Paul Newman: Cricket has given me so many wonderful times
One very long innings came to an end on Saturday when I played my final competitive game as a cricketer – yes, I have finally decided to hang up my boots at the age of 53.
I wanted to make Acle's Norfolk Alliance Premier Division fixture against Diss my final match, rather than go out with an away game at Lowestoft this weekend.
Things didn't go entirely the way I had planned as there was a slight comedy element to my dismissal and I dropped a catch at first slip, but the bonus was that we managed not to lose for only the fifth time this season. However, I will still be there, cheering them on at Acle next season, just not in the role of player or player-coach but as one of the 'Acle Posse' circling the boundary.
It has been a wonderful life, playing first-class cricket with and against some of the all-time greats, playing another 14 seasons in the Minor Counties game, and playing at club level, the last 15 years of which have been in Norfolk.
I started playing in men's club cricket in Leicester when I was 14, I was in the Leicestershire second eleven at 17 and I vividly remember the day I was handed a professional contract by Leicestershire when I was 19.
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I had moved to Derbyshire by the time I made my first-class debut against Middlesex in 1980 and I still remember my first wicket – former England captain Mike Brearley, caught behind by Bob Taylor.
I was driven to that game by team-mate Tony Borrington and I travelled for much of the way believing my debut would be at Lord's. However, Middlesex had decided to play that particular fixture at Uxbridge, somewhat disappointing. One more thing I recall from that match is getting hit on the helmet for the very first time by the South African giant Vincent Van der Bijl.
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It's now 36 years since my first game for Leicestershire seconds and that's a very long time ago. A lot of today's opposition players weren't even born when I started. But you know instinctively when it's time to go.
I listened to Andrew Strauss when he retired a couple of weeks ago and he made the same point that you just know when the time has come.
I toyed with the idea of retiring a couple of seasons ago when Acle were relegated from the Alliance Premier, but decided to carry on and subsequently helped Acle go straight back up.
I picked up a bad knee injury last year against Mattishall and considered the option of giving up there and then. But I wanted to carry on for a little longer, so I went back to the gym in the winter and got myself as fit as I could. I didn't really want an unnecessary operation at my age and I've managed to get through the season reasonably well but it has held me a back a little bit and therefore been very frustrating.
I think I've bowled OK this year without pulling up any trees and could carry on in Division One next year but there are a lot of young and eager players coming through now and I don't want to stand in their way.
When I think that there are lads in their early 30s who are already talking about packing up cricket, I reckon I've had a pretty good innings. Cricket has given me some memorable days and there was even talk of an England call in the early 1980s but I never got the opportunity to step up to that level. But I am proud to have taken 315 first-class wickets and 187 in limited-overs matches, taking me past the 500 mark.
Lord's has particularly good memories. In 1981 Derbyshire won the thrilling NatWest Trophy final against Northamptonshire and that was the first of seven one-day finals I played there. Our next visit, the Benson & Hedges Cup final against Hampshire in 1988, was a one-sided affair where we lost by seven wickets.
But I was fortunate enough to go back to Lord's for five Minor Counties one-day finals – three with Staffordshire in successive years, winning two, and two with Norfolk as captain, winning both.
The 2001 ECB 38-Counties Cup victory over Devon was the most memorable and the most emotional, coming so soon after all the upheaval of the previous year, and was one of the best days of my cricketing life.
The way we won, bowling Devon out for 88, the incredible atmosphere in the dressing room afterwards and the cheers when we walked out of the Grace Gates and into the Tavern after the game are memories that will live with me forever.
There are games that will always provide special memories. My career-best bowling figures of eight for 29 against Yorkshire at Headingley in 1989 gave me my proudest moment, closely followed by my career-best batting of 115 against my former county, Leicestershire, at Chesterfield in 1985. Fantastic times!
When it came to batting, I had the dubious honour of being night-watchman rather a lot, and that's when you realised how frighteningly quick some bowlers could be – facing people like Sylvester Clarke, Colin Croft and Imran Khan was quite an experience.
Another great honour was captaining Derbyshire when Kim Barnett was away on Test duty and West Indies fast bowler Michael Holding was having one of his mid-season breaks in Jamaica.
There have been so many matches, so many memories – and I've loved every minute of it. Roll on retirement!
• SWARDESTON FULLY DESERVE THEIR EAPL TITLE SUCCESS
Swardeston's third East Anglian Premier League title is in the bag with a 29-point lead despite the technical need for a point in their final match against Vauxhall Mallards on Saturday to make it absolutely certain – or winning the toss and batting first to deny Mallards any chance of a 30-point maximum.
Congratulations go to Mark Thomas and his team on their success.
I've always said that, whatever the ifs and buts of the season, the team that finishes top after 22 matches deserves to be there and you can't argue with the fact they have won more matches than anyone else this season.
I did forecast a few weeks ago that Mallards might pip them to win their sixth title, but Swardeston have simply kept winning and although Mallards and Horsford did exactly what was needed by winning their own games on Saturday – they could have done no more – it wasn't enough and they will be playing for second place at the weekend.
If I was wrong on the EAPL winners, I was right on the destination of the Norfolk Alliance Premier Division crown and my former club, Norwich, duly clinched the title by beating Fakenham by 65 runs in their penultimate match at Postwick.
It has been a fascinating battle but I believe, from what I've seen, that Norwich have been the best side in the division this season and, allied to their Carter Cup success, they have bounced back very strongly from their EAPL exit last year – and will be going all out to reclaim their place among the elite when they face Woolpit or Mildenhall in the play-off match on Saturday week.
• I'VE GOT EVERYTHING CROSSED IN THE HOPE THAT DERBYSHIRE CAN WIN PROMOTION
Derbyshire are the only team never to have won promotion since the two-tier County Championship system was introduced in 2000, but I'm hoping my old county will have put the record straight by the end of the week.
They held a narrow lead in Division Two going into the final round of four-day matches that began yesterday, one point ahead of Yorkshire and six ahead of Kent.
But Derbyshire are the only side with a home fixture, facing Hampshire, while Yorkshire are away to Essex and Kent are visiting Glamorgan.
With ticket prices reduced to �5 for two adults to see all four days' cricket, the one man and his dog we used to get to watch us at Derby may well be two men and two dogs for once, or considerably more if it gets very exciting.
I will be watching the latest scores very closely and wishing my good friend, Karl Krikken, all the very best after doing such a good job as Derbyshire coach.
There are no such dramas in Division One, where Warwickshire clinched the title last week, which was very pleasing for coach Ashley Giles after finishing runners-up last year. I first came across 'Gilo' in Norfolk's famous NatWest Trophy game at Edgbaston in 1997 when we had Warwickshire 25 for six before he produced a man of the match performance with an innings of 69 and five wickets for 21 to rescue his side.
He came across as a very decent guy and a players' player, who very much believes in the team ethic.
There is already talk of the former Ashes winner and 'King of Spain' as a potential replacement for England coach Andy Flower in the future, however I don't see Flower going anywhere in a hurry!