TALK of another tilt at the elusive Notts Premier League title has been put on hold by Papplewick and Linby’s new manager/coach on the eve of the 2011 cricket season.
And he has hinted at a distinct change of policy at the club, whereby the culture of recruiting so-called stars could be replaced by a return to nurturing home-grown talent.
Tony Bettridge (33), who spent 15 years on the coaching staff with Notts CCC at Trent Bridge, is the new man at the helm of Papplewick, the Dispatch district’s highest-ranked club.
He replaces Robin Rhodes, who steps down to skipper the club’s second eleven after a spell in charge in which Papplewick finished in the top five of the NPL table four years on the trot but could never quite make the next big step.
Bettridge does not expect that to change this summer. “If things run well and we can turn out a competitive side on a regular basis and develop some consistency, you never know,” he said.
“But my main expectation is to equal what we achieved last season. I don’t think it would be accurate or fair to say we will be challenging for the championship.”
Rhodes’s switch also coincides with the exit of former England ace Phil DeFreitas and captain Martin Bekker, who has returned to his native South Africa.
In the past, Papplewick have recruited other big names, including Australian batsman Stuart Law, who is now head coach of Sri Lanka, Durham star Will Smith, ex-Notts captain John Birch, Pakistan internationals Haider Zulqarnain and Imad Wasim, ex-England bowler Dean Headley and ex-Leicestershire bowler Charles Dagnall.
But now Bettridge is keen to put the emphasis on youth. “I think you will always need one or two so-called stars. But because of economics and circumstances, we have got to the point where we need to produce our own players who progress from the youth teams to the top level.
“We have never finished higher than fourth in the Premier League but also never finished lower than eighth. If we can consolidate that and bring on some of our younger cricketers, then, fingers crossed, we will be in a lot stronger position in 12 or 18 months’ time.
“We need to create a clear pathway among all our teams, whereby the youngsters can progress. We’ve probably had a lull period in development, which went a bit flat. Now we want more Papplewick-based players.”
Meeting that requirement are new signings Luke Fletcher and Simon Roberts, who have returned to the club where they learned their trade as youngsters.
Both starred for champions Clifton Village last term, although neither is sure to play too often for Papplewick this year. Fletcher’s appearances could be limited by his commitments at Notts, where he has made a terrific start to the new season, while Roberts is still recovering from a broken leg, sustained playing rugby.
“If Luke plays, he adds a lot of quality,” says Bettridge. “If he doesn’t, then we will have to adjust accordingly.
“It’s a waiting game with Simon. The doctors could write his season off but it would be a massive bonus if he could play the second half.”
Two players Papplewick are sure to get more out of this term than last, however, are former Northamptonshire CCC duo Mark Nelson and Richard King, who were both plagued by injury in their debut campaigns in 2010.
Nelson, who is the club’s second professional alongside Fletcher, and King, who replaces Bekker as team captain, still made a huge impact with the bat. But both are regarded as genuine, matchwinning all-rounders.
Paplplewick begin their NPL campaign at home to Caythorpe today (Saturday April 23). Bettridge, himself once a fast bowler of considerable potential, hopes his experience at Trent Bridge, where he mainly worked with the county squads from under-11s to under-19s, will stand him in good stead in his new post.
“I also hope to bring a bit of reality to the situation,” he said. “To sort out the organisation before games and prevent the kind of hiccups that can affect performances.”
Bettridge also wants to conquer the weakness Papplewick have shown in their last three NPL campaigns when they have been challenging for the title before failing to see out the final few weeks.
But whatever happens, he expects the main title-chasers to again be Clifton and West Indian Cavaliers, with Cuckney emerging as dark horses.
Papplewick’s time might have to wait again. But Bettridge is determined they will get there in the end – hopefully fuelled by a new generation of home-bred talent.