Dumfries set the pace in the West
The new Cricket Scotland League was always going to represent a step into the unknown, but nobody could have predicted that, three weeks into the campaign, Dumfries would be sitting proudly at the summit of the Western competition with three consecutive victories. In advance of the action commencing, many people were tipping the likes of Clydesdale and Uddingston for honours and even Stuart Corbett-Byers, the gritty Dumfries captain, who steered his side to a nerve-shredding one-wicket win over Stirling County at the weekend, admits that his club’s principal aim, when the summer started, was to stay in the division. Yet now, following comprehensive trouncings of Greenock and Clydesdale, the skipper realises something special is happening for the Nunholm ensemble.
“We are trying to avoid putting ourselves under pressure, but things have definitely gone well so far, and I think we are benefiting from the fact nobody knows a lot about us, and yet we have plenty of competition for places and a lot of ambitious players in our squad,” said Corbett-Byers, whose unbeaten 72 against Stirling was a model of maturity and controlled aggression. “I reckon the Clydesdale victory was a big turning point, which opened a few people’s eyes, because we have a good mixture of youth and experience, a spirit of togetherness which comes from the fact many of us have played together for a while, and there are 30 or 40 kids turning up at training every Monday, so the buzz is spreading throughout the club at the moment. Nobody is getting carried away, but we believe we have shown we deserve to be where we are and we have to kick on.”
This Dumfries collective boasts a string of redoubtable characters; the sort of tough-as-teak individuals who will not be intimidated wherever they venture. Scott Beveridge has shone with bat and ball and in the field, whilst Patrick Druce has proved a menace for opponents, and the likes of Chris Belwood and Corbett-Byers have flourished in their new environment. They were forced to dig deep in chasing County’s target of 265 on Saturday, and even had to win the contest twice, following a misunderstanding between the officials, but it is a mark of Corbett-Byers’ leadership that he has infused his troops with a steely desire to keep setting new standards and claiming fresh scalps.
“We are away to Ayr in our next fixture, and that promises to be a big challenge, because I don’t think that we have ever beaten them at their new ground, and they will be doing their best to preserve that record,” said Corbett-Byers. “But we just have to do our best to raise our standards, work on parts of the game such as not conceding too many extras, and, basically, keeping our feet on the ground. If we do that, we should be okay.”
This looming joust is as close to a local derby as Dumfries can arrange, but the camaraderie in their team suggests they maintain their charge, and particularly given the plight of opponents such as Greenock, who are a pale shadow of the force which once dominated Scottish cricket a decade ago. In contrast, Corbett-Byers is involved with a side on the rise and nobody will relish the trip to Nunholm as the summer unfolds.
ON THE BOUNDARY: It was heartening to be at a sun-drenched Mannofield on Saturday and have a chat with groundsman, Kenny McCurdie, about the state of his beloved pitch, following months of remedial work in the aftermath of the serious vandalism to the playing surface which happened last year. McCurdie, one of the sport’s indefatigable enthusiasts, has performed a minor miracle in repairing the damage, and the only blot on his landscape was the ease with which visitors Grange swept to an eight-wicket victory over previously unbeaten Aberdeenshire. However, the positive news was the fact that Mannofield looks in pristine condition once more and McCurdie deserves credit for the hours of graft which he has expended on rectifying matters.