Cricket: Tunbridge Wells aim for first title after last year’s success

Cricket: Tunbridge Wells aim for first title after last year's success

Finishing third last time under the leadership of Chris Williams constituted their joint highest placing in the top flight, achieved previously in 1998 and 2009.

They would have had a shot at the top spot but they suffered a few setbacks during their August programme which culminated in a damaging two-wicket defeat by Lordswood.

The title went to Blackheath for the first time in 34 years, by a single point from Lordswood, with Wells 15 points further back and Sevenoaks Vine in fourth place.

There has been little player movement during the close season, but the first team has lost its wicketkeeper Graham Francis, who has gone to play up the road at Linden Park.

However, the club is welcoming back an old friend in Simon Routh, who looks set to take the gloves in the Premier Division.

The 55-year-old veteran first played for the club in 1980 as a 16-year-old and has more than 1,000 victims behind the stumps.

He spent three years at Hayes Cricket Club as a keeper with some coaching duties but has now decided to return to the Nevill.

Wells’ hopes of repeating their success are boosted by the return of overseas player Ari Karvelas, a firebrand fast bowler.

The 25-year-old has been playing first-class cricket over the winter for Gauteng in his native South Africa, picking up 22 wickets in six matches, including figures of 5 for 49 against KwaZulu Natal last month.

Much is expected of another young paceman, Isaac Beppey, the young left-armer who played a handful of games for the First XI last season.

The O’Riordan brothers, Marcus and Julian, will be mainstays of the side with bat and ball after their outstanding careers at Tonbridge School.

There has been upheaval all through the Kent League after Hartley Country Club decided to pull out of the Premier Division in February.

The move has come as a shock to the county game since the club, which nurtured the talents of Sam Billings and England women’s captain Charlotte Edwards, is a well-established powerhouse.

Hartley have been the league’s most successful club of recent times, winning six Premier Division titles in nine years.

The 1st XI were champions in 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016, finishing runner-up twice and third once before going down in 2017.

They won promotion back to the top tier last year but it is understood that every player has now left the club, while only two from the 2nd XI remain – in total, 24 members have moved on.

Chairman John Tucker has said a generous donation to the club was a ‘bone of contention’. After the first-team players left, sources say those who were set to take their places were worried about the standard of the Premier Division.

Their demise means that all the third-placed teams from Division One downwards have been promoted, and Midland Bank are taking their place in the top flight.

Hartley have reformed their 1st and 2nd XI, who will now start in Division Five, the lowest tier.

Tunbridge Wells’ first fixture is at home to Beckenham on Saturday May 4.

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