Summer: a time when strawberries substitute steak pies and Bovril is placed on the top shelf, awaiting the autumn. As the remaining muddy blades of grass wither and the final whistle blows on competitive football in Oxford for another year, the whir of the cricket roller’s motor sounds in the sunshine in preparation for the new cricket season.
Whilst never able to reach the level of anticipation the newly-formed Indian Premier League has gained, Oxford’s league has still gathered a deluge of interest as it enters its eighteenth year. Given the excitement surrounding the new season, it is fitting that the opening day pits two title favourites head-to-head as current champions Balliol hope to build upon last year’s unbeaten league season when they travel to New. This early-season clash will surely set a standard which the other twenty-seven teams in the OICCL will strive to achieve throughout the season. New College captain Alex Asher appears confident of breaking Balliol’s dominance, claiming that his squad “could have achieved more”, despite a highly impressive third-placed finish and a quarter final berth in Cuppers. Despite the loss of Danny Bamford and Chris Leeming, leading run-scorers Sam Tomlin and Tom Howell remain at the crease. Those two, along with Keith Davies and Rinchan Mirza in a quick bowling attack, leave their captain with a genuine cause for optimism in the coming season.
It should never be forgotten that cricket is a game of emotion. The delight of a fine catch standing at backward point or the disgust of succumbing to a bouncer is demonstrated voraciously. It is no surprise therefore that New’s sense of optimism is contrasted with Pembroke’s relief of simply still playing first division cricket this season. Having endured a torrid season which included the loss of their captain, Pembroke steered clear of relegation with two sensational wins in their last two matches. Their miraculous survival allows new captain Bobby Butcher hope that newcomers James Finch and Rod Shepherd will bowl well in order for his side to “cement Pembroke’s reputation as one of the university’s strongest cricket colleges”, and bring some much needed stability to the club.
Like Pembroke, many clubs have a target which they feel is achievable. Newly promoted Merton/Mansfield, fresh from their unbeaten season in Division 2, believe they could achieve two titles in two years. Their performance could depend on the form of star all-rounder Miles Tomkins, who scored a vast amount of runs in Division 2 and will hope to recreate this form against better opposition. However, the prospect of better opposition doesn’t worry their captain, Greg Betts, who claims that “we definitely have the players to challenge for the title and it’s a case of playing to our ability. It’ll be a step up from the level of opposition last year but I think we should be aiming to be one of the top teams this year.”
Merton/Mansfield’s confidence of succeeding in Division 1 should provide enthusiasm from teams not playing in the top division. Despite the loss of three key players, Magdalen will look to the majestic Dave Winterton to provide the runs to steer the club into the upper elechlons of the league. Losing Cuppers finalists, St Catherine’s, will endeavour to translate their cup form into the league format, whilst Somerville captain Tom Deegan could possibly break college tradition by selecting England Women’s U-21 wicketkeeper Sophie Le Marchand for the club. The resolute Mancunian captain hopes that Le Marchand, along with bowler Nick Thomas and opening batsman James Cox, are auspicious inclusions to the squad, stating that he believes Somerville have a “realistic chance of a good Cuppers run”.
Although most of the captains will disagree with their counterparts’ apprisals of the season ahead, one thing which elicits agreement is the hope for summer sunshine. A mammoth thirty-three league matches fell victim of bad weather last season, including a potential relegation decider between Hertford and Wadham.
All evidence points to a fantastic season of cricket. The teams are in place and ready; the Groundsmen have spent hours with the gentle murmur of the cricket roller and the Bovril is firmly lodged at the rear of the cupboard. All that is required now is the sunshine. Although that can’t be guaranteed, the vehemence of the desire to win from the cricketers can be, which will provide a flurry of fours, a stack of sixes and extravagant entertainment for the next nine weeks.