Richard Hindley believes the Southern Electric Premier League title will be harder to win than ever as he leads Havant’s challenge once again.
The long-serving skipper has seen several sides bolster their ranks over the close season.
And the influx of talented young Australian players, who are part of the Ageas Bowl Academy scheme, are expected to make the premier division even more competitive this summer.
While perennial powerhouses Havant are usually in the mix for the title – and have claimed the trophy in four of the past six seasons – their colours were lowered by South Wilts last term as they ended the campaign in third place.
Hindley believes his side is stronger this year, with the recruitment of Rob Gibson from Hampshire’s Academy and University of Portsmouth student Vinit Patel.
But he is aware most of their rivals have also improved as he prepares for the league’s curtain-raiser at Bashley (Rydal).
Hindley said: ‘We’re happy with what we’ve got.
‘I think we are stronger this year. We’ve got a couple of good new players in but the league itself has also become much stronger.
‘Bashley have picked up a couple of players, South Wilts will be equally good, Totton are stronger and Lymington have become a lot stronger.
‘There are also the Australian youngsters involved, which will raise the standard.
‘Only Bournemouth have lost players, so I think you are looking at a tougher league to win this year.
‘It is probably tougher than ever but I think we will enjoy that challenge.
‘You only become better cricketers by playing against better players.
‘You don’t improve by winning every game and winning the league year in, year out.’
While some clubs will benefit from the young Aussies, Hindley insists Havant made the right decision in opting out of the scheme to nurture their own talent.
He said: ‘We want to promote our own players.
‘We have good players at the club in all positions and we want to look after those players who will be with us for the next five or 10 years, not muck them around for one year just because you have an opportunity.
‘But as well as our own players, we’ve got Vinit in, who is a left-arm seamer.
‘He has played at Spencer Cricket Club and is studying at University of Portsmouth, so will be available for about half of the season – hopefully more.
‘And Rob Gibson is a talented young batsman who was playing for the Hampshire Academy and he bowls leg-spin.
‘He wants to play in the top league to further his chances of playing professionally.’
Hindley, meanwhile, could pass 5,000 runs in the premier division this weekend as he needs just 17 to reach the milestone.
He said: ‘Those records are nice when you look back but they are not things I have ever chased.
‘It’s only because I’ve been around for so long!’
HAVANT: Richard Hindley, Jez Bulled, Steve Dean, Rob Gibson, Pete Hopson, Steve Matthews, Jez Ord, Vinit Patel, Stuart Ransley, Chris Stone, Ben Walker