WDCU Preview - Week 1
Ayr launch the defence of their Western Union title when they host East Kilbride at Cambusdoon this afternoon.
The Alloway side became champions against the odds last term but are well aware of the expectations and challenges that go with their new-found status:
theirs will be a prize scalp this season and Andi McElnea, the captain, is looking for his players to raise their game a further notch this time around.
Ayr began to build momentum almost from week one a year ago and a winning start could spark another challenge.
McElnea said: “Last year was a great success but we know this is a new season so we start with a clean. Ensuring that we begin the season well is paramount if we are to challenge again.”
They can no longer rely on the all-round skills of Zimbabwean World Cup star Sikander Raza who played such a significant part in the opening half of the campaign before heading off on international duty.
However, an able replacement has been found in South African Lenert van Wyk, the 25 year-old Free State batsman who boasts five first-class centuries including a top score of 170.
Van Wyk is also a useful medium pacer who will share seam bowling duties with McElnea’s brother Scott and Heynrych Nel who will return for a second season as overseas amateur though not in time for today’s opener.
Ayr can expect a stiff test from an East Kilbride side boasting the likes of Moneeb Iqbal and his former Scotland colleague Ross Lyons.
If much interest centres on how the defending champions start their campaign, just as many eyes will be focused on Meikleriggs where Ferguslie make their return to the top flight and find themselves hosting old foes Clydesdale, the side many expect to claim Ayr’s crown.
Ferguslie won the first division in some style last season and in Zimbabwean international Keith Dabengwa they have a player who will be unfazed by the step up in class. The same applies to the best of their home-grown stars, among them the highly rated Michael English and Hamza Tahir.
Clydesdale are disadvantaged for the first three weeks of the campaign by the absence of their captain, Majid Haq, who must serve a suspension for misdemeanours during last season’s Scottish Cup final.
Manager Colin Mitchell made his feelings known when he said: “In response to people making us favourites I would observe that our early season prospects are undermined by Majid’s absence due to his own indiscipline.”
Mitchell, though, is happy to welcome the Scotland U19 all-rounder Abdul Sabri following his winter switch from Drumpellier while Con de Lange, now Scotland qualified, will lead the side in Haq’s absence.
Ferguslie’s Paisley neighbours Kelburne, led by former Scotland batsman Qasim Sheikh, are another welcome addition to the top flight and they start with a tricky trip to Renfrew who have the prolific Ahmad Said back as professional.
One of the most attractive fixtures of the opening day sees Dumfries, the 2012 champions, host Uddingston who deposed them the following season.
The Nunholm side have recruited young Australian all-rounder Josh Forsyth while Uddingston welcome Pakistan-born Anwar Hafeez who has moved from Weirs to enhance his chances of Scotland selection now that he qualifies through residency.
Last season’s bottom two, Drumpellier and West of Scotland, meet at Langloan and while the Coatbridge side have lost Sabri, they are excited by the addition of Sri Lankan Sudesh Fernando and South African Louis Venter.
West have David Hinchcliffe as their new coach following the departure of John Blain to Grange while New Zealand-born Laxman Popli comes with a reputation as a free-scoring batsman.