Bess plays down Sidmouth title talk despite rise up table + Premier prospects for the weekend ahead

Callum French - skippering Exmouth against North Devon tomorrow

SIDMOUTH skipper Luke Bess isn’t getting carried away by his side’s dramatic rise up the table.

The side that lost two of its first three games has won four of the last five to reach half way fourth in the table.

Sidmouth may be 31 points behind leaders Bovey Tracey going into the second half of the season, but rivals captains are talking up their chances of retaining the title they won last year,

Bess, whose side host Paignton on Saturday, remains cagey on the subject.

“We are only halfway through the season and with such a long way to go you can’t say how it is going to end,” said Bess, who led Sidmouth to the title last season.

“Everyone is beating everyone this season, which will make it a close contest whoever wins it.

“Whoever wins the league, they will lose three or four games, it is that sort of division this year.

“The second half of the season looks like it could be exciting at both ends of the table - all to play for!”

Paignton have struggled to recapture the form that produced two wins in the first three starts, winning just once more since then.

They were well beaten by Exeter last time out having lost to Torquay, when the game looked won, and Bradninch before that.

“It was a tricky end to the first half with a couple of heavy defeats and loosing a game we never should have lost,” agreed skipper Richard Ashworth.

“We're still confident going into this weekend and are almost back to full strength.

“I am sure it will be a very different game to last time we played Sidmouth, but if we play well we have every chance of winning the game.”

Liam Lewis returns to open the Sidmouth batting this week having missed the win over Plymouth.

Luke Bess is at a wedding – brother Zak will captain the side – and with Dec Lines absent there will have to be at least one more change.

George Yates is back in the Paignton attack and all-rounder Chris Kelmere returns after injury

“A massive boost for us bowling wise and in the batting department,” said Ashworth.

LEADERS Bovey Tracey visit Exeter on Saturday still smarting from a two-wicket defeat by Exmouth.

Victory pushed Exmouth within nine points of Bovey Tracey at the top of the table going into the second half of the season.

And with Bradninch only six points further behind in third place, the title race is heating up.

If Bovey skipper Peter Bradley is feeling the pressure of a trimmed lead, he certainly isn’t showing it.

“I am very happy to be in the position we are in,” said Bradley.

“We are really enjoying the season which is so open. Every game is a tough one.

“Our aim is to keep enjoying it and performing well.”

Bradley said although Exeter have been hit and miss this season, at full strength they are a handful

“If their Somerset players play, they are as strong as anyone,” said Bradley.

“We look forward to testing ourselves, that's why we all play Premier cricket.”

Opening bowler Hugo Whitlock suffered a side strain playing for Devon that stopped him operating in Cheshire’s second innings. He is out but with Ryan Bougourd back there is no shortage of seam options.

Exeter, mid-table after their win over Paignton, still can’t get their strongest side out but remain confident they can win

“We know they're a good side but so are we,” said skipper Miles Lenygon.

“Bovey’s batting can falter at times but I've noticed that each week so far someone has put their hand up and a made big score - that's why they are top.”

NORTH Devon will be without early order batsman Dan Bowser for Saturday’s meeting with Exmouth at Instow.

Bowser is away with the England disability squad playing in the INAS Tri-Nations series against Australia and South Africa.

England, the holders, open the defence of the title they won in 2015 when they play South Africa at Broughton Hall on Monday.

Bowser has played in the side from 2013 against other representative teams. He qualifies to play due to a moderate reading disorder.

North Devon go into the second half of the season one place and nine points  off the relegation spots.

Last time out they were defeated by eight wickets at Torquay.

Ed Yeo, the North Devon captain, said he is looking for a fresh start against Exmouth.

He added: “We are all confident of a better second half after underperforming in the first.”

Exmouth are without holidaying skipper Richard Baggs so Callum French takes charge against his former team.

Chris Metters was due to come into the batting line-up but has withdrawn due to illness, Fin Marks steps up from the 2nd XI. and Sean Butler gets an overdue call-up from the second team.

BRADNINCH had no real aims at the start of their first season back in the top flight, other than staying there.

They go into tomorrow’s home game against Torquay third in the table and wondering how much higher they can go?

With just 14 points between the top three, Chappell can dare to dream ahead of Saturday’s game against Torquay

“The first half of the season went a lot better than expected and we are now looking at the teams above us,” said Chappell.

“There's a long way to go, and it would be quite some achievement, but if we don't have that aspiration then the rest of the season would be pointless given we're all-but safe from relegation.

“Torquay won't be easy this week as they've found some form and are always keen as mustard.”

Torquay, unbeaten in four, gave Bradninch a 186-run cuffing on the first day of the season.

Justin Yau, the Torquay captain, said it would be foolhardy to read too much into the first game.

“Everyone knows it's going to be a completely different game than first time out – and they have some real quality throughout their line up.

“Bradninch will be keen beans as they always are against us.

“It should be a great fixture as we are both in great form in the league.

“There are some strong friendships off the field but we all play the game fair and hard which is the way it should be done.

“Both teams know each other well through previous experiences and through the youth county set up and I'm expecting an absolute thriller of a game.”

For Bradninch Chris Acton, Will Squire and Rory Thomas miss this week but Dan Hardy and Matt Parker back and Andy Buzza hopes to be fit.

Torquay are unchanged.

PLYMOUTH against Heathcoat at Mount Wise promises to be no game for he faint hearted.

The city side are bottom of the table on 75 points – and Heathcoat are the side directly above them on 81.

As two go down from the Premier Division, both sides need the win points to stay in touch with North Devon and Paignton, currently safe.

Sam Stein, the Plymouth captain, summed up well when he said: “This is probably our biggest game of the season so far.  

Stein added: “We are well aware if we win we can leap frog Heathcoat and hopefully another side or two as it's still very tight in bottom half.

“We know we are much better than what we have shown so far.

“So we are looking to put that right this side of the season.”

Ben Stein replaces Jake Luffman in a batter-for-batter swap.

Peter Randerson, the Heathcoat captain, has had some good news ahead of the game: two prime run getters are playing together.

Former captain Sam Smith is available and Jack Dart is home from three weeks in New Zealand watching the Lions on tour.

“Jack and Sam have only played three games together this season so it's a massive boost to have both on them in the team,” said Randerson.

On the significance of the game, Randerson added: “We have talked a lot about what we want as a team and where we want to be.

“I'm hoping we will see a huge improvement.”