The new Westmorland Cricket League season gets underway on Saturday. Historian John Glaister looks at what promises to be an interesting campaign
Grass roots cricket is suffering a national demise.
According to the England and Wales Cricket Board there were 64,000 less participants in 2014. Perhaps most worrying is the number of young players exiting the game before their teenage years are over.
The Westmorland Cricket League (WCL) is not exempt from this malaise.
It was this very reason that forced a change of philosophy at the Shireshead and Forton club. They had invested heavily in youth from within but over the last couple of years have enlisted from elsewhere.
The reward was immediate with last season’s league and cup double and this year they will field one of the strongest teams in WCL history.
With such an array of talent Shireshead start as favourites to emulate last season but they are not the banker of last season.John Glaister
Joining their ranks is Phil Bovis, arguably the best out-and-out pure batsman the WCL has seen.
With Phil alongside Phil Oliver, the dynamic duo of Peter Wilson and Danny Wilkinson, the Rafferty brothers et al, it is an awesome-looking side captain Paul Yates has at his disposal.
With such an array of talent the Clifton Park club start as favourites to emulate last season but they are not the banker of last season.
Head of the pack that will be gunning for Shires is Arnside.
They now have what they sorely wanted, a pair of strike bowlers who don’t know what it is to tire, with Adam Cowperthwaite returning to his boyhood from Kendal and Lee Illingworth from neighbours Milnthorpe.
Lee, with his all-round skills, will fit the Arnside template perfectly and alongside the established stars of the seasiders and the rising stars of David Birch and Alex Davidson, captain Rob Shepherd has a formidable force.
Last year’s runners-up Warton may well fall just short again despite some significant signings.
Batsman Darren Moore, formerly of Kendal, and two young bowlers in Ryan Needham, formerly of Heysham and Steven Beck of the now defunct Moor Hospital club, have signed on.
Unfortunately Dan Dixon, who just gets better and better, will miss the off with a broken toe and Jack Brown is in Australia.
The loss of his wickets may well be decisive but captain Gareth Finney still has much to look forward to.
Shireshead, Arnside and Warton are the F1 WCL teams this season, but the Westgate club could unsettle all three.
The driving force at the club is secretary Chris Hill and on the park his son Andrew leads by example with his runs and wickets.
The much underrated Andrew Nisbet is still doing the business with the ball and with Dylan Conroy back from Lancaster he has a yoke-mate.
Time has caught up with an ageing Milnthorpe side but youth does manifest itself in the shape of brothers Tom and James Parkinson.
Captain Steve Bowman will also have ‘Pos’ Pennington back and Sam Woodburn should continue to blossom but much will depend on the captain and his old guard.
If Windermere can manage to talk Jono Cooper out of a sabbatical they would have a side reminiscent of glory days past. His all rounders’ partnership with Nick Lewthwaite is legion and Nick is back from Kendal.
Brother and captain Mike Lewthwaite has a good-looking core squad who will hold their own if they remain committed.
Commitment must also be the byword at Heysham if they are to threaten.
With their bowling attack they are quite capable of taking on the F1 teams but are just as likely to fall away if interest is not maintained.
Graham Cassidy is back from Australia which helps and with James Whincup as captain, all rounder Andrew Ideson back in harness and Reg Cupit and Sam Calverley raring to go, this is no bad side.
There was only one big shock last season.
First Division residents since 1961, Burneside, should be playing in Division Two this year and would be had Shireshead A not finished as runner-ups.
Returning Chris Dixon, a fluent and accurate bowler, is the new captain.
In the nucleus of his team are seasoned and very good players but the one to watch is 17-year-old Ethan Ellwood.
Cricket on the ground floor will be fought out by four clubs who are likely to spend the whole season looking over their shoulders.
There are plans afoot to restructure the five divisions of the WCL meaning three First Division clubs are to be demoted and one promoted to equalise the divisions.
The three likely demotees are Bare, Sedgwick and Silverdale but with Ambleside by no means secure.
All four clubs have lost personnel and that is their problem. Bare have lost their one true star in John Moller but have enlisted a young all rounder from Lancaster University in Dave Tubby.
Ambleside have made a similar student signing in Dan Douglas but have lost Rob Griffiths. Fortunately they still have Oli Wileman.
At Silverdale and Sedgwick the player dearth is critical. Graham Dodds has ended his love affair with the summer game and the availability of Jack Hargreaves is uncertain because of his work situation.
At Sedgwick the loss of rising star Joe Portman to Netherfield is crushing. Kevin Williams has returned to Cartmel and Simon Willacy has just had an operation.
No new names will be on their scorecards with a tough season ahead.