Hastings eager to hit the ground running

Joe Billings is back from Australia and set to play in Hastings Priory's opening Sussex Cricket League fixture of the 2018 season.
Joe Billings is back from Australia and set to play in Hastings Priory's opening Sussex Cricket League fixture of the 2018 season.

Hastings Priory coach Ian Gillespie stressed the need for the cricket club to hit the ground running at the start of its 2018 Sussex Cricket League Premier Division campaign.

Priory’s first four league matches are against the two newly-promoted clubs and the teams who filled the two places immediately above the Premier Division relegation spots last year, starting with a trip to Ifield today (Saturday).

Gillespie said: “The first four games are important for us because we’re not playing any of the top four (from last year).

“It would be nice to get a couple of wins from the first four. The start’s going to be key. Hitting the ground running is going to be critical.”

Priory will open up against last summer’s Division Two champions Ifield, for whom tomorrow’s match will be their first ever in the top flight.

“This is an important game for us,” continued Gillespie. “We need to hit the ground running. If we don’t win, it will feel it’s a chance missed.

“But it’s not going to be easy because we’re going to a ground we’re not used to, we don’t quite know what we’re going to get and early season form can be a bit variable.

“Ifield know how to play well at home; they’ve got up on the strength of their performances at home. It’s potentially a banana skin, but it’s one we want to get a win from.”

Priory finished a very creditable fifth in 2016 and 2017, but Gillespie says the first priority this summer will be to retain their top flight status in what he expects to be a competitive division.

“Your focus always in a 10-team league is to stay up,” he added. “Our club financially can’t match the top six so we’re probably always accepting we’re not going to be top four. We’re looking at fifth in a good season and obviously we don’t want to finish ninth.

“This season, for the first time in a few years, there’s not an obvious yo-yo club to fill up one of those two relegation positions. It’s going to be a tight division I think this year.”

Priory have lost the likes of Leo Cammish, Jason Finch and Finn Hulbert over the winter, but have brought in spinner Josh Beeslee from Bexhill, plus former Hellingly pair Greg Devlin and Adam Pye.

“I think we’ve recruited well, but we’ve lost experience and recruited inexperienced players with potential,” said Gillespie. “They’ve got to acclimatise to that step up and I think if they all do, we’ll be fine. If we’re all fit and available, we’ve got a good side.

“Provided they’re all fit and available, it’s a very balanced bowling attack. Batting is always critical because of getting runs on the board. If you don’t get the runs, the bowlers are under pressure and they feel they’ve got to go and do the impossible.

“What we’ve shown in the past is a lot of our batters bat well around someone who gets a lot of runs or an experienced player. Joe Billings needs a good season for his county prospects and he is capable of that.”

Billings is set to play today after flying back from Australia this week, but Elliot Hooper will miss the first eight or so games while on his work placement in the south-west.

Priory (probable): Billings, Pooley, Gillespie, Devlin, Woolley, Morgan, Lloyd-Dyke, O’Brien, Beeslee, Barton, Pye.

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