Wednesday, August 29, 2012
I had no sooner tipped Vauxhall Mallards as narrow victors in the East Anglian Premier League title race, than Swardeston opened up a lead of 29 points at the top with three matches to go.
I told Paul Bradshaw, when I played golf with him in the week, that I had put the mockers on his team’s title chances when I backed them to finish top, and so it may prove.
A lead of 29 points at this stage of the season is not insurmountable but it is a significant margin. I said a few weeks ago that I hoped the weather would not influence the outcome of the title race, but it certainly played some part in Saturday’s results.
Full credit to Swardeston, who rattled up the runs and beat the gathering gloom to secure a 25-point haul as they beat Halstead to condemn their hosts to relegation.
By contrast, Mallards came off worse in a reduced-overs match at Brundall against last season’s runners-up, Great Witchingham, taking just seven points, while Horsford were genuinely unlucky to miss out on victory when rain rescued Clacton on a perilous 19 for four as they pursued an unlikely victory target of 251 at Manor Park.
Copdock & Old Ipswichian, in fourth, also saw their chances of closing the gap dashed, taking just six points from a rain-curtailed draw with Saffron Walden.
Swardeston still have three tough matches to come, against Saffron Walden, Copdock & Old Ipswichian, and Mallards at The Common on the final day, so there is still plenty of cricket to be played. But they certainly have their noses in front now.
Nothing has really changed at the top of the Norfolk Alliance Premier Division with Fakenham gaining just a point on leaders Norwich after neither side was able to complete their fixture. The two clubs’ meeting on the penultimate weekend of the season looks certain to be the deciding factor in the title race.
I had thought four-times former champions and fast finishers Downham might be able to maintain their late charge and force their way into contention but failure to complete their match against North Runcton has left them 40 points behind the leaders with just three fixtures left, too much of a gap to close, I fear.
At Acle, our relegation to Division One was confirmed by defeat at the hands of Stow, when we somehow managed to avoid the deluge that was playing havoc with clubs nearby. It was as black as night at times and how we escaped the rain I will never know, but it made no real difference to our fate after just one league win all season.
The club will have a new look next year with a new captain at the helm. Our current skipper, Shaun Roberts, is off to New Zealand and I will be stepping down as player-coach.
A new captain and support team will be appointed and it may be that a couple of seasons of consolidation in Division One will do the club better in the long term than yo-yoing between the top two divisions.
Potentially the real thriller on Saturday will be at the top of Division One, where second-placed Cromer visit third-placed Horsford A in a “winner takes all” scenario, where one of them is bound to overtake leaders Swardeston A and claim the one promotion spot.
Horsford A have risen steadily through the Alliance divisions in recent seasons and the club will benefit greatly if their first and second teams are playing in the two highest adjacent divisions of EAPL and Alliance Premier, respectively.
Manor Park will be the place to be and, to be honest, whatever the result, I can’t lose. I will be pleased for whoever goes up to the Premier Division but at the same time I will be looking forward to visiting whichever club stays in Division One next season as I have always enjoyed my trips to Cromer and certainly to my old club, Horsford.
At the bottom of Division One, my sympathies go to relegated Bradenham, who have suffered eight abandoned matches in 18 fixtures. The weather has been cruel indeed to them.
• JEFFERSON’S RETIREMENT IS A SAD END FOR A FINE PLAYER
Will Jefferson was one of those young players to have bypassed the Norfolk senior side on his way to a successful first-class career.
I can remember him playing for us in a friendly against Holland in 1997 after appearing for Norfolk Young Cricketers and the second XI, but he was destined for Durham University and Essex by then and made his first-class debut in 2000.
It is very unfortunate that after more than a decade at the top level of the domestic game with Essex, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, he has been forced to retire from the game by a hip injury.
It must be a severe condition to force a batsman to retire but he can look back on some notable days, including promotion to Division One of the County Championship with Essex, winning the t20 title with Leicestershire last year and an England A tour of Bangladesh.
A record of 17 first-class centuries, with more than 7,000 runs and an average of nearly 36 is a very decent return.
The last time I spoke to Will was when I saw him at a game after he had put his hand through a window and severed tendons, an injury, happily, he recovered from.
At 6ft 10in, he was one of the tallest cricketers of all time. I remember saying a few weeks ago that it was difficult to bowl to little guys like new England cap James Taylor, at 5ft 5in, and very tall players present a different kind of problem. Where exactly do you bowl to them?
There was a classic picture that appeared in the newspapers and cricket magazines of Jefferson and Taylor batting together for Leicestershire against Surrey at The Oval last year, one of the best images of county cricket of recent years.
• UNDERDOGS’ T20 SUCCESS SHOULD COME AS NO REAL SURPRISE
The underdogs have often come out on top on t20 finals day and so it proved at Cardiff on Saturday when Hampshire took the Friends Life title for the second time in three seasons.
Dimitri Mascarenhas and his team were the least fancied of the four finalists but delivered on the day, when it mattered.
Despite David Miller’s spectacular unbeaten 72 not out for Yorkshire in the final, I didn’t feel they ever looked likely to overhaul Hampshire’s total of 150 for six, and it was credit to the bowling attack of Liam Dawson, Mascarenhas, Chris Wood and England youngster Danny Briggs that they fell 10 runs short.
Somerset were the day’s real losers, though, after reaching finals day for the fourth year running but once again missing out on the big prize.
Beaten finalists in the previous three years, they were Hampshire’s semi-final victims. They should have had the ammunition to do better and, with former England Test batsman Marcus Trescothick now leading from the front again, I expected them to go one better this time, but it just didn’t happen on the day.
They have also lost the last two CB40 finals at Lord’s so must feel they are jinxed in the one-day competitions.