THE RELEGATED cricketers of Basingstoke and North Hants will not be spending their way out of trouble this summer.

Keith Harris, cricket section chairman of the newly-named Basingstoke Sports and Social Club, confirmed this week that paying players for the first time had been considered by the membership, but was unanimously rejected.

A series of cricket section meetings during the close season had looked at ways to take the club forward following relegation from the top flight of the Home Counties League and in the light of forthcoming defections from the May's Bounty club by several senior players.

Ex-skipper Lee Nurse has accepted a paid role to lead Finchampstead this summer, his former opening partner Ian Maynard has retired, wicketkeeper-batsman Ross Hunter has returned to Hook and Newnham Basics, and seamer Gavin Tonge has joined Finchampstead with Nurse.

The only new face among the first-team squad this summer is South African quick opening bowler Donovan Koen - a 20-year-old recommended by Basingstoke's former overseas player Charl Willoughby.

So it will be a summer when a number of youngsters at the club will be able to make names for themselves.

Harris said: "It's going to be a hard season but we're told to expect a different standard of cricket in division two west.

"I'm disappointed that a few players that were pivotal to the club have left us but we're not going to fall out over it. We could have kept them but, as a club, we decided not to pump in money.

"We've never ever paid anybody. Although Charl was sponsored as a player, the money never came out of club finances."

Harris said paying players did not guarantee club loyalty. Other clubs had tried it and had fallen into financial difficulties.

"What we have said is we won't do it," he said. "Instead, we will focus on the youth structure we have here. We're lucky to have a good group of coaches and parents keeping the youth section going.

"We have a number of good young players and now they will have the opportunity to develop. We don't go out actively searching for people. But we have fine facilities here and, if people move to the area, we hope they will come here."

Among the brightest young stars at the club are three Zimbabwean-born brothers, one of whom has just attracted an equipment contract in a two-year deal with Smasher Sports.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Adam Rouse made club history by smashing a Hampshire League century last summer when he was just 12. Grant Rouse, the eldest of the three, and off-spinner Darren Rouse are more likely to figure in the first team this summer, however.

"It takes time for these youngsters to develop," said Harris. "Some may develop quicker than others but we will try to avoid the mistake we made last season of pushing a few in too early."

Promotion back to division one at the first attempt is the goal for the season.

"The aim is to get straight back up again but that's got to be done with the resources we have," said Harris. "We feel a club of our stature should be back up there."

The side will have experience from players like Harris, new skipper Chris Chandler, Jon Govett, Dean Nurse and wicketkeeper Nigel Williamson.

Harris said: "A lot is expected of Dean, but I don't want him to feel pressurised that he's the one that's got to score 50 every week."

Richard Vinn successfully came into the side last season and he will probably open the innings with Russell Droy stepping up from the second team. Another youngster who will be given regular opportunities is Graham James, a batsman who can also fill in as a change seamer.

First published: Thursday, May 11, 2006