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Hampstead captain hails new format ahead of opening-day clash with Ealing

PUBLISHED: 12:00 07 May 2015

Hampstead captain Steve Clark. Pic: Paolo Minoli

Hampstead captain Steve Clark. Pic: Paolo Minoli

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Hampstead captain Steve Clark says the change to the Premier Division format "couldn't have come soon enough" - and he is pleased to be facing perennial title challengers Ealing in the opening game.

This summer, for the first time, half of the top-flight fixtures in the Middlesex County Cricket League will be played as 50-over matches, with bowlers being allowed to deliver a maximum of 10 overs each.

The first five games will be played in the new 50-over format, while the middle nine matches will be under the old timed system, before four more 50-over clashes to complete the season.

“We’ve been pushing for it for a long time and it couldn’t have come soon enough,” Clark told Ham&High Sport. “It will benefit the better sides, I think, and the sides that rely on one or two players will get found out – which is always a good thing in my view.

“You play teams that might rely on one bowler – a spinner for instance – to bowl at one end for the whole day. Obviously in a 50-over format they won’t be able to do that.

“I think you need to keep the timed format – which they have done – to keep a bit of tradition and feed into county cricket in the long-term, so I think they’ve got the balance just about right now. It’s just a case of the captains and the clubs figuring out how to play it and getting their tactics right.

“The Middlesex County League was the only league I can think of that didn’t have a 50-over format, and the cup games were in the 50-over format so everybody’s played it and knows how to do it. It’s just a case of remembering on the day.”

Hampstead won the title in 2013 but finished sixth last season – largely due to the weather, which affected a number of teams, according to Clark.

They will be gunning for the crown again this campaign but face a tough opening-day clash at home against Ealing, who are rarely far from the top.

Ealing were the champions in 2011 and came third the following year, before being runners-up to Hampstead in 2013 and finishing third again last term – just five points behind winners Teddington.

“We’re kind of relishing the challenge,” said Clark, who is starting his third year as captain. “When we won the league, the first game was against Ealing.

“Last year I think we had an easier start and, looking back, we might have taken it a little bit too easy and kind of warmed into things, rather than the year before when we won it, when we had to start off on the right foot and hit the ground running straight away.”

The Lymington Road outfit have lost former Middlesex CCC batsman Ben Scott, who has retired, and wicketkeeper Charlie Cooke, who has moved to America.

However, with the format change in mind, they have signed an all-rounder as their overseas player, with 21-year-old Kiwi Jamie Gibson coming in to bat at the top of the order and bowl as a seamer.

Two more new arrivals, Jack Biddulph and Jonny Dunne, are also all-rounders – the former a left-arm spinner and middle-order batsman and the latter a top-order batsman and right-arm seamer – while gloveman Charlie Wedgewood replaces Cooke.

Hampstead have also added right-arm seamers Vishal Somaya and Will Roberts, and Jaheed Ali will return from first-class cricket in Pakistan midway through the season to bolster the batting order, while the club will have the services of Middlesex spinner Ollie Rayner.

The result is another much-changed squad at a club that has had a high turn-over of players in previous years as well.

However, they won the title in 2013 after bringing in a host of new faces, including Scott, who was key to that success. So, while Clark is aware there is a value in consistency, he is still confident.

“I don’t know why that is [the turn-over],” he said. “It’s a topic of a lot of conversations at meetings. Maybe we can get the colts to come through more. “But it does work having a good rotation – it keeps fresh blood in the team, while we also keep the core. We’ve got myself, Ragheb Aga, Liam Hughes and Mubasher Hassan, who came through the ranks at Hampstead. So we’ve a good core of players who keep the changing room lively and bring the new guys in and get them involved.”

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