Veteran Bulldogs batsman Jameel Qureshi says this summer's Royal Hotel Cup, a competition he says is the best in Western Zone "by a mile", is as wide open as he's seen it.
The blue and golds left-hander has been part of a number of Twenty20 sides since the Royal Hotel Cup's transition from a 40-over competition to cricket's bash-and-dash format, having played as a marquee player for Centrals, St Pat's Old Boys and then as a regular club player with Blayney and now Rugby Union.
The Dogs took out last year's crown against Orange City by 29 runs and will again be one of the teams to beat in an altered Cup format for 2021-22. But, Qureshi says, virtually any of the 12 teams in the premiership are capable of winning it all.
"Anyone can win it on their day," Qureshi, a one-time Carl Sharpe medal winner, said. "Cavs are always good. Pat's are good. Colts too and Kinross have a bloke called James Larkin playing for them. It's hard to pick one out.
"I really think the marquee players will play a big part in it this year. If you can get that right, it's key."
Orange District Cricket Association president Mark Frecklington confirmed there's now two marquee players allowed in each team for the season.
The pitch (at Wade Park) is one of the best wickets I've played on - there's no ground in Bathurst that comes anywhere near it.- Bulldogs veteran Jameel Qureshi
And it's not the only alteration to the Royal Hotel Cup format for 2021-22.
Teams are now split into two pools - rather than last year's format of four pools of three teams each - which will enable more round robin games. The top two teams from each pool will progress through to the finals stage of the Cup.
The draw was released on Monday, with two double headers schedule to kick things off on October 31.
There will be two games at Wade Park on that Sunday, as well as two games at a venue in Bathurst run at the same time.
That venue is yet to be determined, but Qureshi thinks shifting games away from a Orange's main ground should be avoided.
"I think Wade Park's premier cricket ground in country NSW," he said.
"I don't think there should be games in Bathurst until they get a ground of that standard.
"It's a real privilege to play at Wade Park. I'm surprised there hasn't been (Sheffield) Shield games there. The pitch is one of the best wickets I've played on - there's no ground in Bathurst that comes anywhere near it."
Frecklington said the shift of some fixtures east to Bathurst was to ensure all games could be played. The Royal Hotel Cup schedule is packed, with another similar double-header at Orange and Bathurst on November 21 before a triple-header at Wade Park on January 8.
"We needed some Sundays and extra days and, with the season delayed and rep cricket put back, earlier in the year works better," he said.
Kinross, CYMS, City Colts, Centennials Bulls, Orange City and St Pat's Old Boys are in Pool A, while Cavaliers, ORC, Bathurst City, Lithgow Lightning, Centrals and defending premiers Rugby are all part of Pool B.
"Admittedly the Bonnor Cup has always been a competition that can dish up a few surprises, but it'd be nice to see a few of the clubs who haven't enjoyed as much success as others up there in the semis this year," Frecklington added.
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