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Anybody's title this year as the big guns wobble

PUBLISHED: 12:55 16 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:20 01 July 2010

Paul Newman

Horsford's five-wicket victory over Swardeston is further evidence that this season's East Anglian Premier League title race could be the most open yet.

Horsford's five-wicket victory over Swardeston is further evidence that this season's East Anglian Premier League title race could be the most open yet.

Batting second certainly looked like the better option for Horsford at Manor Park after they put Swardeston into bat and bowled them out for 111. The result illustrates that it's becoming a league where anyone can beat anyone.

The defeat cost Swardeston top spot and has really opened things up with Saffron Walden, the only unbeaten team in the league, the first non-Norfolk side to secure an outright lead in the table since the start of last season.

Saffron Walden have a good pedigree as a club and were always likely to be strong in this league after dipping their toe in the water last season, when they finished fifth. After a convincing nine-wicket success over Clacton, they now have four wins and three draws from their first nine games.

Newcomers Burwell have moved up to third place and appear to be getting a taste for their new surroundings. Former Test batsman Grant Flower's availability seems to be sorted, but it is significant that other players took the starring roles on Saturday. The key thing is that the top performances are being shared around and it's not a case of one person dominating things.

The early years of the EAPL were dominated by Vauxhall Mallards and Norwich, then by Bury St Edmunds when they made a big investment in players, and more recently by Swardeston.

But now it is very competitive, which is how it should be - unlike the Norfolk Alliance Premier Division where Downham are head and shoulders above everyone else. They didn't win on Saturday but a score of 336 for two against Vauxhall Mallards is a clear indication of their strength and even at this stage I can say with every confidence that they will comfortably go on to win the league. I would be astounded if they didn't.

The rest of us have to match their consistency and that includes my club, Acle, where I am determined we will climb the table in the weeks ahead and not slip below the standards we set in 2008 and 2009.

Finishing second last year was a magnificent achievement and though I have been absent for most of the season so far that should make no difference to a player's performance. Being in the bottom three shows how we are currently playing but that will change sooner rather than later.

t PONTING IS BACK - AND THAT WILL LIFT THE AUSSIES

England will be in confident mood as they start the NatWest Series of five one-day internationals against Australia next week, with the first match at Southampton on Tuesday.

Australia will still be smarting from their World Twenty20 final defeat but they have had more than four weeks to regroup and the fact that they won 6-1 in last summer's one-day series in England means they have the upper hand in recent meetings in this format. They also won the Champions Trophy last autumn.

Clearly 50 overs per side is more of a cricketing contest than Twenty20 and not so much a case of who can hit it furthest out of the ground.

Ricky Ponting's return as skipper will be a major boost for the Aussies because although Michael Clarke appears to be his likely successor, he doesn't yet have that same aura that Ponting has about him with his record as player and captain and a wealth of experience.

The downside for Ponting, above, is that he will be without two key players in wicketkeeper-batsman Brad Haddin and frontline bowler Mitchell Johnson.

I am sure the 50-over game still has a future at international level - probably more so than Twenty20 - but there is still an element of uncertainty over whether England can cut it in this form of the game after years of disappointment. We have had occasional success but have not been convincing - are we good enough to dominate sides?

There will be confidence and momentum on the back of the Twenty20 success, with Andrew Strauss returning as one-day captain, and the series will be keenly contested.

I'd love to see England win 4-1 but I don't think there will be more than one game in it either way.

t SORRY FOR ROB - BUT HARD TO PREDICT CAPELLO'S NEXT MOVE

I certainly felt for Robert Green when he suffered his nightmare moment in England's opening World Cup game against the United States.

I knew him from his cricketing days in Norfolk when he was still only 18 and had yet to play a first team game for Norwich City. When I moved home to Norfolk and joined Norwich Barleycorns in 1998, he was part of our squad, playing in both the first team and second team.

It didn't take long for people to realise he might be useful wearing the gloves, but he was also very positive in his batting and he gave it a whack when needed.

Greeny will need every bit of that positivity to get over his costly mistake in Rustenburg, when he allowed Clint Dempsey's shot to slip through his fingers. He said he felt as if 50 million people were staring down the barrel at him but it was encouraging that he did not go to pieces. He retained that chiselled jaw and he made sure he pinned his shoulders back and kept his head up, and then went on to make an important save in the second half.

We have all had huge calamities -times when you want the ground to open up and give you somewhere to hide. I remember as a professional sportsman times when I wanted to find a hole to bury myself in, but it certainly wasn't in my country's first game at the World Cup when the whole nation expects - and his was a basic schoolboy error. I felt for him, more so as the 'keeper is nearest the crowd and there is no hiding place.

It is very hard to read Fabio Capello's mind and so it is difficult to predict what he will do in Friday's game against Algeria. There wasn't much to pick between the three goalkeepers - David James is an excellent 'keeper but also prone to errors, Greeny does make the odd error, which gave me reservations in the first place, and Joe Hart is certainly the future, but very inexperienced at this level. I thought Capello would go with James for the first game and I was surprised when he didn't.

Was Capello right to give Greeny just two hours' notice that he was playing - if that was indeed true - and did it contribute to additional nerves?

Rob will certainly want to play again, more than ever, and after Capello chose him for the first match, I suspect he may just dismiss it as a one-off and stick with him against Algeria.

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