Don Topley: So many great memories of club cricket in Norfolk and Suffolk

are the defending EAPL champions

Swardeston are the defending EAPL champions - Credit: Archant

In his latest weekly column, DON TOPLEY takes a nostalgic look at club cricket in Norfolk and Suffolk, as the new EAPL season gets started this weekend.

England's Alex Hales started his career in minor counties cricket

England's Alex Hales started his career in minor counties cricket - Credit: AP

The club cricket season in East Anglia starts in earnest this weekend, with clubs having completed their winter nets, recruited new players, staged Club Mark weekends and team lists have been emailed.

There's excitement everywhere with cricketers of all ages and abilities ready to use their new kit, or maybe the latest 'trendy' boots seen in the IPL.

Now ready for action – but please don't forget to pack that extra sweater or the under-armour, it will be cold, even with a clear blue sky! It is only April, after all!

Whilst the premier cricketers of Swardeston CC look to retain another crown, Mildenhall CC - newly promoted to the top table - and the rest of the EAPL clubs will be desperate to find the enthusiasm, commitment and performances to challenge Swardeston over the coming months.

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It's not just the larger clubs who are starting their season; there will be hundreds of local amateur clubs all over East Anglia in the Saturday lower league clubs or even Sunday village teams playing friendlies.

We all know that numbers participating in amateur cricket are down significantly, and around 5% of last year's fixtures all over the UK were cancelled due to lack of players, which is why I highlighted last week's 'pros and cons' for the new professional competition.

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Something has to change, otherwise cricket could soon end up like polo or lacrosse - an elite and occasional sport.

East Anglia cricket has much to celebrate even though there are only two first class counties at the geographical extremities of our region: Essex and Northamptonshire who have both started well.

I am hugely proud of my association with East Anglia, having grown up in Norfolk, being educated in Suffolk and therefore having known many of the great characters in cricket throughout our region.

My first memories of club cricket were when I was 11-years-old, playing with the village of Great Ellingham in mid-Norfolk.

I even remember playing against Shropham CC, who had two teenage Fashanu boys playing. Cannot remember much about their cricket ability but they did kick a football around when their side were batting.

I sincerely hope that many of those old pretty village grounds are still going: Hingham, Garboldisham, Tacolneston and Old Buckenham to name a few.

This was probably where I was initially introduced to the social side of club cricket - sitting quietly in the corner after a match listening and learning about the game with my first half-pint!

Whilst at the Royal Hospital School, Suffolk, my boarding housemaster, Don Hall, was hugely influential.

Each Sunday he allowed me to play for the Stutton village side he captained and to miss School Chapel – much to the dismay of the older pupils.

At one time, the Headmaster called for Mr Hall and asked why Topley kept missing chapel – I never knew the outcome!

Stutton CC was in the next village to RHS, and is sadly an arable field today, but we did win the Suffolk Alliance regularly with Mr Hall, Hawkley, Hawkins, Evans Trowern et al.

I can still remember the annual President's Day, where Ipswich Town's Bobby Robson and Mickey Lambert always played. Mickey was a very good cricketer and Bobby just a lovely man keen on the game.

As I developed through my teenage years I represented Suffolk Schools at U16s and then Norfolk Young Amateurs U19s often in the very same week, as I was showing real potential.

Naturally, those odd half pints had now become full pints as I was now legally able to drink!

I was now returning home to Norfolk in the holidays, to play at the old famous Colman's Mustard Norfolk County Ground for Carrow CC (no more) and Cavaliers, before playing for the full Norfolk side.

In 1982, I joined the MCC Young Cricketers at Lord's and began my professional career. And it all started on the grassroots fields of Norfolk and Suffolk!

Did you know? Four of England's successful 2016 t20 World Cup squad in India started their youth cricket in minor counties? Reece Topley (Suffolk), Alex Hales (Bucks) and Liam Dawson and James Vince (both Wilts).

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