LEWDOWN Cricket Club will start the 2018 season with a different identity after recently confirming a change in first team captaincy, writes James Weeks.

This news comes after the club made the decision to disband the seconds due to a lack of player availability, which in turn meant that the first team were automatically demoted from the A Division into C Division (West) of the new Tolchards Devon Cricket League pyramid, after four seasons in the second-tier.

Harry Geering and Dave Ball, who have been playing for Lewdown for well over a decade, will take up a co-captains role after Matt Witcher stepped down, and will lead the firsts into the new look format as a joint outfit, a move that, according to Geering, will pay dividends.

He said: “It should help take the pressure off. There’s a lot to do and I know we’ll work well together for the better of the team.”

The Devon Cricket Board has integrated both first and second eleven teams into the same league format under a new ‘all-through’ system, as a result of several clubs announcing their intent to only have one side playing on a Saturday.

Despite boasting talent suitable for higher leagues, Geering is undermining the potential of an immediate promotion, saying: “The club’s main focus in 2018 is to enhance the youth development and make sure the atmosphere within the players is back to a good level. Although still an aim, promotion is not the be all and end all directly after the league re-shuffle, we just want to have fun and be competitive.”

The new co-leader echoes the sentiments of chairman Nick Hayden, who released a statement on the club’s website signalling the intent to focus on the development of juniors.

Hayden claimed: “The decision will allow us to develop younger players into the first team, as those players are ultimately the future and we are conscious to provide them with the right pathway to develop at the club.”

Moving down to the C Division has also prompted Lewdown to change its policy on securing an overseas professional for the summer.

The West Devon outfit has a rich history of foreign talent, most notably former South African international Kyle Abbott. However the club feels that financially and, with the demotion, that spending money on a professional isn’t within the village side’s best interests.

Geering continued: “The money spent on air fares and the process would be much better spent on developing and enhancing the club’s facilities so that we are in a better place to work with the younger talent.

“Before the reshuffle in the A Division, having an overseas was a necessity, with some teams having one — sometimes two — along with home-based professionals. However, we believe this year we should be competitive enough for an overseas to not be vital to our cause.”

A change in division means meeting some old friends in Bridestowe and Chagford, two local sides that Lewdown have a rich history with in all formats.

Geering believes the localisation of the league into West and East will help the goal of boosting the club atmosphere.

He said: “The new look divisions are much better for travelling — and given that we have a lot of friends at both Bridestowe and Chagford, it should be an enjoyable season, something that will in turn help maintain a happy environment within the squad.”

The theme of youth development remains a key factor in the club’s progression, with 2018 seeing the continuation of the joint training scheme with Bridestowe.

Although rivals on the pitch, the two local clubs combined and provided Devon Cricket-supported coaching for 86 junior players in the 2017 season, something chairman Hayden is keen for the club to take in it’s stride, adding: “This season we have already started indoor nets for the juniors whilst entering multiple youth teams into the local leagues for the new season. This is something we can be proud of.”

Although much has changed, much will still stay the same. The successful North Devon Sunday League team will continue again this summer, with the system shuffle earning the side a promotion to Division Four.

They will play 12 games across the North of the county, including teams from Barnstaple and Witheridge, led by captain Graeme Horn.

The West Devon T20 League will also be returning in the same format with the local pool against Bridestowe, Tavistock and Whitchurch getting underway on Tuesday, May 29, when they will travel to Tavistock.

Geering and Ball’s tenure in charge will begin at home to the Teignmouth-based Shaldon Optimists on Saturday, May 5 (1.30pm), and although expectations for the season ahead are set high, the two remain grounded, citing a dedication to the two-year plan designed by the club.

Geering added: “The plan does include promotion, however in the short-term we are looking at maintaining a level of focus on youth training and development, so that by the end of the period, we can look at re-entering a second team into the leagues using some of the younger talent.”