THE Shropshire Cricket League gets under way this weekend with testing trips for Ludlow and Corvedale plus a mouthwatering opening-day derby between Church Stretton and Bishops Castle.

The Birmingham League’s decision to condense its operation to just two divisions – from four previously – has resulted in several teams dropping back into the county set-up.

One of those teams, Whitchurch, will host Ludlow in a tricky opening-day Premier Division encounter for Ruel Brathwaite’s side, who finished sixth in Shropshire’s top-flight last season.

The expansion to seven divisions – Premier down to Division Six – has seen several sides slip down the echelons, including Church Stretton and Bishops Castle, who meet on the opening weekend.

Bishops Castle drop down from Division Two, where they finished second-bottom last term, while Church Stretton descend from Division Three where they ended up in mid-table.

Both captains say their clubs are continuing to struggle for players, meaning that survival at the new level is the over-riding goal for the season ahead.

Stretton skipper Peter Lee said: “It seems we will playing a lot of the teams that we have played the last few years so promotion and relegation and the changes haven’t really affected us.

“We will be looking to consolidate and we hope our younger players will be a year older and a year better – we have a nucleus of players we need to hold on to, in order to keep the club going.

“A lot of our players have played at higher levels but they enjoy it more here with less pressure and the young players get an opportunity here which is what it’s all about.”

His Bishops Castle counterpart Simon Palmer added: “We have lost a couple of players due to retirement so it’s a survival campaign, all about trying to keep the club going.

“Hopefully by dropping down the divisions, we will win a few more games although we have five of our top seven away for the first game so that will be an acid test.

“We have 16 or 17 to choose from so we will get 11 players out and go from there. A few times last season we only had nine or ten players away from home so we want to avoid that.”

Corvedale, meanwhile, are gunning for promotion after dropping to Division Six and they open with a trip to Guilsfield.

New skipper Ian Alderson believes the first team will be stronger after the club decided to field one side rather than two.

He added: “We were struggling to get players to fill two teams, one or two first-team players were having to help out the seconds, which weakened the first XI.

“Now we only have one side, we are hoping to have a very good season. We will be looking for a win on Saturday to start the season positively.”