Carlton out to stay No.1 as cricket gets back to business

Former Durham all-rounder Dylan Budge, left, who has joined Grange. Picture: Calum MacLeod
Former Durham all-rounder Dylan Budge, left, who has joined Grange. Picture: Calum MacLeod
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Another winter negotiated and pre-season friendlies having shaken off the rustiness, it is down to business for Scotland’s club cricketers on Saturday.

Eastern Premier champions Carlton, who also claimed the national crown with victory over Western counterparts Clydesdale, are determined to maintain the standards that took them to such dizzy heights.

They do so with a new man at the helm, Scotland fast bowler Ali Evans having replaced Stevie Gilmour as captain, the latter retaining his role as coach.

The loss of former national skipper Gordon Drummond, who has retired, may be partially offset by the return of the swashbuckling Queenslander Michael Herdman who last played for the Grange Loan outfit in 2012.

Club captain Fraser Watts said: “It will be a new-look side and we expect quite a few of our younger players to break into the team.

“It’s going to be much tougher than last year but there are lots of opportunities for everyone at the club and we are looking forward to another wonderful summer at Grange Loan.”

The stiffest challenge to Carlton’s ambitions may come from nearby, last season’s runners-up Watsonians again likely to be in the frame along with a Grange side who are targeting a title challenge after securing a couple of significant new recruits.

Scotland prospect Harris Carnegie has headed south from Arbroath while another man in the national reckoning, former Durham all-rounder Dylan Budge, has also arrived at Portgower Place.

Forfarshire, who split these three capital sides to finish a creditable third, may be formidable again particularly since they have lured the prolific South African-born batsman Chris Greaves from Glenrothes.

Not that the Fifers have been idle in terms of strengthening; they may have failed in an ambitious bid to sign former India bowler Sreesanth but Scotland star Safyaan Sharif, who has switched from Falkland, is a potent addition with bat and ball and will captain a team also bolstered by the arrival of Yasar Arfat and Aamir Shahzad from Stenhousemuir.

Aberdeenshire and Arbroath should win more than they lose, though the former will be content just to play more than the 11 games they managed last summer during a campaign which was beset by drainage problems at Mannofield. SMRH, back in the top flight at the first attempt, will look for runs from their South African recruit Shaylen Pillay, while a five-strong capital contingent is completed by a Heriot’s team aiming to break into the top four.

Clydesdale must defend their Western title without Majid Haq, the man who led them to a league and cup double last season having left the club for a new challenge with Eastern Championship outfit Corstorphine.

Abdul Sabri and Akram Shakoor have made the shorter trip from Titwood to Shawholm where newly promoted Poloc could emerge as title contenders after also recruiting Taimoor Ahmad and Scotland spin prospect Hamza Tahir from Ferguslie.

Ferguslie have an intriguing new face in Riyaad Henry – son of Scotland and South Africa legend Omar – a player who has already captured the attention of the national selectors.

Uddingston, may mount a challenge especially after Scotland star Ross Lyons joined from East Kilbride.

Kelburne are also preparing for life without a key performer, having lost skipper Qasim Sheikh to division one side Weirs.

Greenock will have the assistance of Australians Julian Hulbert and Kyle Scrimgeour as they bid to cement a top-flight place after an absence of four years.

Dumfries’ overseas contingent, David Carlton and Josh Forsyth, hail from the same country while Ayr welcome back the prolific Kiwi Michael Papps who contributed 916 runs to the cause last season. Neighbours Prestwick will rely on home-grown talent as they bid to improve on last year’s fourth place.