FORMER Somerset and Surrey all-rounder James Burke will be playing Devon League Premier Division cricket for Plymouth this season.
Burke, released by Surrey towards the end of last season, was Plymouth born and raised and has been back in his home city for a while.
Plymouth were quick to get in touch with Burke, 27, when they learned his was available and put a registration form in front of him as soon as they could.
“James is a quality player who brings with him a lot of experience from his time in the First Class game,” said Plymouth captain Jon Varcoe.
“His batting prowess is well known on the circuit – and when fully fit he bowls at 80-plus miles an hour.
“We are looking to use James in our top four as we were losing too many early wickets last season. Someone with his quality fits in nicely with what we need.”
Burke’s First Class career may have petered out – intermittent back trouble often hindered him – but his cricket CV is impressive.
The former Plymouth College student was playing for Devon under-11s as a nine year old and went through the age-group system to under-17 level with his home county.
Burke played for England at under15, under-18 and under-19 level. At 16 appeared in Somerset’s 2ndXI for the first time. He made his Minor Counties debut for Devon at 17.
Somerset had Burke on the staff as a teenager, but didn’t pursue their interest in him. Prolific run getting in the Devon League with Budleigh earned a second stint at Taunton.
Plymouth were on the receiving end of a Burke barrage when he plundered a then record individual Premier score of 196 against them in the 2013 season.
Having failed to tie down a regular place at Somerset, Burke left at the end of the 2105 season for Surrey, who saw him as a white-ball specialist. He was loaned to Leicestershire last season and made one First Class appearance before returning to the Oval.
Burke played 13 times in First Class games, appeared in 10 List A and 14 T20 matches.
Among his highlights was a five-for-28 haul for Surrey in a Royal London Cup win over Derbyshire in his first season at the Oval.
Plymouth only scrambled out of the relegation places in the Premier Division on the last day of the 2017 season – and spent most of the 2016 campaign trying to fend off the drop as well.
New skipper Varcoe, who has replaced Sam Stein, is determined to avoid another stressful summer.
Plymouth have been proactive during the close season, recruiting left-arm spinner Matt Petherbridge from Torquay and keeper-batter Dan Robotham, who finished last season with Plymstock.
All-rounder Joe Hagan-Burt has just returned from spending part of the winter at the Darren Lehmann Academy in Australia. He is in Devon’s squad for Sunday’s friendly against Somerset 2ndXI at Sidmouth.
Other players recruited so far include seamer Hadleigh Scott-Kirk, ex-of Yelverton, and all-rounder Richard Goldsby-West (ex-Lewdown).