The mood is overwhelmingly positive in Bristol as Gloucestershire Cricket Club finishes preparations for the 2023 County Championship season.
Having been relegated from Division One in 2022, the side has a more youthful look for coach Dale Benkenstein and captain Graeme van Buuren’s second season in charge, as they aim to jump straight back to the top flight, beginning with a trip to Glamorgan on 6th April.
Benkenstein and van Buuren, both South African, recovered from a tricky start to the 2022 campaign to put together an impressive run of form in July and August, falling just short in their pursuit of survival.
Benkenstein said: “Last year was a bit of a whirlwind. I’ve learnt a lot. Going straight into the First Division with players and coaches I didn’t know was a real challenge. The results didn’t go our way but the effort the guys put in was phenomenal.
“From a coaching point of view, it was the best season I’d had in terms of learning and the first time I’ve been involved in the restructuring of a club. Towards the end of July, we started to find our feet on and off the pitch and things started to feel better.
“This year feels more relaxed, how we start won’t define anything. I feel it’s a marathon, picking up momentum is more important than starting with a flourish before the wheels come off.”
For van Buuren, 2022 was the cricket challenge of a lifetime, as former captain Chris Dent stepped back, leaving the 32-year-old in charge of the side for the first time.
“I can’t think of a tougher debut season as captain than his,” said Benkenstein.
“The difficulty of the cricket, me coming in, it just shows his passion and commitment. We understand each other a lot better [this season], and he’ll have benefitted from that tough year. He’s a fantastic player so hopefully, the team being more settled will give him the confidence to showcase his ability.”
Van Buuren said: “The only doubt [last season] was how I would manage my performance with the captaincy. It was a struggle in the beginning because I was mentally drained, especially as we were in the First Division, with six or seven games in a row against quality sides.
“We’re going to take it game by game this year, but we have the confidence to pull together and start the season off well.”
The side will have a distinctly younger look to it this season, as three mainstays in Ryan Higgins, Ian Cockbain and Benny Howell all left the club over the winter, but the club remain positive about the team’s chances this term.
“They were big losses, legends of the club and great friends of mine. It’s now time for the youngsters to take advantage. David Payne, Liam Norwell, Jack Taylor, and Chris Dent all started their journey together, so why can’t our new guys start their journey and make the club their own?” Said van Buuren.
“I’m really pleased with what we’ve got, but you’d always like one or two more players. We’ll have to be really careful how we manage our bowling attack because we don’t have heaps of resources, but we’re quite relaxed about the situation,” said Benkenstein.
“Genuine belief only comes from performance. Everything is in a better place [than last year], if it takes a few sessions or games to get going then I’m happy with that.”