Shahzad Rafiq wary of Stirling as Prestwick launch title defence

The Prestwick team pose with their trophy after winning last season's National League final. Picture: Donald MacLeod
The Prestwick team pose with their trophy after winning last season's National League final. Picture: Donald MacLeod
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Shahzad Rafiq, the Prestwick captain, says his team will take nothing for granted as they launch the defence of their Western Premier title this afternoon.

The champions should start as strong favourites against newly-promoted Stirling at the Henry Thow Oval but realistic Rafiq, said: “Their confidence will be high after last season and we know they have some quality players. We expect nothing other than a tough test.

“As far as defending the title is concerned, we are not thinking that far ahead.

“All we want to do is remain competitive, play exciting cricket and enjoy ourselves as we did last year.

“If we are in contention at 
the start of August I’ll be delighted.”

Stirling counterpart Matt Tweedie has revealed his team will take inspiration from Prestwick, who won the top-flight title only two seasons after being promoted.

He said: “It’s impressive how they have been able to progress so well over the last couple of years and this game is a great opportunity to see how we shape up against the best team in the league and hopefully kick-off of an 
exciting challenge.”

Both teams are missing a key pace bowler with Willie Rowan unavailable for the champions and Stirling’s Akram Shakoor injured. Prestwick will hand the new ball to Scotland U17 prospect Euan McBeth.

West of Scotland, returning to the top flight after a two-season absence, introduce Zimbabwean all-rounder Trevor Garwe as they entertain Poloc at Hamilton Crescent.

West skipper Gregg Watson said: “We’re delighted to be back and are confident that, on our day, we can give the best a run for their money. We always feel we’re stronger at home so, hopefully, we can start with a win.”

Poloc have three debutants in their side in Imran Ameer and Ihtesham Ul Haq, who have joined from Glasgow Accies and Clydesdale respectively, while South African Coenie Nel features as overseas amateur.

In one of the day’s top matches Ferguslie, in the top three for the last three seasons, entertain Clydesdale. The Paisley side welcome back Hamza Tahir and Taimoor Ahmad after a season at Poloc while Ihtisham Malik is back for Dale, also after a spell at Poloc.

Uddingston welcome Mo Awais from Clydesdale but line up against former team-mate Anwar Hafeez who will be in the Ayr side to visit Bothwell Castle.

Greenock await the arrival of Indian professional Saurabh Bandekar but South African Laurens Smit makes his competitive debut against Dumfries at Glenpark while the visitors introduce fellow South African Jesse Smit and New Zealander Andrew Mascall.

It may be a new season in the CSL Eastern Premier Division, but Mazars Grange have turned back the clock with club legend Stuart Davidson named in the team for this afternoon’s opener.

At the end of the 2013 season all-rounder Davidson, pictured, announced that he was retiring from first XI cricket but has kept himself fit and, now in his mid-40s, will add to his 177 top-team league games when the Edinburgh side host Aberdeenshire.

Former England bowler Ryan Sidebottom is not available, but captain Preston Mommsen’s side still looks strong as they look to improve on last year’s third-place finish. Lachlan Hillis makes his debut.

Aberdeenshire travel south with new pro Akshu Fernando in the team.

Reigning champions Heriot’s are at home to new boys RH Corstorphine. Captain Keith Morton said: “We were on such a high after last 
season and I think that has kept the guys going during pre-season. We are excited to get going.”

RH Corstorphine’s new pro Hammad Azam has not arrived as yet, but they do have experienced Scotland spinner Majid Haq in their XI.

Arbroath were pipped at the final hurdle last season and they start at home to Stewart’s Melville. Sri Lankan pro Shanuka Vithanawasam has joined the Lochlands outfit.

Stewart’s Melville captain Greg Ruthven is pleased to welcome Shaylen Pillay back from South Africa after a cracking 2017 with Kris Steel having moved from Penicuik and Hayden Sweet also having joined up.

After his heroics for Scotland in the World Cup qualifiers, Safyaan Sharif again skippers Glenrothes, who host Carlton.

For Carlton, Australian player/coach Michael Castle’s arrival has been delayed and he is expected in the country next week while Tom Williamson and Shiv Gupta have come in from Edinburgh University.

Ewan Chalmers again leads Watsonians, who visit Forfarshire. Scotland all-rounder Michael Leask is back at the Broughty Ferry outfit after a spell at Somerset while Bill Kruip comes in from Brisbane in Australia.