Lostock versus Little Lever at Chew Moor Lane this Saturday (1pm) is second against first from last summer - there could hardly be a better way to open the second season of the Anthony Axford North West Cricket League.

Little Lever may have faltered a touch towards the end of last year, but they had the title wrapped up long before. In truth, they were flawless en route to silverware.

For Lostock, they made a fabulous late run to finish second, winning their last seven matches.

It is form which has given captain James Evans and his players significant confidence they can again be up there in this season’s Premiership table.

“We hadn’t been up there previously, but we deserved to be last year,” he said.

“We were really happy with how we finished, and we think we’ve strengthened this winter. So why shouldn’t confidence be high?

“We have so much talent coming through with the young lads, and with the experience that we’ve got it means we have a really good balance at the minute.

“The first few games will be a challenge, don’t get me wrong. But that’s why you play and what you should look forward to.”

Opening batter Evans will start his second year as captain with the aforementioned blockbuster against Little Lever followed by trips to Farnworth and Salesbury, hence the comment about a challenging start to the campaign.

Evans will have a new opening partner this summer in Matt Lamb, who replaces Adlington-bound Conner Hicklin.

“Matt came over from Burnley for last season, but he was injured and didn’t really get much of a go,” said Evans. “He was also finishing off his PHD and Masters degrees.

“When he did play, he batted middle order. But his natural position is an opener.

“We’re really good mates as well - we went to (Edge Hill) University together. So that should be a lot of fun.”

Lostock, who don’t go down the overseas amateur route, have signed Pakistani batting all-rounder Mohammad Suleman as their professional, a 25-year-old who has scored three hundreds in only nine first-class matches to date.

They had initially re-engaged Akbar Ur Rehman, but visa issues put paid to that plan.

“Mohammad’s a young pro, and his stats look really good. He’s a batter who bowls a bit of off-spin. He’s been recommended by a lot of people, and we’re looking forward to seeing him,” said Evans.

The club have also signed young wicketkeeper-batter Sam Barlow from Flixton.

Evans says Lostock “can’t wait” for this season. That is owed much to their confidence following last season, but also because of the competition’s structure for 2024. The Premiership will see the top 12 teams play each other twice. Two will go down and two will come up from the Championship.

“You’re playing teams home and away, instead of just once,” he said. “It will be a true reflection of where you are.

“Some teams might have got a favourable run of fixtures last year, playing a certain team at home and not away.

“Every game is going to be competitive. There is no team in there who you look at and say, ‘That’s a guaranteed win’. It will be a really good challenge, and we can’t wait.”

One of the rewards for Lostock finishing second last term is a place in this year’s Lancashire Cup, which starts on Sunday, May 19.

And Evans admitted they will use the competition wisely, while also revealing exciting youngster Reece Gray is likely to take the new ball this summer.

“Reece is one of a few young lads who have really come on a lot this winter, and we’re looking forward to getting them in and about the first team and giving them some good game time,” he added.

“There are five or six 16-21-year-olds who are borderline first-team players.

“We play Thornton Cleveleys at home first. The Lancashire Knockout is something we haven’t been in for a while, and we’re looking forward to getting back into it and playing a new team or two - like last season in the league.

“It will be a great opportunity to get some of those youngsters in and give them some first-team cricket.”