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Date: 17th April 2017
Firwood Bootle captain Craig Prince will have an odd experience when he looks up to face the first ball of the 2017 cricket season. His long-time opening partner David Snellgrove will not be standing by the stumps at the other end.
You have to go back to the summer of 2003 to find the last year when the dependable Snellgrove was not regularly at the top of the order at Wadham Road and he is really the only opening partner Prince has known in his decade at the club.
Now, though, the former Bootle opener has opted to take on the skipper’s job at Rainford and Prince believes he has found a more than capable replacement in the ex-Northants batsman Vishal Tripathi, whose scintillating innings knocked Bootle out of last year’s Lancashire Cup.
However, the Wadham Road captain does not underestimate the challenge facing his marquee signing.
“Vishal is a fine player and the innings he played against us last year was one of the best I’ve seen,” he said. “But he has to adapt to playing at a higher standard and on flatter, quicker pitches against bowling attacks that don’t give you a minute’s rest.
“There will be a lot of pressure on him but he’s been a first-class cricketer, so he knows his game and what it’s about. The big thing for me is that he wants to succeed in this league and he wants to succeed for Bootle.
“Given his ability I’ll be very disappointed if he’s not at the top end of the run-scoring table at the end of the year and I’m really looking forward to opening the batting with him.”
Prince is hoping that Tripathi and his other new signings, James Hurlin from Northop Hall, and Will Purser, who is returning to the club after a year at Bamford Fieldhouse, will help offset the departures of Snellgrove and Greg Butterworth and help steer Bootle to their first Liverpool Competition title since 2009.
For other clubs such a gap would be unremarkable; for Bootle it is their longest period without winning the Championship since 1984 and it is more or less unacceptable to everyone at the club, not least Prince himself.
“The league is very much what I want to win,” said Prince. “We take every competition seriously but the Premier League is our bread and butter.
“We finished fourth last year but we were too inconsistent. I’m a big believer that you need to get on a run and we didn’t do that until the latter part of the season when the title was out of reach.”
Bootle’s preparations for the new season move up a gear this weekend when they play Heywood and Norden in friendlies at Wadham Road and Prince is confident that both off-spinner Hurlin and seamer Purser will fit into the team as he demands.
“James looks a really sound, solid and very mature cricketer,” he said. “He knows what he’s doing with his off-spin the ball and hits the ball in clearly-defined areas. But the big step-up for him will be adjusting to Premier League cricket having played First Division for Northop Hall. But if he adapts as well as Danny Davies did when he moved from Prestatyn, he’ll be a great success.
“Will, on the other hand, is part of the fabric at Bootle so he’ll just slots back in. But Chris Stenhouse is an underrated new-ball bowler and he will be opening the bowling with Chris Liptrot. Will knows about this but he’s very good at bowling in the middle of an innings and is one of the best all-round cricketers in the league.
In any case we’ll need everyone at their best because we play Leigh, Northern and Formby in the first four games. But there have been good numbers at pre-season nets and the quality has been impressive. We’ve had about ten sessions and so we should be really well-drilled by now. It’s been a long winter and a long pre-season but we’re now keen to get out there.”
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