Greenock face another crucial encounter
Last Saturday's disappointing defeat to Stirling County has meant that Greenock are still seeking their first league win of the season. Once again, their batting failed to capitalise on a strong showing by their bowling attack, an issue that has been a recurring theme this season.
This Saturday, they travel to the south of Glasgow to take on Poloc at Shawholm, one of the most picturesque places in the west of Scotland to play and watch cricket. Their opponents have started to show some form, having endured a difficult start to the season.
Last weekend, they inflicted a comprehensive 9 wicket defeat on East Kilbride, a defeat which condemned the Lanarkshire side to remain at the bottom of the league table, one place below Greenock. And the week before that, they defeated Drumpellier quite comfortably.
These two wins have resulted in Poloc climbing to seventh place in the table and seen them put some distance between them and the three sides below, East Kilbride, Greenock and Drumpellier.
The Poloc side that has taken the field this season has shown quite a change from that of previous years. They are quite a young side, with a number of promising players in their line-up, not least their two young openers, Muhammad Dar and Amaan Ramzan, who both scored heavily against East Kilbride. However, they also possess experience in the shape of their captain, Craig Young and their South African professional, Lesiba Ngoepe, who played for Aberdeenshire in 2018, and these two were the leading run scorers in the Drumpellier win.
As regards their bowling, their leading wicket-takers this year have been their two recruits from Glenrothes, the well-travelled Mohammad Arafat and Zaighum Ahmed, while Ngoepe has also weighed in with some useful wickets.
Poloc also have a young overseas amateur from South Africa, Abdur-Raoof Howard, in their ranks but a combination of poor weather and dominant batting displays from their top order have limited his chances to shine so far.
Greenock have not met with much success at Shawholm in recent years and last year they suffered one of their heaviest defeats on record when they went down by 277 runs after the Poloc professional, Jurie Snyman had hit 209 and Craig Young 128 not out. However, records are always going to be beaten and what better time to break the run of defeats at Shawholm than this Saturday.
This season has seen Greenock contrive to lose a number of games from seemingly certain winning situations and there has to be a sense that a win is just around the corner. One thinks back to the opening game of the season at Drumpellier when the most amazing batting collapse saw the team fail to score the necessary 51 runs for victory.
There can be little doubt that this has left significant scar tissue on the team, something that was amplified the following week when another collapse saw victory gifted to West of Scotland. Had these two games been won, then Greenock would be sitting comfortably in mid-table instead of fighting to retain their place in the league.
Greenock's bowlers, led by professional Saurabh Bandekar, have done extremely well in most of the league games this year, restricting the opposition to gettable scores but unfortunately the batting has failed to turn these performances into victories. But only Bandekar has regularly batted with any great success and even he has shown a tendency to get out at the wrong time with the winning line in sight.
Neil Flack has suffered a difficult start to the season, so much so that he has decided to relinquish the captaincy to Bandekar, but there have been recent signs, against Grange in the Scottish Cup and last week against Stirling, of a welcome return to the form that everyone knows he is capable of.
In the six matches played this season to date, Greenock have batted second in all but one of them and their inability to chase down the opposition total, no matter how small, has been a telling factor. It may be no coincidence that their best batting display of the season came in the one game, against Prestwick, when they batted first when there is less pressure on the batsmen.
Injuries and a lack of availability have hit the team hard all season. Last Saturday showed only too clearly how the team missed the experience of Shailesh Prabhu, Jonathan Hempsey and Greg McDougall. There are a number of promising young players in the Greenock squad but it is asking a lot of them to make an impact against experienced players when they have played relatively little senior cricket.
At the time of writing the team to play on Saturday will be selected from a squad of twelve.
The match at Shawholm will start at 12 noon as usual and the forecast for once looks quite promising. So far 2019 has been extremely disappointing from a weather perspective and players and spectators alike would give a lot for a warm and sunny day. Cricket was never meant to be played in damp and cloudy conditions.
The Glenpark XI are again without a league game this Saturday but a friendly match with Marress (Irvine's 2nd XI) has been arranged at Glenpark with a 1pm start.
Greenock Cricket Club is sponsored this season by Cleaning Supplies 4U.