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The Sweep 24 Pre-Season: Skeemer has a Dream Start, Weston have a Mare.

The pitch at Cornwood CC facing the pavillion

Words: Simon Travers

The countdown to the start of the Devon Cricket League season is nearly complete. Next weekend, Cornwood Cricket Club embarks upon the meat of its 70th Anniversary season as a club and its 40th Anniversary as a Devon Cricket League member. The pre-season was washed out by the spring deluge. It’s been an uphill battle for Bradley Nicholls and his nationally awarded, entirely voluntary, grounds team to prepare for the season ahead but cricket was back at Cornwood this weekend.

Instead of a practice match, the Firsts launched the season this Sunday with a challenging ECB National Club Championship tie against Weston Super Mare. The Premier Division is the Ones’ focus this season but the ECB cup format provides a chance to test the team’s strength against opposition from Somerset and Cornwall, and offers the long shot of a big day out at Lords come seasons’ end.

Weston Super Mare are a big club with an impressive tradition. Their ground was used by Somerset for county cricket up until 1996. With the possibility of rain, visiting captain Lachie Bailey won the toss and chose to field in a 40 over match. The promised rain only turned into a short shower that didn’t steal any overs. Two of the Ones regular top three were playing with Devon, so Matt Skeemer stepped up the order and attacked the new ball. Matt propelled the innings forward with a run a ball 45 that included 3 boundaries in the fifth and eighth over. Weston veteran Shabel Ahmed balanced the contest with an impressive spell of 8-2-15-4. Harry Gadsden also chipped in with wickets to leave the Ones at 99-5 with 16.5 overs remaining. George Thompson, warmly welcomed back into the team after long term injury, marshalled the lower order and death overs with calm and determination. George finished on 38* as the Ones set a par score target of 178-9.

Matt Skeemer immediately won dividends for attacking the stumps as he castled Kruz Belcher and Caleb Alexander in the first over of the chase. Matt’s figures of 8-2-12-3 set the tone at the top of the order as Weston sagged to 26-3. New Zealander Lachie Bailey looked impressive on his way to 79 from 94 but struggled to hold onto partners. A stretch between the 23rd and 30th over where Harry Woolway and Josiah Caunter, on Cornwood debut, restricted Weston to 9-1 from seven overs was a big turning point. That left the visitors with a lot to do, needing 85 from 10. Bailey was able to make a game of it but it was Lee Baker who closed the game out. He took two wickets in the 38th over and then only conceded 3 runs in the 40th when Weston needed 15. The Ones start the year with an impressive 11 run victory and are rewarded with a Sunday jaunt to Helston in 2 weeks’ time.

The Women’s Firsts also were in action on Sunday as their Devon Women’s Cricket League campaign kicked off against Hatherleigh. Gemma Lancaster’s side completed a satisfying home and away double last season over the visitors that was key to a solid mid table finish. That run of form suggested Cornwood came into the match as favourites. Hatherleigh captain Chloe Rose won the toss and elected to bat but the visitors also found themselves under pressure at 26-3 after 2 new ball wickets for Kat Frost (6.1-2-14-3). Megan Hayward made her mark on Cornwood debut with an explosive five over spell taking 3 for 13, including the key wicket of Rose. Hester Presswell and Jess Rose dug deep in the later overs as Hatherleigh made it to an even 100. Gemma Lancaster, fresh from her recent Devon call up, led the way home for the Women’s Ones with an assured unbeaten 44 from 89 balls. The target set was comfortably reached with 6 wickets in hand and 46 balls spare. The Women’s Firsts are up and running for the year.

The only other adult team to play over the weekend were the Threes, who warmed up against touring side Birdlip & Brimpsfield from Gloucestershire on Saturday. The main objectives of the match, get the game on with as close to 80 overs, were achieved handsomely as Delamore Park was bathed in not actually warm yet April sunshine. The match evolved into a close affair after Birdlip had the best of the early going in both innings. Their opener, Andy Ward, combined a deft touch with power on his way to 98 out of 232-6. Rocky Travers had late success to lead the bowling with 3-36. Cornwood’s reply was like a car that’s been in the garage for a while; spluttery at first but then it moved through the gears. Threes’ Captain Adam Whiting struck 32 from 22, Max Daniels 30 from 15 and Jake May kept hitting to the end. The Threes ran out of wickets 14 runs short but with positives to take into the season.

Cornwood Under 13s girls and boys squads

The Colts are raring to go but only 3 games survived the mid-week rain. The Girls Under 13 side played their first ever hardball match against Plymouth at Mountwise, which is a massive moment for the girls and club alike. The whole team contributed in a brave performance against a tough side. Highlights included Nadine hitting two fours in the same over and Lucy taking a wicket with her first ever ball.  The Under 13s Boys notched up a pair of friendly wins against Tavistock. Joe and Oscar both took three wicket hauls and runs were shared around the team.

With the Colts set up, new families are always finding their way in the club. That means it is worth taking the time at the start of the year to share a primer on the workings of the Devon Cricket League and Devon Women’s Cricket League.

Both leagues are designed to provide a competitive playing environment regardless of playing standard. Cornwood’s Men and Women’s First teams play in the Premier Division (men) and Division 1 (Women), the highest standard of cricket available in the county. Premier league players rub shoulders with overseas professionals and fringe members of the Somerset squad. The Devon Cricket League is a play through league; so the Twos, Threes and Fours all play in the same structure against teams of matching standards. The cricket played is limited overs cricket since 2013, so it’s purely the team that scores the most runs who wins. As well as getting 10 points for a win, each team can earn an extra 10 bonus points through piling up runs and wickets. The aim is to get the most points in order to earn a championship or promotion, or if that’s not possible, avoid relegation.

The club were able to build the playing squads over the winter, so both First teams, the Twos and Threes all will hope to compete with the best in their divisions. It’s perhaps better to imagine The Fours as a set of anarchic pirates hoping to steer a clear course through the choppy waters of G Division West. There is a fifth team and women’s softball team for those who want social cricket. Later in the season, the Under 19s and Under 17s will be in action too.

The Sweep will do its utmost to celebrate every game at every level because it all matters; every ball, every run, every cake and every tea, every hour spent working on the pitch and grounds, every pint, and every story has something riding on it. When I was a boy, it wasn’t just seeing Ian Botham on the TV or Derek Underwood at Canterbury that got me into the game; my grandad was a never-ending fountain of stories from his club cricket days on Plumstead Common in the 1950s and 1960s. The best was the one about when he hit a six through a double decker bus window. It’s the start of the season, folks. We made it through the winter and any moment now, someone’s going to have the game of their life. Any moment now, it’ll all end in tears, or beers, or both. Any moment now, someone’s going to do something that they’ll want to wait decades to tell their grandkids about, about the memories we made and the times we shared in the blazing, amazing summer of 2024 at The Wood.

Next Saturday, weather permitting, the Firsts are home to Bovey Tracey, the Seconds travel to Kingsbridge, the Thirds are home to Chudleigh 2XI and the Fours head to Ashburton 2XI. On Sunday, it’s a double header for the Women’s Firsts starting at 11am in the Super 8s. Everyone’s welcome at Oak Park, but don’t forget to sort your membership if you want the best deals at the bar and catering.


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