Vauxhall Mallards’ Carl Amos shows he is still a force to be reckoned with
Vauxhall Mallards' maximum points haul in their East Anglian Premier League victory over Copdock and Old Ipswichians meant they took full advantage of the stalemate in Saturday's big game between Saffron Walden and leaders Swardeston.
Mallards will always be competitive and I'm very pleased for my good friend Carl Amos, the former Norfolk opener, in scoring a century and showing there is life in the old dog yet.
The club has lost players like Peter Free, Richard Moores and Rob Purton, key men in their middle-order, and has a much-changed line-up but it is credit to them that they are still winning matches during this transitional period.
The 30 points they gained have pushed them right into contention in second place, though I still believe the differential between the number of points awarded for winning a game and drawing a game you have totally dominated is too great.
Saffron Walden, who I have long felt to be dark horses for the title, collected just 15 points from a game where they had the opposition nine wickets down, and that extra 15 points available for taking the final wicket is too great a difference, I feel.
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I still believe the most consistent side over the season will win the league, but the points system does have an effect on how you approach matches.
One big plus for Swardeston was the performance of Norfolk Under-19 batsman Lewis Denmark, who moved clubs this year to play at EAPL level and will have taken a lot from the innings of 40 not out that helped save the game for his side.
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Horsford bounced back to winning ways after a defeat and a washout and it was no mean feat to beat Bury St Edmunds by seven wickets, because although Bury are not the force they were when they won the league title in 2005 and 2006, they are never easy opponents.
The most surprising thing, looking at the table, is that last season's top two in the EAPL have yet to win a game between them, though Great Witchingham, with six draws from six completed matches, are still unbeaten, whereas reigning champions Cambridge Granta have been beaten four times and are already 99 points behind the leaders. They are currently joint bottom of the table and are clearly missing their captain from last season, Jason Coleman.
I don't expect Granta to stay at the wrong end of the table but they are not going to win the title this time, not even with the kind of charge they made in the second half of last season to retain their crown.
Witchingham are not going to be able to mount any kind of challenge, either, unless they start winning games, and a target of 269 against Burwell was always going to be a tall order without top batsman Carl Rogers.
• RESPECT WHERE IT'S DUE FOR BOTH OF MY FORMER TEAM-MATES
Two of my former Norfolk team-mates have continued their rapid rise up the umpiring ranks.
Nigel Llong, the former Kent batsman who played for Norfolk in 2000, has just been promoted to the ICC's elite panel of umpires in place of Billy Doctrove.
One of his next big appointments will be to stand in the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka later this year.
In addition, former fast bowler Martin Saggers is enjoying his first season on the ECB's full umpires' list after two seasons on the reserve list.
Saggs, pictured right, and I did not play together for very long in Minor Counties cricket, because in my first season as Norfolk captain in 1996 he was already working hard to achieve a professional contract, but I couldn't fault him. He was a top lad who always ran in and gave 100 per cent and I could see that he had the talent to get good players out with a nice high action and an ability to swing the ball away at a good pace. It was no surprise that he went on to a successful first-class career with Durham and especially Kent – and, briefly, on loan to Essex – and of course, he played three Tests for England. He is a popular lad and, although the relationship between umpires and players off the field has become more distant in the modern era, I'm sure players will respect him as an ex-pro turned umpire. He is someone who has been prepared to put in the hard work and the miles, standing in matches with just one man and a dog watching, and working his way up, getting his qualifications and achieving good reports.
Nigel joined the first-class panel 10 years ago and already has plenty of internationals under his belt, both in the middle and as a third official, and has now joined the ICC's elite panel. Unlike Saggs he was less popular in our dressing room but that single-mindedness will have helped him along his career path.
International cricket is played under a huge amount of pressure but the experience he has already gained by standing in 12 Tests and more than 50 one-day internationals has well prepared him for the even greater scrutiny he will be under.
• GET READY FOR TOP TWO TO GO HEAD-TO-HEAD
Saturday's Norfolk Alliance Premier Division battle between the top two is one to savour, with both Norwich and Fakenham unbeaten ahead of their meeting at Highfield Lawn.
The one thing we don't want is rain to threaten this eagerly-awaited match between two sides who will be desperate to regain EAPL status, given the chance. They have both demonstrated that hunger with Norwich winning all six of their completed games and Fakenham winning five out of six.
Although Fakenham are on home territory, at a push I would go for Norwich to come out on top as I just feel they are slightly stronger all round and have more variety in their bowling attack. It will take a very good side to beat them this season. It goes without saying that if anyone at Fakenham reads this, they will be even more determined that I eat my words. Let's hope the weather doesn't play any part in the outcome.
Downham and Old Buckenham lead the chasing pack, but I was impressed with North Runcton last weekend when they inflicted another defeat on us at Acle. On the subject of the Alliance, I have to say I was staggered to see that Carl Rogers both opened the batting and bowled his allotted overs for Great Witchingham A in the Division Three match against Acle A.
I fully understand that Carl wanted to play in a home fixture so he could attend a special event later in the day, which he is absolutely entitled to do, but how can a player who topped the EAPL run chart last year and was Norfolk captain as recently as two years ago not be deemed to have artificially strengthened Witchingham's second eleven, playing four divisions below the first team, when he bowled 10 overs for 14 runs, stood in his specialist position at slip and then made 57 not out in a 10-wicket win?
In 2004, similarly just two years after the end of my time as Norfolk captain and aged 45, I stood down from the EAPL for strong personal reasons but was banned from playing in the Alliance as I was deemed to be artificially strengthening the Norwich second eleven.
Last season, following a serious knee injury, I played for Acle seconds in a Division Three game at the age of 52, fully nine years after I last captained Norfolk, and my club was told that in no circumstances could I have a disproportionate influence on the game. The actual league ruling states that no team may be unreasonably strengthened by the inclusion of players from a higher standard with the intention of affecting the result of matches.
Clubs have been disciplined for artificially strengthening their teams, and though we are told each case is considered on its merits, there is simply no consistency in the way this issue is dealt with. When we were notified that Carl would be playing, we contacted the Alliance several days before the game to ask for clarification on what his role in the game might be. Nine days on we still await that reply!