Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Henley add youth to squad in quest to retain title

Henley add youth to squad in quest to retain title

THE captain at Henley Cricket Club hopes young players will show what they are capable of this season.

Michael Roberts is preparing to skipper the first team for the sixth year in a row and has his sights set on a fourth Home Counties Premier League title in as many attempts.

They start their 2021 campaign with a visit to Aston Rowant tomorrow (Saturday), having beaten Wargrave and Ealing in pre-season friendlies.

Henley have acquired the services of Freddie Loveland, a promising seam bowler currently studying at Radley College, along with Jonny Connell, a talented batsman studying at Harrow School.

Adam Searle, the son of former Olympic gold medal-winning rower Greg, has also joined as an off-spinning all-rounder.

Roberts, 32, said: “The youth element is really going to be important this year. There is a sense of transition — I wouldn’t say it is handing over the baton, but we’re certainly looking to get younger players in positions in the team and for them to contribute.

“That will only strengthen the second and third team as the season goes on, depending on how many people are available. It is really exciting. 

“I think this year will be about developing with those young lads coming through and sticking to what we do really well and see where that gets us.

“In 2017 we really went after it because we had come so close in 2016. Since then, it’s been more about trying to redefine the standard of club cricket. That is our vision from a performance perspective, but we are just looking to have fun on a Saturday as well.”

Last year, the league was replaced with eight 40-over matches, which were localised to reduce travel and played with a pink ball.

Henley came sixth out of 20 teams after losing their last two matches of the campaign, which saw them qualify for the semi-finals of the John Goodman Plate with five wins and one washout.

They went onto beat Aston Rowant by eight wickets in the semi-final, chasing 173 to win, as Roberts saw his team home with an unbeaten knock of 79.

Although he was away on holiday during the final against Thame Town, he had no doubt the team would succeed and they came on top by four wickets to end their truncated season with silverware.

He said: “The great thing about the team — and the thing I enjoy the most — is that even though I am the captain, it’s not really about me.

“If I’m not there, it still runs well and it is a well-oiled machine. We’ve got so many good young lads coming into the set up.”

Roberts scored 343 runs in the pooled group, including a century in a 147-run win against Datchet, although he said his innings was “overshadowed by a far better hundred” from Middlesex’s Jack Davies (139) in the same game.

He said: “Jack didn’t play too many games for us last year, but when he did his impact was substantial. We’ve got a very strong bowling attack led by Tom Nugent and some good spinners in there as well.”

Nugent played a key role in the final last year, claiming figures of 5-25 as stand-in captain to take his season tally to 20 wickets. All-rounder Euan Woods also put in a strong performance, scoring 65 not out in the run chase.

Although there are likely to be a number of new faces this season, the club lost Andy Rishton in the winter after he decided to join Wokingham, the winners of last year’s pooled league.

The all-rounder made 42 appearances for Henley, scoring a total of 641 runs and taking 37 wickets.

Henley’s defeats against High Wycombe and Oxford Downs at the end of the pooled campaign came at a time when many players were forced to self-isolate.

Roberts says it was “a privilege” to be able to get out on the field last summer when other amateur sports, such as rugby, were unable to return amid the covid restrictions. He added: “We were a bit under strength in those last two games, but there were lots of positives to take from the season. 

“Spending all day with your mates is amazing and the prospect of having 18 weeks of that this season is really exciting. Everyone is raring to go. 

“Keeping my place in the team is the first objective. It is so competitive and that is really exciting. I like the idea of competition for places.

“As the captain, I want to help the guys perform to their best on a consistent basis and I would like to put in some match-winning contributions across the season when it is most important. That is something I would like to aim for, but with these young lads coming in, I’m sure they will do it anyway.”

Speaking ahead of Henley’s match with Aston Rowant, Roberts said: “They are a really competitive side and always play some good cricket against us.

“In the last couple of years, the results could have gone either way in many respects so we will have to be on it from game one. They certainly turn it on for us and they have some really good young players.”

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