NEW Keighley Cricket Club captain Simon Bailey insists his side are not listening to the noise around them being overwhelming title favourites.

But he admits they will probably have a target on their backs, as the perceived big guns in Division Two of the Bradford Premier League.

Speaking to the Keighley News before this weekend's opener at Buttershaw St Paul's due to wet weather, the former Baildon all-rounder said: "We don't read the hype around us being the supposed best team in the league.

"Others can say that, but our only mantra is that we believe we can beat anyone on our day.

"We have to be on the ball in every game though, as it is likely we'll have a target on our backs.

"Teams will probably come here and raise their games, and we host Crossflatts in only our second game, which is a big local rivalry."

Bailey could not be prouder to be in charge, saying: "I'm honoured to be captain, being a Keighley lad who started my Bradford League career here.

"It's my hometown club and I've said it for years, I think Keighley is the best ground in the Bradford League, for which credit has to go to the groundstaff.

"It's an honour to be able to play my cricket here."

But Bailey knows there is no room for sentimentality this year, with a points deduction for repeated ill-discipline last term meaning Keighley suffered an embarrassing drop into the third tier.

Key players from that 2022 side like Nathan Storton, James Massheder and overseas superstar Noah McFadyen have left Lawkholme Lane for pastures new.

But there have been some eye-catching signings, like spin twins Daanyaal Ahmed and Wasim Hussain, the top wicket takers for East Ardsley and Crossflatts respectively last season, as well as veteran batsman Mark Gilliver, one of the league's all-time top run scorers.

Bailey said: "I have confidence in the squad, and it's a side built to get us out of the league we're in.

"Crucially, all of them want to play for us.

"I didn't have to ask any of those new signings to come here, they all asked to join us.

"I've spoken to those behind the scenes on the committee about our targets this year, and other than the obvious one of promotion, I just want us to play hard but fair cricket."

That boundary was crossed spectacularly in Keighley's game with Gomersal last August, which was abandoned after then-skipper Scott Etherington's persistent haranguing of the umpires.

The league subsequently slapped Keighley with a 30-point deduction, which ended up costing them a place in the second tier.

Etherington was handed a long ban, and was stripped of the captaincy, but Bailey still sees him in Keighley's plans for 2023.

He said: "Scott's still a big part of this club and we'll miss him while he's still banned for our first five games of the season.

"We've got the perfect replacement for him in Mark Gilliver for those first five games, which he's committed to playing for us for definite.

"Scott will come straight back in once his ban ends, but if Mark does well for us in those first five games, we hope he'll be keen to stay on."