Greenock welcome Kilmarnock back to Glenpark

Saturday's match for Greenock's 1st XI sees the return to Glenpark of Kilmarnock after an 18 years' absence. The Ayrshire side last played Greenock in the final year of the old Western Union competition in 1997, prior to the formation of the National League.

Those who have only come recently to the sport will no doubt be surprised to learn that Kilmarnock were once one of the pre-eminent clubs in Scotland. They were the club that produced the Rev James Aitchison, one of Scotland's finest batsmen and in the late 1960s and early 1970s, they laid claim to being the top club in the country with a team that contained several Scottish internationalists.

After that team broke up, the club went into a steady decline which culminated in the decision not to enter the National League. Indeed there were fears that the club might not survive but thanks to the efforts of a number of loyal club members, that decline has been reversed. A move from their old, unlamented Kirkstyle ground to new premises at the Scott Ellis Recreation ground has helped their fortunes and last year they won the Cricket Scotland Challenge Cup, defeating Ayrshire rivals Irvine in a closely-fought encounter.

They also finished third in the WDCU Premiership, the third tier of cricket in the West and the decision of the Western Union to increase the top two divisions to leagues of 10 this season has seen them promoted into the First Division. Last Saturday, they easily overcame old rivals, Irvine, by 6 wickets, to show that they will be no pushovers.

Whilst Kilmarnock were winning last weekend, Greenock were subsiding to a disappointing loss at Prestwick. Conditions were certainly challenging last Saturday with a biting cold wind but they were the same for both teams and Prestwick seemed to adapt better. Each of Greenock's top six batsmen reached double figures but none of them was able to push on to make the big score that would have propelled Greenock to set a decent target. The loss of Neil Flack to a nonsense run-out was probably critical as up to that point he had looked to be in no difficulty at all.

Two early wickets were captured in Prestwick's reply but thereafter the Ayrshire made steady progress to their target and Greenock seldom looked like making a breakthrough. So there is much work needed for Greenock if they are to make a mark this season.

Not much will be known of the Kilmarnock team although Neil Flack will be well acquainted with his Scottish Under-17 colleague, Muhammad Azeem, who is reckoned to be an outstanding prospect as a batsman. He and skipper Fazal Jawad scored runs for fun last year in the Premiership, and are the men that Greenock must look to get rid of cheaply on Saturday. Niamat Ali, Zaighum Ahmad and Munir Ahmed each took three wickets last week in what looks to be quite an efficient attack.

Greenock's side has not been finalised but will be stronger than last week. Back in contention come Ty Gilmore, Rod Mountford and Chris Hempsey whilst it is good to see Phil McIntosh return to the colours after a couple of years' absence. Phil was always a talented player who perhaps did not make the most of his ability but there is still plenty of time for him to prosper.

One piece of bad news for the team concerns their overseas player, Danico Philmon. Danico only flew into the country last Friday, was frozen stiff at Prestwick on Saturday but has had to return home to South Africa due to a serious family illness. Club officials are exploring other alternatives but there is unlikely to be anyone in place for a couple of weeks at best.

All to play for therefore on Saturday and Greenock ought to be able to make home advantage count. The heavy rains of the first part of the week will have hindered groundsman, Roger Hardie, in his work on the pitch which is therefore likely to be a challenge for batsmen. It is essential that Greenock's top order show the necessary application to make a winning score in such conditions whilst the bowlers for their part need to harness the difficulty of the pitch to make matters difficult for the opposition's line-up.

Saturday's team shows 4 changes from last Saturday's selection for the game that will start at 12 noon with Gilmore, Mountford, McIntosh and Sanghera coming into the side.

The Glenpark XI travel to the Scott Ellis Field in Kilmarnock to play the Kirkstyle XI in the WDCU CSL First Division Reserve League. Having had to concede last week's opening league fixture due to an unprecedented unavailability list, they will be keen to get on the field this week and open their account. A strong looking team has been selected which will be captained by the club's President, Peter Robertson.

On Sunday, the Hillend XI commence their season with an overseas friendly at Helensburgh. As usual, they will be fielding a healthy mix of young and old players with the hope that the younger players gain valuable experience in playing a longer game than they are used to.

Greenock Cricket Club is sponsored this season by Cleaning Supplies 4U.