Popham wants promotion as new Devon League season gets underway

Tom Popham in batting action for North Devon

Tom Popham in batting action for North Devon - Credit: Matt Smart

North Devon captain Tom Popham has made a bold statement going into the Tolchards Devon Cricket League season.

The Instow side were relegated from the Premier Division along with Torquay in 2019 and could do nothing about it last summer when Covid-19 restrictions limited cricket to a handful of local games at the end of the summer.

Popham knows where he wants to go and is not afraid to say so.

“Our aim is to get promoted back into the Premier Division,” said Popham. “It will be a tough ask as there are some very good and ambitious sides in the A Division so we are all scrapping for the same target.”

North Devon have lost bowling all-rounder Josh King to Sandford and have no overseas player in place at the moment.

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Malcolm Cloete, the South African who assisted Heathcoat win the Premier title in 2019, was lined up as the overseas player but cannot travel at the moment.

“We may get him at some stage, but even that is unlikely,” said Popham, who is happy with the squad of players he has available and the cover on tap in the second team.

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“We have a talented young squad but we will have to put in consistent performances throughout the season and be able to grind out results when games are tight,” he added.

“Everyone is looking forward to returning to competitive league cricket and getting back to some grounds we haven't played at for a long time.”

Seaton make the long trip to Instow this Saturday for the league opener.

*Hatherleigh return to the hurly burly of Premier Division cricket on Saturday with a home game against title tips Paignton.

It’s a belated return to the Devon League’s blue riband competition for Hatherleigh, who won promotion in 2019 but were denied the chance to test themselves in 2020 due to Coronavirus rules and regulations.

Hatherleigh have been this way before as they went up in 2017 and came straight back down again the following season.

Captain Mark Lake is confident history will not repeat itself, saying: “We will look to put in a better shift than we did three years ago.

“I feel we have the players to compete in the Premier Division but we have to be at our best week in week out to stay in it.

“Everyone is looking forward to the test of premier cricket again and it will be interesting to see how teams shape up after a summer of Covid.”

Tino Mutombodzi, the Zimbabwean all-rounder who featured in the promotion-winning side of 2019, is back for a second season on the Holsworthy Road ground.

Although seam bowler Dan Fogerty has left the club to captain Bridestowe in the C Division West, most of the rest of the promotion-winning side is still around.

Crucially, emerging players such as the Presswell twins and Eddie Jones are now two years older and wiser and ready to play their part as match winners.

*Bideford launch their campaign in the B Division with a home game against Plymstock.

Alex Hannam’s side go into the match on the back of a four-wicket win over Braunton in their final warm-up game.

Jack Whittaker (59) and Andy Norman (43) had the only scores of note for Braunton in a 45-over total of 173 for seven.

Ben Gifford, a 17-year-old off-spinner making his first team debut for Bideford, bowled eight tidy overs for 35 runs and picked up a wicket.

Tom Brend (58), Jack Ford (31), Ash Baker (20) and Tom Stone (19no) saw Bideford to victory.

North Devon’s Jack Popham, guesting for Braunton, had two wickets and senior player Jon Baglow took two more.

Hannam said he was impressed by the way Gifford bowled and also how Stone batted during a tight finish.

“Tom, in only his second game for the first team, batted well at the end of the innings when the run rate was getting up a bit,” said Hannam, whose side won with just four balls to spare.

Looking ahead at Bideford’s prospects, Hannam added: “With the inexperienced squad we have this year a top-half finish would be good.

“I have been really pleased overall with how the pre-season has gone and especially pleased with the youngsters who have had to come in and play important roles.”

*Braunton go to Shobrooke Park for their opening game in the C Division East.

It’s a tough division to get out of as there is only one promotion place and the competition includes the second teams of Premier sides Exmouth, Sandford, Exeter and Sidmouth.

Jon Baglow, a former captain and one of the senior players at Kelsey, said everyone at the club is aware of the challenges ahead.

“We feel we will be competitive but are aware that it is a tough division,” said Baglow.

“There are also four second teams, so you never know who is going to turn up.

“We have a young squad supported by veteran Steve Moore and myself. They are very keen and wanting to improve so we are optimistic about the season. A top-half finish would be a good effort.”

Joe Barnes has moved to London to teach and his role with the new ball will be filled by new arrival Jamie Lathwell, who has arrived from Bideford.

Sam Reddick, a batsman with Thorverton, Shobrooke Park and Exeter on his CV, is another new arrival.

“Both are settling in well,” said Baglow. “We signed Sam Bithel and James Lake last season who will be like new signings in a full league programme. And Tom Rowbotham returned to the area last year.

“We are looking for top-order runs from Tom, along with captain Callum Mitchell and Alfie Huxtable. Young Jack Whittaker has scored more than 160 runs in pre-season and is looking good.”

*Opener James Roe and skipper Lee Cole both made half-centuries for Barnstaple & Pilton in a warm-up win over Bideford 2nd XI.

Roe opened up with 64 and contributions from Rob Holm (36), Joe Hastie (26) and Cole (51) got Barnstaple & Pilton up to 248 for seven in 40 overs.

Bideford collapsed to 79 all out with more than nine overs to go and lost by 169 runs.

John Weeks made 43 and of the rest the next best was skipper Ian Hayter with nine. Six batters failed to make a run between them!

Hastie (3-17) and Tony Gilbert (3-10) did most of the damage, aided and abetted by Charlie Holm (3-34) and Cole (2-8).

Barnstaple are at home to Kentisbeare this Saturday in the D Division East.

After a couple of rocky seasons at Taw Meadow, skipper Cole is hoping for a period of stability.

“No new signings, no overseas and no players have left, which is always good,” said Cole.

“I hope we can at least compete in the league this year. The boys seem keen as pre-season nets have been busy.”

Rob North

Rob North - Credit: Conrad Sutcliffe

*Rob North was latest player to join Bideford 2nd XI’s ton-up club in a 34-run win over North Devon 3rd XI.

North smashed 17 fours and two sixes on his way to 102 off 62 balls in a total of 258 for four against North Devon.

Along the way there was a stand of 183 for the second wicket with 15-year-old batter Julian Hayter, who made 89. Hayter already has a ton to his name this season.

Julian Hayter

Julian Hayter - Credit: Conrad Sutcliffe

Only Dom Carter (3-40) took any wickets for North Devon, although Will Popham (15) impressed with his control and economy.

North Devon got into a strong position halfway into their reply with 121 on the board and only two wickets down as Richard Clarke (72) and Phil Pennington (39) led the way.

But the scoring rate slowed against Hayter (2-28) and John Weeks (1-42) and even though Steve Carrick (44 not out) and Jeremy Thompson (27) tried to get North Devon closer to the target, Ben Gifford (1-18) did his bit with the ball to limit them to 224 for five.

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