced.
The same might be said of Aberdeenshire, although the Mannofield side will surely miss the influence of their former player-coach Neil MacRae, now head coach of Jersey.
Top flight newcomers Forfarshire and Falkland look capable of springing a few surprises in their pursuit of survival.
Uddingston must wait three weeks before launching their CS Western Premier defence and can expect the main challenge to come from a Clydesdale side who will be coached by Con de Lange, the former Ferguslie and Northants all-rounder.