BIRMINGHAM MIDSHIRES BIRMINGHAM & DISTRICT PREMIER LEAGUE
Walsall enter the Birmingham & District Premier Cricket League seeking to make history. Not since the war has a side managed to win three titles in succession, but that is the aim of the champions in 2006 and 2007.
It will not be easy. Two of last season's leading batsmen have left; Nathan Round to Old Hill and Graeme Archer has retired. Their runs will be missed.
Gerrie Snyman has also gone. The Namibian all-rounder has been replaced as overseas player by New Zealander Brad Wilson, a 23-year-old batsman who plays for Northern Districts.
The club have also signed two highly quality players. Former county all-rounders Mo Sheikh, from West Bromwich Dartmouth and Andy Gray, from Shifnal, should both prove highly effective. Seamer Andy Miller has also been allocated to the club by Warwickshire.
Leamington Spa face a tough start to life in the premier division with a trip to Walsall. Promoted Leamington have a highly promising crop of young players in their ranks, and will be relying on them to prove their value. Tom Lewis, Lee Hopkins, Jack Hawkes and Tim Westwood will all be carefully monitored by Warwickshire, while the addition of Luke Parker should strengthen batting that has been reliant on Rob Williams for some time.
The bowling attack is lead by Pakistan seamer Faisal Irfan, while Luke Radford has joined from Stratford-upon-Avon. Former Warwickshire and England off-spinner Neil Smith also continues to play on in a team that should be able to avoid the experience of 2005, when they were relegated after an unsuccessful first attempt at this level.
Last year’s runners-up, Knowle & Dorridge, may have to do without Tony Frost for a long period if, as is expected, he is required by Warwickshire for much of the summer. Attiq-ur-Rehman will strengthen the batting, while the club also hope that Nick James enjoys a prolific season.
The bowling is led by Elliott Wilson, who returns to the club after a year in the Bradford League, while Mark Littlewood, a seam bowling all-rounder from Adelaide, is also expected to prove a useful acquisition. Travis Friend also returns, though his availability is expected to be limited.
Their opponents today are a weakened West Bromwich Dartmouth. They are without several of last season's team with Mo Sheikh (Walsall) and Stephen Moreton (Harborne) having moved on to other clubs. Moeen Ali could also be unavailable on county duty with Worcestershire.
The experienced Harshad Patel is the captain, however, while off-spinners Shaftab Khalid, from Wolverhampton, and Shafiq Ahmed, from Himley, have also been signed. Ian Stevenson is the new wicketkeeper while Carl Baker, from Halesowen, will challenge Naheem Sajjad for the left-arm seam bowling slot.
Kenilworth Wardens also face a tough start. After being bowled out cheaply twice in the Graham Williamson Trophy by Moseley, they face the same opponents once again. Stephen Byng remains as captain of a little-changed Wardens side, with Shitansu Kotak returning for a 14th season as overseas player. Warwickshire's James Ord (broken thumb) is absent today.
Moseley are one of the favourites for the title. Their attack, comprising Calum MacLeod and Fred Eburah (signed from Coventry & NW) looks potent, with Michael Bell and Ashfak Hussein in support. Keith Bell (also from Coventry & NW) should also prove a good signing, while David Powles is overseas player (in place of controversial Vaughn Van Jaarsveld) and Huw Jones has taken over as captain.
After a couple of disappointing seasons there is hope at the club that an improved team spirit can unleash the undoubted potential of a talented line-up.
Wolverhampton have experienced plenty of ups and downs since becoming the inaugural winners of the premier division when the concept was introduced in 1998 and mark their return with a home game against Kidderminster Victoria. Wolverhampton look well placed to prosper this time, with the signing of Indian Test and ODI leg-spinner
, who is arguably the highest profile signing in the league.
Perhaps of more interest in the longer term is the presence of Anish Kapil, their 14-year-old opening batsman who is tipped for great things, while new fast bowler Chris Russell will surprise a few with his pace.
Kidderminster Victoria have lost Will Gifford and James Taylor, both of whom, have left Worcestershire, as well as seamer Jon Miles, who has joined the Lord's groundstaff. Mario Faliwa, an opening bowler who has represented Orange Free State, will add fire power to the attack as overseas player, but much will be required of veterans Jonathan Wright and Mark Mansell as well as Worcestershire's reserve keeper Josh Knappett if the club are to flourish this year.
Shifnal, last year's surprise success, travel to Barnt Green for their first game. Left-arm spinner, Guy Bulpitt, has signed from Cannock to strengthen Shifnal, while Gary Putland, a left-arm seamer who has played for South Australia, is the overseas player.
Martyn Davies (from Wem) and Bruce Thomason (from Smethwick) are also new additions and join Shropshire team-mates James Ralph, Adam Shimmons and Jono Whitney at the club.
Barnt Green are another team tipped to do well this year. After a disappointing 2007 season, when they finished seventh, Dougie Brown has taken over the captaincy and leads a side rich in county experience. Their success may depend partly on county commitments, however, as their squad contains several exciting players — such as Worcestershire seamers Mehraj Ahmed and Gareth Andrew — who could be in demand, while Richard Illingworth will only be able to play when his umpiring commitments allow.
All-rounder Paul Coverdale has signed from Northants while Alex Loudon could make a few appearances, though he has yet to register. Nor has James Major, son of the former prime minister, John, though Brown believes he will also play.
Dai Williams, Gavin Shephard, Stuart Shephard and Simon Froggatt complete a strong line-up.
Himley visit Walmley in the final match of the first round. Walmley were excited to have been allocated Boyd Rankin for this season, but it now appears the rangy Irishman will play little part in the season as he underwent shoulder surgery yesterday. However with Chris Woakes, Greg Ricketts and West Indian all-rounder, Lionel Baker, all available, the bowling department still looks strong.
Wicketkeeper/batsman Chris Booth has moved to Aston Manor and Adam Breakspear could replace him, while Chris Howell will be looking to regain some form after two years of injury problems. Bhavik Patel, Warwickshire's leg-spinning all-rounder, will also be hoping to find some form.
Indian all-rounder TP Singh returns as Himley's overseas player, despite his involvement in the Indian Cricket League, while Stuart Wedge has also remained with the club despite being released by Worcestershire. Chris Whelan, a new signing at New Road, should add further bite to a seam attack that also includes David Willis, who has returned from Himley.
They will be reliant on Daniel Bassett and Greg Wright for their runs, but are anxiously searching for a new keeper after Jagbir Dhillon was ruled out of the first half of the season following an appendix operation.n Evesham have had to abandon their plans to field Bangladesh captain, Mohammad Ashraful, this season. Though Ashraful did sign a contract with the club, his burgeoning international commitments have forced a change of plan.