Iley's hopes are high

In any sporting league of a decent standard, to win every game of a season really is something special, but that is exactly what Ottery St Mary CC s 2nd XI achieved during 2007, as they secured victory in all 13 completed matches.

In any sporting league of a decent standard, to win every game of a season really is something special, but that is exactly what Ottery St Mary CC's 2nd XI achieved during 2007, as they secured victory in all 13 completed matches. Such a perfect record, which saw the Otters claim the D Division (East) league title by an astonishing 54 point margin, is probably unique in the history of the Devon League. Few would deny that the leadership of inspirational skipper Gavin Iley was fundamental to the Otters' second string performing so splendidly. Gavin is a larger than life North Easterner whose influence at Salston Field has steadily grown since his arrival in 2003. His infectious enthusiasm and drive have seen him contribute valuably as a player for both the 1st and 2nd XIs, as a Youth Section coach and as a committee member. A real clubman, Gavin can always be relied upon for a laugh and, in a clubhouse which is never short on banter, a favourite jibe amongst his teammates is to greet him with a cheery "Alright Geordie...?" - a red rag to a bull when it comes to a proud son of Sunderland! When it comes to playing though, Gavin is deadly serious, a demanding but scrupulously fair skipper who expects nothing less than 100 per cent effort from every player. He recalls: "After a lacklustre early season display against Cullompton who were bottom of the table, I told the entire team that, if they didn't want to go out there and play properly, give a professional performance, they might as well go and play for a friendly side, although the words I used weren't as polite as that!" Iley points to an effective blend of youth and experience as being key to his side's success, commenting: "We've had very talented youth teams over the last few years, added to which we were fortunate to have one or two old lags, such as Martin Miller, Barry Flicker and Keith Biggs. This gave the team much needed stability and experience and gave the youngsters the confidence to go on and build innings, knowing there were a few old people on hand to pick up the pieces, if necessary!" The pivotal role played by young, home-grown players in the success of his team is a source of particular pleasure to the Otters' skipper: "As a club we're really starting to reap the benefits of our flourishing youth set up. Joe Edwards was brilliant with the bat, culminating with 105 not out against Axminster in the title winning game. "He's like a right-handed David Gower, so languid - fantastic to watch. Joe Birch did really well from a bowling perspective even though his age meant he could only bowl a few overs on the bounce. Left arm over the wicket, swinging the ball into the batsman, he was Mr Consistency, didn't take hatfuls of wickets, but knocked over some good players. And then there was James Faulkner who should have been top of the league averages but unfortunately bowled too few overs because he was so good at getting people out! Players like this are the future of the club and, if they can come through the seconds and into the firsts in seasons to come, then we should make real progress through the leagues."Interestingly, the added worries of captaincy coincided with Gavin enjoying the most productive season of his long career in terms of run scoring, as he topped the league averages, prompting him to observe: "One of the joys of captaincy is that you get to pick the batting order so that, after spending most of my career batting at nine, 10, Jack."I was able to bat myself at number four! I was fortunate enough to get three 50s in the first three games, after which the confidence was flowing so that meant I didn't worry about batting - I just went out there and hit the ball hard."In the eyes of the Otters' second string skipper, 2008 will be an exciting but testing season for his team which only serves to further stoke the fires of his ambition to maintain the club's progress: "The end of last season I thought promotion into the C Division was fantastic but now we're not just looking for survival, aiming to stay just above the relegation zone - being a Sunderland fan, that makes me very nervous! "No, with the talent that we have, and seeing the way some of the kids have developed, I now want to go through the league and do exactly the same again. It's a bigger challenge because everybody will be out to shoot us down and it's going to be a much tougher standard with a lot more travelling, but I feel really optimistic about the season ahead." One thing is for sure, as long as Gavin is at the helm, no-one will be allowed to rest on their laurels as the Otters battle to continue their climb up the league ladder and, with the Salston Field conveyor belt of talent now in full swing, he envisages that competition for places will continue to hot up. "Over the next couple of seasons I can see us older ones - and I include myself in that - being pushed out of the league sides. We're going to have to make some difficult decisions, but that can only be good as it will allow Ottery CC to move steadily forward in their push towards B Division, A Division and, maybe one day, even Premier League cricket."l Iley's team begin the new campaign this weekend with a home fixture against Tiverton Heathcoat. Meanwhile the club's 1st XI faces the long trip to Hatherleigh. John Tierney's men will be hoping to finally shed their tag of perpetual 'bridesmaids' by achieving much needed promotion to the C Division of the Devon League. The fortunes of both sides will be extensively reported in the Herald over the coming months.

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