WHAT promises to be a riveting Westmorland Cricket League (WCL) season begins on Saturday, and stand out favourites to retain The Bateman Shield are Carnforth, writes cricket correspondent John Glaister.

The current lodestar club with a grass perfect playing surface and enviable off-field facilities, Carnforth made an ill-fated excursion into the Northern League (2006-12), but re-admission to the WCL has seen them rejuvenated.

Their first outright championship last season was based on the time-honoured principle of having two very good opening batsmen and bowlers.

Given another dry summer, Ryan Nelson or Chris Parry could be the first batsmen to reach 1,000 runs in Division 1, while on the bowling side, Darren Nelson will still outwit many a batsman even though he is in the vintage stage of his career, and together with strike partner Jack Thompson they will be aiming for 100 wickets between them.

Captain Bradley Hoyle has these riches at his disposal but other clubs perceive a weakness in depth if they fail, and despite their glitch last season Westgate would be first in-line to pounce on any falter.

Zach Buchanan is back in the fold and fully committed and on his day there are few better bowlers.

Brother Craig will be aiming for 500 runs while captain Andrew Hill will be looking to Sam Frith to unleash his lurking potential.

New man Phil Harvey, a wicket-keeper from Great Eccleston, comes with a good CV.

From a neutral’s view, one of the best sights of last season was to see the once famed Heysham club, whose last WCL title was in 1961, finish runners-up.

However, expectation for this season has been dampened by the loss of bowlers Graeme Cassidy to Morecambe and Reg Cupit to long-term injury.

The availability of Lewis Plackett is also doubtful but solace can be found in the development of Geoff Carter and the arrival of new face Damian Keegan, an ex-Haslingden CC batsman, while captain Andy Powers also has the talent of Sam Calverley to call on who can be brilliant.

New Arnside captain Richard Hodgson is unlikely to see much of all-rounders Adam Cowperthwaite and Lee Illingworth due to the calls of modern fatherhood, but the return of batsman Alex Davidson and the acquisition of former ex-Cumbria U-19 player James Rafferty has boosted the ranks.

The attack-minded seaside club will also have Adam Richardson and Adrian Lee firing on all cylinders.

As a group, the Shireshead team is growing a little long in the tooth but they will have three bristling young players in Joe Oliver, Joe Cunliffe and Adam Murphy, and while captain Dave Jack could do with more help on the bowling front, he may well witness runs from Gareth Bleasdale.

The best of the rest are Burneside, Milnthorpe and Warton and all are likely to cause upsets.

Burneside’s Steve Cooper will be looking to recapture his old form with the bat, and Darren Nightingale and Robert Davies are capable of three figure scores.

The return of Paul Wilson gives captain Ben Leacock a spin twin option coupled with Ethan Ellhold.

Milnthorpe meanwhile have plenty of experience and Steve Bowman is back at the helm to see them navigate any rough water.

James Parkinson will take wickets and there is expectation from unknown all-rounder Dan Spiers.

Warton have just 13 players on their books which is bad news but the good news is that 13 contains some fine cricketers in captain Tom Barnfield and ex-captain Graham Crowther, while if fitness prevails opening bowlers Steve Beck and Ryan Needham could be devastating.

Fighting to avoid a compartment in Davy Jones’s locker will be Silverdale, Sedgwick and Trimpell.

The legendary Paul Moffat, whose metronomic medium pace claimed hundreds of wickets, has called it a day at Silverdale, but the presence of left arm spinner Curtis Graham will compensate somewhat.

As ever, much will fall on the shoulders of Jon Mason, especially in the absence of Jarred Collis.

At Sedgwick, 17-year-old Tyler Finch is a raw quickie, while former Burneside player Lee Tattersall has also signed up.

Trimpell endured a tortuous four year spell when they lost 22 players but have enjoyed a renaissance under 20-year-old captain James Lambert, grandson of Peter, who has engendered terrific enthusiasm, while at the other end of the age spectrum will be 67-year-old ‘Mr Trimpell’ himself Peter McDermid.

The sad news on the eve of the season is that Ambleside have announced they are withdrawing their first team from the Premier Division, though they will continue to field a team in Division Four.

Holme have taken their place in the top tier and Division Two will operate with just 10 teams.

Outside the Premier Division, no bowler is allowed more than 72 balls which is particularly hard on budding youth.