LONG-SERVING Colchester and East Essex Cricket Club stalwart Ben Stephens says there is a 'great mood' in the squad ahead of the new Hamro Foundation Essex League season.

Colchester get their new campaign underway when they host Hutton, on May 7.

There have been changes within Colchester's first XI squad over recent months, with Charlie Fernandes the new captain and prolific run-scorer Julian Russell returning to Australia.

However, the likes of Darren Eckford, Feroze Ahmed and Denson Narayan are still part of the set-up.

Stephens is also back in the fold having made only limited appearances over the last two years and the experienced bowler says everyone is looking forward to the challenge that awaits.

He said: "It's very exciting.

"There's a great mood around the camp, at the moment.

"Two of the young lads, Joe MacGregor and Simon Fernandes, have been playing First Class cricket for their Universities and they've been getting loads of runs.

"Simon is a wicket-keeper batsman and scoring nicely down the order and Joe has been opening the batting for his University and averaging around 60-65.

"He's currently on a trial for Notts twos and I think he scored 80-odd against Hampshire first team.

"Myself and Darren Eckford will be playing as senior players and there's still a lot of good youngsters and some coming back from injuries.

"Young Charlie Allison is coming back from an injury last year and he's going to be around all season."

Experienced bowler Stephens returned to the Colchester first XI last weekend when he took three wickets in their 35-run defeat to Epping at Castle Park, in the Dukes Essex League Cup first round.

"I'm looking to play at least half a season, all depending on body, family and work commitments," said Stephens.

"Considering I've only played six games in the last two and a bit years mainly because of the pandemic, I've now got the bit between my teeth and can't wait to get back out there.

"I can't wait to get the ball in hand, charging in, back to old times at Castle Park."

Colchester's run chase fell short against Epping, last weekend.

Despite contributions from Dan Thacker (84) and George Offord (35), the hosts could only make 223 all out, in 43.1 overs.

Epping had earlier made 258 all out in 49.1 overs, with Stephens (3-44), skipper Charlie Fernandes (2-39) and Charlie Allison (2-39) the pick of Colchester's bowlers.