VALLEY End’s new bowling star Jamie Stephens believes the club have an excellent mix of players – but need consistency if they are to challenge for promotion from AJ Sports Surrey Championship 1st XI Division One.

Stephens, 28, skippers Devon’s three-day side in National Counties Cricket Association Championship Western Division One and is playing his first season with Valley.

He told the News & Mail: “We’ve got a nice mix of experience and young players. 

“We’ve got Charlie Dunnett, who is 19 and plays for Berkshire, and we’ve got Ed Young, who is in his 30s and captains Wiltshire. 

“Our skipper Tom Nevin is also in his 30s, so we’ve got a good mix.”

On what it takes to be successful in the Surrey Championship, Stephens – a maths teacher at Gordon’s School in West End – said: “You have to have a good all-round team. 

“Teams that are batting-heavy or bowling-heavy generally get found out.

“One of the best teams we’ve played so far are Banstead, who had a very rounded team. 

“We’re probably a little too reliant on a couple of batters and a couple of bowlers sometimes. Therefore we’re not as consistent as we’d like and that’s a bit of our challenge going forward.” 

Spinner Stephens took 7-48 in a dominant performance against Chipstead, Coulsdon & Walcountians on June 3. His best figures for Devon are 7-58 against Berkshire in 2018. 

Stephens, who previously played his club cricket for Taunton Deane in Somerset, said: “I’m an off-spinner so I turn the ball into right-handers. It suits me quite a lot here because I get a lot of bounce. 

“I’m 6ft 1in and I bowl with quite a tall action. So here,  and a lot of the pitches around Surrey, suit me because they’re a lot bouncier than what I’ve been used to.

“I now have a bit of a specific pre-match routine where on a Friday I’ll come down by myself and bowl for 15 minutes and then I’m done, whereas in previous seasons I’ve been someone who trains all the time and puts a lot of work in. 

“But now with work commitments I haven’t been able to do that, so I’ve changed the routine slightly – and it’s fine.

“I was a seam bowler when I was younger. But as a lot of people do, in the nets I bowled a lot of spin when you get a bit tired bowling seam, and I found I was a lot better at it than seam bowling. 

“I think that’s how most spin bowlers get into it.” 

Reflecting on how he got into playing cricket, Stephens said: “My dad used to captain Cornwall, so he’s a big, big cricketer, but I played tennis when I was younger. 

“I was quite a keen tennis player but then I fell out of love with it.

“So when I was about 15, I started getting into cricket – and then a couple of years later I’d started playing with the Devon under-17 side. From there it never stopped.”

Asked about representing Devon, who won promotion last year, Stephens said: “I want to keep playing for Devon for as long as I can, because we’ve struggled a bit. 

“We’ve had a very young side for the past couple of years and now I feel we’ve got a good side and I want to see it through and hopefully start winning some stuff.

“The biggest thing for amateur cricketers like myself who play cricket on a Saturday and then have to play National Counties cricket on a Sunday, Monday and Tuesday is the effect on your body when you’re not conditioned to do it. 

“It’s really tough on your body getting up each day and having to get going again. 

“The format of it is just completely different from anything we ever play. 

“That’s why I really like playing it, because sometimes I can bowl 40 overs in an innings and that’s the bit I enjoy.” 

Lining up for Valley again this season is overseas player Josh Dodd. 

He hails from Port Elizabeth in South Africa and is in his third year with the club.

Dodd told the News & Mail: “Last season to this season there hasn’t been much change in personnel, but Jamie has come in and he’s a phenomenal spin bowler. 

“I thought we were lacking someone who could hold an end and he’s done a massive job for us with that. 

“When the wickets, with the recent heat, start to turn, you need someone who can really hold an end and pick up a few wickets – and Jamie doing that’s made a big difference to our group.” 

Dodd began playing cricket at an early age and describes himself as a bowling all-rounder.

Assessing Valley, he said: “It’s  grown ridiculously in the past 15 years.

“We had a group that came through the youth system, and they did very well and got the club into the Premier Division.

“Then that group fell away, and since then it’s been not a rebuild but a re-establishment of ourselves with depth – and that’s the difference.

“That doesn’t just help the first XI but it helps all the way down to the threes, fours and fives. It strengthens the club and the vibe is good. People want to be here.”