Judge’s Verdict: Swardeston have edge for the final
There should be no shortage of quickfire entertainment at Manor Park this week as the Norfolk Twenty20 Cup reaches its grand finale.
Competition hosts Horsford play Great Witchingham in tonight's rearranged semi-final, with the winners facing holders and national champions Swardeston in Friday's final.
Swardeston know only too well the rewards of winning the Norfolk event – qualifying for the ECB National Club twenty20, which they went on to win outright at the Rose Bowl last September in front of the Sky Sports cameras, earning themselves a trip to the Caribbean from former sponsors Cockspur.
For Swardeston, there is the incentive to try to repeat what they achieved in 2010.
They progressed through the regional rounds without a huge fanfare but really began to make big news when they reached the last four at Southampton.
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We all saw what that experience led to for people like batsman Peter Lambert and now other clubs are trying to follow the same route. When Horsford started the Twenty20 in 2005, there were a few negative comments from certain clubs who questioned the need for another cup competition but it has become an established part of the Norfolk calendar and the additional endorsement of the ECB has finally put that discussion to bed.
Horsford, who won the competition when I was captain in 2006, will be desperate to beat Great Witchingham in what is sure to be a hard-fought affair.
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They will to try to follow the path Swardeston took last year. Knowing Chris Brown as I do, I'm sure he believes Horsford can do it.
I would love to see my old club win the trophy again it but if I had to risk a quid, I'd say Swardeston have to be favourites against whoever wins the second semi-final.
Their game is well geared up for that form of cricket and, assuming they have a full-strength side, they have three quality spinners to call on and in this format that is a real bonus – something not many sides have.
• NORWICH HAVE IT ALL TO DO AFTER EIGHTH EAPL DEFEAT
I remain fearful for another of my old clubs, Norwich, after their eighth East Anglian Premier League defeat of the season, this time at the hands of Vauxhall Mallards, kept them in bottom place in the table.
At the moment they don't seem to have people scoring the big runs they need or taking the number of wickets they need to start winning matches.
In the past if they have started slowly, they have tended to put things right in the second half of the season but the question now is whether this side is capable of staging another recovery.
While leaders Swardeston, Great Witchingham and Mallards secured big points hauls to keep Norfolk clubs in control at the top, Horsford suffered a second successive away defeat, at Cambridge Granta. It will again be levelled at them that they cannot win matches away from Manor Park and it does seem to have become a bit of a stumbling block.
They will need to get back to winning ways at home to Clacton on Saturday to stay in touch with the top three.
In the Norfolk Alliance Premier Division, Fakenham brushed aside the challenge of Norwich & Coltishall Wanderers and have a formidable 60-point lead. Although reigning champions Downham have finally forced their way into second place, they will need a storming second half to the season – and to win their rematch with Fakenham – to have any chance of overhauling them.
It was a strange day in Division One with the top three sides all beaten, including leaders Old Buckenham losing to Saxlingham, which was the big surprise of the day. My own club Acle lost a thriller by one wicket to Hales & Loddon, a game I missed through injury, and third-placed Swardeston A were beaten by Norwich A.
Old Buckenham are a good enough side to shake off that setback but I look forward to going head to head with them on Saturday, when I hope to be back on the field.
• ACLE'S JUNIORS HEADING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
This week saw the quarter finals of the Norfolk Alliance Junior Competitions being reached and, as a club, Acle were absolutely delighted to have sides in the u11, u13 and u15 draws.
Only Fakenham, Swardeston/CEYMS and Bradfield can match that achievement and for junior clubs like Acle and Bradfield it is testament to what is happening in their ranks at the moment.
I took over the junior section at Acle this season and from a database that possessed only 23 definite names for the season, to try and cover three age groups, that figure has grown to over 80 members and as a club we are delighted with the progress being made.
We chose this year to open the door to youngsters as small as reception class age and it has proved a wise move. We have recruited from farther afield than just the village because of what we now offer junior players while, on the field, we have been just as successful.
Though we failed in our quest to reach one of the semi-finals, partly because we came up against two very strong sides from Fakenham, I am optimistic this is just the beginning of good things.
Former Norfolk favourite Fred 'Quorn' Handley leads our u13 and u11 section, whilst I coach the older u15 boys and the two of us work very closely to provide continuity, quality coaching, cricket played the 'right' way, and, most importantly, cricket played with a smile on your face. While I am still on my Acle 'soap box' this is just a way of saying thanks to all my coaches who have given up so much of their time this season. Thank you lads!
• STRAUSS 'MOVE' TO SOMERSET IS ONE OF MOST BIZARRE OF ALL
We have become used to players hopping from county to county and signing on short-term deals but Andrew Strauss's 'move' to Somerset must be one of the strangest of all.
The England captain will play for Somerset for one match only to try to play himself into form ahead of the Test series against India after scoring only 27 in four Test innings against Sri Lanka.
The odd thing is he will be playing in a three-day game starting at Taunton on Friday . . . against the Indian tourists.
Clearly Strauss is keen to get into some sort of nick but it seems a bit extreme to play for another county, and against the Indians, who will be looking to strike a psychological blow against their opposing captain in the forthcoming series. One assumes Somerset, Middlesex and the ECB are all happy with the arrangement, but it seems a bit bizarre. Whether it's a result of pressure on Strauss to make runs is hard to say. People get a bit carried away if a top player has a poor run of scores because he does not become a bad player overnight, and he certainly hasn't become a bad captain because he has done an excellent job. His long-term successor may well be lined up in one-day captain Alastair Cook, but that's still a long way off and knowing England selector Geoff Miller as I do, I wouldn't think he has the slightest thought of making a change at the top. Strauss will be captain for the series whether he gets any runs at Taunton or not.
It promises to be a fantastic series, starting at Lord's a week tomorrow.
• BROAD BACK TO HIS VERY BEST
Stuart Broad strengthened his England Test claims with three quick wickets before Alex Hales hit an unbeaten 130 as Nottinghamshire hit back against Somerset on day two of their LV= County Championship Division One match at Trent Bridge.
Broad, England's new Twenty20 captain, is under pressure from the likes of Steven Finn and Tim Bresnan in the longer format ahead of the first Test against India, but did his case for inclusion no harm by helping dismiss the visitors for 386, closing with first-innings figures of five for 95.
Craig Kieswetter finally departed for 164, but Hales was closing in on that mark as he guided Nottinghamshire to 303 for five at the close, trailing by 83. Hales' knock included 19 fours and a six, while Adam Voges contributed 57 and Steven Mullaney 49.