The Judge: Cup calamity rounds off weekend best forgotten
As weekends go I can safely say that the one just gone was comfortably my worst of the season.
Not only did we lose another game to the weather, following last week's washout against Bradenham, but then on Sunday I can categorically state I had a 'shocker' in Acle's Carter Cup quarter-final against Swardeston.
An unplayable first-baller from Norfolk captain George Walker, was quickly followed by a dreadful three overs of cannon-fodder fed up to openers Richard Sims and Daniel Martin, and then to cap it all a shout from one of our own club members of, 'it's about time you retired' after misfielding a ball at mid-on and then falling flat on my face when attempting to give chase.
My only consolation was that the ball just managed to reach the boundary – therefore being thrown back by a sympathetic spectator – which saved me having to leg after it right in front of the Swardeston players.
And to rub salt into the wounds, the unacceptable 'no-show' of our U17 opponents in the Junior Carter Cup competition, made it a weekend best forgotten.
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But going back to Saturday's scheduled game against third placed Topcroft, I was gob-smacked to receive a call from Acle captain Shaun Roberts at 10.30am saying that the game was off.
Our opponents had called a local umpire to the ground and he had deemed the ground unsafe. Our opinion on matters appeared to count for nothing as the umpire's word is now final. Bearing in mind that Norfolk Alliance regulations allow sides to start a reduced overs game up to 4pm, I found this decision incredible. If the forecast had been for further rain then there may have been a case to cancel the game, but as we all know the forecast was for good weather. In all seven Alliance divisions there was only one other game, in Division Five, where no play was possible so quite obviously nearly every captain and umpire deemed conditions fit for play either at the scheduled start time or certainly before 4pm. What added more to my disbelief was that I decided to take a drive to Topcroft to look at the 'unsafe' conditions and after arriving at the ground I made my own inspection. Now, in over 35 years of playing club and county cricket I can honestly say I believe the decision to call off this game at 10.30am has got to be one of the most disappointing I have ever known.
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Following my close inspection, in my opinion there was absolutely nothing wrong with any of the playing surfaces, and even if a late start was deemed necessary, I believe a shortened game would definitely have taken place that afternoon because I couldn't see what part of the playing surface had been considered unsafe by the official.
I know for a fact the Acle boys, after a hard slog at work all week, really look forward to their Saturday afternoon matches, as I'm sure the Topcroft players do too, so to have this opportunity taken away from them before even reaching the ground requires a complete rethink on how the Alliance deal with this situation when it arises.
My comment in last week's 'Verdict' referred to umpires having the sole decision making power in regard to conditions and that is absolutely fine, but to call a game off so early, when quite clearly the vast majority of captains and umpires in other matches at the very least turned up to view conditions with their own eyes, was, in my view, ludicrous. If anyone reading this is thinking 'sour grapes', then fine, but just remember the 22 players denied a game of cricket on a glorious Saturday afternoon. But I suppose after all, we're only players!
• HORSFORD'S BID FOR A FIRST TITLE MUST BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY
A fascinating four-way battle seems to be developing between the Norfolk clubs at the top of the East Anglian Premier League.
After Cambridge Granta's title success last year, only the third time in 12 seasons that the champions have come from outside the county, normal service has been resumed with Horsford, Swardeston, Great Witchingham and Vauxhall Mallards occupying the top four places a week short of the halfway stage of the season.
Horsford's four-wicket win over Norwich at Manor Park took them to the top and it's clear they now have to be regarded as genuine contenders for their first title.
The club's youth policy is beginning to bear fruit and they also have quality players in key positions. They have an overseas player in good form in Australian all-rounder Reece O'Connell, a top-class spinner in Chris Brown and a very good wicket-keeper in Darren Smith, as well as the Warnes brothers, who have just made their Minor Counties Championship debuts for Norfolk. Man for man, they are up with the best sides in Norfolk.
Swardeston, who have moved into second place, remain very, very dangerous opponents. Like Horsford, they have a quality spin attack – important if you are going to win games at this level – with George Walker and Jaden Hatwell as effective as ever, even if Richard Sims is not available as often as in the past.
Witchingham's first defeat, at Swardeston, has dropped them into third place and they will be hoping it is not the signal for another slide down the table in the second half of the season.
They certainly have a better all-round side than in the past with a top-line seam bowler in Ryan McCone; guys who are scoring runs, and a young slow left-armer in James Hale who continues to do well, and I believe they will stay in contention.
Five-times champions Mallards appear relatively consistent and will look forward to the prospect of entertaining leaders Horsford on Saturday. At this stage it is definitely all to play for.
• THEY'RE OUT OF THE RUNNING
There is potentially bad news for batsmen who suffer injuries after this week's announcement that the International Cricket Council plans to ban the use of runners in international matches.
During the annual conference in Hong Kong, the ICC chief executives' committee agreed to abolish runners from October 1. It has always been something of a grey area for captains and umpires and there is an increasing suspicion that players who suffer from nothing more than cramp have been trying to take advantage of the situation.
There was the famous incident in the 2009 Champions Trophy when England captain Andrew Strauss refused South Africa skipper Graeme Smith's request for a runner. Smith was suffering from cramp, which seems to be the new buzzword when it comes to injuries – but cricketers have suffered from cramp for years and years. In my day, we took the precaution of taking extra salt tablets and lots of fluid and just got on with it. As far as I'm concerned, cramp goes as quickly as it arrives.
It's another one of those situations that is loaded in favour of the batsman – if a bowler suffers cramp, as opposed to an injury, he just gets on with it. In one of our Carter Cup ties this year, my Acle team-mate Rob Porter suffered cramp in his hands and could hardly hold the bat, but no way was he leaving the pitch.
In many cases there is a genuine injury, but it can be a difficult thing to police and it relies on the honesty of the batsman and the judgment of the opposing captain.
Certainly I would not allow a batsman to have a runner if he came into the game with an injury.
The new rule may be hard on a player who suffers a broken toe or a torn hamstring during an innings – but at least we know where we stand, so to speak.