On Sunday, the PCC 2nd XI will make the familiar two-hour drive north to Dresden, signalling the start of the 2015 Czech Cricket league season. Six teams will compete in the 40-over league, with a new format guaranteeing more games for each side.
The teams will all play each other once, with the league then splitting into two groups of three. The teams will play two further matches against the other teams in their group, and the champion will be the team from the top group that earns the most points over their seven matches, reaching a climax at the end of June.
Defending champions PCC (pictured right) again enter two teams into the competition, with a clear distinction being made between the fiercely competitive 1st XI and the more inclusive 2nd XI.
But the big news of the offseason has been the stunning transfer of last year's superstar Sudesh Wickremasinghe, who has opted to leave PCC and join Bohemians for the 2015 campaign after blazing a trail last year. The star all-rounder may well be the fastest bowler in the country, but he dazzled with the bat last year, finishing unbeaten for the whole season with a total of 488 runs from 225 balls!
His addition instantly vaults Bohemians into championship contention, although the picture is crowded. PCC have won six of the last seven titles, with Dresden's victory in 2013 being the only recent interruption. The Germans will be eager to contend after falling short in the final in 2014, while Vinohrady have also re-tooled and will want to be in the mix.
With the new format, one of those four is destined to finish in the bottom half, and if Barbarians or the PCC 2nd XI can perform to their full potential, the league could prove to be very hard to predict!
Ahead of the action, we caught up with some of the senior players locally to discuss the upcoming season.
As well as losing Sudesh, PCC will have a new captain in place as Paul Myers has had to take a step back. It's not exactly a "new" captain though, as Prakash Sadasivan takes the reins again after being in charge from 2011 to 2013. "It is great to see the standard of cricket improving in the Czech Republic, and the guys around have so much potential to compete at such high standards," said Prakash.
He also praised the development in facilities which has led to an increase in standards: "The development of cricket in the Czech Republic has been impressive; all because of great effort & time put in by some of the guys to make this all happen behind the scenes."
Vinohrady's vice-captain Chris Pearce has been one of those putting in hard graft: "We enter the 2015 summer season with a great sense of excitement. We’ve made big progress in recruiting both native Czechs and more experienced players and, combined with our loyal core, we’ve reached a point where we’re aiming to launch a 2nd XI in the T20 League in July for the first time."
Vinohrady will be hoping to reach their first final since 2011, and Chris sees the league being quite open: "The balance of the sides in our league looks closer than ever, so with a bit of help from the cricketing gods, hopefully we can enjoy as much success on the field as we have socially off it."
It is a view shared by Bohemians
(pictured right) and their captain Manjeet Malik
: "Bohemians are looking forward to participating in the 2015 summer league. As the teams are more balanced then last years, we are sure to have a wonderful, competitive 2015 summer league. We wish all the best to the participating teams."
Dresden join PCC in appointing a new captain for the 2015 summer, with Aniruddha Mitra taking over for the Germans. "After extensive indoor sessions during winter, our boys are in good shape," says talented batsman Siva Subramaniam, while also citing the amount of work that has gone into improving the Dresden pitch after the floods of 2013: "We have repaired our cricket pitch by laying fresh clay and rolling with heavy rollers. Bouncy pitch, good sightscreens and we are all set to go!"
Siva is excited for the impact that his squad can make on the Czech league in 2015: "We have 5 or 6 new members who are exciting cricketers to watch. We have a nice mix of youth and experience in the club. We expect to witness a wide spectrum of action, from masterful cover-drives to big 'Boom-Boom' shots from the batting perspective, as well as those yorkers and master-bowling spells and some great catches. We can’t wait. We are eager to host our guests from Czech Republic soon."
Barbarians have undergone a number of changes in recent months, with last year's captain Navoneil Bhattacharyya and then his initial replacement Gary Pettman both leaving the country for professional reasons. Long-serving Australian batsman Terry O'Connor has stepped in to skipper the side, and he is glad to have some new club members involved: "It is especially gratifying for the club to once again have a number of junior players amongst our ranks."
O'Connor's targets are clear, as his side aims to take some scalps: "As well as maximizing playing opportunities for our members, the club is looking to improve on last season, hopefully by winning more league games. We also have friendly matches against a number of teams visiting from England, our frenemies from Ceske Budejovice and the season will get under way with the inaugural Banks-Elder Cup against Vinohrady, a match that celebrates and honours a couple of stalwarts of Czech Cricket."
PCC 2nd XI captain Eric Walker is entering his third season in the role, and he will be eager to notch a victory after going winless in 2014. "The spirits are very high and every player has his eye on a coveted 1st XI spot. Keen performances and a highly competitive 2nd XI can be expected this season."
League Administrator Jonathan Hodgson has served on the Czech Cricket committee for a number of years now, and he has overseen a rewarding period of growth in the sport: "The expansion of the 40-over league this year is in keeping with the CMKS's policy of gradually increasing the number of official matches played in the Czech Republic, providing as much cricket as reasonably possible without putting too much pressure on clubs to meet their fixture obligations."
"Following the success of the league last year, it was felt that an increase of 5 to 7 matches for each team with a new format provided just the right balance. It's very satisfying to see the longer version of the game, our blue riband event, so firmly established and in such good health. Good luck to all the teams!"