EAPL preview: Swardeston braced for a rebuilding job
Swardeston are facing up to life without key performer Jaden Hatwell – and skipper Mark Thomas admits expectations may have to be adjusted accordingly.
Hatwell has returned to his native New Zealand, while Zimbabwe international Richard Sims' availability is expected to be extremely limited. Will Rist has moved to London and Daniel Martin is away at university until June, so Swardeston have been left with something of a rebuilding job.
'Obviously we will miss them and it's safe to say it will change the balance of the team,' said Thomas. 'Without Jaden and Richard our bowling attack will be more 50/50 in terms of seam and spin instead of being 75/25 in favour of spin.
'It's very difficult to say how we will get on, but I'm looking forward to it as much as ever. As nice as it is to have a settled team, things can get a bit stale and last year we under-performed, ultimately we gave it away. Realistically this year if we finish in mid-table we'll have done well, but if we get off to a good start you never know.'
Swardeston have gone back to the future by recruiting New Zealander Michael Parlane for his second spell at the club. Parlane first played for Swardeston in 2001 and returned for the following two seasons. Now 39, he has a wealth of first class experience and Thomas said: 'It will probably be his last year of coming over here, but he knows a lot of people at the club and will have no problem settling in.
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'We've gone for an older, more experienced guy to help some of our younger batters.'
Norfolk wicketkeeper Stephen Gray will fill one of the vacant batting spots and young prospect Lewis Denmark has been signed from Bradenham. Simon Dyer, who played for Stow last year, and former Norwich & Coltishall Wanderers all-rounder Jeremy Elliott are other new faces at The Common.
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Thomas is also keen to integrate some of Swardeston's homegrown talent into the first team: 'We must not forget the young players who have been with us for a while,' he said. 'We've got a lot of good youngsters who are hopefully getting to an age where they can step into the team. The likes of Callum Taylor, Matthew Taylor and Dale Reynolds have all done well in the second team and are very much part of the squad.
'You have to do that – if you have a team who all get old at the same time it's going to end in disaster at some point. There's something very satisfying about bringing young players through, like Rob Newton who is now playing first class cricket with Northants. We would like to repeat that with some of the young players who are coming through now.'
Vauxhall Mallards have a host of new faces as they aim to improve on fourth-place finishes in the last two years and get back to their title-winning form of 2009.
South African Christiaan Schoeman, a left-handed batsman and left-arm spinner, who has played first class cricket for Northerns, is the first team overseas player. Off-spinner Stuart Lipshaw, originally from Norwich but now living in New Zealand, has returned to England for the summer and has linked up with the Brundall club.
All-rounder Iain Kermode has moved to the area from Cumbria, where he played for Barrow in the Northern Premier League. Batsman Cei Sanderson has returned to the club after a couple of seasons playing in the Cambridgeshire leagues and promising young seamers Brett Stolworthy and Tom Brice have signed, from Bradenham and Lowestoft respectively.
Skipper Paul Bradshaw, pictured, is expecting plenty of competition for places as a result – and he hopes that will bring improved results in the league: 'We go into every season thinking we can win every competition we enter,' he said. 'But we've perhaps been through a bit of a rebuilding process in the last couple of years.'
Last season brought silverware in the Carter Cup and the NACO Cup and Bradshaw wants to transport that winning mentality into the league: 'It just shows we are as good as anybody on our day,' he said. 'We can take a lot of confidence from that and we need to reproduce the same intensity we have shown in cup cricket in the league this year.'
Mallards start with a trip tomorrow to champions Cambridge Granta, who have lost the services of influential captain Jason Coleman.
Swardeston have also lost key players – but Bradshaw is not fooled by talk of a season of struggle for Mallards' old rivals: 'They might have lost one or two but it doesn't matter, they've still got five or six players who can produce a matchwinning performance,' he said. 'I'm certainly not going to write them off.'
Horsford skipper Chris Brown believes consistency is the key to his side shrugging off their 'nearly men' status of recent seasons.
At the halfway point last season, Horsford were in contention at the top of the table and they went on to reach the finals of both the Carter Cup and Norfolk Twenty20 Cup. They ended the season empty-handed, however, and Brown said: 'Year on year we have improved since we first came into the EAPL in 2006. We've been in three Carter Cup finals in the last four years and in the league we've been in contention for the last couple of years, but petered out towards the business end of the season.
'We need to address that and be consistent for the full duration of the season, not to just be very good for two thirds of the year.'
Horsford know exactly what they are getting with their overseas contingent this year, as Australians James Wild and Chris Sabburg return for a second spell at the club.
Wild, a British passport holder, spent two years at Manor Park in 2008 and 2009, while Sabburg was a prolific runscorer in 2010 before being called back to Australia to play for Queensland.
'It was a big attraction for the club committee to bring them both back because we know not just all about their playing ability, but also that they are both excellent club people and they will get entrenched in helping with youth coaching.
'Queensland were keen for Chris to come back to us because they want him to really work on his off-spin so I'll be working closely with him while he's here.'
Horsford will also have Essex batsman Jaik Mickleburgh available for tomorrow's opening game at Burwell.
Great Witchingham skipper James Spelman usually targets an improvement on the previous season – but after finishing as runners-up last year that will be a tall order for the Witches.
'Unfortunately to improve on last year we're going to have to win the league, we had such a good season last year,' said Spelman. 'If we start well you never know, and I think it's going to be quite an open league this year. I'd like to do as well as last year, but I'm just hoping to get off to a good start really.'
New Zealander Willie Lonsdale, a 25-year-old left arm seamer, arrives as the Witches' overseas player. He was recommended by the man he replaces, Canterbury team-mate Ryan McCone, who took 54 league wickets for Witchingham last season.
Troy Allen, a prolific runscorer with Aldborough in Norfolk Alliance Division Five, has been added to Witchingham's batting line-up. They will be hoping Carl Rogers can reproduce his 2011 form, when he topped 1,000 league runs in the season. Spelman said: 'He just seems to keep churning out the runs. He sticks to his own game and he just loves batting. He'll do well to get as many runs as last year, but it wouldn't surprise me if he did.'