UNITED SERVICES face a huge three weeks in their bid to bounce straight back up from Hampshire League division two.
Three consecutive top-of-the-table games will decide Services’ fate, starting against third-placed Old Basing at Burnaby Road tomorrow.
Matt Easton’s second-placed side then face league-leaders Bishop’s Waltham and fellow promotion-chasers Petersfield in quick succession.
It promises to be a real test of character for Services, who have recovered well after being relegated from division one last season.
Easton insists his team possess the character to come through the test of their mettle.
‘We face a big three weeks and it couldn’t come any tougher,’ said Easton.
‘It is going to be a close-run thing at the top come the end of the season and we need to keep our nerve.
‘The next few weeks will be all about maintaining our focus and playing our best cricket.
‘I feel we have got a good blend of youth and experience in our side which will stand us in good stead.’
Easton is without the experience of Fraser Quirke, who is on holiday this weekend, and has drafted in Eamon Devine to replace him.
Key players Tom May, Harry Gadd and Yashan Akila can once again have important roles to play.
May and Gadd have consistently scored runs at the top of the order and Sri Lankan Akila has proved a revelation as wicketkeeper.
The University of Portsmouth student has also shown himself to be a talented batsman.
Services showed their battling qualities last weekend when they sneaked to a two-run win at Bournemouth II.
Early on, Services looked in dire straits when the home side reduced them to 60 for six after 14 overs.
The situation looked hopeless but, helped by a century from University of Portsmouth student Sam Mallinson, the visitors clawed their way back into the game.
‘We had to display real strength of character to turn the game around,’ said Easton.
‘Bournemouth bowled well up front and we did well to recover.
‘Sam went in at number five and played very responsibly, before accelerating towards the end.
‘He hit the final ball for six which proved vital in the end.
‘Not only did we end up winning, we collected maximum points.’
Easton knows his team will have to display more of the same qualities if they are to achieve their promotion ambitions.
Whatever happens, though, he is pleased to see Services cricket on the up again after a difficult few seasons.
The second team is also thriving, showing an increased strength in depth at the club.
‘The club could easily have gone into freefall and we have done well to prevent that happening,’ added Easton.
‘We feel we will be ready if we do get back into county one.’