CRAIG NELSON COLUMN - The battle for the Bolton Cricket League is intriguing

The Bolton News: Oliver Newby wanted to boost the ranks at Westhoughton CC Oliver Newby wanted to boost the ranks at Westhoughton CC

ANTICIPATION is building ahead of the start of this season’s Bolton Cricket League, which kicks off tomorrow.

Little Lever’s stunning championship success last year looks to have really shaken up their rivals, with a number of clubs pushing out the boat to bring in a host of top names.

Farnworth’s capture of Warren Hegg – the former Lancashire wicketkeeper – looks to be chief among them.

And if mathematical trends determine the destination of the Bolton League crown, then the Red Rose man looks to have backed a winner following Farnworth’s triumphs in 2010 and 2012.

But it may be a little early to install the Hamer Cup holders as favourites to win the 2014 league title.

Farnworth are in the middle of a transition following the departure of captain David Morris Jnr to Egerton, who look to be quietly assembling a title-challenging team of their own.

Paul Stafford will return to skipper the Blackburn Road outfit following a year out through injury, while retained professional Amal Athulathmudali is one of the league’s most potent threats.

Another couple of additions from wily manager David Tattersall could see them improve on successive third-placed finishes in the last two seasons to finally claim a first-ever league title.

Westhoughton – last season’s surprise package – will have something to say about that, after keeping together the squad that pushed them from bottom in 2012 to second last time out.

Captain Rob Houghton also has a decent pool of talent to call upon from the club’s seconds, who won the Howarth Cup last season.

The St George’s Oval outfit could have been even stronger had their move to register Lancashire bowler Oliver Newby as an amateur not been vetoed.

A subsequent attempt to get the rules changed also failed after the league’s general committee voted against it last week.

The issue, along with a groundswell of support for the return of overseas amateurs and conflicting views on the payment of players, has created a great deal of debate.

And it will be interesting to see how this develops as part of a regional club cricket scene that is currently undergoing massive change.

While rival competitions look to revamp, the Bolton League has refused to make any sudden, sweeping changes, calling upon the Lancashire Cricket Board to take the lead instead.

The Bolton League is, however, carrying out a root and branch review, with rumours of big changes imminent.

But its current approach has at least ensured the core 14 members remain to fight another season.

And with former champions Greenmount, Farnworth Social Circle, Tonge, Kearsley, Bradshaw and Walkden all making statements of intent with some strong additions to their squads, for now, at least, competition looks to be just as fierce as ever.

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