Ben Heap, the new man with the captain’s armband at Liverpool Road, is expecting the Lancashire League title race to be wide open this term.
The West Enders, who have won the title on three occasions since 2011, face reigning champions Ramsbottom on Sunday after the season’s opener against Rishton at Blackburn Road was washed out.
Ramsbottom arrive on David Wren Way minus a key catalyst to their recent successes with former professional Daryn Smit signing for Derbyshire on a two-year contract.
The 33-year-old South African, who spent 14 seasons with the Dolphins in Durban, was the league’s most clinical batsman for the past couple of campaigns, hitting the highest average of 86 last year while top-scoring in 2015 with 1,248 runs at an average of 113.45.
The all-rounder also excelled with the ball, averaging 77 wickets over three seasons at Acre Bottom.
“He was a fantastic player and we found it difficult to get him out when we faced him,” said Heap. “He knew exactly what he needed to do in league cricket.
“He timed his innings to perfection every time and his average was incredible. It makes a big difference when you’ve got a player of that calibre because he had everything down to a tee.
“He seemed to know exactly how to play Lancashire League cricket and what he needed to do for the team, particularly when chasing in the second innings.
“He was prolific and could win games on his own with the bat but he was also tight and economical, bowling stump to stump, with the ball.”
Heap is eagerly anticipating the fixture and relishing the chance to walk his team out as skipper.
“It’s an interesting game, especially at this stage of the season,” he said. “It’s an even bigger game now because it’s effectively the season opener and it’s an opportunity for both sides to lay down an early marker for the season ahead.
“We’ve lowered expectations slightly because of all the change at the club over the winter and I think that will take a little bit of pressure off ourselves. We know Ramsbottom will be there or thereabouts again and I’m confident that we’ll be in the mix.
“I think it’s a good thing for us and we’re looking at it positively. We’ve had a good pre-season, everybody is feeling confident, and we’re looking forward to it.
“It is the first game that I’ll officially walk out as club captain so I’m looking forward to leading the team out. It is going to be a special moment for me. My focus is on getting the 12 points but it’s a big moment for me and my family.”