A NEW era is set to begin at Aire-Wharfe League heavyweights Otley Cricket Club after the election of new officials earlier this month.

Chris Smith will step up to replace long-standing President Michael Rhodes, whilst first-team opening batsman Alex Atkinson has been chosen as the club’s new Chairman.

However, Rhodes, whose 28-year tenure as President has seen him oversee six Division One titles and five Cup triumphs, will still be watching on from the sidelines to see his family’s long-held association with Otley continue.

Speaking about his new position, Atkinson said: “It’s a privilege to be elected to the role of Chairman and one I take on with great pride.

“Both Chris and I, along with the Committee, understand our responsibility to our players, membership and community, and can’t wait to get started on a number of new and exciting projects to move the club forward.”

The first matter at hand for the newly-elected committee is redeveloping the club’s outdoor nets and practice facility, as they look to raise in excess of £50,000 from a range of fundraisers and grants – including a Sponsored Walk and Junior Orienteering Treasure Hunt on 15 January – to fund the large project.

A 15-mile adult sponsored walk will start from their Cross Green cricket ground at 9am, and question sheets for the junior treasure hunt walk across the town will be available from 10am, with the club asking for a £5 donation per family to take part.

“The practice facilities are in much need of an overhaul to bring them up to a quality our members expect and to lay a platform for both junior and senior players to develop their game,” Atkinson explained.

“This is a project which we believe will benefit close to 150 junior and senior playing members and will put us in a good place for years to come.”

Otley currently run three senior sides across the Aire-Wharfe League, as well as a range of junior teams from Under 9s to Under 18s.

An All Stars programme, funded by the England & Wales Cricket Board and aimed at introducing children aged between five and eight to cricket, was also started earlier this year.

However, Atkinson admits that there is still room for improvement, as the club look to inspire the next generation of cricketing talent in the town.

He added, “I’m focusing a lot of time and effort into growing our junior section.

“We are excited to be able to launch a Dynamo’s course for girls aged 8-11 in the 2022 season, which will run alongside the successful All Stars programme.

“It’s fundamental for us to provide opportunities to boys and girls at a young age to help develop themselves as individuals as well as cricketers, and we are well-placed in our community to do that.”

As Otley look ahead to 2022, the first team will be looking to return to their place as the team to beat in Division One, after losing out on a fourth consecutive title to Saltaire this summer.

Further down the leagues, their second and third sides finished seventh in Division Four and Conference A respectively, in what Atkinson explains was considered a disappointing season for the club.

“Next season, we’re keen to put things right, as we feel we underachieved across the board at men’s senior level.

“We had a slow start, which meant we were playing catch up in the leagues throughout the long summer.

“There were some brilliant individual performances across all three senior teams, however, we need consistency to get us back to winning titles and building on our recent successes.

“We have a strong group of players who will be working hard under the leadership of George Huntley, Chris Halliday and George Eley to make 2022 a season to remember.”

Otley start the new campaign against North Leeds in March, and it certainly will be exciting to see how they get on.    REPORT BY: EMMA KENNEDY