Domestic Preview - week 9
Absent stars have been the talking point in the build up to today’s crucial round of Eastern Premiership encounters - Chris Greaves and Fraser Burnett being the prime examples.
Greaves, one of the most dominant batsmen in Scotland, misses Glenrothes’ home-turf tussle with title pacesetters, while Burnett has work commitments, so sits out Arbroath’s jaunt to face Aberdeenshire at Mannofield - arguably his favourite stomping ground.
Opener Greaves has played his part in preparing the Fifers for one of their sternest tests of a campaign which has yielded only one victory.
He said: “It is a massive match for us. Watson’s have been on a roll since midway through last season and in that form you need to be as tough as new fish to stop them.
“I will be at a wedding while the game is staged and I know I will be anxious about events at Gilvenbank as I am powerless to help out.
“Looking at the situation positively, it is a great chance for the other guys to step up and pile up some runs.”
Greaves is replaced by Fred Culley, who has shaken off the effects of a broken hand.
Meanwhile, Aberdeenshire will no doubt to thrilled about the absence of Burnett, who has bagged a string of centuries over the past few years in the Granite City.
Lichties skipper Marc Petrie is typically undaunted, in spite of also not having Calvin Burnett, Ross McLean and Craig Ramsay at his disposal.
Petrie stated: “We realise after losing last weekend that we must improve in every department.
“We have had issued with consistency since the start of the summer and more hard work is required.”
Arbroath hand a debut to 16 year old Ben Plomer, a promising all-rounder who bowls leg-spin.
Petrie added: “We will approach the fixture as we always do - with aggression and confidence, however we need individuals to take more responsibility with their own performances.
“Aberdeenshire have had their problems, but they are still a very dangerous side. We must be aware of the talents of pro Harsha Cooray, who has been in fine form.”
Former league leaders Forfarshire are aiming to get back on tracks by claiming the scalp of champions Grange at Raeburn Place, with Falkland also capital bound to square up to Heriot’s.
Still craving their opening success of the season, Stoneywood-Dyce will be hard pressed to make an impression on Carlton at Peoples Park.
Ferguslie sit proudly at the top of the table as the season reaches the halfway point but the focus this afternoon is on the race to catch the high-flying Meikleriggs men.
Clydesdale and Kelburne, the closest challengers, are separated only by a handful of bonus points but neither can afford to fall further behind the leaders.
Defeat today may leave the gap looking insurmountable and home skipper Majid Haq captured the importance when he said: “It’s basically a 50-pointer for both sides.
“Win and you stay in touch with Ferguslie, lose and there is a big gap going into the second half of the season.”
However, Haq, whose side are attempting to become the first to successfully defend the title since league reconstruction, has cause for optimism, given his team’s recent record.
Last week’s hard-earned victory at Prestwick was their fourth win on the trot, a run which has seen valuable contributions from almost all team members.
The captain added: “We’re playing very good cricket at the moment and I’m very confident of a successful weekend if we continue to do the simple things well.”
Kelburne counterpart Qasim Sheikh came through the ranks at Titwood but will have no room for nostalgia as he attempts to make his team the undisputed main challengers to derby rivals Ferguslie.
Like Clydesdale, Kelburne have suffered only two defeats in the league but, in contrast, they have relied on a few in-form individuals including pace bowler Ross Maclean who is joint leading wicket-taker in the division while Sheikh himself and Brad Williams are among the top ten run scorers.
Sheikh said: “My challenge is to our batters to step up and be counted now. To this point only really two players have scored consistently and the rest have not scored enough.
“If you want to win titles then all members of the team must be contributing. My players all certainly have the talent to do so and this weekend would be a great time to prove it.
“I’m very much looking forward to a hard fought game and hopefully we come out on the right side.”
Both teams are unchanged from last week.
Meanwhile Ferguslie will concentrate on cementing their position at the top of the table in the first of a weekend double-header against Drumpellier.
The Paisley side have home advantage today before the action switches to Langloan for tomorrow’s Scottish Cup quarter-final.
Ferguslie captain Gregor Preston-Jones, who has named an unchanged team for today’s encounter, has cautioned against looking too far ahead as they continue to challenge in all competitions.
Though battling at the wrong end of the table, Drumps have proved themselves dangerous opponents on their day and the Coatbridge men are in good spirits after a Rowan Cup win at Stirling in midweek.
Elsewhere, Stenhousemuir could boost their survival hopes if they can get the better of Prestwick at The Tryst.
Both teams have enjoyed some success since being promoted but Stenhousemuir are without two key players in Nick Lister and Ash Davidar though Fahad Ahmed and Chris Halcrow return.
Defeat last week may have spelled the end of East Kilbride’s title hopes but they will attempt to stay on the fringes when they travel to Uddingston while Ayr and Dumfries have a similar incentive at Cambusdoon.