Devon now credible opposition at Minor Counties level says Donohue as rebuilding process continues

Josh Bess, Devon

DEVON still have plenty of work to do if they are going to challenge for trophies next season.

A mid-table finish in the Minor Counties Championship matched the showing in 2016, which was an improvement on a winless wooden spoon campaign the previous season.

Devon reached the last eight of the one-day Unicorns Trophy – they were losing semi-finalists in 2015 – a minor step back but hardly a disaster.

Keith Donohue, Devon’s director of cricket, said at first glance it may seem Devon had stood still for a season.

The reality, according to Donohue, is the squad is getting stronger all the time.Keith Donohue (left) shares a joke with spinner Jamie Stephens during a break in play

“Looking back at 2016 in the Championship we only looked like winning the games we actually won,” said Donohue.

“Last season we got into winning positions in games we didn’t win for one reason or another.

“A lot of the time it was down to lack of experience on our part, which is inevitable during a rebuilding phase with a young side, which is where we are now.

“We should have beaten Oxfordshire at Banbury, but our lack of experience cost us when we were in sight of the finish line. That hurt our season.

 “Oxfordshire was the only game we lost and two of the three games we drew were adversely affected by bad weather.

“We beat Cheshire, who finished second, and drew with champions Berkshire after bowling them out for 212, the lowest total they made all season.

 ‘Ultimately, you are judged on your performances in league and cup – and we didn’t win anything last season.

“What we did show was that we were credible opposition against everyone we played.”

Had Devon beaten Oxfordshire - they needed 16 to win batting last with six wickets left and lost the lot for 10 runs – they would have been guaranteed third in the table.

Donohue said as younger players gain experience Devon will turn some of their defeats into wins.

“They will only gain that by playing, which makes the current phase we are going through so important,” said Donohue.

“Players who score runs or take wickets in the Devon League won’t automatically do the same in Minor Counties cricket unless they are very special indeed.

“As players play more at the next level up I expect them to gain the self-belief they can score runs and take wickets if they put the work in.”

Devon had some success stories last season, no more so than skipper Josh Bess, who was named player of the year.  Only Matt Thompson (298) scored more runs than Bess (285) in three-day cricket – and the skipper was equal joint wicket-taker on 21 with spinner Josh Stephens.

The emergence of Hugo Whitlock as a new-ball foil for Bess looked like a success story in waiting, until he suffered a side strain and didn’t appear again after round three.

Hugo Whitlock - impressed for Devon before he was injuredGetting a consistent new-ball attack out proved a headache for Donohue and skipper Bess all season as Jack Popham didn’t play at all and Zac Bess only bowled a fraction of the overs he sent down in 2016.

“Zac was a out stand-out player in 2016 and his injury meant he couldn’t bowl in the same way this season,” said Donohue. “Hopefully, he, Jack and Hugo will all be fit next season. If they are we should shake a few sides up.”

Another issue for Devon was who opened the batting as numerous pairs were tried – and only one batted together in two matches.

Liam Lewis was unavailable early season, which didn’t help, and newcomer Tom Ansell slowed up after impressing against Cheshire and Wiltshire in his first two games.

Devon had hoped to see something of former Somerset batter Alex Barrow in the early order in both forms of cricket, but he had injury issues from pre-season onwards and when he was fit had clashes with games for Gloucestershire 2nd XI.

James Burke, who used to open for Devon earlier in his career, was released by Surrey mid-season and made a one-off appearance against Oxfordshire.

Having Barrow and Burke around next season – two ex-pros with all the experience they bring – would be an asset for Devon.

“Player like that would make a huge difference,” said Donohue.

Devon have already started planning for next season and a new look to their fixture list.

The one-day Unicorns Cup, which has been played in qualifying groups followed by knockout rounds of eight and four, has reverted to a straight knockout competition.

Devon have a bye in the first round and have home game against either Wales or Wiltshire in round two.

A new Twenty20 competition will fill the Sunday dates freed up by scrapping the Unicorns Cup qualifying pools.

Devon are grouped with Dorset, Wiltshire, Cornwall and Wales.  Venues have yet to be decided. Devon are away to Cornwall (May 6) then home to Dorset (May 7) in a Ban Holiday double-header, followed by Wiltshire away on May 27 and Wales at home on June17.