Judge’s Verdict: Mallards have slight edge for big top-of-table derby
This weekend's EAPL fixture at Brundall between the top two sides, Vauxhall Mallards and Swardeston, promises to be an absolute cracker. After Horsford managed to break their winning away duck at Swardeston at the weekend, the gap between the top two is down to 23 points.
Horsford will feel that, with six games to go, that they can still mount a challenge to their two local rivals, being just 45 points behind top spot and still a possible 180 points to play for. At the same time Great Witchingham must hope that their 31-point deficit can also be chased down.
Having spoken to players this week from both camps, it's quite clear that Swardeston underperformed with the bat and that a more realistic score of 200-plus was achievable and not the 106 that they managed to cobble together. Often low scores are harder to chase down than very big totals and at 28-3 Horsford must have been staring down the barrel. But when you need them most this is where you need your best players to stand and deliver and Australian Reece O'Connell certainly did that with a match-winning 67 to more or less take his side home. All credit goes to captain Chris Brown who, once again, produced fabulous figures of 5-15 to decimate Swardeston's middle order. Not only did these two performances give Horsford hope that their campaign is still alive but also gave the chasing pack renewed hope too. The only salvation for the 'Commoners' was that Mallards and Witchingham were not able to produce a result in their game and that Cambridge Granta were held up too by Halstead, otherwise the gap at the top could have been very close.
So, Saturday promises to be a real battle. Mallards generally play well at Brundall and I think this gives them a slight edge. Not only will it be a local derby but a top-of-the-table local derby and the result will surely go a long way in deciding this year's title. I have a sneaky feeling that Vauxhall may come out on top on this occasion though I'm sure my mate, and Mallards captain Paul Bradshaw will not thank me for saying that. But it's a game they can't really afford to lose otherwise that gap might just become too far to drag back over the last five matches.
In the Alliance Premier Division, Sprowston must be kicking themselves for missing an opportunity to close the gap on Fakenham, who narrowly failed to chase down Lowestoft's target, Sprowston were comprehensively beaten by North Runcton and in doing so probably feel that all hope of closing the 48 point gap – and with Fakenham having a game in hand – are all but gone.
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In Division One, my club side Acle were involved in a real tussle against Norwich A who put out the strongest team we have faced all year. If they were able to field this XI all season they would certainly not be in one of the two relegation positions, but here lies the problem; getting the same team out every week. They were a tough outfit but if they're not careful, could find themselves in a real dogfight come the final week of the season. As for us, it seems no matter what we do we can't seem to close the gap on leaders Old Buckenham who won convincingly again at Hales. But a lot can happen in three games and we will be chasing hard to the end.
Sunday sees the final of this year's Bob Carter Cup with Vauxhall Mallards playing home club Horsford. Mallards will probably start slight favourites because of past glories but Horsford play well on their home pitch so I wonder if they will get the slow spinning wicket they would obviously prefer? Or will it be a 'flat belter' in order to see a high scoring game? I have some great friends on both sides and shouldn't really say who I want to win but I will! I spent three fantastic years at Manor Park so my support lies with Horsford but I can see it going to the wire.
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• 'OBVIOUS CHOICE' BOPARA STILL HAS TO WIN ME OVER
Ravi Bopara's return to the England side after a two-year absence for today's Third Test against India at Edgbaston comes as no great surprise.
In terms of cover for Jonathan Trott, who is still recovering from a shoulder injury sustained while fielding in the Trent Bridge Test, he was the obvious choice for the selectors.
He has averaged over 37 in First Class cricket this year, scoring three centuries for Essex including 178 in the recent game that saw one of my old clubs Leicestershire bowled out for 34 in 88 balls.
I am not saying I would have picked anybody else from the candidates available but I have never been Bopara's biggest fan, partly because of his technique and partly because of his temperament – a Jonathan Trott he is not! For me he comfortably stands out as the weakest player in the England top six.
It might sound like I am beating him up before the 26-year-old plays his 11th Test, and he says he has learned plenty and become a more rounded player over the last two years, but I can only say it as I see it. But having said that Bopara, who will bat at number five with Ian Bell moving up to Trott's number three slot, should be OK for a few runs against the current Indian attack, and he will also be able to contribute a few overs of his medium pace if required.
As for the game itself, unless the weather intervenes I can't see it ending in anything other than an England victory. I just don't see how India's bowlers can take the 20 wickets they need to win a Test match.
England have only been second best in one session in the first two matches. India's top seven batsmen need to put a big score on the board but, despite their pedigree, the contest between them and England's bowlers has not really materialised so far.
I predicted a 2-1 win for England before the series started but I can't really see any reason why Andrew Strauss's men should not go on to complete a Series whitewash at the Oval next week.
That would be an emphatic way to celebrate reaching the top of the International Cricket Council's rankings for the first time ever. C'mon England!