East Anglian Premier League preview: Champions Swardeston expecting challenge from outside county

Rahul Dewan is joining Vauxhall Mallards.

Rahul Dewan is joining Vauxhall Mallards. - Credit: Adrian Judd/Archant Norfolk 2010

Swardeston will continue to play down their chances of more title success after the strategy worked a treat last season.

Skipper Mark Thomas intimated at the start of 2012 that he would be happy with a mid-table finish – and his side promptly went on to finish top.

With a similar squad this year they will be many people's favourites to retain their crown, but vice-captain George Walker, pictured, said: 'Maybe I should predict a mid-table finish again if that's what happened last time!'

Jonathan Sole has arrived as the overseas replacement for fellow New Zealander Michael Parlane.

Sole is a hard-hitting batsman who also bowls medium pace and will complement a seam attack which has lost the services of Simon Dyer, who has moved away from the area.

Young talents Callum Taylor and Matthew Taylor are expected to play a more prominent role this summer, although the latter is currently struggling with a shin injury.

While the Norfolk trio of Swardeston, Vauxhall Mallards and Horsford led the way for much of last summer, Walker is expecting challenges from elsewhere this year.

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He said: 'I think it will be a lot more even and there will be five or six teams who genuinely can win it. It was only Halstead who were really detached from the rest last year and several teams have strengthened.'

One of the teams expected to challenge Swardeston are their opponents tomorrow, Copdock & Old Ipswichian, who have Australian Test pace bowler Peter George in their ranks: 'I'm not sure how similar Swardeston will be to the pitches he is used to, so he'll probably only be bowling at around 85mph,' joked Walker.

Richard Sims' availability will again be limited by work commitments and an ankle injury will restrict his bowling, but the Zimbabwe international is expected to play some part for the champions.

Walker himself is looking forward to returning to his top form after a disappointing 2012 campaign which led to him resigning the Norfolk captaincy: 'I've had a nice break but I've done a fair amount of bowling now,' he said.

'Last year wasn't great for me, but I still managed to get 35 league wickets, so that was a chink of light for me. Hopefully I can get back into the swing, help Swardeston get to the top and get my place back in the Norfolk side.'

Vauxhall Mallards have taken no risks with their overseas import, bringing in a player with plenty of experience of Norfolk conditions.

Rahul Dewan spent a season with Brooke in 2010 and was a prolific runscorer. He also scored a century against England in India in a tour match in November and skipper Paul Bradshaw said: 'He played with Ali Shearer at Brooke so there's already one familiar face here for him. I think he was keen to return to the area so it was a relatively easy decision for him to sign and it's worked out well for all parties.'

Mallards have also signed young off-spinner Caleb Futter from Acle, although his availability may be limited by exams.

Carl Amos has opted to play for the second team this year and Bradshaw admitted the former Norfolk opener's contribution will be missed: 'You're guaranteed 700 or 800 runs in the league with Carl, so it is a big loss,' he said.

'When bowlers see Carl standing at the other end they know if they get it wrong they will be dispatched and his reputation counts for a lot as well. But it gives someone else an opportunity.'

The determination to win remains as strong as ever at Mallards and Bradshaw added: 'When you're at a club like Vauxhall Mallards you start every season looking to win every competition you enter – that's part of the reason why we've been so successful, we set our sights high and don't accept a drop in standards.

'So we're going to try and win the league and do as well as we possibly can in the national competitions – I'm not saying we're going to win them all, but you have to have that mentality.'

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