FINCHAMPSTEAD captain Dan Marles insists he would be happy with a top four finish this season.
Finches produced a huge shock to win the Home Counties Premier League title last year, despite entering it as a newly promoted team, and they begin their defence at home to Oxford on Saturday (11.30am).
The man who posted the best bowling figures in the division, South African star Jandre Coetzee, gave Finch a big boost by deciding to return for another year in Berkshire, while Darron Augustus has rejoined to the club after eight years away. Both have been named in the side to play Oxford.
And despite Marles, 22, knowing nothing but success in his two years as captain so far with a promotion and title win, he just wants the club to be competing at the top end of the league.
“I’ve said to a few of the lads that there’s going to be teams who are out there to beat us after what we did last year,” the skipper told The Wokingham Paper.
“We are maybe going to be the team to beat with Jandre in the side, but it’s the same as last year, it’s a long term plan.
“If we can end up fourth or anything higher than that, then we’ll be really, really happy.
“We’re still a really young side and relatively inexperienced in the league so we’re still happy to be where we are.
“We’re enjoying our cricket, which we will every year, and we’ll play some positive cricket again and see where we get to.
“I’m not going to say we’re going to go and look to win the league, but we would like to be up there.”
Fresh from promotion, Finches struggled with life in the top flight during the early weeks of the 2016 campaign, losing both of their opening two matches.
But Coetzee’s arrival in week three coincided with an astonishing unbeaten run, winning 13 of their final 16 matches, to storm to the league title.
And having achieved so much already, Marles admits he has to find new ways to motivate the squad.
“My long term plan for myself as captain was to win it, but I didn’t expect it in the first year of being in that league,” he explained.
“We said to the boys at the start of pre-season a few weeks ago that we like the winning feel.
“There’s nothing better than winning, so if you’ve got that winning feel and you really start to get used to it, you can be a dangerous side to play against.
“Last year we played some unbelievable cricket, enjoyed that feeling and it’s the same again with these boys.
“If we play positive cricket and get results, we’re going to be hard to stop.”
He continued: “It is hard to motivate sometimes but if you win a Home Counties Premier League, I think that’s pretty good motivation to go and do it again at some point.
“I think the motivation is there.
“There’s still players in the side who want to go and play minor counties cricket, play for Berkshire and maybe even further. So I think a lot of the lads are self motivated by that or by the fact they want to stay in the side.
“I think we’re in a really good shape for this year.”
While Monday’s scheduled T20 cup clash with Amersham was cancelled with the opponents failing to raise a side, Finch have played one competitive match, beating Walton-on-Thames in the ECB National Club Championship.
The league campaign gets underway this weekend and with star man Coetzee likely to miss some games in the middle of the season to be with his pregnant wife in South Africa, Marles is keen to get off to a good start.
And it is a game Finches will be expected to win against newly promoted Oxford at Finchampstead Park.
“I don’t think there’s an easy game really,” said Marles.
“We’re going into it with all the expectations that they’re going to be a really good side, which I believe they are.
“We were in that situation last year and teams add players or lose players and we don’t really know until we play the side how good they really are.
“Obviously they were good last year. They’ve come up with Horspath and I think both sides will be pretty good. It’s going to be a really, really strong league this year.”
He added: “It’s always hard to look past High Wycombe and Henley as the main challengers.
“They’re probably the two at the top but teams like Banbury and Slough are always very strong.
“We were just slightly better than them last year but we know High Wycombe and Henley may have improved their squads and may be more hungry this year after what happened last year.
“They are always good sides who have been at the top of the league for years now so they’re the two that everyone looks at.
“It’s just nice that we get put in that bracket really.”
FINCHAMPSTEAD XI: Marles (c), Kang (wk), House, Smith, Rogers, Uttley, Parson, Coetzee, Carter, Lincoln, Augustus.