THE Home Counties Premier League begins this weekend, with six Oxfordshire teams spread across Divisions 1 and 2. The Oxford Mail caught up with all of the captains on the eve of the season.

ASTON ROWANT

The Oxford Times:

  • Captain Josh Smith has donned the gloves regularly in recent years, but Rowant have secured the signing of wicket-keeper/batsman Hayden Rossouw for 2019 Picture: Steve Wheeler

Josh Smith believes Aston Rowant have the quality to again fight for the Division 1 title.

Although facing a tough start to their campaign with a home fixture against champions Henley tomorrow, the skipper is expecting his side to be competitive.

Despite last year being their first back in the top tier since 2014, Rowant were in contention for the title until the last weekend of the season.

Although they always only had an outside chance of beating Henley and Slough, Smith is hopeful of improving on their third-place finish.

“I don’t see why not,” he said.

“I think it’s going to be an open league – the sides that have come up are better than those that went down. 

“From what I have seen so far, most teams can beat anyone, so there should be some exciting cricket.”

Rowant have added James Fitzjohn and Elliot Mathews to their squad over the winter.

They also have a new overseas player in wicket-keeper/batsman Hayden Rossouw.

PLAYERS IN

Hayden Rossouw, James Fitzjohn (Horspath), Elliot Mathews (Didcot).

PLAYERS OUT

Dan Moriarty, Will Pendered.

BANBURY

The Oxford Times:

  • Lloyd Sabin scored more than 800 runs for Banbury last season Picture: Ric Mellis

Lloyd Sabin is also setting his targets high and is backing Banbury to push for a top-three spot.

The north Oxfordshire outfit were unable to sustain their challenge last year, finishing fifth.

But Banbury have recruited well over the winter, bolstering their squad with five new faces.

With Great & Little Tew dropping into the Cherwell League, spinner Joe Thomas and batsman Joe White have joined.

Banbury also have a new overseas player, with Shahid Yousaf, who played for Slough last year, signing on.

Sabin, whose side are now without the retired Craig Haupt, believes his players should have reason to feel confident heading into their first game at home to High Wycombe.

He said: “We’ve probably lacked a bit of consistency at times over the last few years.

“But we’ve put a really good squad together and if we perform well I think we can give it a good go.

“We’ve set ourselves a target of a top-three finish, but obviously anything better than that would be a bonus.”

PLAYERS IN

Joe Thomas, Joe White (both Gt Tew), Joe Wadham (Taunton St Andrew’s), Dave Eaton (Horley), Shahid Yousaf (Slough).

PLAYERS OUT

Craig Haupt, Steve Green, Shazad Rana.

HORSPATH

The Oxford Times:

  • Skipper Will Eason took 11 per cent of Horspath's wickets in 2018 Picture: Ric Mellis

Will Eason is confident Horspath can challenge further up the table this season.

The club have been back in Division 1 for two seasons, narrowly avoiding relegation on both occasions.

Boosted by the return of overseas star Darryl Brown, captain  Eason has also added all-rounder Jay Parmar and batsman Kyle Hopper.

And the skipper, whose side travel to Tring Park tomorrow, is backing his players to deliver consistently.

He said: “That's obviously the aim (to finish higher).

"We don’t want to keep fighting to stay up.

“We’ve put plans in place as a squad to try to move up the table if we can this year.

“We feel we have more competition for places and people will have to stay on their game to remain in the side.”

PLAYERS IN

Jay Parmar (West Bromwich Dartmouth), Kyle Hopper (Oxford University),

PLAYERS OUT

James Fitzjohn (Aston Rowant).

OXFORD DOWNS

The Oxford Times:

  • George Sandbach (right) hugs brother Chris Sandbach after the duo both hit centuries for Oxford Downs in the final game of their triumphant Cherwell League campaign Picture: Ric Mellis

Oxford Downs are relishing their debut season in the league – and are not afraid to set their targets high.

They begin their Division 2 campaign at Dinton tomorrow, looking to pick up where they left off in the Cherwell League, when an unbeaten season saw them go up as champions.

Captain George Sandbach knows they will face far bigger tests in 2019, but is confident Downs can make their presence felt.

“Everyone is very excited,” he said. 

“Apart from a couple of players, a lot of our team haven’t played in the Home Counties before, but they’re more than capable. We’re hoping for a top-three finish.”

Downs’ squad looks a little different from last year, with Jonny Law, Jonny

Meardon and James Lauder departing.

But they have recruited New Zealand all-rounder Richard Sillars as their overseas player.

The club have also benefited from Great & Little Tew’s withdrawal from the league with Lawrence Brock and Curtly Slatter joining.

PLAYERS IN

Lawrence Brock, Curtly Slatter (both Gt Tew), Richard Sillars.

PLAYERS OUT

Jonny Law, Jonny Meardon, James Lauder, Adam Beck.

OXFORD

The Oxford Times:

  • Oxford captain Jamie Perkin hit seven half-centuries in 2018 – his best tally in a single season Picture: Ric Mellis

Jamie Perkin is urging his Oxford side to rediscover the winning habit.

Four victories from 18 games resulted in relegation last year.

But Oxford, who are confident of bringing back overseas star Samad Fallah, are in high spirits ahead of their first game at home to Harefield.

Captain Perkin said: “We’ve not really spoken about targets.

“But we want to consolidate on last year, try to get that winning mentality back and see where that takes us.” 

Indian left-arm seamer Fallah did not feature for the club in 2018 due to issues with his visa.

Although he will not be available this weekend, Oxford are confident of having him back and Perkin is looking forward to the return of a player who took 97 wickets across 2016 and 2017.

The skipper said: “You can ask anyone and they will say he is the best bowler in the division, if not both divisions – his stats back that up.”

Former captain Ian Crosby has left the club.

PLAYERS IN

Samad Fallah, Rob Craze, James Keeble (Thame Town).

PLAYERS OUT

Ian Crosby, David Murphy. 

THAME TOWN

The Oxford Times:

  • Michael Beard’s highest score in 2018 was 97 – his best total in a single match since 2015 Picture: Ric Mellis

Michael Beard is expecting Thame Town to be stronger this year, but is cautious as to whether his side can bounce straight back up.

The club finished bottom in their debut season in Division 1.

Although Thame are unlikely to be able to call upon Richard Straughan this year due to a shoulder problem, captain Beard has bolstered his side.

Devane Warner, Faisal Ali, Tom Bamford and Ollie Burland have joined and the skipper is in an upbeat mood ahead of tomorrow’s fixture at home to Burnham.

He said: “Last year was probably a step too far.

“Our main problem was the lack of numbers, but adding four guys who will be regulars will help.

“We will look to consolidate. We don’t want to set our sights too far in the future.”

PLAYERS IN

Devane Warner (Cumnor), Faisal Ali, Tom Bamford (both Dinton), Ollie Burland.

PLAYERS OUT

Kalim Khan, James Keeble (Oxford).