THE highest-ranked cricket club in the Dispatch district, Papplewick and Linby, have landed a posse of major signings in a bid to bounce back from last year’s woes.
The outfit endured their worst season since gaining promotion to the elite Notts Premier League in 2003.
Stripped of the influence of former England all-rounder Phil DeFreitas, they finished tenth in the 12-team league with their lowest-ever points’ tally.
Key players such as professional, Notts CCC bowler Luke Fletcher, skipper Richard King and key signing Simon Roberts were plagued by injury and unavailability.
And what’s more, off-the-field blunders resulted in no fewer than THREE points’ deductions for fielding ineligible players or failing to report results.
“Last season was an absolute disaster,” confessed Papplewick’s vice-chairman Robin Rhodes this week, speaking on the eve of the NPL season, which starts on Saturday April 21.
“We always knew it was going to be a year of consolidation because we changed some of the staff around. And things did conspire against us.
“But we certainly didn’t expect to finish third from bottom, especially with the group of players we had.
“It all impacted on the rest of the club too. The second-team were relegated in the Bassetlaw League because of it as we had to move younger players up far too early.”
Papplewick’s tribulations resulted in much head-scratching over the winter — and optimism is now high that a recovery is in sight.
An experienced new captain/coach has been appointed in former Notts and Derbyshire all-rounder Matt Dowman.
And bolstering the playing staff even further is a second professional in prolific South African batsman Warren Nel.
Dowman (37) still holds the record for a score in an under-19s’ Test match, having hit 267 against the West Indies in 1993.
Even though his natural talent as a batsman was always recognised, he failed to replicate such heights in a six-year career at Trent Bridge.
He struggled too when released to join Derbyshire, ending his professional career in 2002 with an average of 27.83 from 101 first-class games.
However he has made a big impact in recent seasons as captain of Lincolnshire in the Minor Counties Championship and also as a genuine all-rounder for Quarndon in the Derbyshire League. Last summer, he fired almost 1,000 runs in club cricket at an average of 48.65 and took 46 wickets with his tidy seam-bowling.
The signing of Nel, who is 29 next Wednesday, is quite a coup for Papplewick because he has been one of the leading run-getters in the Lincolnshire League for several seasons now.
Over the past five years, he has churned out 4,341 runs at 55.65, including 14 centuries. He has also collected 120 wickets with his medium-pace bowling.
Dowman and Nel will also share the coaching workload at Papplewick Hall with last season’s club coach Tony Bettridge.
And Dowman has helped to enlist a promising 18-year-old batsman in Eamonn Vines, who has been living in Australia.
Other fresh signings include Oliver Makin (21), an off-spinner who is on trial at Hampshire, having taken 30 wickets for Norden in the Central Lancashire League last season. He was recommended by crack ex-Australian batsman Stuart Law, who spent a summer at Papplewick in 2009.
Middle-order batsman John Batley (28) has also arrived from the Surrey Premier League. A former Royal Navy helicopter pilot, he has moved to this area to take a masters degree at Nottingham University.
Papplewick have lost the aforementioned King, who has moved to London, and Roberts, former captain of champions Clifton Village, who has switched to NPL rivals Kimberley -- plus one of their more successful bowlers from 2011, Husnain Riaz.
But they have retained two of last season’s leading batsmen, Mark Nelson, who has relinquished his professional status, and Alex Lloyd, who plundered 714 runs.
Reliable duo Jim Rhodes and Brad Matthews have also stayed loyal, while Robin Rhodes has high hopes for a cluster of highly-regarded youngsters, such as Dane Straw, Tom Bowers, Adam Rostance, Sam Stewart, Callum Birkin and Michael South.
Papplewick have never finished higher than fourth in the NPL and could not wish for a tougher start tomorrow when they take on Clifton. But Rhodes declares: “We are considerably more optimistic than we were last season.
“We are still trying to build. But we have tried to be a bit shrewd about our recruitment.
“Matt Dowman has a proven track record and lots of experience. He understands the game and is a motivator.
“Warren Nel has a bit of nous and grit too, with experience of club cricket.
“We have a good, tight-knit group of players, with a fine attitude. We will give it a good go this year.”
PAPPLEWICK’S NOTTS PREMIER LEAGUE FIXTURES — April 21 Clifton (H), April 28 Welbeck Colliery (A), May 5 Kimberley (H), May 12 Plumtree (A), May 19 West Indian Cavaliers (H), May 26 Caythorpe (H), June 2 Cuckney (A), June 4 Notts CCC Academy (H), June 9 Wollaton (A), June 16 Mansfield Hosiery Mills (H), June 23 Worksop (A), June 30 Clifton Village (A), July 7 Welbeck Colliery (H), July 14 Kimberley (A), July 21 Plumtree (H), July 28 West Indian Cavaliers (A), August 4 Caythorpe (A), August 11 Cuckney (H), August 18 Notts CCC Academy (A), August 25 Wollaton (H), September 1 Mansfield Hosiery Mills (A), September 8 Worksop (H).
THE Gunn And Moore South Notts League season, spearheaded by flourishing local rivals, HUCKNALL and ROLLS-ROYCE LEISURE, starts on Saturday May 5.