Downham chasing historic fourth title

Phil BanyardFRANKLY DIGITAL NORFOLK ALLIANCE PREMIER DIVISION: Downham are bidding to become the first club to win the Premier Division four seasons in a row - but skipper Duncan Lanchester has warned that the league could be tougher than ever this year.Phil Banyard

Downham are bidding to become the first club to win the Premier Division four seasons in a row - but skipper Duncan Lanchester has warned that the league could be tougher than ever this year.

Ingham have twice won the title three times in a row while Downham's West Norfolk neighbours North Runcton achieved the feat once, but Lanchester, pictured, has the chance to be the first captain to lift the trophy for a fourth consecutive year.

He said: 'There's always motivation when you play cricket, but of course it'd be great if we could do that. I think it is realistic, but it's not something I'll be shouting about too much, because it's looking like a good league this year and I'm expecting it to be tight.

'With no disrespect to the sides who went down, the sides who've come up, Old Buckenham and Norwich & Coltishall Wanderers, will be competitive and we always have hard games against them. It's going to be hard to call.'

New Zealander Steve Murdoch starred with bat and ball for the champions last summer and Downham have recruited two more Kiwis - both friends of Murdoch's - to battle it out for the first team overseas berth.

Kurt Richards is a 22-year-old pace bowler who could unsettle Premier Division batsmen, while Jarred Cunningham is an off-spinner - both are also capable of contributing with the bat.

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Old Buckenham return to Premier Division action after bouncing straight back from Division One at the first attempt.

They welcome back Ian Harrison after he returned to the club from Vauxhall Mallards, although Bucks' Ben Player has gone in the opposite direction.

New Zealander Simon Mathewson, a batting all-rounder from Auckland is the club's overseas player and Terry Perry will again lead the side. Bucks' Rob Austin said: 'The aim is to consolidate our place in Premier League Cricket again. We have a much better side than we had when we were relegated and if we can make enough runs we should be fine.

'We must be positive and play cricket in the same manner.'

Cromer will have a familiar face back in their ranks in the shape of Kieron Tuck.

Tuck, who is now the Norfolk Cricket Board's cricket development manager, has rejoined the club after an absence of several years and skipper Tom Davies said: 'We're very pleased to welcome Kieron back to Cromer - he's been out of the firing line for a few years with work and family commitments, but I grew up watching him open the batting here and I know that he's a class act. It's great to have him back.'

While Cromer have opted against bringing in a paid professional, they may sign an overseas amateur to bring additional quality to the squad and to help with coaching.

Brooke finished fourth on their return to the Premier Division last season and although they will be without the prolific Vinay Parikh this year, the early signs are that they have found an able replacement in Rahul Dewan.

The 23-year-old Indian, who averages over 50 with the bat in 13 first class games playing for Haryana and North Zone, hit a century in a pre-season match against Horsford and his off-breaks should prove useful.

The club have also improved off the field over the winter, gaining Clubmark accreditation and Focus Club status, while a �10,000 Sport England grant has funded new mobile covers, an upgrade of the scorebox and helped younger members gain their coaching qualifications.

Lowestoft have a new first team skipper, Matt Reid, and they have acquired the services of former South Africa Academy player Mpho Sekhoto, a middle order batsman who also bowls off-spin.

Another South African all-rounder, Christiaan Jonker, is North Runcton's overseas player and the west Norfolk club have also signed left arm spinner Josh Ring, from Stow, and batsman Andrew Barrett, from Dersingham.

Simon Cooper has taken over the captaincy at Diss in place of David Tooke, while last year's runners-up Acle also have a new man at the helm, Dave Huggins.

Norwich & Coltishall Wanderers are on the road to completing their Clubmark status and are keen to make a big impression on their return to the top flight.

South African Petrus Johannes van Biljon, who plays first class cricket for Eastern Province, is their overseas recruit.