Gidman targets place at the top table to help Newcastle & Hartshill's big plan

Jonathon Gidman and his Newcastle & Hartshill side secured victory in their opening NSSCL Premier B game of the season.
Jonathon Gidman and his Newcastle & Hartshill side secured victory in their opening NSSCL Premier B game of the season. -Credit:STOKE SENTINEL

Newcastle & Hartshill captain Jonathon Gidman says elevation to the top table is the next step in the club’s long-term plan.

Castle haven’t featured in the newly-named NSSCL Premier A Division since 2015, but have gradually been rebuilding since their demotion that year.

A strong emphasis has been put on developing junior players - and it could well be that this summer is the year they make the leap back to the top flight.

Skipper Gidman says that returning to mix it with the elite is vital to ensure that years of hard work don’t go to waste.

“I think as a club we’ve realised we need to be able to provide Premier Division cricket for the younger players,” said Gidman, himself a product of the Castle youth system.

“We have talented youngsters coming through and for the future of the club we need to be able to retain them and play at the highest level of local cricket.

“That’s a key plan for the club. We’ve been building this for a while with juniors coming through. Everything is going in the right direction - and we’ve felt that for the last couple of years, even though we didn’t finish as high as we wanted last summer.”

Newcastle & Hartshill finished in eighth place in Division last season, but have been ear-marked for a promotion tilt this time around.

That is not only down to the production line of juniors emerging, but also their winter transfer business.

Castle recruited Porthill Park batsman Ryan Hassett and welcomed back James Cronie from Checkley.

Spinner Sachithra Perera, last year’s overseas player at Porthill, has also joined.

And in a further boost, Dan Gibbs is now back in action after missing a large chunk of the 2023 schedule because of injury.

“It was exciting to bring James Cronie back home, his dad Rich was happy,” added Gidman.

“Ryan, everything fell into place. He knows a lot of the lads and everyone knows about his ability.

“Gibbo was a massive loss last year for us. That showed when we tailed off towards the end after being there or thereabouts in the first half.

“It’s brilliant to have him back.”

Ryan Hassett is one of Newcastle & Hartshill's new signings for the 2024 NSSCL Premier B season.
Ryan Hassett is one of Newcastle & Hartshill's new signings for the 2024 NSSCL Premier B season. -Credit:Malcolm Hart

Castle kicked off their Premier B season with a home victory over Elworth, who dropped down from the top flight at the end of last season.

And one of the stars of that win was 17-year-old opener Rohan Vallabhaneni, who compiled a century to set up the success.

“It was a great start to the season. We’ve prepared well during the winter and were good to go,” explained Gidman.

“Rohan’s was a special innings and we are really proud of how he’s developed.

“It wasn’t much of a surprise because we know what he’s capable of. He’s only 17 and both him and Joe Thorne, who is 16, they are not really juniors anymore in the side. They virtually hold senior roles.”

Gidman and his players’ next assignment is a trip to Eccleshall tomorrow.

It’s one game down and 21 to go, so Gidman, understandably, is not making any bold predictions about how the season will unfold.

“We are not getting too far ahead of ourselves. In Premier B there are a lot of good sides and you have to respect them all,” he said.

“Eccleshall are a good club and we have a lot of respect for them and what they’ve achieved. We seem to have some tight games against them and I don’t expect it to be any different this weekend.

“We are not looking past the next game. It’s nearly a decade since we were last in the Premier, so it’s been a while.

“It’s a privilege to captain my boyhood club and I’m lucky to have such a talented bunch who are a great set of team-mates. There is plenty of support and there is weight taken off me, so it gives me freedom to play.”

Eccleshall, meanwhile, have undergone a winter of change following their relegation from the top flight last year.

Dan Byatt has taken over from Myles Coughlan as captain, while a number of new faces have joined the squad.

They came so close to preserving their Premier A status, though, missing out by just a point as Leek survived.

And a late-season loss to Leek proved to be pivotal to the final standings.

New captain Byatt says he’s looking forward to the responsibility of leading Eccleshall.

Rhys Owens has made the move to Eccleshall from Little Stoke.
Rhys Owens has made the move to Eccleshall from Little Stoke. -Credit:Pete Stonier / Stoke Sentinel

“I was vice-captain last season and Myles let me know a couple of weekends before the end of last season he would be stepping down,” said the 26-year-old.

“It’s not something I’ve done before, but I didn’t hesitate to take the role because of the support network at the club.

“There were a few things which contributed to our relegation last season. The pro went home a couple of weeks early.

“But we didn’t leave anything out there. On the day against Leek we didn’t do enough and maybe looking back there’s things we might have done differently.

“You do look back and think where we could have picked up those extra couple of points we needed to stay up.”

Among Eccleshall’s new arrivals were Rhys Owens, right, from Little Stoke and Ben Rogerson from Hem Heath.

They also engaged Aussie seamer Jack Montgomery, but he has been unable to travel and has been replaced by fellow countryman Luke Evans.

Byatt says he’s been pleased with the early signs displayed by his side.

They progressed through the ECB National Club Championship before losing to Smethwick, while last week’s opening league encounter saw them beaten at Wood Lane.

“We’ve gelled already,” insisted Byatt. “We won the first national round and then lost by just eight runs to the mighty Smethwick.

“It’s weird but it felt like a win and then last Saturday we let Wood Lane get 15 runs too many.

“But we bowled well and kept a very good Wood Lane side down to 170, where they are capable of getting 250-plus at their place.

“With the bat we probably lacked a bit of maturity and we couldn’t build consistent partnerships. Two batters eventually got in, but we left it a bit late.”

It wouldn’t be a surprise for Byatt to be targeting an instant return to the top division.

However, he says it’s not the be-all and end-all for his new-look squad this year.

“There’s more of a plan for three or four years,” he added. “We’ve recruited younger players predominantly and we hope this side will be together for years.

“So we want to build and then take the step back up.

“I’m not saying that we can’t do it this year and if towards the end of the season we’re in the frame, we’ll give it a good go.

“But it’s more about consolidating and developing again.”