THE battle to beat the drop reaches a critical stage this afternoon with no fewer than four sides desperate to secure Western Premier status.
Dumfries and Ayr – both recent winners of the title – currently occupy the relegation places but that could all change following events in the south side of Glasgow.
The former visit Poloc who themselves are not yet safe while Ayr, boosted by their best batting performance of the season a week ago, will do battle with Clydesdale at nearby Titwood.
Calculators will surely be at the ready with just six percentage points separating the bottom three and Poloc just another eight ahead.
A Poloc spokesman said: “Dumfries and Ayr play each other on the final day so one of them looks likely to go down but both Greenock and ourselves could still finish ninth or even tenth.”
Poloc were on the receiving end of a pair of centuries from Andi McElnea and Anwar Hafeez last Saturday as Ayr amassed 304 but the Shawholm men took heart from their response which saw them reach 262.
Abdullah Malik who contributed a breezy 33no to that total retains his place while pace bowler Ihtesham Ul Haq returns.
However, they are wary of a Dumfries side who would be in a stronger position had they been able to convert two tense ties with Stirling into victories.
“They have a good mix of youth and experience and their two overseas players Jesse Smit and Andrew Mascal sit high up the league run-scoring list,” added the spokesman.
Meanwhile Ayr skipper Andi McElnea has a simple explanation of the task facing his team, saying: “The equation is very straightforward for us – we have to win our last two games. The rest is out of our hands.
“We had a great result last week and are taking some momentum into the Clydesdale match.”
Clydesdale, having successfully negotiated a transitional season, still have their eyes on second place.
Greenock, meanwhile, face a tricky trip to New Williamfield to face a Stirling team who could yet pip Clydesdale for the runners-up slot.
An away win, coupled with defeats for Dumfries and Ayr would virtually ensure top-flight survival but a Greenock spokesman said: “Stirling have been the surprise team of the season and will be hard to beat.”
The Glenpark men welcome back Chris Hempsey to open the batting.
Elsewhere newly crowned champions host West of Scotland while Prestwick visit Uddingston.
GRANGE player-coach John Blain is praying that the weather gods will allow his men to claim the Eastern Premiership crown ON the playing field rather than off it.
Only a series of highly unlikely results can prevent them lifting the silverware.
And nothing would please him more than to make sure by beating neighbours and defending champions Heriot’s on their own patch this afternoon.
A washout would also settle the issue with one round of fixtures to go, but for Blain and Co, that scenario would be something of an anti climax.
The former Scotland World Cup star, who has built such an impressive squad at Raeburn Place, said: “Yes of course we want to win the league by winning this match.
“The guys have worked really hard throughout the season and with the Scottish Cup Final – also against Heriot’s – 24 hours later, we are excited at the prospect of a great weekend of cricket.”
One of the big surprised of the campaign has been the failure of Arbroath to emerge again as contenders for the title.
The Lochlands outfit have been beset by selection difficulties and inconsistent displays.
But, despite last week’s defeat by Grange, there were distinct signs that they intend to use the closing games of the season as a springboard to greater things next summer.
Today they head to the capital to take on RHS Lions, who have comfortably survived their first foray into the top flight.
Arbroath skipper Marc Petrie stated: “We only had 10 players against a brilliant Grange team due to a very late call-off, so the fact that we competed was a welcome boost.
“We also had to contend with a serious injury to Calvin Burnett, who could barely walk.
“I am sure if we keep up that standard then we can end the season on a high and look forward with some confidence – though RHC have had a solid campaign and they are definitely not to be underestimated.”
Elsewhere, victory for Forfarshire at home to Carlton would seal a highly creditable top-three slot.
Glenrothes, already consigned to relegation, are northbound for the clash with Aberdeenshire, while Stew-Mel entertain Watsonians.