THE absence of Scotland’s top all-rounder – Safyaan Sharif – won’t have any bearing on the bid by Glenrothes to derail Arbroath’s quest to surge to Eastern Premiership glory, according to the Fifers’ spokesman Eddie Gibbs.
Arbroath will take one step closer to claiming the crown today at Lochlands if they snuff out the challenge of Glens and second-placed Grange slip up against Aberdeenshire.
On paper, the Lichties will be clear favourites to topple Gibbs’ outfit.
However, he stressed: “We got the better of them earlier in the campaign at our place without Safyaan, so we know what we are capable of achieving.
“Vasu Reddy skippered us to an excellent victory that day and our general performance this season has been testament to Saffy, Vasu and the rest of the guys.
“We are delighted with the progress we have made.”
Sharif, who has family commitments, should be back to lead Glens into battle with Grange next weekend.
Gibbs added: “Brendon Ford and Elton Willemse will be making their last home league appearances for Arbroath, so they will be extra-determined to earn success for two such great servants to their club.”
Arbroath skipper Marc Petrie stated: “Elton and Brendon deserve a good send off.
“We will need to get back to our best to deal with a very impressive Glenrothes side and keep our chances of success this year alive.
“Saffy is obviously a fantastic player and we are well aware of the threat he always posesut they have a number of other match winners in their side.
“This is proved by their place in the table this year, so even without him, it will still be a huge test for us and we must improve in all aspects of the game from last week.
“I am confident we can stand up and perform under pressure.”
No matter what happens at Lochlands, anything other than a decisive victory for Grange on home turf against Aberdeenshire would be a major shock – even though they tied at Mannofield in mid-summer.
Elsewhere, Watsonians take on Carlton at Myreside – 24 hours before they clash again in the Scottish Cup Final at Forthill.
Doomed Falkland will aim to salvage pride against Forfarshire at Scroggie Park and Heriot’s should be too strong for neighbours SMRH at Inverleith.
Prestwick today face the biggest remaining hurdle in their quest to be crowned Western Premier champions for the first time.
The Ayrshire team have been the standout performers of the season, playing an attacking brand of cricket which has seen them win ten of their twelve completed matches while losing just two.
However, today’s visitors to the Henry Thow Oval are the outgoing champions Clydesdale and the Titwood men are determined to make Prestwick wait for their moment of glory.
A Clydesdale win, coupled with victory for Ferguslie at Greenock, would see the title race go down to the last Saturday of the season though the opposite combination of results would spark the celebrations in Ayrshire.
Prestwick already boast a win against today’s visitors earlier in the season though that impressive 86-run success was achieved against a Dale side who were without Scotland duo Richie Berrington and Con de Lange, a point not lost on the club’s spokesman Colin Mitchell.
He said: “It’s important to acknowledge that Prestwick absolutely deserve to be the front-runners – they have been the most consistent side in the league by some distance.
“But for just about the first time this season we are facing one of the top four sides when we are close to full strength and so, weather permitting, it’s a good opportunity for us to go down there and test their credentials.”
The availability of Berrington and de Lange makes Clydesdale a much more formidable proposition but Prestwick have their own star performers including the top leading wicket-takers in the division – Sachin Chaudhary and Mitchell Rao, though these two owe a debt to wily new-ball bowler Gavin Pitt whose economy rate is second only to de Lange.
Meanwhile Ferguslie, having displayed a never-say-die attitude in a thrilling win at Dumfries a week ago, have not given up hope that the title could still be theirs though they are wary of a Greenock side who are still not sure of top flight survival.
Skipper Jamey Carruthers said: “All we can do is win our last two games and hope that Prestwick slip-up. Last week showed that anything can happen in cricket so we won’t give up.”
The Paisley side are still without their leading wicket-taker Haroon Tahir and Greenock are missing their talented teenage opener Harry Briggs while Australian pace bowler Julien Hulbert will undergo a fitness test.
Uddingston can cement third place with victory over Dumfries at Bothwell Castle while Poloc, with a severely depleted side, hope to end a disappointing spell of defeats and cancellations by beating relegated Kelburne at Shawholm.
East Kilbride, having completed just one of their last five scheduled fixtures, travel to Ayr in desperate need of maximum points if they are to overhaul Greenock and give themselves a chance of dodging the drop.