After the frustration of seeing its first two rounds of fixtures cancelled, the Western Premier Division gets underway this weekend after the easing of Level 3 restrictions in Glasgow. Sixteen games remain of what will still be a fascinating season as Uddingston looks to defend the crown it won a full 651 days ago.
For Uddy skipper Bryan Clarke, though, it is the chance to get back to some sense of normality that is most important of all.
“We’ve been able to get some cricket played, albeit not competitive, and get lots of coaching done, but you get to the point of exhaustion where you just need things to feel a bit more normal again, so we’re looking forward to moving ahead now after what was hopefully just a blip in the path,” he said.
“So there’s a sense of relief, as well as a little bit of disappointment that we’re not able to go into this season with the same team and the same momentum we would have had had things been different last year. We were sad to lose Gavin Main to Heriot’s – he’s an Uddingston boy who we know really, really well, but he’s living in Edinburgh now, working from home, and Cricket Scotland are keen to have him around, which is something he’s got to consider. From our point of view we don’t have anyone quite like him, but at the same time we really want him to kick on and be involved in that Scotland set-up too.
“That said, we have had other guys come in and our depth has probably improved, because we’ve basically spent the last year working with this group of 15- to 22-year-olds who are just getting better and better as a result. It’s not necessarily about defending the title for us, it’s about getting back into it and seeing what these guys can do. Nobody from Uddingston is going to be in a must-win situation – it’s about evolving and growing, building another group, and seeing how far we can get.”
With the exception of Stirling’s Brandon McMullen, whose studies at the University kept him in the city through the period of lockdown, ongoing travel restrictions mean that overseas professionals will not be featuring in the division this year. Exactly how their absence will affect its outcome is one of the more interesting questions to be answered as the race for the title unfolds.
“I honestly don’t know how the league is going to shape up and who are going to emerge as the favourites,” said Bryan. “I imagine Ferguslie and Clydesdale will be strong, while Prestwick has made a very interesting signing in Majid Haq. I think he’ll bowl very well down there – Prestwick is always a good place to bowl spin, and added to the options they already have they’ll be very competitive, I’m sure. Stirling are a good side too – they’re a good bunch of guys and in Brandon McMullen they’ve got someone who is a really decent overseas cricketer.
“There will be those that will struggle – you know club cricket in Scotland, it’s cyclical, and at any given time it’s a numbers game. If your location is a little bit more remote you may be in the position where you really need your pro and amateurs to bolster your group and give you the depth to do a little bit more, get your coaching right, get your ground right, all these different things. Again, for us we’re quite fortunate in that our numbers are strong at the moment and we have a group that have evolved and grown together, but if it was four or five years ago, we’d have found it much harder work.”
And with Richie Berrington’s Clydesdale due at Bothwell Castle Policies on Saturday, the experience of that player group will be an important factor from the off.
“We’ve got that core of older players,” said Bryan. “There’s Ross Lyons and Aamir Gul, who are a fantastic pair of spinners – anything can be going on in the game and you bring these two on and it’s different class. Ross was a seriously good international spinning all-rounder, changes the game with bat or ball, while Aamir is a three-for-nothing guy every other week.
“We’ve still got a pretty good stock of seamers as well – Niall Alexander, who had a great season in 2019, is a big, strong opening bowler who gets the ball to shape nicely, Abdul Sabri is another fantastic bowler on his day, and then there’s Harmanjit Singh and Gavin Bradley.
“And then our ‘x’ factor is Mo Awais at the top of the order – on any given day he can take any attack apart. He’s dynamic and there aren’t many guys like him.
“So we’ve got a lot at our disposal and a lot of good young cricketers coming through as well. And Hoffy [Paul Hoffmann] is around as well! He’s 51 now but is incredibly fit, and has got himself some new bowling boots, so we’ll see how the old fella shapes up!” he smiled.
“You can never rule out some Hoffmann!”
Western Premier Division – 5 June 2021
Greenock v Langside (at Glenpark)
McCrea FS West of Scotland v M8 Driving Ferguslie (at Hamilton Crescent)
SM Cricket Stirling County v Prestwick (at New Williamfield)
Tunnock’s Uddingston v Clydesdale (at Bothwell Castle Policies)
Your Move Dumfries v Poloc (at Nunholm)
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