OXFORD Downs are relishing their debut season in the Home Counties Premier League – and are not afraid to set their targets high, writes JACK JOHNSON.

The west Oxfordshire side begin their Division 2 campaign at Dinton on Saturday.

And they are looking to pick up where they left off in the top tier of the Cherwell League, when an unbeaten season saw them secure promotion as champions.

Captain George Sandbach knows they will face far bigger tests in 2019, but is confident Downs can challenge in the ‘elite league’ for Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire.

“Everyone is very excited,” he said. “It’s a big challenge.

“Apart from a couple of players, a lot of our team haven’t played in the Home Counties before, but they’re more than capable. We’re hoping for a top-three finish.”

Downs’ squad looks a little different from last year.

Jonny Law, Jonny Meardon and James Lauder are now playing for clubs outside of Oxfordshire, while bowlers Tom Costley and Harry Sutton are sidelined with injury.

Downs have recruited New Zealand all-rounder Richard Sillars as their overseas player with fellow Kiwi Adam Beck returning home.

The club have also benefited from Great & Little Tew’s withdrawal from the Home Counties with opening bowler Lawrence Brock and middle-order batsman Curtly Slatter joining.

Brad Airey will also step up from the second team in a new-look attack.

Sandbach believes his side – west Oxfordshire’s sole representative in the Home Counties after Shipton-under-Wychwood’s relegation to the Cherwell League – should have reason to feel confident.

He said: “Mindset, whether it’s batting, bowling or fielding, it’s about everything – aim small, miss small.

“If we don’t finish in the top three we would be pretty gutted, but we would still be in the Home Counties and the following year we would look for promotion.

“We’re a strong club in terms of community and juniors.

“We have some brilliant kids coming through and tons of volunteers and the clubhouse is looking great.

“We feel we’re going up and up – the aim is to be in the top division.

“We’re aware we’re going to lose a few matches this year, but that’s fine, we’ll take the rough with the smooth.”