Thomas standing by his champions

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Mark Thomas’ Swardeston begin the defence of their title on Saturday.
Swardeston are sticking with a winning formula as they begin the defence of their Premier League crown.

Mark Thomas’ side won the EAPL title for the first time last year and they have kept faith with the majority of players who guided them to that triumph.

Thomas said: “We’ve brought in Peter Lambert from Norwich & Coltishall Wanderers and he will be a direct replacement for Brian Murphy, who will play for the second team. Peter is primarily a batter but he bowls a bit of seam, which will be useful as last year it was really just me and Michael Eccles, so it will be handy to have a third seamer.”

The Swardeston skipper, who took 33 league wickets last summer, also did not rule out a return to the county scene with Norfolk: “I’ve never ruled myself out and I am available,” he said. “But I certainly wouldn’t want to stand in the way of any youngsters coming through.”

Tomorrow, Swardeston head to Cambridge Granta, who will have to do without overseas star Jacques Du Toit, as he is currently playing for Leicestershire. They do, however, have former Yorkshire batsman Simon Kellett, as well as ex-Essex paceman Darren Cousins, while Craig Park has moved from Godmanchester to play alongside his brother, Sean.

Vauxhall Mallards are keen to avoid repeating the mistakes of last year, when a poor start cost them the chance to challenge for the title.

Skipper Paul Bradshaw said: “At nets this week we talked about getting off to a better start than last year and making sure we are still in touch at the end of May. We have set ourselves goals and we want to be competitive in the first month when the wickets will probably not suit our batsmen as much.

“We had a bad start last year and it was the difference between us winning the title and finishing third as we did.”

Mallards have added Sri Lankan Test player Indika De Saram as their overseas player and will be hoping he can repeat his efforts last year with Clacton, when he scored more than 800 runs. The batting line-up has been further strengthened by the arrival of Ian Harrison from Old Buckenham, while former Clacton wicketkeeper Richard Goodenough replaces Luke Newton, who is unavailable. Trevor Ward will continue to play for Mallards when his teaching commitments allow.

Tomorrow Mallards play Great Witchingham, who must avoid ‘second season syndrome’ after their excellent debut year in the EAPL in 2007.

But with the return of opening bowler Lance Shaw – who took 49 wickets last season – from New Zealand and a few shrewd additions to the side, Dennis Rogers’ team could once again be mingling with the high-flyers.

Ben Harvey has joined from Fakenham to take over wicketkeeping duties from long-serving Andrew Payne, who has become club chairman. Jonathan Spelman has followed his brother, Norfolk batsman James, from Vauxhall Mallards to Walcis Park and 18-year-old Australian all rounder Alex Garlick will be eligible for the first team as a British passport holder.

Sam Arthurton hit 70 for the Northamptonshire Academy side last weekend and has also spent time with Essex over the winter.

Rogers said: “We’re very keen for Sam to progress and play at that level – if it means he doesn’t play for us, then we have done our job, although of course we hope to have him. From what I have seen so far he has tidied up a few areas of his batting technique over the winter.”

He added: “To finish fifth in our first season was really pleasing. We’re probably a stronger side this year and the players have had a year at this level now and they know what it is about, so that should help us to improve.”

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