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Judge's Verdict: Shift in balance of bowling power

PUBLISHED: 17:36 15 June 2011

New Norfolk recruit Ashley Watson.

New Norfolk recruit Ashley Watson.

©Archant Photographic 2009

With yet another spin bowler in Ashley Watson selected for Norfolk's latest Minor Counties Championship fixture against Northumberland at Jesmond, again there will be off-field discussions around the lack of a balanced attack.

With three frontline spinners now in the side, the strength of Norfolk’s bowling has certainly shifted over the past few years. I can remember when I first arrived as Norfolk captain in 1996, we couldn’t find a spinner for love nor money. But having said that we had myself, Steve Goldsmith, Paul Bradshaw and Mark Thomas as seamers so I would suggest most captains would have settled for that pace attack.

It was good enough to bowl most sides out in three-day cricket and, in fact, that year we reached the Minor Counties Championship Final against Devon at Exmouth. But this game emphasised just how big a part spin bowlers can affect a game. We played on a massively used wicket and the ball turned square from the very first session so we were always going to struggle for our seamers to have the same effect on the game as their spinners. I even allowed myself to be talked into letting Mark Thomas bowl medium paced off-cutters to try and take advantage of what the wicket had to offer. During the match our performance with both bat and ball was nowhere near good enough and we lost.

So I suppose Norfolk will now have similar issues to contend with in their championship matches this season. Quite clearly the Devon captain in 1996, Peter Roebuck, knew about our pace attack and ordered a wicket to suit his spinners, so therefore don’t be surprised to see flat, hard, white wickets appearing on the circuit especially when Norfolk are in town.

But there also appears to be more young spin bowlers waiting in the wings. Great Witchingham youngster James Hales is taking regular wickets in the EAPL and is being watched keenly by Chris Brown both at U19 level and I would imagine for the Norfolk Development XI. Last week we saw Fakenham’s under 16 bowler Yin Lo perform very well in the Norfolk Twenty20 clash against Great Witchingham, and certainly on my travels this season I have come across a young spinner whom I have spoken to the county coach about, Josh Ring from Stow. Josh, a slow left-armer, bowls it at a good pace, gets a fair degree of turn, and appears to have very good control. Whilst I see him as a good one-day bowler at the moment, the future for him could be very bright.

That’s not to say that we haven’t produced any spinners during my tenure. A very young Robert Ferley made his Norfolk debut against Suffolk at Mildenhall and, if I remember correctly, nearly achieved the distinction of getting the legend that is Derek Randall out, but our keeper for the day missed a straightforward stumping chance.

Robert then went on to play for both Kent and Nottinghamshire before hanging up his boots recently. And obviously, there was a period where current captain, George Walker, was unavailable for Norfolk due to his professional career at Leicestershire.

But neither of these guys played for Norfolk when they were very young; but that is how it should be. The question is, will the present Northants Academy intake Ryan Findlay, who plays for Horsford, be the next Norfolk spinner to take the first class route?

• CONSISTENCY IS THE KEY FOR WITCHES

No change at the top then in the county’s top three divisions. Great Witchingham, Fakenham, and my own club side Acle, all won comfortably with all three sides having clear objectives for the season.

The Witches, now 23 points clear at the top of the EAPL, are hoping that consistency will stay with them and that their title challenge will not peter out as in previous years. Fakenham, relegated from the EAPL last year are quite clearly intending a swift return to the region’s premier league, whilst Acle also have a similar objective with Alliance Premier League cricket firmly on our radar for 2012.

However, the major talking point over the weekend was the quite incredible performance of Swardeston’s New Zealand overseas player, Joel Abraham.

Joel hit an incredible 221no and, along with Daniel Martin, put on 310 for the first wicket in their 10-wicket victory against Clacton.

We local players know that Swardeston have a beautiful batting track at the Common but nevertheless this was quite some performance.

I’m just glad that he’s not able to play against Acle in the next round of the Carter Cup in two week’s time due to the regulations on overseas players.

• MATTHEW HAS EARNED A FULL DEBUT

So, at last a full Norfolk debut for Matthew Warnes in the latest Minor Counties fixture against Northumberland. Warnsey was a lad we identified back in the early ‘noughties’ as one who may come through and make a mark at this level.

He travelled around the country as twelfth man on regular occasions especially during his university days but he just never made the volume of runs at club or Development XI level to justify a call-up. However, this season he has done just that and recently scored his maiden EAPL century as well as posting other notable scores for his club side, Horsford.

I am really pleased for Warnsey as I am for his brother Michael who also made his championship debut in the same game. Quite an achievement for the two ‘Crabs’ from Cromer.

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