Greenock meet East Kilbride in 'Must Win' encounter
Greenock begin the second half of the Premier Division league programme on Saturday afternoon with a trip to Lanarkshire to play bottom team East Kilbride. It is a match which Greenock MUST win if the local side has to have any hopes of retaining their status in the top division.
That statement has been made before, but it is now increasingly the reality, as the Greenock team has failed to win a single game in the first half of the league season. But even so, it is not all doom and gloom as in the matches played to date the Glenpark side has shown that it has the ability to compete well and has got into several winning positions, but on each occasion has managed to 'snatch defeat from the jaws of victory' and so currently lies second bottom in the league table.
In the first two completed Premier Division matches of the season in early May against Drumpellier and West of Scotland, Greenock looked to have straightforward opportunities to win the games, having bowled out their opponents for low scores, but then failed to bat well and handed unexpected wins to the opposition.
And those two 'performances' have to some extent been repeated against Uddingston, Stirling County and Poloc. Losing has become a habit and the time has now arrived for the team to learn how to win once again.
A key player to kick start this revival will be Saurabh Bandekar, Greenock's Indian professional. He has been the Glenpark side's most consistent performer in the first half of the Premier Division programme with both bat and ball. He is the top run scorer in the Premier Division with 283 runs at an average of 40.43 runs per innings. His top score has been 84 against Prestwick. He is also the second top wicket-taker in the Premier Division with 21 wickets so far at an average 9.24 runs per wicket. His best figures of 6 wickets for 28 runs came against West of Scotland.
But clearly, Bandekar needs to be better supported by others in the team in order for results to improve. And there are numerous players who have the abilities to provide that support but whose form so far this season has been less consistent than in past seasons.
Neil Flack is one such player. He is a talented all-rounder in the team but so far this season has only shown some glimpses of the form of which he is capable. He is a top order batsman with a proven record in the Premier Division including a fine century last season against Clydesdale, and also a useful bowler who was the top wicket-taker in the Premier Division in 2018.
However, his form has been gaining some momentum in recent matches. Last Saturday at Poloc, Flack returned his best bowling figures of the season with 4 wickets for 29 runs and in the last few weeks he has scored 42 against top Edinburgh side Grange in the Scottish Cup and 37 against Stirling County. A continuation of that sort of form will be good for his confidence and a real boost for the team.
Jonathan Hempsey is another player to whom the team will look for some contributions in the weeks ahead. He is an important bowler for the team and should have a key role at East Kilbride, if fit. He has been hampered by injury in recent weeks but looks likely to play on Saturday. He can also score valuable runs and has a top score in his Premier Division career of 76 but needs to play himself in more carefully when he goes in to bat if he is to build an innings of any significance.
Australian amateur Zac Barrenechea has proved to be a more than useful wicket-keeper. He is also a top order batsman with potential to score significant runs and while he has had few decent starts to the innings which he has played in the league, he has not yet gone on to score a fifty. Perhaps the warm sunshine this week will bring out the best in his batting on Saturday.
A player who has been showing some good form is another Aussie, Rod Mountford. Normally a lower middle order batsman, Mountford has had a few good knocks in recent weeks and in midweek scored 40 against Ayr at New Cambusdoon.
Back into the side for this Saturday are Greg McDougall and Shailesh Prabhu who are both experienced 1st XI players but who have missed recent matches due to injury and work commitments. But out for the next couple of weeks is Sehmat Pandher.
If a winning habit is to return, then it will be a whole team effort that will bring it about. The players must show a desire to win and fight for every run and every wicket.
This Saturday's opponents, East Kilbride, have also failed to win any league matches so far this season and Greenock must ensure that the Lanarkshire team's record continues. Out of the nine matches scheduled in the first half of the Premier Division programme, East Kilbride have only managed to complete four due to the poor weather which has affected the west of Scotland but the team has had success in the midweek cup competitions.
In the McCulloch Cup, East Kilbride qualified for the quarter final stage of the competition with three wins out of six matches and also progressed through the opening round of the Rowan Cup.
So although having zero wins in the league, East Kilbride have had success in a number of midweek cup matches, and therefore Greenock must ensure that Saturday's match is approached with care. Each player must do his best whether with the bat, ball or in the field and be willing to work for every run and every wicket.
Saturday's match against East Kilbride is hugely important and although it is just the first match in the second half of the Premier Division programme, and there are still nine matches to be played, it is nevertheless a match which could be described as 'win or bust' for Greenock.
Greenock's team for the match against East Kilbride, which will start at 12 noon, is likely to be chosen from a squad of twelve.
After a week off from league duties, the Glenpark XI start their second half of fixtures at Glenpark on Saturday against Glasgow South. Their opponents are an unknown commodity as the first game against them in April was rained off. They currently sit below Glenpark in the league table having failed to win a match so far this season and Glenpark will therefore look to record another victory. Like the 1st XI, they too are likely to make a final decision on their team from a squad of twelve. This match will start at 1pm.
The Hillend XI play a West of Scotland Development XI on Sunday at Glenpark with a 1pm start time.
Greenock Cricket Club is sponsored this season by Cleaning Supplies 4U.