Northumberland are putting their faith in youth as they host Cheshire in tomorrow’s Minor Counties one-day opener in Jesmond.
The late withdrawal of player-coach Nicky Phillips has seen the home side’s plans changed at short notice, but team manager Stuart Tiffin remains confident they can adapt against a side they defeated in last season’s march to the national semi-finals.
“This is our first competitive game of the season, although we had a friendly last Sunday against Benwell Hill,” he said.
“We won that game but I would not read too much into it because it was a combined team, although it was still a decent work-out and has definitely helped us with our preparation.”
Reshuffling his side in the build-up, Tiffin added: “Nicky Phillips’ unavailability is a late blow, and has given us a bit of a dilemma for this weekend.
“Obviously we have not been able to replace him in terms of getting another professional player, but we have got Carl Turner playing tomorrow and that is a bonus.”
Reporting no major overhaul from last season’s group of players, he said: “We are pretty much the same as we were last season in terms of the squad. Our young lads are a year older now, and are more experienced.
“We have re-engaged Jacques du Toit as a professional and had Nicky down to come in as player-coach, but that has been dealt a blow for the time being.
“It has the flip side of being a chance for somebody else, and Tommy Cant can come in and really step up.
“Joe Coyne has left South Northumberland but will still be available for all our games, and he is a good off-spinner and batsman which is a bonus to us.”
Aiming for a repeat of last year’s improved showing in the limited-overs game, Tiffin said: “There are five teams in our group so we have four games to come, then it goes down to quarter-finals, semis and the final.
“We got through to the semi-finals of the knock-out competition last season, having not won a single game for the previous two years in the one-dayers.
“In the Championship we struggled, and that struggle was because we don’t have the depth of professional players that the other counties have.
“It is difficult to stay in the games when that is the case, and when we played against Suffolk they had five paid players.
“We are trying to play our younger lads, and that is still the route I want to go down. I want young North East lads to be the main thread of the side, and to stick with that.”
Going into the unknown to a large extent when it comes to tomorrow’s opposition, Tiffin insists Cheshire hold no fear ahead of the 11am start.
“We know nothing about them, other than when we beat them away last season,” said the manager. “We played really well that day and scored more than 300, but they will have a decent team. So have we, and I like the side we have on paper. There is a bit of youth and a bit of experience in there, and I fully expect us to win. I am not down in the dumps, and I like what we are turning out.
“Batting is our strength in this particular team, and we are short of a seamer. A pro in that department would make a difference, and that is what we are looking out for.”
Confident of a decent early-season wicket in Jesmond, he said: “The pitch is looking lovely.
“I was there for a meeting the other week, and it seemed really good.
“There was more than 600 runs scored there last weekend when Newcastle played Sunderland, and we don’t envisage any problems on that front.”