Preview: Shireshead could end long wait for Westmorland League success

Shireshead are one of the favourites in the Westmorland League this season.
Shireshead are one of the favourites in the Westmorland League this season.

There is no out-and-out favourite ahead of this year’s Westmorland Cricket League getting underway on Saturday.

The most likely title winners look to be Shireshead and Forton who are looking to shed a 23-year burden of expectancy.

Last year saw the club acquire the services of Peter Wilson whose statistics as an all rounder are second to none and they have enlisted his old partner in crime Danny Wilkinson from Westgate for this campaign.

Reuniting this legendary partnership is a major coup but likely to make the critical difference is James Rafferty, he too reunited with his brother Nick from their Warton days.

Still only in his mid-20s the younger brother is the fastest bowler seen in the WCL for many a day and capable of blowing away batsmen and if captain Paul Gates can keep his troops happy Shireshead’s long wait should be over.

Defending champions Arnside are amongst the likely killjoys, though there is a feeling abroad that the runs fell in their favour last year.

There is no denying the facts however. Adam Richardson had a fabulous season, Adrian Lee was his usual Mr Consistency and Alex Davidson proved a match winner.

The downside is the early season absence of student fast bowler David Birch and Kevin Howarth resisting the call to arms except in extremes.

Milnthorpe will have to start winning before June if they are to mount a credible challenge.

For the Baldwin brothers, Mike Wills, Steve Bowman, another championship would be fitting and with Phil Bovis fronting the batting it’s not out of the question. The contribution of youthful captain Lee Illingworth will also be critical.

The rebuilding process has begun in earnest at Warton, new captain Gareth Finney has seen the return of father and son combination Ricky and Ryan Nelson and rated ex-Trimpell players Steve Pemberton and Stuart Mayor adopting Warton colours.

These four players, added to Dan Dixon, the 2010 league batting average winner, and a host of very talented in-house young players, could see Finney lead them to the promised land.

It seems unlikely Shireshead will face a threat from any other quarter. Burneside and Bolton-le-Sands have lost key players cherry picked by Northern League clubs.

At Burneside it is hoped the continued improvement of young Lee Tattersall will compensate to a degree, as with the returning Tim Miller at Sands.

Other than that both clubs will parade the usual suspects and Sands in particular may have a difficult season with much depending on Adam Dyson’s bowling.

History suggests, however, that it will be promotees Ambleside and Sedgwick who will have to fight the hardest to maintain Premiership status.

For the Rydal club it will be their third attempt to do so since 2008 but hope springs eternal. In captain Oli Wileman they have a top player.

The start of the new season wills tart with a sombre and reflective minute on the evocative Sedgwick House ground in remembrance of 18-year-old Dylan Sagar who died in a car crash at Christmas.

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Dylan was one of life’s lovely lads and a joy just to have around.

For Dylan, if for no other reason, Jason Dalzell’s team will fight tooth and nail.

If these ancient clubs manage to hold their own it will put pressure on Silverdale, Windermere and perhaps even Westgate despite more of a show from Graham Dodds.

There is an aid of vulnerability hanging over Silverdale. They are prone to collapse when batting and far too much is expected of Jonny Mason and Paul Moffatt with the ball.

At Queen’s Park Windermere it is transition and re-build time but with James Crawford and Jono Cooper at the helm there is leadership through example.

Which way will it go at Westgate? This is a most intriguing question and one which will only be answered as the season unfolds.

As at old rivals Warton they will have to learn to cope without key personnel. It is impossible to replace the joint loss of Wilson and Wilkinson with fast bowler Dylan Conroy also moving on to Lancaster.

But Steve Creed is back as is David Lord but it’s the lack of penetrative bowling that will concern captain Andrew Hill.

Heysham remain enigmatic and there is no predicting what sort of a season they will have.

Graham Cassidy has gone to Australia but Reg Cupit is back and match winner Sam Calverley available all season. Not withstanding new captain James Wincup will look to all rounder Andrew Ideson for salient contributions.