Rarely can two things be said with such certainty at the mid-point of the season but well before the end Shireshead and Forton will be crowned champions of the Westmorland Cricket League and Bolton-le-Sands will be consigned to the drop. There are two standout reasons for both eventualities.
Probably not since the heyday of the fabulous Burneside club of the 1960s-80s has a team begun a season as such overwhelming favourites as Shireshead. Having won the signature of some top players essentially from the Warton and Westgate clubs, they bear little resemblance to the cohort of a couple of years ago. That itself was no bad side but they now have several proven match-winners in Peter Wilson, Danny Wilkinson, James Rafferty and Uzair Shah alongside Paul Yates and Phil Oliver. It is an awesome side with champions emblazoned all over it.
Shireshead’s riches are matched in equal measure by the paucity of strength on show at Bolton-le-Sands, compounded by the loss of star man Mark Clarkson at the start of the season to Netherfield. At village cricket level, just one outstanding player in the side can inspire and cement a team. There have been many examples of this. All-rounder Clarkson was that man.
Nobody remembers who came second so the second half of the season will focus on the bottom rungs and who will join Sands in Division Two. The alarm bells are ringing at Silverdale louder than the siren warning of the incoming tide. There was a time at the Silverdale club when there was no need for selection meetings. The first eleven picked itself and the summer was for playing cricket. That commitment to the cause is long gone. For some years now the Cove Road club have needed points in the bag in the first half of the season in readiness for the disappearance of personnel in the second half. With three tough looking games upcoming worst case scenario looms.
A Premier Division without Burneside is unimaginable. They have been a fixture in it since 1960 but they are by no means certain of their divine right. The timely arrival of the ex-Ambleside batsman Donovan Du Plessis may be their salvation. The runs of Steve Cooper and Ryan Shepherd are sorely missed but more critically so is the tight line and wickets of Chris Dixon. Captain Rob Davies has his work cut out.
Ambleside and fellow promoted side Sedgwick looked to be the sacrificial lambs at the start of the season. Not so. For the first time in a long time the Rydal club have the players to hold their own in the premier class. Oli Wileman has developed into a top all-rounder. With a little help from his brother Barney and runs from Rob Griffiths they should survive.
The case is not so clear cut for Sedgwick. They lack the stellar performers that can win a match single-handedly. But the team ethic under Jason Dalzell’s stewardship may well override the lack of ‘wow’ factor.
A more competitive Ambleside and Sedgwick will not have gone unnoticed at t Windermere who are the only other club who could get dragged into the demotion mix. It is, however, unlikely. In Ollie Killiner they have a star of the WCL and captain James Crawford has a long list of premier standing players to call upon.
To some, Heysham are the surprise package of the season and current favourites to finish runners-up. Although capable of crass losses the seaside club has been on the cusp of better things for some time. In Andrew Ideson, Sam Calverley, Graham Cassidy, Reg Cupit and Stefan Dixon they have a bowling spearhead only matched by Shireshead. Bowlers win matches which is why every team clamours for them.
Rarely do you see an Arnside bowler in the five-for column which is the main reason why they wil not retain the Bateman Shield though they too have had problems with availability. This is a common thread running through the WCL of today. Few clubs can put out the same team two weeks running.
Milnthorpe are actively aware they need new blood to support their tried and tested old guard. James Parkinson and Sam Woodburn are rising to the surface but the rebuild must gather pace.
Rebuilding is what both Westgate and Warton are currently doing. They dominated the noughties but have been hit hard by the loss of key contributors. The old adage that you are only as good as the players you have remains true. A top-three finish for either would represent success.