Greenock head to Ayr for vital relegation battle

Greenock 1st XI have no game tomorrow Saturday but play the first of their three play-off fixtures on Sunday with a match against Local Life Ayr at New Cambusdoon, knowing a win against their relegation rivals is essential if the team is to survive in the SNCL Premiership. Earlier in the season the local side gained a psychological advantage when they won a high scoring match against their Ayrshire opponents at Glenpark.

However, that was then, and this is now. For Sunday, Greenock have a full squad available for the game and players have been putting in extra practice during the week to prepare as well as possible for what is recognised as being Greenock’s most important match of the season so far.

New Cambusdoon is noted for its runs and Greenock will be looking to bat well and build partnerships which will bring about a winning total whether batting first or chasing the home side’s total. Potentially, Greenock have a side which can bat well down the order but it will be to the top five that the Glenparkers will look to create a firm base from which a big score can be developed.

Key to the innings may well be the contributions of Aussie pro Luke Butterworth and Scottish Internationalist Richie Berrington. Butterworth scored a magnificent century on his last outing against Forfarshire two weeks ago and a repeat performance would be very welcome. Berrington has shown his international form on a few occasions this ‘summer’ and he is well used to the New Cambusdoon wicket, so a big innings will be Richie’s target.

There has been a lack of consistency from most of the Greenock batsmen during this season, but, in their defence, there has been no continuity of games due to what many regard as being the wettest season in living memory. Players such as Shailesh Prabhu, Chris Bellwood, Andy Hislop and Alex Baum, who will all bat well up the order, must knuckle down and play with patience, not give their wickets away and then dominate the Ayr bowlers who have had 250+ runs scored against them regularly in the Premiership this season.

Greenock’s bowlers also know only too well that Local Life Ayr, is to some extent , a one man batting team. Their New Zealand professional Michael Papps has been in tremendous form. In ten innings to date, Papps has scored three centuries and another four innings over 75 runs and has accumulated a total of 759 runs at a rate of more than 80 runs per innings. Results show that if Papps is dismissed early then Local Life Ayr seldom manage to get a score.

However, Greenock should guard against any thoughts that if Papps is dismissed early then they are on a winning ticket. Andy McElnea, who is Papps opening partner, is a sufficiently good player to warrant selection for the Western Warriors and Chris Preece, Mark Renny and David Johnstone are each averaging around 25 runs per innings for the season. These players are therefore capable of scoring and Greenock must be at their best in order to make sure Sunday is not the day when they do put together a big innings.

Perhaps the New Cambusdoon team’s biggest achilles heel is in their bowling and fielding. Their attack is one of the least threatening in the Premiership and with a number of players now getting towards the end of their careers athleticism in the field is not what it once was.

Michael Papps normally opens the bowling for Ayr but he does not possess significant pace and his stats are far from impressive in this season’s Premiership. David Johnstone with his slow deliveries and tempting, but nagging length has picked up 10 wickets in the matches in which he has played, but at an average cost of 35 runs. Calum Leck and Scott McElnea, the Scottish Under-19 player, both will be likely to bowl and have 21 wickets between them in the league, but the the most impressive in the last two matches in which Ayr have played, has been Chris Preece who has got 7 wickets at an average of just 16 in the games against Stirling County and Drumpellier.

On playing ability, Greenock should have the edge over Local Life Ayr. The team bats almost the whole way down the list and, with Luke Butterworth looking to be in good form, the others must contribute significant runs around him to ensure that a total of between 250 and 300, as a minimum, is targeted at New Cambusdoon on Sunday. There is also sufficient ability and variety of pace in the Greenock bowling attack to give the Ayr batsmen plenty of problems, but the bowlers must be miserly in their provision of extras to their opponents.

On Saturday, the Glenpark XI are at home to Shawholm in a WDCU SNCL Reserve League fixture and will be focused on continuing their fine run of form which still has the team still in contention for the league title.

On Sunday, the Hillend XI play their final WDCU Sunday League fixture against Helensburgh at Glenpark with a 2pm start. Skipper Kevin Flack has not yet finalised his side but with just this last game in the league to be played, the Hillend XI are in an unassailable position and will lift the league title.