Thursday, May 1, 2014
Newly installed 1st XI captain, Lewis Townsend this week summed up the collective air of anticipation surrounding Ottery St Mary Cricket Club as the Salston Field outfit heads into the new Francis Clark Devon League campaign which gets underway this weekend, writes Ian Townsend.
The skipper said: “I think this could be quite an exciting season for the club as a whole” commented the 23-year-old who, like his predecessor Jody Clements, is a product of the club’s thriving youth section. “The club’s grown a lot over the last few years and many people are working hard to continue that. This season we’re staring a 3rd XI which will be brilliant for getting the younger guys, especially, into league cricket and I’m sure it’ll be an important tool for moving the senior side of the club forward. The 2nd XI have also got a great season to look forward to – over the last few years they’ve done brilliantly and now that they sit in A Division, I’m sure they’ll notice an increase in the standard of their cricket”.
Townsend, who last season returned from University in Southampton to assume the role of vice-captain, is clearly honoured to take over the reins at his home town club. “It’s an exciting time for me” admitted the powerful middle order batsman. “When Jody, who’s done a great job over last few years, decided to step down and approached me about taking over, I jumped at the opportunity. For the club to keep growing the first team really need to progress and going into the season we’re very hopeful. We’ve got quite a young side full of guys capable of playing an exciting brand of cricket. Historically our problem has been the early part of the season with the students away, but we’ve got a slightly stronger squad this year and we’re looking to hit the ground running”. The Otters will be hoping that process will be aided by the signing of top order Torquay batsman Mickey Wilkinson, who has significant Premier League experience, and by the installation of former 2nd XI skipper and prodigiously talented all-rounder, Rob Crabb as Townsend’s vice-captain. The campaign opens with a tough trip to South Devon who number former Sidmouth and Devon all-rounder Neil Hancock amongst their ranks.
The 2nd XI will also be under new leadership in the guise of last season’s vice-captain, Rick Jackson, as they open their campaign against visiting Barton. The popular middle order batsman is acutely aware that his side are entering uncharted waters commenting: “A Division will be a big challenge. It’s an unknown quantity to us. We were very competitive against the bigger sides in B Division and it will be exciting to visit some new clubs and different grounds. I just want us to be competitive and to play the best cricket we possibly can”. Whilst the rooky skipper admits he will be “on a steep learning curve” he clearly relishes the challenge and points to the value of one or two old hands in a side likely to contain many promising youngsters. “Having the likes of Trevor (Griffin) and Keith (Biggs) involved will make a huge difference – it’s that bit of experience that I can call on when the going gets tough”.
In common with many at Ottery CC, Jackson is licking his lips at the prospect of seeing some of the rich young emerging talents at the club continue to blossom. “I’m hoping to keep some of those lads in the 2nd XI this season but I’m sure that the likes of Billy Rudolph will be knocking on the door of the Ones. The Devon U-15 winter tour of South Africa was a great experience for both him and Ollie Reed and I’ve got high hopes for these guys and the likes of George Southall-Brown, who was up there in the league bowling averages last year, and Harry Conway who’s got a lot of potential, but has got learn to get his head down and play himself in!”.
However, perhaps the most exciting development of all for the Otters is the formation of a third eleven whose historic first fixture is a local derby with visiting Feniton II.
The new side will be led by current club chairman John Tierney who views it as being pivotal in supporting Ottery’s future development. “It’s a major stepping stone in our efforts to progress the club towards the higher echelons of Devon cricket” commented the former Exmouth and Devon all-rounder. “We’ve got a vibrant youth set up which is producing a lot of young cricketers but, in common with many clubs, we’ve noticed a drop off in playing numbers as they approach eighteen years of age. Sadly the East Devon Youth set up no longer features an Under-17 league so we felt compelled to do something. It’s a real logistical challenge, not least because we had to find another venue, but with The King’s School kindly allowing us to use their facilities, we can keep the heart of the club focussed in the town. I’m particularly looking forward to the atmosphere in the club house on a Saturday evening with four teams and the usual array of family and supporters all enjoying a beer (or in many cases, a lemonade) at the end of a glorious summer’s day!”
Skippering a side at the very bottom of the league pyramid and mainly comprising Under-15 players will be a new experience for someone used to playing the game at a relatively high level, but Tierney has no doubts about the value of the initiative: “I’m always impressed by how enthusiastic youngsters are and for me it’s all about how our young cricketers learn and grow through the experience whilst having some fun – I can’t wait to get started!”.