Hales are on firm ground for big test

Phil BanyardA fifth consecutive title success may be too much to ask for Hales - but with their new ground ready to go for the 2010 season, the club can look forward to a bright future.Phil Banyard

A fifth consecutive title success may be too much to ask for Hales - but with their new ground ready to go for the 2010 season, the club can look forward to a bright future.

As a condition of their promotion to the Alliance in 2008, Hales had to play their home games at Norwich's Postwick ground while they developed a new pitch at their existing home.

Steve Rowe's team shot through Divisions Three and Two and will make their Division One bow at their new ground - within a stone's throw of the old pitch - tomorrow.

'It is important for the development of the club,' said Rowe. 'It's a financial thing as much as anything - getting some revenue from your own bar and not having to pay to play somewhere else.'

The cost of getting the new facilities up to scratch has prevented the club from bringing in an overseas player and with the loss of several key performers, Rowe knows his side face their biggest test yet. But he remains confident they can rise to the challenge: 'Every year the step up gets bigger, although this time I think the gulf between the divisions is even greater, so it's going to be a tough season,' said Rowe.

'We have lost two of our best batsmen in Dave Harmer and Martin Cornish, but that has given an opportunity for youngsters to come in, or for the more experienced players to up their game.'

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Having resisted the temptation to recruit an overseas player in recent years, Rowe admits he would ideally have brought one in this year to help ease the step up in standard, but added: 'Lots of teams get somewhere they should not be because of the performances of an overseas player, but we can't be accused of that and probably 90pc of our success has been down to youth development.'

And although winning titles has become an annual event at Hales, Rowe will be happy to settle for a mid-table position - for this year at least: 'Consolidation is our aim,' he said. 'There have been a lot of changes in the club with the new pitch in particular.

'We won't necessarily get home advantage this year because we're learning about the pitch. When we played at Postwick last year we'd had a season there and the bowlers knew which ends they wanted to bowl and things like that.'

Rowe, who has been happy to take a back seat in Hales' recent success, may be forced to play a greater role this season, but added: 'I still want to try and do it in the same way and I don't want to be batting and bowling too much because we want to develop the youngsters.'