Future is looking bright for Norfolk CCC
- Credit: copyright: Archant 2014
With another busy season for Norfolk CCC finished, reporter David Freezer takes a look back at 2014 with captain Chris Brown.
Skipper Chris Brown is confident the future is looking bright for Norfolk County Cricket Club, after seeing several young prospects impress this season.
Weather interruptions meant Norfolk had to settle for three draws in six of their Unicorns Minor Counties Championship matches, leaving them seventh in the Eastern Division final table.
But a 91-run thumping of Suffolk during the Norfolk Festival of Cricket and progress to the quarter-finals of the Unicorns MCC Knockout Trophy mean the Norfolk skipper has plenty of positives to look back on.
Norfolk hadn't progressed from the group stages of the Knockout Trophy competition since 2009, when they went on to win the trophy, beating Staffordshire by 104 runs in the final at Chester-le-Street.
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They won just once in the one-day competition in the following three years but have since made the quarter-finals in both of Brown's season as skipper.
'We hadn't won a one-day game since May 2010 until last year, when we made the quarter-finals. So in 2014 our aim was to go one step further,' Brown reflected.
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'We started poorly but performed much better in the rest of our group games and finished second in the group to reach the quarter-final stage.
'We were a bit disappointed with our batting game in the quarter-final against Wiltshire but we made a fantastic effort in the field and with the ball to try and defend 147, and they eventually won by three wickets.
'We were 80-8 after 18 overs, Harry Bush and myself coming in at number 10 managed to form a partnership to at least give us something to bowl at which was a shame because I think we had a group of lads capable of winning that competition but our batting let us down that day.'
Norfolk then also had to be patient for their first three-day win in the MCC Championship, drawing three of their first four matches, with the other being a 10-wicket home defeat to Cumberland.
The Festival then continued with a high-scoring draw against Bedfordshire, in which Sam Arthurton scored an unbeaten 166, before beating Suffolk comprehensively, with Arthurton scoring 113.
'Suffolk are a strong side but I thought we were excellent throughout the whole three days, with the bat and the ball,' Brown said.
'I think we proved that when we can get our strongest 11 out there, we can be a serious force at this level.
'When I first moved to Norfolk in 2002 we only ever used around 14 players, maximum, and a lot of those guys like Carl Rogers, Chris Borrett, Paul Bradshaw and Carl Amos could easily get the time off work and play every game.
'Those guys have retired from playing for Norfolk now, apart from maybe Brads who is still a quality performer'
'We used 24 players in the Championship this season so it is quite difficult to get a settled side out there and I think we want to get the whole squad's availability pinned down over the winter moving forward for next year.
'I remember the first game of the season, tossing up with the Northumberland captain and saying 'you look a bit glum', and he said he was fed up because he'd had four people pull out on Thursday and Friday night because of work or other commitments. Northumberland, always a strong force at this level finished bottom this year.
'So it's not just us, it's the way it's gone. When I started, every minor county had three or four prominent ex-pros but the rule changed in 2003 which meant you could only have one player who had played more than 40 first class games.
'I understand it's difficult to get time off work, of course, but we need to look at having a group of players who can play the majority of matches. We would have also had Callum Taylor for the Championship but he is well on the way to becoming a 1st class player with Essex.'
Brown works as a spin consultant for the ECB and is performance manager for the Norfolk Cricket Board, coaching from under-10 level through the EPP & Lions development squad.
With the Lions winning their development competition this season and six young players being handed senior debuts, he is confident that the future is looking bright in the county.
'It was disappointing that we didn't have Kieran Bunting available as throughout last season he had progressed quite well, but due to a back injury he was sorely missed,' Brown summed up.
'I missed three matches as well for the first time ever, with a calf injury, so that wasn't helpful either.
'But Lewis Denmark performed extremely well in his debut season. He had done reasonably okay in the East Anglian Premier League for Swardeston without setting the world alight but was someone I had identified as being a player who would be able to score runs at Minor Counties level, and he proved me right.
'Jordan Taylor made an exceptional start as well and with him and Lewis we have got two batsman for the future who are improving and will have plenty of opportunities down the line.'
• Sam Arthurton and Garry Park each got two Championship hundreds in the season, with the former achieving the record feat for Norfolk of three tons in successive innings.
• Arthurton took his championship career average to 57.20 in 20 matches and is only rivalled in history by David Walker (63.44 in 49 matches) and Ken Taylor (63.80 in 12 matches). Park became the 73rd NCCC player to get a Championship ton.
• James Spelman, pictured, became the 15th NCCC player to reach 4,000 Championship runs.
• Seven new debutants – Ryan Conroy (Thetford), Lewis Denmark (Swardeston), Will Dunger (Fakenham), James Hale (Horsford), Garry Park (professional), Jordan Taylor (Swardeston) and David Turner (Vauxhall Mallards).
• The Watson brothers, Ashley and Aaron, played in the same match for the first time and even bowled in tandem at one stage.
• Jordan Taylor made the side, thereby following in the footsteps of his England Under-17 younger brother Callum. They became the 94th set of brothers to play for Norfolk since 1826.
• Wicketkeeper Stephen Gray hit the fastest 50 (off 25 balls) since Manor Park hosted Championship cricket.
• Lewis Denmark averaged 162 in his debut season and was joined by his father Kevin (13th man) to field together, thereby becoming the fifth father and son to achieve the feat, albeit their example was the first such occurrence in a Championship game.
• Chris Brown took his 400th Championship wicket (381 for NCCC). He topped the bowling averages for the seventh time with his lowest return of wickets due to missing games through injury.
Statistics courtesy of Mike
For full averages and statistics from Norfolk's Unicorns Minor Counties Championship season, click here.
For averages and statistics from their Unicorns Minor Counties Knockout Trophy, click here.