New-boys find champs in unforgiving mood
Belvoir is French for beautiful view and it is indeed a beautiful view from the pavilion of Belvoir CC because at the top of a distant hill stands Belvoir Castle like an imposing spectator of the cricket played in its grounds in the quiet village of Knipton.
The Nottinghamshire Premier League table is not a wonderful sight for its newest team at present, however, because, after winning promotion into the Premier League as champions of South Notts Division A last summer, Belvoir have endured defeats in all four of their opening matches this season.
Clifton, in stark contrast, have made an incredible start to the defence of their crown, and have claimed maximum points in four victories.
It was an absorbing encounter against Belvoir, who notably boast former Nottinghamshire captain Darren Bicknell as their vice-captain, and Clifton.
Clifton batted first and their innings was illuminated by three players – Kris Murden, Liam Andrews and Scott McNeill.
Opener Murden hit 64 runs off 72 balls, with 11 boundaries, before succumbing lbw to James Keywood. Andrews fell just one run short of a half-century. After hitting five boundaries and a six on his way to 49, he was caught splendidly by Jack Copley.
McNeill's innings was hugely important for the champions. Clifton were 158-5 and Belvoir sensed an unexpected victory, but McNeill and Tom Lungley enjoyed a superb sixth-wicket stand of 70 to put the visitors in almost complete command.
Lungley struck two sixes in his innings of 21 and McNeill reached 71 off 74 balls, with eight boundaries and one six, before he was finally removed. Belvoir eventually bowled out Clifton for 267 and never once looked like rivalling it, in truth.
Having been part of a significant stand in Clifton's innings, seamer Lungley tore into Belvoir's top order and took the first four wickets of Gurpej Landa, Oliver Clayfield, Tom Neville and captain James Clayfield, to leave Belvoir 50-4.
He finished with figures of 4-47, but was bettered by Adam Shepherd, who claimed 4-28, though three of those were lower order batsmen, Keywood and Ryan Lewis, first ball, in a memorable double-wicket maiden over, and Lee Fazackerley.
Shepherd also claimed the wicket of Bicknell, who played for the first time this summer after a calf injury and top-scored for Belvoir with 27.
Extraordinarily, Bicknell was one of seven players bowled out. Only one player, James Fellows, was caught, and two, Neville and James Clayfield, were trapped lbw.
Clifton are third in the table, behind leaders Welbeck and second-placed West Indian Cavaliers, while Belvoir are towards the bottom, with Wollaton and Kiveton Park Colliery.
James Clayfield, who also played for the first time this season after a back injury, believes Belvoir can ultimately stay in the Premier League, however.
He said: "The standard of cricket is exactly what we expected. In the South Notts Division A there are two or three quality players in each side, while every team in the Premier League is of a high quality.
"We have been hampered by injuries so far this summer. I have been out with a back strain and Darren Bicknell missed the first three matches with a torn calf, while we were missing our professional, Leicestershire's Sam Cliff, against Clifton.
"With our best team playing I believe we can compete a lot better at this level.
"I am not saying we would have won the games we have played but I think we would have won more points.
"We don't have much experience of playing in the Premier League.
"Our philosophy is to give the players who won promotion last summer the opportunity to play in the Premier League, because they deserve it.
"This summer is a learning curve for us and we have to learn our lessons very quickly and step up."
They must indeed, because they face the Cavaliers and Notts Academy in their next two matches, two teams with title aspirations, and they play Wollaton and Kiveton Park next month. Those are two hugely significant matches to their survival ambitions.
"It is certainly not going to get any easier, playing the Cavs and Notts Academy, but it is a challenge. We wanted the challenge of playing in the Premier League and I'm sure we will rise to it," added Clayfield.
"We have some very talented players in our team and the spirit and togetherness is fantastic.
"Our ambition is simple. To stay up. We want to establish ourselves in the Premier League in the next two to three years, which will be a huge challenge because a lot of teams in the last decade have yo-yoed between the Premier League and South Notts League.
"If we do that it will be an enormous achievement because we haven't got a benefactor.
"It will give us the opportunity to further develop our youth and junior teams to create a nucleus of good, home-grown players so we can become stronger in the future."
For more local news and sport visit the Nottingham Post.