WEATHER permitting, the 2012 domestic cricket season gets under way tomorrow and players and spectators alike will be faced with plenty of change after a very busy winter for the game’s administrators in the North-West.
In will come the likes of “power plays” and “free hits” while the electronic “Duckworth Lewis” System has also been endorsed in the hope of ensuring that less games are carried into midweek in the event of bad weather.
The leagues themselves have been restructured too; both Division 1 and 2 will be cut to eight teams at the end of this summer meaning that the bottom two teams in the top flight will be automatically relegated while the team finishing eighth will play-off against the winners of Division 2 for the final slot in the new Premier League.
Following the withdrawal of The Nedd from the senior cricket only one side will now need to be demoted from the second tier to make up their eight.
While the changes are the most far-reaching to have happened here in many years they are already in operation throughout the the cricket world. Properly administered the new schedule should make games more exciting and with a Championship plus a possible three relegation spots to worry about there will be very few “dead rubbers” as the season progresses.
So where should we be looking for the main protagonists to come from? Well, in terms of potential title winners one would have to reason that reigning champions Brigade will be bang in the mix with Limavady, Strabane and Donemana fancied to force the strongest challenges.
Brigade, however, have lost opener Chris Dougherty and Ata-Ur-Rehman and that pair will be missed.Dougherty is an 800-plus run batsman who has opted to ply his trade with Belfast side CIYMS while Rehman was originally employed as a bowler but turned in several match-winning performances with the bat last year en route to the title.
Mark Simpson’s side hasn’t as yet replaced either with the new season upon us although they are known to be tracking 22-year-old Pakistani player, Ali Khan.
Former champions, Strabane, are almost a mirror image of Brigade; Martin Deans’ side boasting an embarrassment of riches in the batting stakes but looking more exposed in attack. They have brought in former Pakistan Test batsman, Faisal Iqbal, as replacement for the excellent Jonathan Beukes and Iqbal will bat around a top order of Niall McDonnell. Kevin Martin. Peter Gillespie, Mark Gillespie and Mark Roulston. If Iqbal can turn his arm and offer his new team a spin option, Strabane would have every chance of finishing above Brigade.
Donemana know how to win the big trophies and Richard Kee sticks with exactly the same squad that did him proud last time. They reached the half way stage of the 2011 campaign in the final of the Senior Cup and at the top of the league but they lost their way when youngsters Andy McBrine and Ryan Hunter had to be released for a fortnight as the Ireland Under-19’s prepared for the World Cup qualifiers.
By the time they had returned, The Holm side had lost back-to-back league games and been beaten by Bready in the blue riband decider.
That would seem to leave the way open for Limavady to throw down the gauntlet to Strabane and the ‘Roesiders’ were responsible for the one main piece of business that did happen this winter, the signing of Andy Britton from Fox Lodge.
He will join Andrew Riddles, Ricky McDaid, Tom Riddles and Simon Dunn at the Hunter Grounds but the name that will be written in bold on their team sheet tomorrow will undoubtedly be Desmond Curry.
“Dekker” was banned for 12 months last July by Cricket-Ireland following an altercation in Limavady’s All-Ireland Cup tie against Instonians and the club pulled out all the stops to challenge the ruling.. They were rewarded in December when an appeal panel reduced the ban to six months and while Curry is free to play immediately, it is believed he is still contesting the original verdict.
One of the most talented players produced in the last 50 years in this region, Curry could be even more of a handful this summer. “Dekker” isn’t the only face expected to make a return to ‘Roeside’ duty this season either; Chris Moore who sat out the whole of last season through injury also expected to appear, Dean Curry teams up again with his dad after a year at Bready and former overseas player, Zeeshan Malik, has also been registered by the club who probably want him to keep wicket.Limavady could start the season as slight favourites although there is one club lurking that could really upset the applecart this time around.
Fox Lodge look solid but have lost Britton and the very talented, if occasionally difficult, Darryl Brown and while Wajihuddin comes in and Brian Allen, Jonny Robinson, Gareth Heywood and Jason Milligan are still there, they look a bit short of title winning standard.
It’s much the same at Bready where injury rules Steven Clarke out for at the very least the first half of the season. Trevor Hamilton has (probably) retired and Jack Glenn has left for Beechgrove. David Rankin, Brian Crumley, Ian Young, Mark Olphert, Agha Sabir, the Scanlon boys David and Brian plus Marc Fleming still makes into a formidable line-up but as far as genuine top four prospects go, step forward Coleraine.
The ‘Bannsiders’ have been steadily improving over the past few seasons and they have taken every opportunity to give their youngsters a chance at the top level. People like Scott Campbell, Andrew Douglas, Paul Douglas, Jonathan Martin and Rishi Chopra were regulars in the first team last year and now with that experience behind them and surrounded by the likes of Ian McGregor, David Cooke, Stevie Dunn, Craig Averill and their new professional Chinthaka Jayasinthe, this could be a massive year for them.
Jayasinthe looks like a cracking signing, the Sri Lankan has form at international level and looks to be a player who could be well worth watching. The middle order was the downfall last season but the capture of Craig Averill from Glendermott looks the perfect solution and the appointment of the battled hardened McGregor as skipper could be the key.
The seven to pull away as the summer rolls on leaving Glendermott, Creevedonnell and Bond’s Glen to scrap for the one play-off place while the other two go down. Choosing between them isn’t easy either; Glendermott having the experience and quality in the likes of skipper Gordon Montgomery, Charlie Elder and Bob Robinson as well as professional Roy Silva and that quartet might know enough to eke out a couple of wins.
Losing Smyth and Averill will be difficult, Rodney Pearson is also heading out the door to Bond’s Glen and the ‘Bee Gees’ will be buoyed by their battling efforts in staying up this year. Professional, Gihan Dilruk, was excellent.
Creevedonnell have potential match-winners, none more so than Gary Neely. The former Ireland pace man was sensational last summer and has plied his trade at this level many times before. They’ve signed Kyle Morrow (The Nedd) while Brigade quartet Alan Duddy, Richard Philson, Nicky Cooke and skipper, Scroggie, are others who can have a say.
I reckon the top four will involve Limavady, Strabane, Brigade and Coleraine while Glendermott, Creevedonnell and Bond’s Glen have it all to do.
The “Journal” will bring detailed analysis every Tuesday over the summer months from here on in, so all we need now is for the taps to be turned off!