Fareham & Crofton will have to tame Dave O’Neill if they are to come out on top against Portchester in their Hampshire League division one derby at Bath Lane.
O’Neill tore Luke Gould’s side to shreds last season – taking five wickets in a comfortable victory for the Cams Hill outfit.
Ominously for the hosts, O’Neill showed against league leaders Fair Oak last weekend he is still at the top of his game.
Although Portchester ended up losing, O’Neill conceded just 14 runs from his 10 overs as he delivered an outstanding spell of bowling.
Captain Paul Hungerford paid tribute to the consistency of his bowler, who took 23 wickets last season as they narrowly missed out on the title.
‘Dave is so consistent putting the ball in the right areas time and time again,’ said Hungerford.
‘He has the ability to move the ball both ways, which causes the batsmen all sorts of problems.
‘Although he doesn’t always get the number of wickets he deserves, he is extremely economical.
‘Often his ability to keep it tight builds pressure and allows our other bowlers to benefit.
‘He is probably the most consistent bowler in the league.’
The home side will take some comfort from the fact O’Neill’s wife is expecting – with a birth predicted sometime in the next six days.
That means he may be called away at any time.
One problem the home side won’t need to worry about, however, is the devastating batting of Portchester’s overseas star Andrew Webb. The return of the Aussie, who plundered more than 600 runs in the league last season, has been hit by administrative problems.
Webb was set to come back to Cams Hill for a third season but on arriving at Heathrow Airport discovered his paperwork was not in order.
As a result, the keeper-batsman was forced to return to his homeland after spending 30 hours in a holding cell.
He was hoping to sort out a visa in time to return for the second half of the season but that hasn’t proved to be possible.
Portchester and Fareham & Crofton have identical records heading into the game – having won three and lost four of their seven games to date.
They are both also in a process of rebuilding for the future by blooding a number of youngsters.
If they can achieve a mid-table finish, the clubs will be happy.
So they view the derby as an important contest coming off the back of defeats.
Home captain Luke Gould is excited by some of the young players coming through at Bath Lane but knows they need time.
‘The average age of our side is below 20 and I am the elder statesman at 25,’ he said.
‘We are looking at a three-year plan building the team up ready to progress higher.
‘If we end up winning eight games and losing nine this season, I will be happy.’