The Bothwell club launch their title defence today with a tricky trip to Ayr and captain Bryan Clarke knows that being champions makes his club the prize scalp that all opponents will be trying to claim.
Clarke, though, will focus on his own team and is pleased to report that, while the celebrations were understandably sustained and wholehearted last autumn, the club moved on to a winter of sober planning. Tough decisions were made, such as not inviting popular and talented Sri Lankan professional Ras Priydarshana back for a fifth season.
Ras will be replaced by New Zealander Matt McEwan who has already impressed since arriving in Lanarkshire last month.
Andrew Umeed, the highly- promising young batsman who is on the books at Warwickshire, has also been recruited, although his availability will be determined by county commitments in the same way that Durham will have a say in when Calum MacLeod and Gavin Main will be free to strut their stuff in the Western Premier.
“I think we’ll be strong again and, hopefully, can mount a serious title defence,” said Clarke. “Matt has made an immediate impact and is everything we’d hoped for in terms of a pro. He’s a club man who loves coaching and being around the club. He’s given us a freshness and a greater level of intensity. Andrew Umeed is also a great addition – he is a really serious cricketer for someone who’s just 18. He’ll be with us for the first few weeks before joining up with Warwickshire.
“The important thing for us was not to stand still after winning our first league title in 79 years and make sure the club is moving forward. It would have been easy for us to have the same pro and do the same things this year but we’re looking to continually improve as club in every sense.”
Ayr skipper Andi McElnea is also upbeat about his side’s prospects as they aim to improve on seventh place. The Alloway club are one of the few in the country to boast an internationally capped professional in the shape of Sikander Raza Butt, who made his Zimbabwe Test debut against his native Pakistan last year.
Having previously played for Weirs, Renfrew and Prestwick, Sikander is familiar with Scottish conditions and is likely to be a major asset to a youthful Ayr side who will also rely on McElnea’s brother, Scott, and wicketkeeper Neil Smith, both of whom are gaining valuable experience with the Reivers in the North Sea Pro Series.
Elsewhere, the featured match on day one is surely the derby between West of Scotland and Clydesdale at Hamilton Crescent.
West have major selection problems with Stewart Leggat,Dave McNulty and Gregg Watson all out, although Ian Young and Stuart Murray return.
Clydesdale, tipped by most as title favourites, have recruited Saltires all-rounder Richie Berrington from Greenock, and South African player-coach Con de Lange from Northants.
Drumpellier, who were in the running for much of last season, have former Pakistan Test batsman Muhammad Ramzan as captain but the Langloan troops may find it tougher going this season with several key players having moved on.
One of them, Imran Adrees, will be in opposition this afternoon as Drumps host a Renfrew side captained for the fifteenth season by Sai Majeed and who have prolific batsman Ahmed Said back for an eighth summer as professional.
Newly-promoted East Kilbride, boosted by the arrival of Saltires star Moneeb Iqbal and the return of New Zealander Peter Bocock, open with a home clash against a Dumfries side led again by Stuart Corbett-Byers, who has come out of retirement after a season on the sidelines.
Captain: Andi McElnea
Overseas: Sikander Raza Butt (Zimbabwe), Heynrych Nel (South Africa)
Last season: 7th
Captain: Majid Haq
Last season: 2nd
Captain: Muhammad Ramzan
Last season: 5th
Captain: Stuart Corbett-Byers
Last season: 4th
Prediction: 6thEAST KILBRIDE
Captain: Josh JohnstonOverseas: Peter Bocock (New Zealand)
Last season: Promoted
Captain: Sai Majeed
Overseas: Ahmed Said (Pakistan), Amjad Jawad (Pakistan)
Last season: 6th
Captain: Bryan Clarke
Overseas: Matt McEwan (New Zealand)
Last season: 1st
WEST OF SCOTLAND
Captain: John Blain
Last season: 3rd