2017 Preview - The Crystal Ball returns !!
- Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 April 2017 09:03
- Published: Wednesday, 12 April 2017 08:33
- Written by Kevin Hewes
The season is almost upon us, with the opening salvo’s taking place this Sunday. Sadly at the end of the 2016 season the league lost three more clubs as the battle of diminishing participation in recreational cricket, particularly on a Sunday, continues.
Purleigh, West Mersea and Kirby all withdrew from the competition, the latter two being members of the league for well over 35 years. Braintree were accepted in Division Four of the 40 over competition, meaning that in 2017 there will be four divisions of eight teams.
After a successful inaugural 2016 season in the T20, the competition has expanded for the 2017 campaign with ten teams in two divisions competing to qualify for the Finals Day to be played at Castle Park on August Bank Holiday Monday. The three teams joining the competition are 7 Para Royal Horse Artillery, Braintree and Ipswich.
So in the annual tradition it’s time to look into the crystal ball to see what I think will happen in the next six months.
Division One throws up a tasty appetiser as the top two at the end of the 2016, champions Frinton and runners up Wivenhoe, go head to head on Easter Sunday at Wivenhoe’s Rectory Road. However, statistically it has not been a happy fixture for the home side, having never defeated the visitors in ten previous NECL encounters, their best result being a tie. Frinton have occupied the top two positions for the last two seasons, and I predict them to once again figure at the top of the table and successfully defend their title. I expect Colchester & East Essex and Wivenhoe will run them close and the minor positions will come down to a handful of matches, with I fancy the Castle Park outfit to claim the second spot. Mistley would normally be nailed on for the fourth spot, but I have a feeling for a rejuvenated Elmstead outfit to put in a serious effort to break into the top four. Intriguingly, Mistley and Elmstead also meet in the opening day fixtures, so will be an interesting one to watch.
Great Horkesley & Lexden claimed some big scalps in their first top flight season last year, and providing they have the same pool of players should avoid the drop, although they may be pushed all the way by Eight Ash Green. Last year’s Division Two champions Clacton were the surprise package of the 2016 season, I did predict them for relegation from Division Two – what do I know ! However, I think it might be step too far for them this year, so unfortunately I have to make the same prediction as last year with an instant return to Division Two.
Division Two is always a conundrum, as it comes down to a question of who wants to take the seemingly poison chalice of Division One cricket the following season. It looks to be a competitive division, with two strong teams in Halstead and Copdock & Old Ipswichian coming up from Division Three, and I expect the youthful Halstead team to make it back to back championships. Last year’s runners up Great Totham should be in the shake up for the other promotion place, but I think they will be gazumped by Chappel & Wakes Colne who will make it this year, having blown out right at the end of last year’s campaign. Copdock to finish third, Great Totham fourth, and Witham and Stebbing to fill fifth and sixth, although I expect the order could be either way. I am afraid that leaves Ardleigh and Gosfield in the frame for the two relegation positions.
Division Three is also tight to call, although I think Abberton and Galleywood are likely to be the pre-season favourites for honours, with I think the Lions claiming the title. Galleywood lost just a single game in winning Division Four last time out, and with a relatively young side should be able to effectively compete at the higher level and push Abberton all the way. Springfield, Kelvedon and Harwich & Dovercourt should have enough strength in depth to compete for the mid table berths in the order above. That leaves West Bergholt, Cavaliers and Chappel & Wakes Colne 2nds scrapping to avoid the drop, with the latter two predicted to slip into the bottom tier.
Coggeshall and newcomers Braintree would be my pre-season favourites for Division Four honours. The young Coggeshall side have been developing over a number of years and are becoming more competitive each season, and providing the obvious distractions for young players do not come their way this year, I predict them for a concerted shot at the title. Braintree are the unknown quantity, moving their team out of the Two Counties Division C competition to compete in the NECL. They bring a mixture of youth and experience in their side and will be in the mix at the top of the table. The rest of the Division is very hard to call, but I fancy Boxted and Real Oddies to be in the battle for third and fourth. Rayne and Great Braxted & Tiptree should contest positions five and six, which leaves Tendring and Great Horkesley & Lexden seconds to contest the wooden spoon, which I think will go to the Saxons for a second successive year.
The T20 league competition runs from mid April to the end of July, with the Finals Day scheduled for Castle Park on 28th August. Three new teams enter the competition this season, which meant splitting the league season into two divisions of five, with the top two from each division proceeding to the Finals Day.
In the East Division I expect Colchester & E.E to proceed as winners, then it is a toss up between Wivenhoe and Ipswich as to who the second team will be. By virtue that Ipswich have three home games (Wivenhoe were unable to host them) I think it will be Ipswich to progress. Mistley and Great Bentley will bring up the minor positions.
In the West Division I don’t foresee any problems for champions Coggeshall and expect them to top the group, but then it is too tight to call for the remainder of the division. Little Bardfield Village had an excellent T20 campaign in 2016, making the Finals Day, and have enough hard hitting batsmen to see them in qualifying places again. The unknown strength of new teams, Braintree and 7 Para is where the crystal ball is a little hazy, and either could also get to Finals Day. Kelvedon’s only win in 2016 came against T20 league winners Wivenhoe, so they have enough about them to beat anyone on the day, but I can’t see them progressing this year.
So my Finals Day line up prediction is Colchester v. Little Bardfield Village, and Ipswich v. Coggeshall, and boringly I predict the same final as last year Colchester v. Coggeshall with the Castle Park side taking the honours this time around.
Of course there are many unknown variables in the mix of local cricket, so it is down to the on field action now to prove the predictions right or wrong. Here is wishing all NECL cricketers and supporters an excellent 2017 season filled with warm weather, run and wickets and minimal concessions.