While Prestwick have extended their lead at the top of the Western Premier Division, the chasing pack has become ever more congested. Defeats for both McCrea FS West of Scotland and Clydesdale have left them lying in second and third places respectively: Your Move Dumfries and Ayr took their chance to join M8 Driving Ferguslie in claiming their third wins of the season so far.
Also very much in the mix is SM Cricket Stirling County, whose game at the Henry Thow Oval was the only one to fall foul of the showery weekend weather. It has been a more than solid start for Matthew Tweedie’s men, and after a fifth place finish last time out, he is hopeful that his team is now finding the consistency to match its very evident talent.
“Things haven’t been too bad at all,” he said. “This year has been good in comparison to last in the sense that the batting side of things has been a lot more positive and a lot more consistent, which means that we’ve been able to put much bigger totals on the board. We’ve maybe not been as tight as we’d like to be on the bowling and fielding side, but we’ve generally been able to play quite positive cricket and we’ve generally played quite well. Even when we lost, we felt we were in the game each time.
“We’re not a million miles away,” he added. “We just need to tighten up in some areas, I’d say.”
The most recent of County’s two defeats came at home to Clydesdale, who successfully chased an imposing first innings total of 252/7 with more than three overs to spare. In the run-up to the game, Twitter’s Western Analyst had highlighted the past benefits of batting first at New Williamfield, with Clydesdale winning there in 2017 after defending a total of just 98. That the first season of pink ball cricket has moved that dial, however, is increasingly evident.
“In a sense it’s hard to tell, because we’ve played four of our five games at home and on decks that have been really good with a fast outfield, so it’s difficult to say how much of that has been the move to the pink ball and how much has been the track,” said Matthew. “But it has definitely made a difference because the scores are evidently higher, both for teams and for individuals.
“I think that’s good, because if you’ve put 200 or 220 on the board in the past few years you’ve probably been on track to win ninety per cent of the time, whereas now, taking Clydesdale as an example, they chased our total relatively easily. It’s good in that it opens it up for teams to chase decent totals, whereas before it felt like that was very unlikely.
“It’s certainly made for a more interesting and exciting brand of cricket, which has to be a good thing.”
Stirling’s challenge has been spearheaded by batters Manas Sahare and Brandon McMullen, who currently occupy first and third position in the WPD averages.
“Brandon and Manas have done really well,” said Matthew. “They’ve put in a couple of really big scores. One of our openers, Ant Dunford, got his first decent score against Clydesdale too, so that top four or five has probably been our main strength.
“But it does feel that as a team we’re much more able to contribute from six downwards as well, whereas last year, outside of the top three or four, we really struggled. Our batting has definitely been a lot more consistent so far.”
Saturday brings County a trip to Dumfries to play the team lying just below them in the table, and Matthew is looking forward what should be another closely-matched contest.
“I’m sure it’ll be good,” he said. “Dumfries is always a nice place to play, with again a good batting deck, so we’re expecting a good, exciting game.
“It doesn’t feel like there’s a bad team in the league this year,” he went on. “In the past it was maybe possible to spot the two or three teams who were likely to struggle at the start of the year, and they were more than likely the ones that were at the bottom come the end of it. Now, though, it feels like anyone can beat anyone: when we played Kelburne, for example, after they lost their first couple of games and people were maybe wondering if they were going to struggle, they were a pretty solid side, as were Langside and as are Dumfries. There are a lot of teams who maybe wouldn’t have been thought about at the start of the season who have shown that they are very good sides.
“It feels like the league is going to be tight all the way through, and that makes it a lot more interesting.”
Opposing captain Chris McCutcheon returns from injury to replace Chris Brockwell for the match at Nunholm, while at the top of the table Prestwick skipper Fraser Macdonald is also back in the side, Jake Stafford making way: Hamza Tahir starts for Ayr in place of Jonathan Baines. McCrea FS West of Scotland make two changes to the team that lost to Dumfries last week: Dave McNulty and Callum Dutia return in place of James Fennah and John Oliver. Calero Kelburne bring in Zain Mohammad and Cameron Maclean, the latter after his century for the second eleven in the Reserve League last weekend.
At Meikleriggs, the long-delayed arrival of overseas player Elliot Moses adds an extra layer to the home side’s challenge as M8 Driving Ferguslie take on Clydesdale in a repeat of last year’s title decider. With a win all but essential for both teams, it will be a particularly fascinating contest.
Western Premier Division – 18 June 2022
Your Move Dumfries v SM Cricket Stirling County (at Nunholm)
M8 Driving Ferguslie v Clydesdale (at Meikleriggs)
McCrea FS West of Scotland v Calero Kelburne (at Hamilton Crescent)
Tunnock’s Uddingston v Langside (at Bothwell Castle Policies)
Ayr v Prestwick (at New Cambusdoon)
The Cricket Scotland Podcast will include a round-up of the men’s and women’s league action from across the country every Tuesday, with player interviews from our featured games. Follow @ScotlandPod on Twitter for all the latest information.