2019 League campaign starts this weekend
The 2019 Premier League cricket season gets under way this Saturday with East Kilbride the visitors to Glenpark.
The Lanarkshire club was relegated to the First Division at the end of the 2017 season, but has bounced straight back to the Premier Division thanks to finishing in the runner-up spot in the First Division last summer, winning ten out of the thirteen league matches completed. Drumpellier were champions and also return to the Premier Division.
When Greenock and East Kilbride last met, it was in the 2017 season when each was battling to secure its future in the Premier Division. It was the Greenock side which eventually did, despite losing both league encounters with the Lanarkshire team.
The matches both home and away were well contested with an average of almost 200 runs per innings being scored. Another such match on Saturday will entertain local spectators at Glenpark, especially if Greenock can come out on top.
The local side's ability to put runs on the board will be a crucial factor in the game. There is plenty of potential in the team to do so, but the players need to show a strength of commitment and concentration to remain at the crease and build an innings if a good total is to be achieved.
The early pre-season matches played over the past two weekends did not produce team performances of any great note but there were several positive individual performances.
Shailesh Prabhu was one of those and last Saturday in the friendly with Hillhead scored 30 before being trapped LBW by a ball which kept low. He is likely to be asked to open the innings against East Kilbride and may well be joined by Australian amateur Zac Barrenechea. The young Aussie is a top order batsman and wicketkeeper. He debuted for Greenock last weekend and scored a fine 38 runs against a strong West of Scotland bowling attack.
Indian professional Saurabh Bandekar returns to Glenpark for a second season after having had a good season for Greenock last summer. He is a top order batsman and contributed very important runs for the local side in 2018, especially so in the second half of the league programme after having settled into the team and learned how to handle the Scottish conditions.
Team captain Neil Flack is a talented cricketer himself, and while he completed the 2018 season as second top run scorer next to Bandekar with one run short of 400 in league competition, he will be keen to improve on last season's form and try to out-score his Indian professional team-mate.
The number three and number four positions in the batting line up will almost certainly be filled by Bandekar and Flack and thereafter, Chris Hempsey, Chirag Pandher and Jonathan Hempsey could be the players to complete the middle positions of the batting order as the competitive season gets going.
Greenock's bowling attack will be led by Bandekar. As well as being a front-line batsman, he is also a right arm pace bowler who has impressive career statistics. He has the benefit of having played a full season in west of Scotland conditions and so should collect a good haul of wickets during his stay.
Having arrived back in Greenock only on Tuesday of this week, Bandekar's availability for the team on Saturday will be a considerable boost for the team.
Supporting the Indian professional in the home attack will be Jonathan Hempsey and Sam Sanghera, who were Greenock's opening bowlers against West of Scotland in the friendly match last weekend. Hempsey picked up all three of the West wickets which fell and that will have given him confidence going into the start of the league programme.
Another who will feature in Greenock's bowling line-up on Saturday will be team captain Neil Flack who not only was Greenock's top wicket-taker in the Premier Division last season, but he also picked up the Western District Cricket Union's trophy for the bowler taking most wickets in the Premier Division.
However, missing from the Greenock attack will be Greg McDougall and Sean Fischer-Keogh who are both unavailable this weekend.
Whatever the bowling decisions eventually are, Greenock will hope to put the East Kilbride batsmen under pressure from the start, and if the first few wickets can be captured relatively cheaply, then it will be important to push home whatever advantage has been built up.
Fielding was noticeably off the mark at times last weekend and Neil Flack will want his players to be much more focused against East Kilbride. Several decent catching opportunities were put down in the match against Hillhead last Saturday and almost certainly impacted significantly on the result. Such chances must be taken this weekend.
Last summer, more than one of Greenock's league matches had outcomes which changed dramatically in the final stages of the game, and so the lesson to be remembered by the players is that an innings is not finished until the last ball is bowled.
Also, tactically, the team must carefully consider how to approach the tail-end overs in order to minimise the opposition run-scoring. On occasion, the team's good work in the early and middle sections of an innings was allowed to drift and the opposition gained a total which was much higher than might have been expected when Greenock had earlier appeared to be well on top.
Saturday's match will be one which the Glenpark team will undoubtedly be targeting as an important one from which to gain a win, Doing so on the opening Saturday of the Premier League season would be a huge confidence booster.
The match will start at 12 noon.
The Glenpark XI will play their league matches in 2019 in the Fourth Division of the WDCU after their unfortunate relegation last season. Their aim will be to reclaim their place in the Third Division and they start their campaign with an away fixture against Glasgow South who play at Hamilton Palace. It is a very young team that skipper Ally Calder will lead out but they will travel with hopes of a positive start to their season.
Greenock Cricket Club is sponsored this season by Cleaning Supplies 4U.