GMCL EPISODE ONE - A NEW HOPE
With apologies to George Lucas, it seemed somewhat aposite to nick the "original" Star Wars movie tagline, as we enter a brave new cricketing world. A long time ago in a league far, far away (mainly Oldham and Rochdale) we were stuck with nowhere to go, with little chance to progress our cricket and with a league that, while absolutely superb for fostering younger talent and providing social cricket - and arguably organised as well as any amateur sporting organisation in the region - could offer little competitive play on a regular basis. Moving to the Greater Manchester Cricket League was something we've been excited about since day 1 when we first got wind of the new set up.
It seems like eons ago when we attended the launch meeting at Old Trafford, and now here we are on the eve of the new season (weather permitting!). So much has progressed, and yet as we prepare to pitch up this weekend, there are a whole host of questions that remain unanswered - have we been placed right, how will we fare against opponents both familiar and totally alien? Does the 2nd XI arguably have a tougher fixture list, and why do we have 18 wicketkeepers and no opening bowling attack?
So what do we know? Well, off the field the winter has allowed us to finish our latest extension, providing upper tier mixed changing facilities and a view over the ground that's light years from what we had 6 months ago, never mind in 2007 when we were still effectively in the stone age. Our squad has grown over the close season, with acquisitions both from other clubs and from parts unknown. New players have bedded in superbly on the social side and now we'll see how they fare on the field. Club stalwarts are firmly in place and on board with the new regime, and there's a fluidity and coherence to the overall squad that we haven't had in, well, for ever. And bar takings are already up, thanks to the usual crowd plus the excellent event on Good Friday.
So forgetting the off-pitch stuff, which takes care of itself, what can we expect from the playing side in 2016?
Firstly, it should be exciting to refresh long held rivalries and start new ones against teams we've socialised and enjoyed company with for years - the likes of Woodbank, Walshaw and Brooksbottom are perennial visitors to the club and it'll be fantastic to lock horns with them competitively. For years we've bemoaned the amount of travel and lack of local rivalries, and now we have plenty. While there will undoubtedly be plenty of teams coming and going in the first few years of the GMCL, with an aggressive promotion and relegation structure, the chance to play 9 sides within 3 miles of us, rather than just ELPM and Elton Vale, is a big plus. Not to mention some tasty 20/20 fixtures to boost both the fun element and the coffers.
Of course, one area we've always suffered in is the fielding - with an ageing 1sts carrying multiple long-term injuries, that was always a challenge - we have a few new, young faces this season who should make both sides much more mobile and allow the older guard some respite; pre-season training has focussed a lot more on the fielding, and has been taken up enthusiastically. So that's a good start.
Another problem has been the batting. We're prone to collapses, with a top order than can either dominate games or disappear like the sun up a remote hill in Springhead. We have some new faces that will be looking to cement their roles at the top of the order (that's you, GT), while every place is up for grabs. If you perform in the 2s, you'll get your chance in the 1s. If you need to step down, no problem. While we'll be looking to the the likes of Rick, Doc, KC and Marshy to perform regularly, there are players new and established who can contribute - it'll be good to see young guns such as GT, Ry Marsh, Stoney and Stu stake their claims alongside the likes of Birdy, Nick Marsh and Watty.
While there are issues around batting and fielding, let's not forget the bowling. We have an abundance of spin options (good), plenty of experience in the seam department (very good), and absolutely no clearly defined opening bowlers (oops). The bowling unit needs a new spearhead with Marshy and Doc likely to miss games and also unlikely to be charging in from 25 yards (although cumulatively over 10 overs, perhaps). Farhan stepped up for the 2s last year and will be looking to make an impact in the 1s, and there should be good opportunities for the likes of Sail to get his leggies fizzing and for young Ste Brooks to progress, after becoming one of the youngest ever Totts players to grab a 5 wicket 1st team haul. There will be opportunities too for the likes of Ry Marsh and Matty Bradshaw to develop their craft.
Wicket keeping looks strong, with Stu, Clive, and new lad Lee all offering plenty behind the sticks - and there's loads of backup too! That's a stronger area for us this year, and one that should make a difference. The new captains, Watty and Sail, have experienced loads of recent success, as mainstays of the 2nd XI gaining back to back titles and promotions in the last two seasons of the NMCL, and so it'll be good to see how they cope with the new system.
Whether the season proves a success on the field or not, there's sure to be plenty of drama and it'll be really interesting to see how the sides develop in this new structure (and indeed to see how our former NMCL colleagues get on too). Good luck to everyone with the new challenges, and let's hope for some stand out performances and new rivalries to write about! Most of all, enjoy your cricket and do your club proud.