Two big-name signings have franked Hucknall Cricket Club’s determination to make a serious impact in their maiden season in the Notts Premier League (NPL).
Hucknall finally made it to the promised land of the NPL for the first time in their 126-year history -- after they were crowned champions of the Gunn And Moore South Notts League last summer.
And although promotion represents a huge challenge for the club, both on and off the field, they want to ensure they are not just making up the numbers at domestic cricket’s top table.
One of their new recruits is already a familiar face -- crack South African wicketkeeper/batsman Dale Campbell, who has been a run-getting relevation in two seasons at the New Gatehouse Ground. The 28-year-old has been lured back after amassing 1,089 runs at an average of 72.60 in 2015, including four centuries and one knock of 170 not out.
But the second signing is eyecatching confirmation of Hucknall’s ambitions -- one of Nottinghamshire CCC’s rising stars, opening batsman and off-spinner Jake Libby. In September 2014, the 23-year-old became the first Notts player to plunder a ton on his first-class debut since 1946. A cruciate ligament injury ruled him out of most of last season, but now he is firing on all cylinders again.
“The signings are clear statements of our intention to establish ourselves as a Premier League club,” said captain Robin Maxwell. “Dale has had a massive impact, while Jake is a top-quality young player with enormous potential. We are expecting big things of him.”
Libby’s appearances for the club might be limited if Alex Hales becomes an England regular and Notts need him to fill in. But Hucknall are still hopeful, given that County Championships games are to start on Sundays, the day after NPL fixtures, this season.
Hucknall have also snapped up batsman Josh Downie, who starred in the South Notts League for Thurgarton last term, and they are hoping for more from their surprise package of 2015, Suhail Ahmed. “We picked him up as a batsman who can keep wicket,” recalled Maxwell. “But when we gave him a shot with the ball, he took five wickets in a friendly and then took nine wickets in a league match!”
Suhail ended up with 39 wickets in total, the 13th best tally in the entire league, and formed a fine partnership with new-ball partner Joel Wright. With spin twins Adam Scott and Dane Straw adding variety to the attack, and batsmen Aaron Lee, Lee Smith and Scott Harris all scoring important runs to support Campbell, Hucknall were not so reliant on prolific all-rounder Maxwell himself.
By his own admission, Maxwell spent most of the season out of form, but at least that enabled Hucknall to dismiss the critics who sniped that they were a one-man team. “Others are stepping up to the plate now,” he said. “We have some quality players.”
NEXT WEEK: My hopes for Hucknall’s NPL debut, by Robin Maxwell.