Festival opener sees Gray get his chance

Stephen Gray is in line to make his competitive debut for Norfolk against Northumberland at Manor Park tomorrow after being drafted in as a replacement for Jaik Mickleburgh.

Stephen Gray is in line to make his competitive debut for Norfolk against Northumberland at Manor Park tomorrow after being drafted in as a replacement for Jaik Mickleburgh.

Fakenham wicketkeeper Gray will play as a batsmen after Horsford star Mickleburgh was called up to the Essex second XI for their match against Hampshire at Chelmsford, which starts on Tuesday.

Gray featured in Norfolk's pre-season matches against Jersey and Essex II and is a man in form after hitting 72 in Fakenham's East Anglian Premier League victory over Swardeston last Saturday.

Mickleburgh had impressed on his Minor Counties Championship debut in the nine-run win over Cumberland earlier this month, making 40 in the second innings and Norfolk skipper Paul Bradshaw said: "It is a blow to lose Jaik because he is shaping up as if he belongs in the side. But he has got to look to further his career and it is good for him to be called up by Essex.

"Now it is a good opportunity for Stephen to put his marker down. Luke Newton will continue as wicketkeeper and Stephen will bat at number six, but if he wants to get in the side ahead of Luke it is a chance for him to make his case.

"Jaik should be available for the second and third games of the Horsford festival, so if Stephen does well we will have a selection headache on our hands."

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Norfolk's win over Cumberland has left them handily placed in the table - fourth, with a game in hand on the teams above them.

Bradshaw added: "It was a really good performance against Cumberland and everybody chipped in. That has put us in good heart and we are well within striking distance of the top. Some positive results at the festival will give us every chance of winning the division."

That would be the perfect antidote to the disappointment of failing to qualify from the group stages in the one-day competition, the MCCA Knockout Trophy, earlier in the season and Bradshaw said: "As soon as the one-day competition was over, we started to think about the three-day games. After the disappointment of the first match at Cambridgeshire being washed out, to still be in with a good shout at the top is really positive."

And despite recent injury worries, Bradshaw reports that both he and fellow seamer Ian Slegg are fully fit for tomorrow's clash. Bradshaw has been troubled by a hamstring problem and Slegg has had a back injury, but the skipper said: "My injury is okay. Istill doing a lot of work strengthening it and I'm keeping my fingers crossed, but I'm quietly confident about it. Ian bowled 15 overs against Swardeston last weekend without a problem so he should be fine."

Northumberland started their campaign with a high-scoring draw against Cambridgeshire, but have since lost to Buckinghamshire and Suffolk.

The festival continues next weekend when Norfolk face Buckinghamshire, starting on Sunday, July 30 and concludes the following Sunday, August 5, when Lincolnshire are the visitors to Manor Park.

This year, there will be the added attraction of a beer festival throughout the three games.

Ground admission is free to Norfolk CCC members, and costs £3.50 for adults, £2.50 for senior citizens and £1.50 for under-19s. Car parking is £3 and free for members.

The members' tea will take place on Sunday, July 29, not as advertised in some club literature. The proposed Twenty20 charity match on Wednesday, July 25, has been cancelled.

Norfolk: C Amos, C J Rogers, J M Spelman, T R Ward, C R Borrett, SK Gray, C Brown, L T S Newton (wicket-keeper), P J Bradshaw (capt), I R Slegg, M P Eccles.

Northumberland: B P Muchall, A Worthy, A J Maiden, B Parker, I Pattison, M J Symington, M A P Dale, G D Bridge, P J Nicholson (capt, wicket-keeper), D J Rutherford, G Stewart.