Cricket: Dumfries building a challenge

They’re out in front already, albeit by the most slender of mathematical margins. Yet, with opening victories over Greenock and Clydesdale, ambitious Dumfries have hit the ground running in the newly-constituted Cricket Scotland Western Premier League.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise. The Nunholm men were last year’s winners of the ill-fated SNCL Championship, and would have taken their place in domestic cricket’s top flight for the first time had not the short-lived, two-division national league set-up been jettisoned in the winter in favour of a reversion to a regionalisation. Dumfries also captured last season’s SCU Trophy.

What is remarkable, though, is the manner in which the Borders club have been forging their irresistible rise. Not for them the quick-fix route to glory via the hired-hand assassin, importing mercenaries to the exclusion of the meaningful participation of local talent of more modest ability, possibly winning trophies, but often at substantial financial and developmental cost. Rather, Dumfries are building their success on more lasting foundations. In an era of austerity the precious finances continue to be shrewdly invested in a beautifully-appointed ground and on youth development.

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“Significantly, we now have a large squad of first-team players to mount a serious challenge in our first campaign at this level,” said veteran Davie Davidson, groundsman at Nunholm, and still featuring in a playing capacity in his mid-forties.

“We’re currently selecting from a pool of around 17 players of proven, bona fide first-team quality.”

The likes of experienced all-rounder Jimmy Patterson, undefeated century-maker for the seconds in their opening league tussle at Glenpark, opening bowler Allan Maskrey, Chris McCutcheon, fledgling seamer Neil Alexander and all-rounder Davidson himself are yet to find selectorial favour.

“We’re continuing to go down the route of bringing in young overseas amateurs to supplement our own homegrown resources,” said captain Stuart Corbett-Byers. “We’ve established strong links over many years with the Newcastle club in New South Wales, Australia, and this season have recruited all-rounders Joe Clarke and Josh Geary.”

Both have made their mark already, scoring vital fifties in the opening-day win at Greenock. Proven warhorse left-arm spinner and aggressive top-order batsman Scott Beveridge, now a permanent Scottish citizen, emanated from the same source. The refreshingly upbeat Dumfries modus operandi has also attracted players from within Scotland.

Wily seam bowler Patrick Druce, having hitherto arguably spent too much of his prolific career as a bigger fish in the lower leagues with St Michael’s and Galloway, has signed up at Benfield Park and grabbed eight top-order wickets in the opening two league encounters. Druce’s new-ball partner is Alan Davidson, now back at Nunholm for his second stint, and making an immediate impact after a relatively disappointing spell at Ayr. Opening batsman Chris Bellwood has similarly returned, from Greenock, and was man of the match against Clydesdale, carrying his bat right through before being stumped off the very last ball of the home innings for a fighting 99.

For much of their long history – they can trace their origins back to 1853, and still play in their original maroon and blue – Dumfries won little save for the odd Border League title in 1938 and 1993, and more recently some Western Union triumphs. But that’s all changing. Their 2011 league and cup double is surely the harbinger of greater triumphs to come.

“It’s only the start of the season,” insisted a modest Corbett-Byers. But the indications are already there. The ever-improving Nunholm infrastructure may well have to incorporate a more expansive trophy cabinet. And soon.