CHAMPIONS Arbroath yesterday launched the defence of their Eastern Premier title with the sort of performance that suggests they may again be the team to beat this term.

Last season the Lichties carved out a series of hard-fought victories on their march to a first top-flight success, and that pattern was mirrored yesterday as Grange headed home from Lochlands empty-handed.

The Edinburgh players have been tipped in some quarters to re-establish themselves as the country's foremost club side and, when they dismissed their hosts for 168, an opening-day victory looked on the cards.

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However, Arbroath fought back superbly to restrict Grange to 154, Saltires seamer Calvin Burnett claiming the bowling honours with four wickets.

His brother Fraser had earlier top-scored with 36, while Hamish Bartlett contributed 32.

Meanwhile, Aberdeenshire's Chris Venske was the first centurion of the campaign as the Mannofield side - runners-up last summer - got the better of Carlton.

It looked a good toss for the former Scotland captain Gordon Drummond to win as he had little hesitation in putting the Dons in to bat in damp conditions at Grange Loan.

However, Venske looked steady from the start, compiling a half-century opening partnership with Calum Howard in 10 overs.

That became a century stand as the pair saw off the best the home attack had to offer before Howard, having reached 35, miscued to mid-off.

Venske, though, had no intention of giving his wicket away and, with another willing partner in overseas amateur Hayes van der Berg, the visitors began to go through the gears.

Van der Berg had made a rapid 45 before, attempting to reach a half-century in a grand manner, he succeeded only in holing out to long-on.

Venske was not to be stopped and the South African-born batsman, recruited last season when he arrived in the Granite City to take up a job in the oil industry, moved smoothly to three figures.

He carried his bat for a brilliant unbeaten 137, while Sri Lankan professional Harsha Cooray offered a couple of lusty blows to propel Shire's total to 264-3.

Carlton's reply was effectively thrown off course when they lost three early wickets, but a century stand between Drummond and youngster Kyle Macpherson offered some hope.

Both men reached half-centuries, but both were run out as the required rate rose and scoreboard pressure took its toll.

In the end Carlton fell 56 runs short, Macpherson top-scoring with a fine 77, while skipper Tyler Buchan claimed four wickets for Shire.

Forfarshire's hope of a winning return to the top flight were dashed in an extraordinary match at Goldenacre.

The Forthill side must have thought they were on course for the points after dismissing hosts Heriots for just 88.

Aman Bailwal did the bulk of the damage with a brilliant spell of medium-pace swing which yielded the first five-wicket haul of the season.

The former Scotland U19 all-rounder, now on the fringes of the senior set-up, claimed five for 29, while Heriot's top-scorer was teenager Ryan Brown with a modest 12.

There was still time for Forfarshire to bat before tea, but it proved a disastrous spell during which they slumped to 18-5.

Things improved marginally on the resumption with Bailwal briefly threatening to dig his side out of a hole with a battling 23.

However, his bowling figures were to be eclipsed as South African Ulrich Jooste had a competitive debut to remember for the Edinburgh side.

He claimed five wickets and conceded only 18 runs as last season's First Division champions were all out for 60 in the 27th over.

If there was disappointment for the Broughty Ferry team, Falkland, promoted with them last season, marked their debut in the top league with a battling win over SMRH.

In a rain-interrupted clash at Scroggie Park, the Fifers dismissed their rivals for 119 and were set a revised target of 126 from 42 overs.

Conor Ryan's half-century ensured a five-wicket victory.