United unsure on Sam Whitebreads' availability

Jackson Witts will share the new ball for United in the Mid North Coast Premier League first grade clash against Taree West on Saturday.
Jackson Witts will share the new ball for United in the Mid North Coast Premier League first grade clash against Taree West on Saturday.

UNITED captain Ricky Campbell is unsure if key strike bowler Sam Whitebread will play again in the Mid North Coast Premier League cricket competition this season.

Whitebread has been a success story this season after switching to United from Great Lakes B-grade team. Going into the Christmas/New Year recess Whitebread had snared 18 wickets, while he was also represented the Macquarie Stingers in the Regional Big Bash series played in Coffs Harbour. However, he has joined the army and won’t be available to play cricket in the foreseeable future.

“He might be back if we make the semi-finals providing we make it, but I really don’t know,’’ Campbell said.

Campbell found out a fortnight before the break that Whitebread wouldn’t return.

“It’s unfortunate for us, but you can’t begrudge a young bloke looking to get a job,’’ Campbell said.

Campbell may decide to bolster the side’s batting when deciding on Whitebread’s replacement. He reasons that United’s bowling stocks are solid, with Jackson Witts, Tom Burley and Jordi Gilfillan sharing the new ball duties while Campbell and Danial Stone provide the spin options. Batting was United’s bugbear when the side slumped from competition leaders to be out of the top four with three successive losses.

“Putting another batter in is an option for us to try and strengthen the middle order,’’ Campbell said.

United plays Taree West in the first game for 2018 tomorrow at the Johnny Martin Oval. Currently in sixth place, United has 33 points but are only one shy of the top four in a congested ladder. United also has a game in hand against Wingham to be played this month.

Veteran Murray McCartney will delay his return from a hamstring strain. McCartney sustained the injury in a club game than aggravated it in an inter-district over 35 match and Campbell said he’s still not 100 per cent fit.

Campbell said McCartney is important in United’s long-term plans and he won’t be playing again until he’s right

“We’re not going to risk Muzz,’’ Campbell said.

“If he comes back too soon and does it again, he’s gone for the season.’’

Campbell understands Taree West are desperate for success after a moderate pre-Christmas effort. However, he is confident if United can see off opening bowler Ryan Williams and contain swashbuckling batsman Josh Meldrum, he’s sure they can take the points and continue the push for a top four berth.

Despite their problems bat earlier in the season Campbell will have no hesitation in batting should be win the toss tomorrow.

He believes his side is better setting a total and so controlling the tempo of the match.

Two vital games for Taree West

TAREE West’s top four aspirations in the McDonalds Mid North Coast Premier League cricket competition could be determined in the next fortnight.

An indifferent start to the competition has resulted in Taree West sitting in eighth place on the ladder but only six points adrift of equal fourth placed Kempsey clubs Nulla and Rovers.

“Win, win and keeping winning, that’s what we have to do now,’’ Taree West skipper Josh Meldrum said.

However, Taree West meets fellow Manning club United in the 2018 return game tomorrow at the Johnny Martin Oval and then competition front runners Macquarie next week. Meldrum admits that’s not an ideal way to welcome in the new year.

“They’ll be hard games,’’ Meldrum said.

“But we got ourselves into this position. Now we have to get ourselves out.’’

While United’s form was inconsistent in the opening half of the season, Meldrum said they’re still a formidable opponent. He wants to bat first, believing Taree West can dictate the game if they are able to post a competitive score.

“We have to put a bit of scoreboard pressure on them,’’ he said.

“They seem to be cruising along alright and then lose wickets in clumps. So hopefully we can put some pressure on them.’’

Meldrum said ill disciplined batting and shoddy catching proved to be Taree West's main problems pre-Christmas. He said dropped catches cost his side two or three games. Unless the West improve both disiciplies, Meldrum said they’ll be watching the semi-finals from the sidelines.

He was unsure what his XI would be when he spoke to the Times.

“I haven’t heard that anyone’s unavailable, but I won't know until practice,’’ Meldrum said.

Minor grades return

Meanwhile Manning B and C-grade cricket also resumes tomorrow after the Christmas-New Year break.

United has opened a handy lead in B-grade with 39 points, clear of Wingham on 39.

Defending premiers Great Lakes sit on 37 while Old Bar makes up the top four with 21.

Hallidays Point remains in the hunt on 19 however, Taree West is out of contention on seven points.

Bulahdelah has opened up a five point buffer in the C-grade premiership race. The Highwaymen have 39 points and are clear of Taree West on 34.

Great Lakes follow on 31 with Wingham on 27.

Old Bar sit on 19 points with United next on 17 and Old Bar Red trailing the field with three.

Michael Clarke, who holds the association record for scoring the most number of runs in B-grade for one season, is again the leading run getter. Clarke has bludgeoned 339 runs at 42.38 with a high of 126.

Clarke has been typically aggressive, having smashed 17 sixes.

Former first grader Laurie Weeks from United follows Clarke with 262 at 32.76 with 79 his best score. Fellow United batsman, the consistent Aaron Pin has 253 at 31.63.

Ian Cameron from United leads the way in the race for the top bowling award. Cameron has snared 20 wickets at 11.95 with 5/13 his best haul.

Tom Kelly from Old Bar follows with 19 wickets at 6.84 and has a 6/16 to his credit. Sam Brockett from Great Lakes has 17 at 8.06.