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Arbroath smokin'

WHILE the main focus of the winter for cricket followers centred on Scotland's mixed fortunes in respectively failing and succeeding to qualify for the T20 and 50-over World Cups, another round of domestic league reconstruction almost slipped through unnoticed.

Arbroath's Marc Petrie shows his batting prowess for the Scottish Saltires against Kent in Edinburgh                                  Photograph: SNS
Arbroath's Marc Petrie shows his batting prowess for the Scottish Saltires against Kent in Edinburgh Photograph: SNS

Almost - but not quite, especially for those six s0ides who effectively lost their Cricket Scotland League status.

The governing body happily handed over the administration of cricket in the west to the Western Union where the status quo will remain with a top division of eight teams.

It wasn't such plain sailing in the east and north of the country where consensus between the East of Scotland Cricket Association (ESCA), the Strathmore and Perthshire Cricket Union (SPCU) and Cricket Scotland proved elusive.

Indeed, the governing body refused to endorse a two-leagues-of-ten structure for which the majority of clubs had voted. Instead, a compromise was reached where the top ten clubs will compete in the CS Eastern Premier with ESCA and SPCU running their own ten-team Championships, the winners of which will play-off for a place in the Premier division. Thus, Corstorphine, Dundee HSFP, Freuchie, Glenrothes, Penicuik and West Lothian have dropped down the pecking order.

With an extra four weeks of league cricket to be accommodated, the Eastern Premier bowls into action on Saturday when Arbroath launch the defence of their title won in thrilling style last year under severe pressure from Aberdeenshire, Carlton and Grange. No side has achieved back-to-back wins in the top flight since Clydesdale in 2004-05 but Arbroath skipper Marc Petrie, while acknowledging the task ahead, is determined to see his side match that feat.

"It's often said that defending a title is more difficult that winning it for the first time and that may well be the case" said the wicketkeeper/batsman who earned the last of his seven caps four years ago but who, at the still youthful age of 24, is keen to force his way back into the national set-up.

"The big Edinburgh clubs are always strong and I expect Carlton and Grange to be among the main challengers again. But our boys are buzzing for it and we want to adopt the same approach that worked for us last season with every player concentrating on pulling their weight and executing our skills individually and as a team."

That team will show several enforced changes now that the talismanic and veteran medium pace bowler Benny McGill has opted to become a father figure to the second eleven, while Darren Spink is unlikely to play due to work commitments and Alvin Pollard, cousin of West Indies star Kieron, has moved away.

However, youngsters like the Scotland U-19 captain Ross McLean and the even more youthful Harris Carnegie and Ryan Cameron will be handed more responsibility.

"We have a great blend of youth and experience," added Petrie. "Even quite a few of our young players have picked up tremendous experience from playing in the Scotland age-group teams.

"Last season was the best one in the club's history and we know it will be tough to match that but we'll give it a real go."

Elsewhere, there will be much interest in the performances of Carlton following the appointment of Pete Steindl as their Senior Head Coach.

Grange will be formidable especially with young players like Chris Sole and the Edwards' brothers, Henry and Will, another year better and more experienced.

The same might be said of Aberdeenshire though the Mannofield side will surely miss the influence of their former player-coach Neil MacRae, now head coach of Jersey.

Top flight newcomers Forfarshire and Falkland look capable of springing a few surprises in their pursuit of survival.

Meanwhile, Uddingston must wait three weeks before launching their CS Western Premier defence and can expect the main challenge to come from a Clydesdale side who will be coached by Con de Lange, the former Ferguslie and Northants all-rounder.

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