Walsden skipper James is keen to keep the optimism in check

Josh Gale is one of Walsden's improving younger players
Josh Gale is one of Walsden's improving younger players

After two titles and a runners-up berth in the last three seasons, Walsden have every right to go into the 2015 Central Lancashire League season with huge optimism.

However, skipper James Rawlinson is anxious to keep his players’ feet firmly on the ground ahead of what he expects to be a challenging campaign.

The Scott Street men open at home to Unsworth on Sunday and go into battle with a very similar side to last season, just minus the retired Richard Sladdin and with a change at overseas amateur.

Rawlinson, who is looking forward to his first full season in charge, said: “I am under no illusions that this season is going to be easy.

“Teams like Norden, Littleborough and Heywood are fiercely competitive.

“Norden (the champions) will be just as strong this year but we hope to be up there fighting as well.”

The 31-year-old opening batsman said he had “great belief” in the club’s amateur players.

“We have had a very similar side for past two or three seasons. The young players are developing well and the Gale brothers (Joe and Josh) were phenomenal last season.”

While Walsden are sure to miss ex-county spinner Sladdin, who came out of retirement to contribute well in 2013 and 2014, Rawlinson hopes returning overseas pair Umesh Karunaratne and Shubham Harkal can make a big impact.

Sri Lankan Karunaratne, due to arrive tomorrow, made a tremendous impression at Walsden last season, scoring 800 runs at 53.33 and taking 85 wickets at 12.76 in league games alone.

Rawlinson reports the professional to have been in excellent form in his native country in recent months.

Indian Harkal, due in yesterday, is returning for a second spell as overseas amateur, in place of Riaz Pathan.

Walsden hope the youngster will really come into his own with another couple of years’ experience under his belt.

“He’s a fantastic young player who is able to contribute with bat and ball,” said Rawlinson.

Walsden hope Matthew Dawson will be able to play fairly regularly this season and that Stevie and Nick Barker, Jake Hooson and Jamie Shackleton will also make key contributions.

Rawlinson is looking forward to his first full season as captain, having taken over when Chris Dewhirst stepped down early last season.

“I’m looking forward to it, It is going to be a good challenge,” he said.

Both last weekend’s friendlies, at Elton and Todmorden, were called off.

Walsden will be keen for Saturday’s friendly away to new opponents Accrington to go ahead, although some first teamers will be playing for the club’s honours-chasing football side.

Rawlinson expects promoted Unsworth to provide a good challenge 24 hours later.

“They will be champing at the bit and wanting to make an impact on the league,” he said.

Hebden Bridge CC will use pink match balls at home this season, starting against Fothergill at Salem Fields on Saturday (1.30).

The John Hartson Foundation, which supports research into testicular cancer, is to benefit from match sponsorship.

With a new captain and improved ground, Bridge are looking forward to an exciting season at their riverside ground. Well-struck sixes into the water is a constant problem and they hope the colour change will help.

Any business or individual wishing to sponsor a ball should ring Mike (07801352983).