Westmorland cricket League expert John Glaister previews the new season

IN the guise of their second and third teams the Carnforth club has been ever present in the Westmorland Cricket League (WCL) since 1928.

In 2006 their two top teams joined the Northern League but it proved a bridge too far.

On applying to join the WCL in 2013 the first team was placed in the fourth tier. Playing the third teams from Kendal, Morecambe and Netherfield a year after facing their first elevens was a stark and embarrassing contrast.

Three successive championships later and Carnforth are set to take their place at the top table of the WCL.

It is likely to give the league a timely boost, boasting as it does well appointed on and off field facilities.

It is no exaggeration to say the wicket is of county standard and testimony to the hard work of groundsman Peter Robinson.

Some batsmen will make hay. Declaring is unlikely to be an option. The reintegration of the Carnforth club into the WCL is the best news in years.

Young captain and all-rounder Bradley Hoyle will have consolidation as his main priority and possibly a reality check to boot. There is no over restriction rule curtailing first division bowlers and there are some very good first division bowlers who may well expose them, but in Darren Nelson, Ryan Kitchen and Alex Benson ‘The Ironmen’ have their own exponents.

The arrival of siblings Dan and Adam Dixon from Warton is also a timely addition to this band of brothers.

Carnforth, as will the other nine teams, will gauge themselves against the Shireshead and Forton team whose ambition it is to become only the third club in WCL history to complete a hat trick of championships. They are hot favourites to do so.

It is a joyous set-up at the Clifton Park ground. Shireshead is currently the beacon club in the WCL and leading light in most departments. That doesn’t just happen of course. It has been worked at over many a year and the team they have assembled and fully integrated over the last couple of years has provided deserved on field riches.

Their bottomless talent pool has been moulded into a front line unit by Paul Yates. Twelve years a captain. It helps. With Danny Wilkinson, Rowan Upton, James Rafferty reporting fit after injuries, Tom Jacques back full time and 2015 player of the season Dave Jack chomping at the bit, watch out the rest. The only cloud is expected surgery for Peter Wilson which will see him rested for several weeks.

Best of the rest is Arnside provided they don’t shoot themselves in the foot as per the poor start of the last campaign. Historically how they start tends to define the path of their season. They will soon know. They have a tough start of the season but they have pedigree in captain Adam Richardson and in last year’s incomers Lee Illingworth and Adam Cowperthwaite who have filled the perceived gap in the bowling department. Runs are scored for fun with plenty of willow wielders, Oliver Richardson-Hogg for example.

The other usual suspects from the recent past Milnthorpe, Warton and Westgate no longer look equipped to threaten Shireshead though the Warton team have the potential to do so. Compounding the loss of Dan Dixon is the departure of 2014/15 captain Gareth Finney and the non-return of Jack Brown from Australia. Compensation comes in the form of proven talent Graham Cassidy from Heysham and the unknown talent of Cameron D’Altera from the Antipodes. Needless to say captain Ryan Nelson will score a shed load of runs and his two opening bowlers Graham Crowther and Steven Beck will not fail him

Westgate are rightly proud of their club record since the turn of the Millennium and can justifiably claim to have been the dominant WCL force until recently. There is no doubt their second eleven doubled as a second first team as is now the case at Shireshead. The times however are a changing. Finishing fourth last year was their lowest spot since 1998 and with critical player losses, not replaced by new recruits, fourth may be a harbinger of tougher times ahead. Captain Andy Hill and a cohort of Garry Tattersall, Dylan Conroy, Andy Nisbet and young bucks will have other ideas of course. Underestimate Westgate at your peril.

Milnthorpe are entering a period of re-build and have much work ahead to restore their playing corps. With no Junior teams and this year no second team since 1930, it’s a tough ask but not one captain Steve Bowman will surrender to. Despite the retirement of Chris Baldwin a former captain of the representative side Steve still has a core of seasoned players at his disposal such as Mike Wills, Bob Baldwin and Andrew Pennington. Their experience will be critical but new blood is the urgent need.

Hope springs eternal and there is an air of optimism at Silverdale and Windermere. Silverdale have not finished in the top half of the table since 2009 and it’s been tough. But suddenly things look a whole lot rosier for captain Phil Mason. New recruit Keith Forster is an opening bat from Lanercost. Andy Thomas arrives from Heysham. Mark Webster returns. And boys such as Jack Thompson and Rob Letcher now look like men. With Jonny Mason, Paul Moffat, Jack Hargreaves and Steve Creed to the fore, Silverdale look to be more competitive again. It’s been a long wait.

New captain Matt Park at Windermere is relaxed about the task ahead despite the return of Nick Lewthwaite to Kendal and the lack of clarity as to Jimmy Crawford’s position. There is also uncertainty regarding possible new players. But he has certainty with brother James and the nucleus of Ollie Kilner, Sam Fletcher, Steve Carruthers and Mike Lewthwaite. The exciting 15-year-old Charlie Mulhall is a young all-rounder to look out for.

For the first time since the WCL was re-structured in 1975 the premier division will comprise eleven and not twelve teams. The three teams left to review could well be those vying to avoid the trapdoor. Ambleside look to be wooden spoonists but Heysham and Burneside also lack quality in depth.

It has gone pear shaped at Heysham. The loss of Graham Cassidy and Andy Thomas is compounded big style by the lack of availability of Andrew Ideson, a top all-rounder in the WCL. Others have departed to Morecambe. Much now falls on the shoulders of captain Andy Powers and his aide-de-camps Sam Calverley, Jamie Antcliffe and James Wincup. It won’t be easy and the strain could tell on their second eleven.

Burneside and Shireshead field three Saturday teams and that’s where the comparison ends. The latter has stolen the formers clothes. It is nearly twenty years since Burneside won a championship. It could be a long long season at Ellergreen.

If Ambleside survive the drop captain Oli Wileman will be awarded the freedom of the town. On their day Ambleside are capable of bowling out any team. Unfortunately they are capable of being bowled out most days.