Read captain Will Wrathall will tell his players to aim high in this summer’s Anthony Axford North West Cricket League Conference division, writes Graham Hardcastle.

The Whalley Road club finished 14th in last season’s Premiership table, narrowly missing out on a place inside the top 12 and thus a top-division place for 2024.

And that is something opening batter batter Wrathall is desperate to correct when the summer kicks off on Saturday May 4 - Read host Baxenden that day.

This season, the 23 first teams across the NWCL will be split into a Premiership division of 12 and a Championship division of 11, with two promoted and two relegated.

Confidence is high at Read that they can win promotion, especially on the back of some key winter recruits.

They have signed hard-hitting South African batting professional Blayde Capell and compatriot Zadian Muller as overseas amateur - the all-rounder who has moved from Brinscall.

The club have also re-signed batter Dec Bailey from Burnley.

“We won’t take anything other than number one this year,” said Wrathall.

“I sat everyone down at the start of last season, as I usually do, and said, ‘With a new team that we’ve got, we’d be lucky to finish in the top 12, but let’s have a go’.

“Unfortunately we came up just short - we finished just outside where we wanted to be.

“We got off to an awful start, which was hard to come back from. We’re hoping to make things right this year.

“I will have that chat with the lads again when Blayde and Zadian get here before the first game.

“And that’s what we’re going for - to be the champions of the second division.

“We’ll just take it one game at a time and hope that’s where we end up.”

Read won 11 of their 23 league matches last season, which Wrathall reflected upon.

He said: “We felt runs let us down last year, which is why we’ve gone after a batting pro - especially at Read with small boundaries and really good decks.

“I think Blayde played in Dublin last year, and this is his second season in England. He’s a left-handed opener, he keeps wicket, and we think he’s a good’un!”

Looking at Capell’s stats for last summer, Wrathall may well be spot on. Playing for Killyclooney in the North West Cricket Union competition, he amassed a fabulous 1,788 runs at an average 105.18 in just 20 innings.

“We’ve also re-signed Dec, who is my tip to be the leading amateur run-scorer,” continued the skipper. “I think he’s that good.

“I’ve played with him all my life, and Joe Halstead grew up with him playing in the Lancashire system and for Lowerhouse. I think he’ll do really well this year.”

Wrathall said of Muller’s arrival from Brinscall: “We feel that’s a good signing.”

He took 31 league wickets for Brinscall last year and is likely to open the bowling for his new club.

“We had issues with the pro with visas last year, and our overseas amateur went home early. Given that, it wasn’t a bad season,” added Wrathall.“But we have everything in order early - fingers crossed - to attack it and get off to a good start.”

The NWCL announced a summer start date of May 4 in order to give grounds enough time to dry following the recent wet weather.

They were originally due to start on April 20 before pushing it back to April 27. When it became clear there would be not let up in the weather, Plan C was put into place for the first Saturday in May.

As a result, the season will now run until Saturday September 21.