Norfolk on top in Minor Counties Championship clash against Hertfordshire
Norfolk had much the better of the second day of their Minor Counties Championship match against Hertfordshire at Manor Park – but a combination of rain and a determined ninth-wicket stand in the final session held up their pursuit of a first victory of 2012.
Herts reached the close on 171 for eight in their first innings, still 162 adrift of their hosts' formidable total of 333 and needing a further 13 runs to save the follow-on.
That they are not already batting again is due to a polished unbeaten 64 from teenage debutant Caleb Stewart, who shared an unbroken partnership of 52 for the ninth wicket with Usman Arif and frustrated the Norfolk attack for the final hour of the day.
With two hours' play left, Herts were almost on their knees at 118 for seven thanks largely to the sterling efforts of pace pair Michael Eccles and Michael Warnes, but rain led to a 45-minute delay.
The eighth wicket fell soon after the restart but wicket-keeper Stewart and opening bowler Arif put their team-mates' efforts in the shade, although Arif survived on three when wicket-keeper Stephen Gray missed a sharp chance that would have given him his fourth catch and off-spinner Chris Brown his fourth wicket of the day.
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Despite a frustrating last hour, Norfolk skipper George Walker goes into the final day of this year's Festival of Cricket in confident mood.
'I think we've completely dominated the day,' he said. 'They're still eight down and more than 160 runs behind us so we're in a fantastic position. You can say well done to them for blocking it out at the end but I think that's credit to us for how well we batted and bowled to start with.
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'Michael Eccles and Michael Warnes bowled really well. There was a bit of assistance. If you've seen how many people have been caught behind the wicket in this match you can see the ball is doing a bit but you've still got to put it in the right area.
'Making them follow-on would be handy but if it doesn't happen they've got only 14 overs left of their innings. We'll then have a lead and a bit of incentive to get out there and get on with it, set a target for them and try to bowl them out.'
There was great entertainment before lunch as Norfolk's batsmen, resuming on 174 for four, rattled along to 333 all out before lunch.
Ashley Watson made a classy 56, Ali Shearer struck a six and eight fours in scoring a splendid 56 from 61 balls, and Walker added a brisk 35.
A three-wicket burst from Eccles in a marathon 15-over spell gave Norfolk control of the afternoon session, with Herts skipper Andy Lewis among his victims, while Warnes removed dangerous former Gloucestershire batsman Stephen Snell for 27, caught behind attempting a pull shot.
Brown got into the act 10 minutes before tea when Nesan Jeyeratnam was caught close in by Ali Shearer for 21, and the slide continued after tea until that valuable late stand.
Today's play, starting at 10.30am, promises to give the festival crowd their last glimpse of opening batsman and former captain Carl Rogers in action for Norfolk, 22 years after his Minor Counties debut, and he is guaranteed the warmest of farewells.
'He's retiring but he still has the class to carry on and it would be nice for him to get some runs,' said Walker. 'He will be missed in the changing room, that's for sure. Everyone would say they'd rather have him on their team than have to bowl against him.'