Norfolk win festival thriller
A third enthralling Minor Counties Championship finish of the season saw Norfolk finally clinch their first win of the campaign at Manor Park yesterday.
Chasing 280 for victory, visitors Bedfordshire appeared to be cruising as they needed just three from 10 balls with three wickets intact. Teenage debutant Olly Stone conjured a flicker of hope with a swift full-pitched delivery to bowl Chris Esh and then skipper George Walker produced a magnificent direct hit run out to remove Colin Griggs.
Martin Weightman took a quick single to retain the strike for the final over, but from the second ball he prodded forward to Chris Brown, the ball looped up off his glove and wicketkeeper Stephen Gray held on to a tumbling catch to spark prolonged Norfolk celebrations.
It was Walker's first win as county captain after going agonisingly close against Northumberland and Cumberland and he admitted afterwards: 'It's a good feeling, especially after such a close game and with the fact that a number of different people have contributed for us.
'It's a good experience for the team and a cracking win. We've had two close games already this season and I think that helped us in a way, because we knew what to do.'
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While the early part of the day belonged to 40-year-old Carl Rogers as he was Norfolk's last man out having made 172, it was Walker's decision to take himself off and throw the ball to Northamptonshire Academy prospect Stone with four overs remaining which turned the game in Norfolk's favour.
The skipper said he had no fears about how the 17-year-old would react: 'Maybe he could have come on before that,' he said. 'With myself bowling the batsmen were just having a swing and trying to hit the boundary, but Olly's extra pace made a difference.
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'He's only 17 but he's got a wise head on young shoulders and he knows his stuff. He's fitted in superbly into the dressing room and you would have thought it was his third season with us, not his first.'
Amid the celebrations, it was easily forgotten that Stone's contribution with the bat in the morning was equally important, as he supported Rogers in a ninth wicket stand of 104, which fell just 10 runs short of equalling a county record.
Rogers, resuming on his overnight 114no, was given a life on 140 when he chased a wide delivery and was dropped by a diving second slip, but generally he and Stone made smooth progress.
The youngster's innings was ended on 36 when he was caught down the leg side and Rogers' patience finally ran out on 172 as he tickled a Ziggy Arshad delivery behind, with Norfolk all out for 360.
Beds could not survive a tricky pre-lunch period as a Michael Warnes beauty accounted for James Kettleborough and when Stone produced a similar delivery after the break, the visitors were struggling at 36 for two.
Former Derbyshire player Steve Stubbings then batted beautifully as Norfolk's spinners looked unusually ineffective, adding 129 for the third wicket with Oliver Swann.
Their serene progress was interrupted in the second over after tea when Stubbing's first misjudgement cost him his wicket on 95, with a reverse sweep looping up to Rogers at slip.
Skipper Oliver Clayson got off the mark with a thumping four off Stone, but next ball he was gone as a delivery shot through onto his stumps.
Bedfordshire went into the final 17 overs needing 72 to win, but began to stutter when Swann, on 84, chipped a floated Walker delivery to Peter Lambert at extra cover and the same fielder soon afterwards held a skier after David Hartley tried to hit Brown over the top.
Arshad slog swept a Brown delivery into the hands of Stone in the deep with 37 still needed, but Esh and Weightman looked to have won it for Bedfordshire – until the breathtaking finale sent Norfolk into the final Festival match of the summer, against Suffolk, in the highest of spirits.
Minor Counties Championship
Norfolk v Bedfordshire, Day 3 of 3
Overnight: Norfolk 152 (AC McGarry 5-28) & 273-8 (CJ Rogers 144no, OP Stone 13no, AC McGarry 6-84), Bedfordshire 233 (MW Weightman 46, MW Warnes 4-36)
• Norfolk 2nd Inns (cont)
CJ Rogers c Hartley b Arshad 172
OP Stone c Hartley b Arshad 36
MW Warnes not out 0
Total (110.2 overs) 360
Bowling: AC McGarry 37-8-107-6, CR Griggs 17-4-66-0, Z Arshad 17.2-1-73-2, MW Weightman 7-1-22-0, CJ Esh 32-7-78-2.
• Bedfordshire 2nd Inns
GR Thurstance b Stone 13
JM Kettleborough b MW Warnes 0
SC Stubbings c Rogers b Brown 95
OJD Swann c Lambert b Walker 84
OJ Clayson b Stone 4
MW Weightman c Gray b Brown 41
D Hartley c Lambert b Brown 0
Z Arshad c Stone b Brown 8
CJ Esh b Stone 25
CR Griggs run out (Walker) 0
AC McGarry not out 0
Total (72.2 overs) 278
FoW: 1-0, 2-36, 3-165, 4-170, 5-217, 6-220, 7-243, 8-277, 9-277
Bowling: OP Stone 17-5-58-3, MW Warnes 8-0-33-1, GW Walker 21-4-85-1, C Brown 26.2-1-96-4.
Man-of-the-match: CJ Rogers (Norfolk)
Norfolk won by one run