Two of the top-ranked cricket clubs in the Dispatch district face very different challenges when they start the new season this weekend.
For ROLLS-ROYCE LEISURE, 2014 is all about aiming to build on last year’s wonderful debut campaign in the Notts Premier League (NPL).
But for PAPPLEWICK AND LINBY, 2014 is all about rebuilding after a disastrous season last year, which resulted in relegation from the NPL.
Rolls remain buoyant under the charismatic leadership of former Notts CCC manager and captain John Birch (58).
In his first season in charge, he led them to the Gunn And Moore South Notts League title.
And last summer, Birch and 33-year-old son Dan, who is captain, led Rolls to within a whisker of the league title in 2013. In a race that went down the final match, they finished second, just six points behind champions West Indian Cavaliers.
“We weren’t quite good enough, but we are definitely going for it again,” says Birch snr.
“We have to improve in all areas, but we have some seriously good players.”
Among those players is 22-year-old pace bowler Adam Shepherd, who was the NPL’s top bowler last year with 59 wickets in 22 games.
And although one of their two professionals, veteran bowler Ben Phillips, has left the club after his release from Notts CCC, Rolls have retained the services of another Notts man, Luke Fletcher.
Given the fact that he is a key bowler at Trent Bridge, where most county championships matches now start on Sundays, the 25-year-old Fletcher’s appearances for Rolls are likely to be limited.
But they have further strenghened their bowling attack by recruiting ex-Derbyshire pace bowler Atif Sheikh (23), who replaces Phillips.
Left-armer Sheikh, who took five wickets on his county debut in 2010, has also played for England Under-19s.
Meanwhile two quality batsmen have been added to Rolls’s star-studded squad. Nottingham-born 19-year-old Ross Carnelley has been recruited from the Lincolnshire Premier League where he averaged 38 for Grimsby Town last season. And 25-year-old ex-West Indian Cavaliers man Shaun Levy, who was on the books of Middlesex until he was released in 2009, is another new face
Birch and Rolls remain unflustered by the controversy that surrounds their move from Hucknall to play first-team games at the Derby Rolls-Royce site. Indeed they feel sure they will improve as a side for the better facilities at Moor Lane.
They begin their NPL fixtures with a home match this Saturday against Notts CCC Academy and follow up with a trip to Caythorpe seven days later. They entertain champions Cavaliers on Saturday 31st May.
MEANWHILE Papplewick begin life back in the Bassetlaw League this Saturday with a home fixture against Clipstone Welfare in The Championship (top division).
It’s the first time since 2002 that they have opened a campaign outside the NPL.
But after several years of chasing glory with a posse of big-name stars, they finally had to admit defeat last season.
A disastrous campaign, plagued with injuries to key players, yielded only two wins in 22 matches and they finished rock-bottom, fully 80 points adrift of the rest of the table.
Now, under bright new chairman Neil South (48), Papplewick have vowed to change tack and concentrate on producing their own talent, rather than trying to buy it.
“Our aim this season is to win promotion back to the NPL, but it is not the be-all-and-end-all for the club,” says South. “It’s all about the bigger picture now.”
Talismanic bowler Jim Rhodes has been retained as first-team skipper, but last season’s professionals, Mal Loye and Jack McIver, will not be returning.
Much will be expected of batsman Alex Lloyd, who is back after injury, fellow run-getters Mark Nelson and Ross Fitz-John, and a host of promising teenagers, headed by Joe Walker.