PLYMOUTH are aiming to spin to win in the Tolchards Devon League Premier Division this season.
The city side only just staved off the drop at the end of last season, dodging relegation on the last day of the season by beating Sidmouth.
As Plymouth flirted with relegation in 2016 too, new skipper Jon Varcoe’s priority has been squad strengthening.
The newest recruit at Mount Wise is left-arm spinner Matt Petherbridge, the 2016 Devon League young player of the year who has been with Torquay for the past three seasons.
Petherbridge joins Fahad Ali and Faizan Riaz in a three-man spin attack that Varcoe hopes will help drive Plymouth up the table this season.
Varcoe now has a lot of spin options, a skill he equates with success in the 50-over format of the game.
“In my view you can’t have enough spinners in the side – and the statistics prove that,” said Varcoe.
“We now have one of each in a left-armer, Faizan’s leg spinner and Fahad’s off-breaks.
“Spinners take wickets in Premier Division cricket and if you want to be near the top that’s what you need to have.”
The record books tend to prove Varcoe right as spinners really do turn games in the Premier Division.
Toby Codd (39wkts) and Matt Golding (25) bowled Bovey to the Premier Division title last season. Gary Chappell of second-placed Bradninch had 32 wickets. All three are spin bowlers.
Although 2016 was a seamer’s summer – Codd (28wkts) a notable exception – the 2015 stats were dominated by spinners.
Petherbridge and leg-spinner Max Waller spun Torquay to their first title in a generation, sharing 66 wickets between them. Chappell (30) Sidmouth’s Charlie Miles (29) and Goulding (28) were all in the Premier top 10.
Petherbridge, who made his Premier debut as a 14-year-old with Cornwood in 2014, was one of a group of players to announce they were leaving Torquay at the end of last season.
Plymouth were always favourites to sign Petherbridge – he lives in the city – but getting him to sign on the dotted line hasn’t been straightforward.
“Matt has been out in Australia for most of the winter playing in Western Australia, so we couldn’t sort out whether he was coming to us or not until he got back,” said Varcoe.
Petherbridge spent the winter playing for North Kalgoorlie in the Eastern Goldfields Comp and took 30 wickets at around 13 runs each in the 15 games he played.
Plymouth do have a stronger look about them this season with record-breaking Faizan back for a second summer, a full-time keeper in Dan Robotham, a fully-fit paceman Sam Stein and an improved Joe Hagan-Burt also in the attack.
Faizan was the Premier’s leading run getter with 922 (ave 65.85) and topped their bowling returns with 24 at 24.66.
Keeper-batter Robotham, ex-of Plympton, Plymstock and Plympton again, replaces James Walsh, who left during last season. Veteran Steve Luffman was pressed into service to keep.
Stein, captain for the last three seasons, has spent almost as much time injured as playing. He has remodelled his bowling action for the summer ahead in the hope of avoiding injury.
Hagan-Burt, on Devon’s radar last summer, has been out in Australia working on his game at the Darren Lehmann Academy in South Australia.