Captain Jack Welch says he is relishing the prospect of the two-division structure in the Anthony Axford North West Cricket League as his Atherton side get set to embark upon a Championship promotion push in 2024.

Atherton will start the summer, on Saturday, May 4, as one of 11 teams vying for two promotion spots from the competition’s second tier.

The Higham Park side are one of only two Bolton-based clubs in the second tier, alongside Walkden. The majority of them are in the top tier - the Premiership division.

Welch’s Atherton begin with an away day at Baxenden having finished last season’s inaugural NWCL campaign 19th out of 24 before the split to two divisions.

“I really like it because it gives you something to play for, whether it’s promotion, to win the league or to avoid relegation,” said the skipper.

“Last year, once you got to the halfway point, it was probably only the top two who could win the title. This way, you have something to play for for much longer.

“Even if you’re out of contention for anything, the likelihood is that the team who you play against will have something to play for.

“It’s good experience for players as well. If you play in nothing matches, you don’t really learn much. Playing in high-pressure games week after week definitely develops you much quicker.”

“There will be something on the line in pretty much every game.

“We’re definitely in favour of it.”

Welch and co will aim to improve on their haul of four wins from 23 leagues last season, but the signing of former West Indian Test batter Shayne Moseley as professional should help them achieve it.

He, along with fellow Bajan Jamaine Bullen as overseas amateur, are set to be available for the season opener against Baxenden.

“Every team will be confident at the start of the season, so it will be a tough game,” said Welch. “It will be a competitive division because everyone will be fighting for that top spot.

“It should make for good cricket.”

The signings of Moseley and all-rounder Bullen are the only changes to Atherton’s squad from last summer, and they will no doubt start this amongst the favourites to go up.

In fact, you could say that Welch and co will be aiming to hold on to top spot as that is exactly where they currently sit with table listed in alphabetical order before a ball is bowled!

Twenty four teams last summer have now become 23 following Settle’s departure, and two sides will be relegated from the Premiership division come September.

Atherton will also hope for better fortunes in the Hamer Cup this summer. Last year, they were beaten in the first round by league champions Little Lever.

“Everyone loves a good cup run, don’t they,” added Welch.

“And it’s a good opportunity to play against those teams at the top end of the first division. We’ll certainly be aiming to do well in that as well.”

The NWCL recently announced a revised summer start day of May 4 in order to give grounds enough time to dry following the recent wet weather.

They were originally due to start on April 20 before pushing it back to April 27. When it became clear there would be no let up in the weather, Plan C was put into place for the first Saturday in May.

As a result, the season will now end on Saturday, September 21.