Middlesex County League Premier Division season preview: Hampstead

Hampstead captain Steve Clark. Pic: Paolo Minoli

Hampstead captain Steve Clark. Pic: Paolo Minoli - Credit: Archant

Hampstead are aiming to be the first team for five years to retain the Middlesex County League title – and captain Steve Clark believes a fierce competition for places can help his side to keep their crown.

The Lymington Road outfit have finished top of the Premier Division in two of the last three years, following their first ever title in 2013 with another triumph last summer, which coincided with the club’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

Ealing won the league for seven successive seasons between 2005 and 2011 but, since then, no-one has been able to keep hold of the trophy.

Hampstead are the only side that can achieve that feat this term and, with eight new recruits joining last season’s triumphant squad, Clark is feeling optimistic.

“I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be able to do it again,” the skipper told Ham&High Sport. “We’ve got some good new faces coming in from all over the country, so we’ve strengthened where we needed to and hopefully they’ll integrate well with the existing nucleus and we’ll do well.

“Due to the nature of our club we have a pretty high turnover of players, but luckily this year we’ve managed to keep a fair few of them, so hopefully everybody will be on the same page. There’s good competition for places, which is always healthy for a club.

“Before my time here, Ealing were quite strong for quite a few years - I know they won it a lot of years on the trot. But they’ve either gone off the boil or they’re in a period of transition, and it’s for somebody else to take the bull by the horns.

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“That [kind of dominance] is exactly what you aspire to whenever you join a club. But the league is fairly open at the moment, there’s a lot of good sides - it’s a very good, competitive league.”

Hampstead start their title defence away against North Middlesex on Saturday, and Clark said: “In the last two or three years they’ve become very strong. “I’d probably go as far as to say that their opening bowling attack is one of the best in the league so it will be a good start for all the new guys – they’ll have to hit the grounding running.”

Left-handed batsman and off-spinner Henry Collier, who represented New Zealand’s Under-19s in 2014, has signed up to be Hampstead’s new overseas player, while another left-handed batsman, Sam Evison, struck 60 on his debut in a friendly against Harpenden.

Right-arm seamers Scott Barlow, Hugo Peterson and Tom Wilde have also joined the club, along with wicketkeeper-batsman Ollie Steele – who played with Wilde at Midlands club Ombersley CC.

Meanwhile, right-handed batsman Robert Keen has come in from Macclesfield CC and left-arm bowler Fergus Baker has arrived from Rothley Park, having previously played for Cambridge MCCU from 2007-2009.

Hampstead’s new chairman Nick Brown, who has replaced Jim Carter, said: “The addition of these guys on top of the title-winning squad from last season should mean we are competitive again.

“It’s an exciting time for the club. We will be running a fifth XI in the 1987 League this season - the first time we have ever had a fifth team in a league.

“We only started our fourth XI four or five years ago, so it demonstrates we are certainly moving in the right direction.”