The boys are back in Town: Doncaster Town target top four finish on return to ECB Yorkshire South Premier League
The feeling at Doncaster Town Cricket Club is that they are back where they belong, writes Paul Goodwin.
And there is a determination to prove that when their season gets underway at Appleby Frodingham this weekend.
For the first time since becoming founder members in 1935, Doncaster operated outside of the Yorkshire League last season.
Relegation in 2016 - the harsh reality of a poor season and the relatively new regionalised pyramid structure for the game in this county - resulted in a few red faces as rivals Tickhill briefly took over as the town’s top ranked side.
But it also gave the Bennetthorpe club a chance to take stock and rebuild.
They subsequently made light work of winning the South Yorkshire League Championship title, bouncing straight back to the ECB Yorkshire South Premier League at the first time of asking.
And confidence is high on the eve of the new campaign.
“We did exactly what we needed to do last season,” said first team captain Luke Townsend.
“My philosophy this season is that we are not here to make the numbers up.
“We want to be competitive all the way, from the first ball to the last ball.
“We’ve got some very good players so we just want to enjoy it and see where we go.
“We’ve said top four is the target.
“We’re confident we can get there with the players we’ve got.
“Any competition we go into we want to do well.
“We’ve got a National Cup game down here on Sunday against Harrogate so it would be nice to get a few people down here for that one.”
Entrusted with reorganising and recruiting, director of cricket and first team player James Ward has been instrumental in Doncaster’s return to the top, both on and off the pitch.
“It was imperative we got straight back into the Yorkshire League,” said the former Darfield all-rounder.
“It was disappointing in 2016 when we got relegated but we’ve come a long way since then both on and off the field.
“We’ve got a good committee in place who do a lot of hard and we’ve got a lot of good people.
“And the playing side has improved as well, we’ve signed a few players.
“We’re optimistic, but it was huge for us to get back to where we think we belong.”
Last season saw Doncaster go from being on the back foot very much onto the front foot as they proved far too strong for the majority of sides in the South Yorkshire League.
This winter they have bolstered their squad with Pakistan A batsman Ali Waqas, while James Stuart, Curtis Free and Stuart Guy have all returned to the club.
Jack Shutt, who has a contract with Yorkshire CCC, has also joined from Elsecar.
“We had fairly young-ish side last year with a couple of older ones,” said Luke.
“From where we were two years to where we are now, it’s been really good.
“The reason why we went down two years ago was because we didn’t have the batting.
“We had the bowling. We had the most bonus points out of all of the sides.
“It was just batting that let us down.
“Obviously James has recruited really well.
“We’ve got a good overseas player coming who will bolster the batting, so things are on the up.”
“We’ve talked about it as a group, just having a bit more of a plan in terms our batting,” said James.
“Everyone is going to know their individual roles.
“We’ve got a plan as a full side.
“I’ve only been here two years and the bowling is very strong.
“I just think batting we can be a bit more organised and get people knowing their roles.
“Ali Waqas is a left-handed batsman who averages over 30 in both first class and list A cricket,” he added.
“He comes highly recommended so we’ve got big hopes for him.
“But it’s important to state we’re not just relying on him to score the runs.
“James Stuart will add firepower with the bat and the ball.
“We lost Curtis Free to the Bradford League for about three seasons. He’s coming back to spearhead the bowling attack with James Stuart.
“Stuart Guy’s coming back as a player and to bat but obviously, longer term, we hope he gets back involved with the coaching.
“And Jack Shutt’s on a contract with Yorkshire but they’ve released him to play on Saturdays. He’s an off-spinner.”
This summer Doncaster will celebrate the 20th anniversary of their famous victory at Lord’s against Bath in the Abbot Ale Cup final.
The side that day was packed full of local talent, players who had come through the ranks at Doncaster.
Times have changed, as club players up and down the country move around for financial gain.
But Ward insists Doncaster are doing everything possible to maintain a production line.
“Juniors have always been a strength at Doncaster Town for many years and they’re again in good hands,” he said.
“We’ve improved the coaching structure so there’s lots of senior players coming down on Friday nights to offer some group coaching and also work one-on-one with some of the stronger juniors.
“We want to get back to developing our own players. Obviously in the 1990s that was something Doncaster were really good at.
“The juniors are shaping up really well. We’re doing the All-Stars programme for five to eight year-olds and we want to keep them here all the way through to, hopefully, playing in the first team.
“We’ve added a fourth team who will play in the South Yorkshire League and that’s a great opportunity for our best under 13 and under 15 players to gain experience of playing league cricket.”