Prepare for an exciting climax to the EAPL season
Great Witchingham's 53-run victory over Swardeston in the East Anglian Premier League has kept the title race wide open and we could be heading for the most exciting finish in years.
As I said earlier in the season, there isn't a single dominant team this year and with the exception of Halstead – who are beginning to look doomed at the bottom – every side in the league is capable of beating any of the others on their day.
Add a little local spice into a game, such as Witchingham's match against Swardeston at Walcis Park, and the result can definitely go either way.
Swardeston have been top now for a few weeks but they have not opened up a substantial gap.
Their lead is still of manageable proportions for the chasing group with just 21 points separating the top four places. Norfolk teams occupy the top three spots and there is everything to play for.
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Vauxhall Mallards, who beat Bury St Edmunds and are in third place, will always be competitive and, with my good mate Paul Bradshaw as captain, I know the players will not be allowed to take their foot off the pedal.
They may not be quite as feared and formidable as they once were, but they are still very capable of winning the big games.
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Horsford have, like Mallards, been beaten only once and, currently in second place, have their best chance yet of winning the EAPL because of the near-perfect balance of their side.
Even though Jaik Mickleburgh's Essex commitments mean they have to do without him at the moment, they crushed Halstead by eight wickets – the bottom side and struggling, yes, but you still have to go out and perform.
Witchingham have started to win games and, for a prize scalp, they don't come much bigger than Swardeston.
My allegiance is with Horsford as one of my former clubs, but they have never had the pressure of leading at this stage of the season, whereas the other two clubs have dealt with it time and again in the past. I would hope it won't affect them if they do go top, but once you are top it's a different kind of pressure as you try to put into practice all the things you have planned and talked about, but at the business end of the season.
There are still seven games to go and over 200 points to play for, so it promises to be a fascinating battle with plenty of room for twists and turns.
Let's not forget Copdock & Old Ipswichians and Clacton, who will both feel they still have a chance, but I'm confident the title will return to Norfolk.
• ALLIANCE IS REALLY GOING FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH
There are some highly talented players in this part of the world, many of them still junior cricketers, and there is no doubt the standard has improved in recent years, not merely in the EAPL but in the Norfolk Alliance Premier Division, where the level of performance has risen significantly.
We have discovered that at Acle this season, and our position at the bottom of the table is a tough one, not least as we have just lost heavily to second-placed Fakenham and are preparing to take on leaders Norwich at the weekend.
One of these two sides will almost certainly lift the title with their meeting on the penultimate Saturday of the season a potential decider. Norwich have lost just once, narrowly against Fakenham, who are still unbeaten.
We didn't lose much ground on second-from-bottom Ashmanhaugh & Barton Wanderers on Saturday, because they were also beaten, albeit by only two runs by Downham. But we are 43 points behind 10th-placed Stow and it's not looking good, and I know some senior members of our club feel the writing is on the wall.
At the moment survival is still in our own hands and we must keep believing we can find a way out of trouble, but it is true we are not performing well in key areas – such as our fielding. We dropped four or five catches on Saturday, something you simply can't afford to do at this level.
The league is much stronger than in the past and there is no hiding place.
At 53, I'm afraid I am too 'mature' to have a major playing influence on games but as coach I will continue to do my very best to help us improve over the final seven matches and to try to avoid the drop.
• SPROWSTON DESERVE CREDIT
Congratulations to Sprowston on their Norfolk Twenty20 Cup success, and on reaching the Carter Cup final.
I said at the start of the Twenty 20 schedule that they were ideally suited to the format, but to beat three EAPL sides in the competition – Horsford at the group stage, Great Witchingham in the semi-final and Vauxhall Mallards in the final – is a great achievement.
I was not really surprised that they beat Mallards on Friday night to collect the trophy and �1,000 prize because the way they play, coming hard at you with bat and ball, is perfect for the condensed version of the game.
They are worthy winners and can now look forward to another big Manor Park date in the Carter Cup final against Norwich on Sunday week, after their semi-final win over Garboldisham.
I know Sprowston will not be entirely happy with their Norfolk Alliance Premier Division position after winning just once all season, and losing by seven wickets to leaders Norwich on Saturday.
But having already played them twice in the league, there are no mind games involved when I say they should have no fears of relegation. They are a decent enough side to steer clear of trouble.
• TAYLOR THROWN IN AT THE DEEP END FOR HIS TEST DEBUT
Size isn't everything in cricket – just look at the achievements of players like Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar and Alvin Kallicharran.
But at 5ft 5in James Taylor, one of the shortest men in the first-class game, has certainly been thrown in at the deep end with his call-up for England for the second Test against South Africa, starting at Headingley tomorrow.
Nottinghamshire batsman Taylor replaces Ravi Bopara, who no doubt has strong personal reasons for withdrawing from the squad, but whose decision is believed to have come rather too late in the day for the liking of coach Andy Flower, with the team for Leeds already chosen and ready to be announced.
The 22-year-old Taylor is quick on his feet, has very good hands, and has a good record with England Lions, but he was always touted as a one-day selection first of all, instead of being handed a baptism of fire against a rampant South Africa after the senior side's mauling in the first Test at The Oval.
While he will be delighted with his selection, in one sense it could make it harder for him to win a place on the winter tour. If he doesn't come off in the final two Tests of the summer, it may affect his chances of going to India more than if he had not been picked at all.
But returning to my original point, there is no reason why his height should be a problem in making runs at the highest level.
As a bowler, it can be very difficult to bowl the right length to a short batsman as I discovered when I came up against legendary Lancashire batsman Harry Pilling, just 5ft 3ins tall, early in my career.
I tried to bowl him a bouncer once and as the ball sailed way over his head, he simply laughed!