Season Preview Greater Manchester Cricket League
Monday 16th April 2018 @ 10:04 by Mark Phillip

With snow lying on the ground not much more than a fortnight ago it was hard to believe that the local cricket season was almost upon us. But it is, and the Greater Manchester Cricket League begins on Saturday with a full programme. The winter has seen big changes to the league with the inclusion of 17 teams moving from the Pennine League, following the sad demise of a competition which lasted just two seasons. The competition therefore provides a huge amount of interest in the Reporter and Chronicle circulation area.

Aside from the restructuring of the GMCL, which now provides five Saturday levels, split into 12 divisions, the big news is that Bamford Fieldhouse have opted not to field a 1st XI in 2018 and therefore pulled out of the Premier Division, and been replaced by Egerton who have been reinstated following their relegation at the end of 2017. It’s certainly been an up and down few years for Bamford. Following their expulsion from the old Saddleworth League in 2013 they gained promotion to the GMCL Premier Division in 2016, but now find themselves unable to compete at that level. Flixton will be looking to defend their Premier League crown which they gained in 2017 following a tight race involving Woodbank and Denton St Lawrence. Elsewhere the introduction of the 17 PCL teams, who have been introduced at Division 1 and Division 2 levels makes the ability to spot the front runners difficult, and as with all cricket leagues the recruitment of new players and maybe loss of old stalwarts means that it will be a month or so into the season before the relative strengths of sides is really evident.

The Tameside and Glossop area will continue to be represented by the eight clubs who were founder members of the GMCL plus the addition of Ashton; Micklehurst and Stayley from the PCL.

Interest at Premier Division level centres around two of the Denton clubs; St Lawrence and Denton West. DSL pushed eventual winners Flixton all the way the last year and eventually finished 3rd. They will be looking to improve on that this time round. As for near neighbours Wests they have lost last years pro Semila Seyibokwe, (who has moved to Heyside). His replacement, Thendolwetha Mynaka, a 25-year-old seam bowling all-rounder from South Africa, arrives with a pedigree of 127 first class wickets. Replacing Seyibokwe’s 845 runs and 43 wickets will be the target. Also arriving at Windsor Park is South African Chris Stevenson who picked up just under 700 runs in Scottish league cricket last year. Another important acquisition is Dale Pennington from Glossop who will certainly boost the batting line-up.  Mike Berry takes up the captaincy reins once again, having previously been in charge from 2013-15.

The next level down has been split into two divisions. In Division 1A local interest centres around Denton, Flowery Field and, coming in from the PCL, Stayley. Over at Egerton Street the return of overseas men Cloete Buitendag and Keegan Taylor, who between them contributed 1,400 runs and over 70 wickets, is crucial to hopes of improving on last year’s 8th spot and thus pushing for promotion. At Flowery Field there must have been eyes raised at Egerton’s reinstatement to the Premier Division with the Throstle Bank St club cruelly robbed of a real chance of promotion as the rain fell on the last day of the 2017 campaign. Pro Mike Burns, who grew into the role as 2017 unfolded, returns and a repeat of his 350 runs and approaching 50 wickets will be a good base for another promotion push. He will be backed up by New Zealander Stephen Crossan who arrives having averaged 46 over the winter in domestic competitions. David Williams takes over as skipper. Up at Oxford Street, Stayley consolidated well in the PCL Premiership last year following promotion in 2016. They rely heavily on pro Hamza Nadeem, who picked up over 100 wickets in the two PCL seasons. Peter Skuse retains the captaincy, and will look to repeat a good all round performance in 2017 which brought over 500 runs and 23 wickets.

Following a disappointing campaign in 2017, which saw them relegated, Glossop will be hoping to pick up in Division 1B. Will Hargreaves has stepped down as skipper, following a long stint in the job, and has been replaced by Oliver Kenyon. Coming in as overseas player is Sri Lankan Lahiru Udara, a batsman who the North Road club will be hoping leads them to a successful campaign and a return to the Premier Division. The other local interest in this Division is at Dukinfield, who finished 7th in Division 1 last year. Pro Yohan da Silva returns for a 3rd season, and a repeat of his 900+ runs and 28 wickets last year is integral to skipper Jonny Gascoigne’s hopes of a climb up the table. He will be hoping that South African, Charlie Dowling, an opening batsman and fast bowler, will make a big contribution as well.

Locally in Division 2A Droylsden are joined by Micklehurst. Droylsden threatened the upper reaches of the table for quite a while in 2017 but eventually finished 8th. They will rely on a repeat of skipper Aaqib Uppal’s 477 runs and 47 wickets, and he will be looking for a repeat of the 500+ runs that his deputy Mike Schofield got last year. Micklehurst struggled last year and are looking for the challenge of a new league to reinvigorate the senior playing side at Richmond Hill. Overseas amateur Rico Hurley has come over from Barbados to assist with this. Taking the skipper’s reins is Jonny Forrester.

Ashton are the sole local interest in Division 2B, but will face 5 of the Oldham based teams they met in the PCL and will renew acquaintances with Radcliffe, opponents from their Central Lancashire League days. Skipper Ryan Heap will be hoping to forget what was a disastrous season in 2017, largely caused by the loss of seven players who had featured in the Tanner Cup final appearance in 2016. Having decided not to go for a professional he is looking to overseas players Kyle Fisher and Lachlan Watts to provide a basis for what will be a rebuilding process at Reyner Lane.

The other local team is Ashton Ladysmith, who are featuring in Division 4 East. After a mid table finish in 2017 stalwart Joe Walsh has taken the captaincy and will be relying on Janak Patel, with the bat, and Paul Reynolds, with the ball, to build on this. They face an interesting schedule, with PCL 2nd XI sides from Moorside; Saddleworth; Royton; Ashton; Heyside and Hollinwood being placed in this division.

So with the season about to start hopes are high throughout the area. Reporter Sport will bring the key action each week.

By Martin Frost