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The Judge: Play-off defeat so cruel to champions

PUBLISHED: 21:18 21 September 2011 | UPDATED: 21:18 21 September 2011

James Spelman led Great Witchingham to runners-up spot in the East Anglian Premier League.

James Spelman led Great Witchingham to runners-up spot in the East Anglian Premier League.

Archant © 2011 01603 772434

It’s a cruel world, Fakenham will be thinking, after their hopes of a swift return to the East Anglian Premier League were dashed by Sunday’s play-off defeat.

Just 24 hours after completing their triumphant Norfolk Alliance Premier Division campaign with a winning draw against Brooke, they suffered a 56-run home defeat at the hands of Two Counties champions Copdock & Old Ipswichians.

Copdock now face Cambs & Hunts Premier League champions Ramsey in the play-off final on Saturday for that coveted EAPL place, while Fakenham must prepare for another season of Alliance cricket.

They were clearly the best side in the Premier Division this year, winning 14 games out of 20 and taking the title by a margin of 87 points, so it must have been a big disappointment to miss out on Sunday. Both sides had played the day before so it was not a case of one team going into the game fresher than their opponents.

It was unfortunate that Fakenham’s overseas player, Rudi Hillerman, was not available for the play-offs, but I had still fancied them to get through.

However, Copdock & Old Ipswichians had been knocking on the door in their feeder league for a few seasons and I would expect them to be too strong for Ramsey.

As an ex-EAPL side, Fakenham will be keen to get back to that level but they will now have to wait another year, at least, as there will be a very strong Alliance Premier Division next season with Norwich coming down. It will also mean two extra games for each club and, unless the season starts a week earlier, I feel it would be a good idea to use one of the Bank Holidays to get the fixtures completed sooner. It really is too late to finish the season when key issues are being decided on the last two weekends in September.

We were lucky that the weather was fairly good at the weekend, because promotion is not something that should be decided on the toss of a coin.

With Norfolk’s representation in the EAPL now being reduced from six clubs to four in the space of two seasons, I suppose the question will be asked as to whether cricket in the county has stood still or even declined.

I would say it is more a case of other clubs catching up and I’m sure those on the outside look at the structure in Norfolk and believe we are doing a lot of things right.

However, the other four Norfolk clubs in the EAPL all finished in the top half of the table.

Great Witchingham finished higher than ever before, Swardeston and Vauxhall Mallards lacked that bit of consistency this time round and Horsford fell away in the second half of the season, but still came sixth.

Congratulations to Cambridge Granta, who had a great second half of the season and won the title again, though they were beaten by Shrewsbury in a thrilling ECB National Club Championship final at Derby on Saturday.

Congratulations too, to the evergreen Carl Rogers, who passed two big batting milestones during the season, and to George Walker, who was joint leading wicket-taker in the EAPL.

So individually it was a very successful season for Norfolk players, although with no title win, another Norfolk team relegated from the EAPL and another missing out on promotion, most of our leading clubs will feel they have had better years.

• BIG-HITTING BAIRSTOW IS CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK

Friday’s final one-day international at Cardiff and Saturday’s CB40 final gave some of England’s most promising young players the chance to showcase their talents.

Jonny Bairstow’s matchwinning unbeaten 41 in 21 balls on his debut against India and Jos Buttler’s 86 for Somerset against Surrey the following day thrust the two young wicketkeeper-batsmen into the spotlight.

Durham’s Ben Stokes is another who has forced his way into the international picture, but the jury is out on him as far as I’m concerned because I haven’t seen enough of him playing well.

All three players are in the squad for the two Twenty20 internationals against West Indies on Friday and Sunday, so the good news is that England have plenty of young batting talent with which to adorn their limited-overs teams, at least. The reigning World Twenty20 champions should always be able to put a side out capable of making 160 to 180 in that form of the game.

Jonny Bairstow is definitely his father’s son, so to speak, for he has the same attitude as David had during his career.

“Bluey”, as he was always known, was a great lad and Jonny has inherited his genes and plays the game as it should be played.

David could hit the ball very hard, but not in the way players do today, illustrated by the way Jonny launched the ball out of the ground twice at Cardiff. It’s all down to training, upper body strength, better bats made of highly compressed wood, harder wickets, and probably the balls that are used in the one-day game.

All types of cricket are played at a much faster pace today, even the elite form of the game, Test cricket, where 400 runs in a day is not uncommon.

Every county player has to keep up or fall by the wayside. Gone are the days when one could opt out of one-day matches, or treat them as secondary, or take a more leisurely approach in the longer form of the game.

• TEAM SPIRIT WAS KEY TO LANCASHIRE’S TITLE SUCCESS

The County Championship went to the wire, as we expected, and I was watching intently as Lancashire won the title outright for the first time since 1934.

Warwickshire went into the final round of matches with a slender advantage, but Hampshire dug in and made it tough for them after they were forced to follow on, and they were unable to force victory.

Lancashire, who clinched top spot with a thrilling eight-wicket win over Somerset at Taunton, deserved their success.

They played most of their Championship home games away from Old Trafford, largely at Liverpool, and won the title with a lot of local lads and no real superstars in the side.

Sad as I am, I have spent a long time now trying to find a scorecard where every player reached double figures and finally I found it at Taunton, where, in Lancashire’s first innings, even No 11 batsman Gary Keedy managed 13 not out in a total of 480.

With Glen Chapple, who has scored a first-class century, batting at nine it was a very strong line-up, but that scorecard summed up the spirit in the squad.

The fact that a lot of Lancashire’s players came through their academy at the same time meant there was a lot of togetherness in the side.

Coach Peter Moores proved, as he did at Sussex, how good he is at moulding honest, workmanlike cricketers into a winning outfit. He was not given the time to achieve much with England because he had to deal with one or two difficult players – and their egos – who felt playing Test cricket was an essential requirement for being a successful Test coach.

Somerset endured more agony at Lord’s when they were beaten by Surrey in the Clydesdale Bank 40 final. They were last season’s runners-up in all three competitions and have been losing finalists in the last three Twenty20 Cup competitions, so their five-wicket defeat on Saturday was another bitter pill to swallow.

Somerset are clearly one of the best one-day sides in the country but they will be having an inquest as to why things don’t happen for them when they get to finals. They still have to learn how to win the big matches.

Apart from their one-day success, Surrey also won Division Two of the County Championship and are back where they feel they belong. That was always likely with my former Derbyshire team-mate, Chris Adams, in charge as cricket manager.

There are times when the air in that dressing room will have been blue, but give him the tools and he will do the job and I believe, like “Grizzly”, there will be more trophies coming their way.


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