The Judge: Norwich need to have a long look at themselves
It was not entirely surprising that Norwich Cricket Club were relegated from the East Anglian Premier League last weekend as they slipped to a five-wicket defeat by Horsford at Postwick.
I spoke to one or two Norwich players at the Horsford president's day at Manor Park the next afternoon, and for them I suppose it had been on the cards for some time.
If you win only one league game all season and you lose more matches than anyone else, it tells its own story.
Norwich were unfortunate with the way the rain intervened when they were poised for a crushing victory over Saffron Walden at Ingham a fortnight ago, but they had only one abandonment over the course of the season, so they can't blame the weather for their fate.
For two or three seasons they had not started too well but had improved in the second half of the season, but this year the recovery never got off the ground.
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Their overseas player was disappointing and it may be they didn't do their homework on that signing as thoroughly as they might have done.
It is all rather unfortunate when one considers the force that Norwich became in the early years of the EAPL.
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In 1999, when Ingham and Norwich Barleycorns merged to form Norwich, the newspaper headlines proclaimed it as a 'Superclub' – and they were certainly two very strong clubs joining forces.
In my first season with Barleycorns (1998) we won the Norfolk Alliance Premier Division, and Ingham were invariably in the top three or four places in the table too.
In the early years of the EAPL it was Vauxhall Mallards, Norwich and Swardeston flying the flag for Norfolk, and the title did not leave the county in the first six seasons. Norwich were a very strong unit with a lot of county representation and won the EAPL twice, first when I was captain in 2000 and then under Steve Livermore the following year.
The cost of running two grounds, at Ingham and Postwick, was a bit of an issue, but the committee had a clear vision of what they wanted and we had the added value of having good junior sides, too.
It was a great place to play for five years but I then began to see changes that I felt were not in the club's best interests so I left after the 2004 season to move to Horsford.
Norwich's immediate task is to regain EAPL status and they must look to bounce back straightaway because if you don't do it immediately, it becomes harder with every year.
They must try to do what Fakenham have done by winning the Alliance Premier Division title and if they can retain most of the side they had out on Saturday, they are perfectly capable of doing so.
If Fakenham somehow fail to go up to the EAPL through the end-of-season play-offs, the Alliance Premier next year will be the strongest it has been for more than a decade and a battle royal is in prospect.
The sad irony is that Norwich were capable of beating any side in the EAPL on their day.
It has been a lean year for the club with the second team finishing fourth from bottom of Alliance Division One and the thirds second from bottom of Division Four.
Norwich have to take a long, hard look at themselves and be very honest.
This season wasn't good but the problems had been brewing for a couple of years and they will need to approach things slightly differently from the past few years if they are to turn things round.
• SEASON BUILDS TO AN EXCITING CLIMAX AS TRIO BATTLE IT OUT
The County Championship had developed into an exciting three-horse race as the final round of matches started on Monday.
The one-day finals and Twenty20 competition may have offered more glamour and bigger rewards for the players over the years, but the Championship is still the one the players are judged on, especially when it comes to taking the final step into Test cricket.
Leaders Warwickshire, Lancashire and Durham were all in with a chance going into the last game in Division One, though Durham were the outsiders for their third title in four years.
Former England spinner Ashley Giles has certainly put his stamp on Warwickshire as coach. Whenever I have met him, he seems like a pleasant, no-nonsense guy.
After his career was ended by a bad hip injury, he went into management and it's no surprise to see Warwickshire have done well.
As their last fixture, away to Hampshire, was top against bottom in the division, they went into it as favourites for the title.
But Lancashire, under the guidance of former England coach Peter Moores, have pushed them very close in their bid for a slice of history.
Lancashire were, of course, a very strong one-day side in the late 60s and early 70s under Jack Bond with players like Clive Lloyd, David
Lloyd, Farokh Engineer, Jack Simmons, David Hughes and Peter Lever to the fore, but they haven't won the championship outright since 1934.
Moores has been through the mill after his England experience and I felt a certain amount of sympathy with him over the way things unravelled when Kevin Pietersen became Test captain.
But he had done a really good job in leading Sussex to the Championship before managing the England team.
He's back in a happier environment with Lancashire and deserves some success.
The end of the season has taken on much greater interest since the two-division system was introduced in 2000.
It was long overdue because, in my first-class days, halfway through the season most teams were not playing for a great deal.
Introducing two divisions means that most clubs are regularly involved in promotion or relegation issues, apart, sadly, from my old county, Derbyshire.
They were relegated from Division One at the end of the first season and have never regained top-flight status.
• CROMER COULD STILL MAKE THE GREAT ESCAPE
The relegation battle at the bottom of the Alliance Premier Division will go down to the wire with two out of Stow, Brooke and Cromer set to go down.
Cromer looked dead and buried a few weeks ago but after beating Brooke on Saturday, it's still possible for them to escape with one match to go.
Stow, 11 points ahead of Brooke and 15 clear of Cromer, have the points on the board, which I would always prefer to have, so they are slight favourites to stay up.
But it's really tight because Cromer have, on paper, the most winnable game on Saturday, at home to mid-table Norwich & Coltishall Wanderers.
Brooke must visit new champions Fakenham and therefore probably favourites to go down, while Stow have no easy task at home to Downham, title winners for the previous four seasons.
So Cromer could still escape if they get most of the available points on offer and the other two sides don't manage at least winning draws.
But it's very, very close and it could not have been set up better from a neutral standpoint.
For all three clubs it will be nerve-racking, and there may be lots of phone calls between the grounds to keep up to date with the scores, because that knowledge can affect the way you play on the day. I would want those updates as a captain because it could easily influence on-field decisions at important times of the match.
I am looking forward to finding out who survives and which of the three sides we at Acle will play when we return to the Premier Division next season.
Given a choice, I love playing at Cromer's Norton Warnes ground and as I believe they play the game the proper way, I would definitely like to see them stay up.