A FAST start will be key to Henley Cricket Club’s title defence, according to captain Bjorn Mordt.
The champions, who won the league by 27 points last year, start their 2014 campaign against promoted Oxford tomorrow (Saturday, 11am) at the Brakspear Ground.
All-rounder Mordt says the first few games will be crucial in whether his side can retain the Home Counties Premier League Division 1 title and he expects a tough game against the Division 2 champions.
The 35-year-old Zimbabwean said: “The aim this year is the same as every year: to win the league.
“It’s about starting really well, the first six games are always the most important.
“Oxford have come straight back up after being relegated the year before last and it will be a tough opening game.
“I’d like to think we are favourites for the title. We have a got a first team which is very strong and I’m looking forward to getting under way.”
After a pre-season disrupted by poor weather, Henley will return to a division without the four Hertfordshire teams, who left at the end of last season to form their own league.
However, Mordt isn’t expecting an easier ride and still believes up to six teams can win the title.
He said: “I still expect tough matches against all the teams. Obviously, there will be less travelling to places like Welwyn Garden City but all the teams that have come up are good sides and it’s still a tough league.Our most likely challengers are Banbury and Tring Park, who are always strong and I think they should push us all the way. However, you never know in this league and there could be six teams in with a shout.”
Henley have recruited Australian teenager Ben McDermott, son of fast bowler and former Aussie international Craig McDermott, from Brisbane Heat for the new campaign.
McDermott will bat at number three for Henley and can also play as wicket-keeper.
Fellow arrival Matt Carter has come in from Datchet and Euan Brock returns after a year playing for Loughborough University.
Farim Quereshi and Hamza Riazuddin have both left the club after just one season.
Mordt said: “Ben McDermott looks like a really exciting player and we’re pleased to get him in.
“Matt Carter did really well for Berkshire last year and it will be nice to have Euan back.
“Farim and Hamza have left because they wanted to test themselves elsewhere.”
Despite the changes, Mordt is confident he has the team to claim back-to-back league titles for the first time since 2010.
He said: “We have got quite a few match winners and I’d be hard pressed to pick out one guy who is our star player.
“We won the league last year because of six or seven key performers in each match and that’s what I want again.”