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Purple patch for Stephen Gray is a boost for club and county

PUBLISHED: 14:25 04 July 2012

Stephen Gray is enjoying a great run of form for Swardeston. Picture: Denise Bradley

Stephen Gray is enjoying a great run of form for Swardeston. Picture: Denise Bradley

Archant 2012

There were some very important battles between Norfolk's top clubs at the weekend, none more so than at Brundall, where East Anglian Premier League leaders Swardeston stretched their advantage to 26 points with a four-wicket win over second-placed Vauxhall Mallards.

I said last week that they would regard beating Mallards on their own ground as a big, big win and it was certainly a top result for Swardeston.

Skipper Mark Thomas proved there is plenty of life in him yet with his six wickets for 51, despite how often he tells me about his aches and pains, and he will have enjoyed going to Brundall and winning twice in four days, after his side’s National Club t20 win.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Stephen Gray is enjoying a purple patch, too, adding 86 to his 113 not out in midweek, and that will be good news for Norfolk ahead of their three-day game against Lincolnshire.

Third-placed Horsford and Great Witchingham drew at Manor Park, where both sides had a key player missing on Essex duty. Witchingham, who finished second last year, have now drawn seven of their eight completed games and have yet to win. I was a bit surprised they didn’t give it more of a go with a target of 203, but they clearly rely very heavily on Carl Rogers and James Spelman for big runs, and once they were dismissed, and with Sam Arthurton missing, they played it safe.

Halstead are well adrift at the bottom of the table at the moment, but there is a very long way to go and Witchingham need to pick up a win or two to start climbing a few places.

With the top two sides in the Alliance Premier Division beating the next two below them – Fakenham winning at Downham and Norwich defeating Old Buckenham – the gap over third place is 35 points at the halfway stage of the season. There’s no doubt in my mind it’s now a two-horse race for the title.

I really felt Downham would be serious title challengers but if they are to mount any sort of threat their form in the second half of the season has to be more consistent.

Acle hauled themselves off the bottom of the Premier Division with a winning draw against Lowestoft. I was not available for the game, but watched the last 20 overs as Lowestoft finished nine wickets down. The gap to Stow, in 10th place, is still 25 points but at the halfway stage we are showing small shoots of recovery.

I must just mention a brilliant effort by our third team in scoring 356 for three against Old Buckenham in Norfolk League Division Seven for a 273-run win with Jordan Webster, who was in my under-15 team last year, and Paul Woods both scoring centuries. Well done lads, a quite brilliant effort!

• PLENTY OF BOWLING OPTIONS FOR GEORGE TO PLAY WITH

Norfolk make another attempt to get their rain-ravaged season off the ground when they face Lincolnshire in their second Minor Counties Championship fixture of 2012, starting at Cleethorpes on Sunday.

None of Norfolk’s four one-day fixtures was completed – two of them were abandoned without a ball being bowled – and the opening Eastern Division match against Suffolk at Bury St Edmunds was drawn after the first day was washed out.

There have been only three definite results in the division so far with wins for Staffordshire, Buckinghamshire and Cumberland, so Norfolk’s position of ninth, 20 points behind the leaders, is largely irrelevant at this stage.

What they will want more than anything is three dry days and the chance of a meaningful contest.

The aim will be to get a good first innings total to given the spin twins, George Walker and Chris Brown, the chance to bowl out Lincolnshire. Norfolk still depend heavily on those two to win games, with no disrespect to a pace attack where there are now many more options.

Michael Eccles has always been a wicket-taking bowler rather than trying to contain, Kieran Bunting hits the seam hard and moves the ball both ways and is a Paul Bradshaw type bowler, whereas all-rounder Luke Caswell swings it in late and his Horsford team-mate, Michael Warnes, will be keen to demonstrate how well he his has recovered from a shoulder injury.

Add to this in-form Aaron Watson, from Norwich, and we have more experienced options than we may have had in the past few years.

Lincolnshire are usually strong and always very competitive. They have a strong Premier League and have good connections with Nottinghamshire, so they tend to pick up quality players, and they finished just one point off second place last year.

I haven’t played at Cleethorpes, but being aware of Norfolk’s main strengths, it’s hard to imagine the home side will have asked for a dry spinners’ wicket.

• SWANN RANT IS ALL IN A DAY’S WORK FOR ENGLAND

Every bowler gets disappointed or angry at being denied a wicket by dropped catches but we all have different ways of showing it.

England off-spinner Graeme Swann’s reaction at The Oval during Sunday’s one-day international against Australia – after Tim Bresnan spilled a chance in the deep – prompted a bit of debate in the commentary box.

Swann stormed off to his fielding position with a few choice words at the end of the over, with the experts divided over whether his rant was likely to damage morale or put pressure on the fielder next time a chance came his way, or whether it was just Swanny being Swanny.

Swann is a larger than life character who often vents his frustration with others. But because of the type of character he is, I would imagine that it will soon be forgotten.

This competitive edge is part of Swann’s armoury because he wears his heart on his sleeve. The England lads are all serious competitors but show it in different ways. Eoin Morgan dropped a catch later in the innings but displayed no emotion at all.

I am sure they made light of Swann’s outburst in the dressing room later to defuse the situation. Bresnan is a big, strapping Yorkshireman and I’m sure he can take it. He won’t be too upset about what happened.

Swann is the dressing room comic and I’m sure his team-mates take much of what he says with a pinch of salt.

We might see it in a totally different light but it’s not an issue. It’s part of what he is, and the players are used to his occasional histrionics. I’m sure if it was a problem, coach Andy Flower would deal with it.

I’ve dropped catches – who hasn’t? – but have never really been on the receiving end of a rant, nor been the victim of someone else’s display of temper.

We can all think of one or two players in local cricket who show their frustration by kicking the ground and stomping off to their fielding position if something doesn’t go their way. Bowlers always get frustrated if catches don’t go to hand or there’s a misfield. They key thing is whether the guilty party was not switched on, not paying attention, had wandered out of position, or was not prepared for the delivery.

Loss of concentration is not acceptable but you won’t get that from guys in an England team playing a one-day international against Australia.

I’ve seen hundreds of catches go down but at that level you don’t see too many, least of all from England at the moment.

There are so many top-class players in the side or ready to step in, and eight one-day international victories in a row is quite a statement.

The bowling attack looks awesome and there is no doubt this is as good an England one-day side as we have seen in years, if not the best ever, even without Kevin Pietersen.

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