NORTH Devon’s new skipper Tom Popham is determined to be realistic about his side’s Premier Division prospects in 2019.
Popham, who switched to Instow from Barnstaple & Pilton for the 2017 season, has taken over as captain from Matt Westaway for the summer ahead.
North Devon last won the Premier title in 2011 under the leadership of Mike Hedden. Since they have finished fifth (2012), fourth (2013), fifth (2014), third (2015), fifth (2016), fifth (2017) and sixth in 2018.
Popham said seasons traditionally start with lofty targets, but his regime will take a different approach.
“For the last couple of years we have started the season feeling we can win the Premier Division,” said Popham.
“This year it is going to be one game at a time and see where it takes us.”
Popham’s succession as captain came as no surprise around the Sandhills as he was number two to Westaway last season and stood in for him on a number of occasions.
“The captaincy was something Matt and I spoke about last season and I think I knew it was coming,” said Popham.
“North Devon is one of the biggest clubs in Devon and I feel honoured to have been asked to captain the side.
“I have the backing of the players and the chairman and am looking forward to getting the season started.”
North Devon have chopped and changed captains in recent seasons with seven different appointments since Hedden stood down after winning the title in 2011. Mart Dart (2012) Rob Ayre (2013), Westaway (2014), Barney Huxtable (2015-16), Ed Yeo (2017) and Westaway (2018) have all had a go prior to Popham’s appointment.
Players, officials and supporters will be hoping for a period of stability under the new captain.
Westaway, 38, was very much a caretaker skipper in 2018, which was his third stint in the job. He first led the side in 2008. He always made it plain his was going to be a short-term appointment.
A conflicting factor for Westaway has been the pressure of running his own business, which was why he declined the chance to stay on.
“I just do not have the time outside work to commit to doing the job fully and I regularly missed training on a weekday evening,” said the veteran seam bowler.
“It was a privilege to be captain again, but it's time for the younger members to push the club forward.
“I'm not going to commit to playing every week this year so a spot in the 2ndXI – when available – will suit me fine.
“I would not want to see the club short so I would play in the first team if they really wanted me to, but I think a more settled side approach is the correct way forward.
“I wish Tom all the best on what is a sometimes a challenging but very rewarding role for the club.”
Popham’s first signing is bowling all-rounder Fred King, who has made the short hop from A Division neighbours Bideford to team up with older brother Josh.
Adrian Isherwood, the Australian left-hander who cracked 551 Premier runs last season, is set to return for 2019 subject to registration formalities.
Isherwood is currently playing First Grade cricket in Sydney for Western Suburbs. As long as he is not selected for the State 2ndXI this season, North Devon should have no issues bringing him back.