Devon advertising for a professional to strengthen side

Josh Bess - one of only two ever-present players in Devon
Josh Bess - one of only two ever-present players in Devon's three-day side last season

DEVON CCC are poised to employ a professional next season for the first time in more than 40 years.

The last time Devon hire a professional was way back in 1977, when former Northants, Hants and England fast bowler Bob Cottam was engaged.

Cottam played nine Minor Counties games over two seasons before retiring from competitive cricket aged 33.

Devon are advertising on the Professional Cricketers’ Association website for a professional to play for the county in 2019.

Although the Unicorns Championship is not part of the professional game, the majority of counties in the East and Western Divisions employ at least one professional.

Devon have been reluctant to spend money of professionals, whose fees can run into several hundred pounds a day, but feel it will be money well spent in 2019.

The county has lost the services of all-rounder and captain Josh Bess, who retired unexpectedly at the end of the 2018 season, and also said farewell to director of cricket Keith Donohue after six seasons.

Availability problems plagued Devon last season with just two of the 23 players used in the Championship playing all six games. One of those was Bess, who is no longer available.

Nineteen players were needed to get through four games en-route to the final of the one-day Unicorns KO Trophy. Bess was one of only four to appear in all the fixtures.

Devon played 28 days of competitive cricket in 2018. They reached the final of the 50-over competition and finals day of the new T20 competition.

With doubts over the regular availability of key personnel such as batter Alex Barrow and spinner Jamie Stephens in all formats next season, Devon want some stability in the team.

Matt Thompson - keen for another crack as captainNeil Gamble, Devon’s chairman and writer of the professional’s job description, said: “We know already Alex Barrow and Jamie Stephens won’t be able to play every game – and we are uncertain about our dual-registered Somerset players.

“I doubt we will see that much of Ben Green in three-day cricket, although we hope Tom Lammonby will be available to us.

“With our captain and leading all-rounder no longer around, it is clear we need to strengthen the side.

“We have placed an advert on the PCA website in the hope we might find someone in his early 30s who would be interested.

“There is a likelihood whoever we appoint will have an opportunity to secure a post with one of the clubs in he Devon Premier Division.”

Gamble said Devon have a clear idea what sort of player they wish to employ,

 “We wish to receive applications from former FIrst-Class county all-rounders  or those of outstanding County 2nd XI or Minor Counties’ standard,” said Gamble.

Minor Counties cricket has strict rules on the eligibility of overseas players, as Devon found out the hard way two years ago when they tried to sign former Somerset fast-bowler Alfonso Thomas.

Although the South African-born paceman was eligible for First Class cricket, he failed the tough residential tests applied by the Minor Counties Cricket Association.

“In order to qualify to play Minor Counties cricket,  individuals must be British citizens and have spent at least 210 days in this country each year for the last seven years,” said Gamble.

No new captain has been named yet to replace Bess, although Barrow, Stephens and former skipper Matt Thompson, who was number two last year, are all in contention.

Thompson had two seasons in the job – 2015 and 2016 – while Bess was living and working in Australia. When Bess returned to the UK, he resumed the captaincy he was first appointed to in 2013.

Although the job won’t be shared, whoever gets it is unlikely to play every game and the role of vice-captain will include leading the side.

Thompson said he would be willing to take on the post again, adding: “I would never turn down the opportunity to lead the county.”

Devon have not decided yet how to replace Donohue, or even if his role will be retained or redrawn.

One possible outcome is to have a team manager sharing with the captain and, possibly the new professional, the coaching and administration elements of the job.

Devon played 28 days of competitive cricket in 2018. They reached the final of the 50-over competition and finals day of the new T20 competition.