Carterton's Baden Sparkes makes his 100th Middleton Cup appearance as Oxfordshire open their campaign against Hampshire at Oxford City & County on Saturday (2pm).

Sparkes skips a rink on his landmark appearance in the Group 2 South clash, which sees Bicester’s Robert Pink, 27, make his debut at lead.

Banbury Central’s George Schwab, 21, is Oxon’s other debutant, and he will play at No 2 in Mark Sykes’s rink.

Steve Gilkes has taken over as team manager for this season from Calvin Carpenter, who returns to the team at No3 in Alan Prew’s four.

Gilkes admits to being on a steep learning curve, but feels Oxfordshire have the talent to be successful.

He said: “I believe that the team selected to face Hampshire on Saturday contains the necessary blend of youth, experience, personality and ability to beat what will be a very strong Hampshire side and go on to do well in the competition this and in forthcoming seasons.

“That said, each game will be assessed with two-way feedback between manager and players and, if changes need to be made, they will be.

“The reserves are obviously disappointed not to have been picked – I would be surprised and a little disappointed myself if they were not – but no doors have been closed.”

Gilkes believes that solid foundations are the key to Oxfordshire enjoying Middleton Cup success in the long-term.

He added: “The basics are that the Under 25s are at the start of the process, feeding through to become senior Home Counties League players before progressing into the Middleton Cup team.

“That way there will be no ‘rabbits in headlights’ when young players play their first Middleton Cup games in the future.”

Oxfordshire: M Nash, G May, N Lewis, M Charlett; K Holloway, R Redford, C Carpenter, A Prew; L Young, A Martin, B Lambourne, P Sharman; D May, S Claridge, C Nicoll, I Snowdon; R Pink, W Campion, Ro Clanfield, B Sparkes; AJ Docherty, G Schwab, J King, M Sykes.