NORTHANTS LEAGUE PREVIEW: Surprise pacesetters Oundle enjoying life at the top, Peterborough Town hope to come alive at Saints

Skipper Mark Hodgson in action for Oundle.
Skipper Mark Hodgson in action for Oundle.
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Oundle Town skipper Mark Hodgson is enjoying life at the top of the Northants Premier Division, but he’s not getting carried away.

Oundle finished next-to-bottom last season, but excellent close-season recruitment, including the arrivals of South African Hanno Kotze and former Leicestershire batsman Ben Smith, has prompted some spectacular improvement.

Paul McMahon is back for Peterborough Town at Northampton Saints.

Paul McMahon is back for Peterborough Town at Northampton Saints.

Oundle host second-placed Rushton tomorrow (June 17, noon) in the undoubted big game of the weekend. They preserved top spot last weekend (June 10) with a seven-wicket stroll against Stony Stratford which included a career-best 9-35 haul by popular seamer Bashrat Hussain.

Hussain returned the fifth-best bowling figures in Premier Division history as Stratford were skittled for 86.

“It was great to see a top bloke like Bash do so well,” Hodgson stated. “He quickly worked out that bowling wicket-to-wicket would lead to success. I fancied we would be towards the top of the table this season because we have signed some good players, but I didn’t necessarily expect to be top. We have played some good cricket though and we are enjoying it.

“Ben Smith has been a big help. He insists we just concentrate on what we are good at and it’s worked out well so far. It’s also good to have an overseas player who cares about the club and wants to prove himself.

Ben Graves returns to Oundle for the big game against Rushton.

Ben Graves returns to Oundle for the big game against Rushton.

“We’re taking nothing for granted though. The league is wide open this season. Lots of clubs have a few very good players, but there doesn’t appear to be an outstanding team.

“It’s a big test for us tomorrow as Rushton are going well, but we go into the game full of confidence.”

Oundle’s chances against Rushton have been boosted by the return from university of all-rounder Ben Graves, a slow left arm bowler of considerable quality, but former captain Phil Adams misses the game.

Oundle will need to subdue star Rushton batsman James Kettleborough to get the result they want at Milton Road. Kettleborough made a classy 68 as Rushton gained the better of a draw against Peterborough Town last weekend.

Town skipper David Clarke blamed self-inflicted wounds as his side fell further behind the top two. They did at least avoid a third straight defeat and hope to get back on the winning track at Northampton Saints tomorrow.

Clarke said: “Lewis Bruce received a good delivery,” Clarke stated. “But at least six of us gave our wickets away which was disappointing. It’s a shame as we battled hard in the field after Rushton had started very quickly and we should have been good enough to chase their final score down.

“Instead we kept giving them catching chances which they took. It’s something we need to put right straight away.

“Obviously it’s disappointing not to have won, but we played well at times and a return to winning form is just around the corner. We’re still very much in touch with the leaders and there are plenty of points still to play for.”

Professional all-rounder Paul McMahon returns for Town tomorow, but opening bowler Jamie Smith is away.