Local cricket, which is riding the crest of a wave, is bracing itself for its most exciting season for many moons.
For the first time, TWO Dispatch district clubs -- Papplewick and Linby and Rolls-Royce Leisure -- are among the elite 12 teams in the Notts Premier League (NPL).
And adding spice to the rivalry is former Notts CCC manager and captain John Birch, who masterminded glory years at Papplewick in the 1990s but is now guiding Hucknall outfit Rolls into the big time.
The season gets under way tomorrow (Saturday), with Papplewick and Rolls due to play each other on May 18 and July 27.
Papplewick are desperate to erase the memory of their worst two campaigns since gaining promotion in 2003.
Last season, they only avoided relegation with a win in the last match. So they have unveiled ambitious plans both on and off the field, spending a £50,000 grant on new facilities and recruiting former New Zealand Test player Lou Vincent as their new captain (SEE PAGE 43).
However, Rolls are breezing in to the top flight making bullish noises about gunning for the title at the first attempt.
“We’re not just here to get relegated, like so many other promoted teams, “ said Birch (57), who spent 16 seasons as a first-team player at Trent Bridge between 1973 and 1988.
“We are trying to make a big impact and will be giving our best. We want to have a go at winning it.”
Rolls have signalled their intent by recruiting a posse of impressive signings, spearheaded by current Notts star, Bulwell-born bowler Luke Fletcher (24), who honed his talents at Papplewick.
Another Notts player, experienced bowler Ben Phillips (38) is also on board as the club’s second professional. And although their appearances could be restricted by Trent Bridge call-ups, Rolls boast a host of other signings with NPL pedigrees.
The team will be captained by Birch’s son, Dan (32), who had a spell in first-class cricket at Derbyshire. And he will be joined by the likes of ex-Derbyshire teammate, all-rounder Tom Lungley, 21-year-old fast bowler Adam Shepherd, who has represented England at youth level, and all-rounder Liam Andrews, all of whom have experience, alongside Dan Birch, of winning the NPL title with Clifton.
Batsman Michael Millwood also has an NPL champions’ medal from his time at West Indian Cavaliers, while wicketkeeper Adeel Shafique is an exciting, young player just let go by Notts.
Rolls have released some of the players who helped them win the Gunn And Moore South Notts League last summer by a record-breaking 126 points. But they have retained the talented Karim brothers, Saleem, Rahim and Wasim -- although ex-skipper Saleem is suspended for nine matches after on-field breaches of discipline.
“Last year’s side probably wouldn’t have held its own in this league, so we’ve made a few changes,” said Birch.
“It’s a big challenge for the club, but it’s quite exciting. I’m looking forward to going back to Papplewick but, hopefully, the people of Hucknall will respond and come to see us play.
“The ground looks brilliant now and our facilities off the pitch are as good as any in the league.”
Rolls have made remarkable strides since Birch was appointed 18 months ago. As well as their senior teams, they will be fielding five youth sides for youngsters aged up to 15 this season, and they will also be stepping up their community involvement by visiting local schools.
The inspirational Birch deserves much of the credit. But he is full of praise for the “brilliant” roles played by secretary Sue Roberts, treasurer Steve Roberts and leisure club manager Chris Mellard-Sibley. “They have been absolute stars,” says Birch.