Swardeston set for big day

Swardeston vice-captain George Walker believes his side have enough experience to cope with the pressure of playing at an international ground in front of the Sky Television cameras.

Swardeston vice-captain George Walker believes his side have enough experience to cope with the pressure of playing at an international ground in front of the Sky Television cameras.

The Norfolk club take on Wimbledon at Hampshire's Rose Bowl in the first semi-final of the Cockspur Club Twenty20 competition at 12.35pm today. The match will be broadcast live on Sky Sports 3, with the final taking place at 7pm – and the winners earning a trip to Barbados to play in a pro-am T20 tournament.

But Walker, who has himself played first class cricket for Leicestershire, is confident that Swardeston will not freeze on the big stage: 'I think it's a good thing that we are the first game of the day and we won't be sitting and watching with the nerves building up,' he said. 'But we've got an experienced team with a few wise old heads and that will count in our favour.'

Swardeston have already tasted the big match atmosphere at the Rose Bowl, having been supplied with free tickets for yesterday's One-Day International between England and Pakistan by the England and Wales Cricket Board, who also provided an overnight stay in Southampton for the teams taking part today.

Walker, 26, has been at Swardeston for 10 years and admits it is one of the biggest days in the club's recent history: 'It's pretty unique,' he said. 'Obviously we've had plenty of league and cup successes locally and some years ago the club was involved in a national knockout tournament, but even the older generation who played then admit this is bigger.

'All the lads are excited about it and we've had a couple of training sessions to prepare. We had a disappointing end to the season in the league and with defeat in the NACO Invitation Cup final, but that's all behind us and we're just looking forward to the Rose Bowl.'

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Swardeston's challenge for the East Anglian Premier League title came to nothing this year as they finished third, while they were beaten semi-finalists in the Carter Cup and runners-up in the NACO Invitation Cup. But in the shorter form of the game they have proved unbeatable so far and Walker thinks they have the perfect blend for Twenty20 cricket. He said: 'We've got a reasonable amount of all rounders – not classic all-rounders, but batsmen who bowl a bit and bowlers who are useful batsmen. You've got to have a bit of balance, you can't just have five batsmen, five bowlers and a keeper.'

And the left-arm spinner admits he relishes the challenge of bowling in the boundary-laden format: 'When T20 first started people thought spinners would get taken apart, but it has been completely the opposite and they are often the most destructive bowlers,' he said. 'I enjoy it – as long as the boundaries are big enough! It's a real game of cat and mouse.'

Walker has never played at the Rose Bowl, but Swardeston's Richard Sims, pictured, has. He played for Zimbabwe in a Natwest Bank Series 50-over match against South Africa in 2003, hitting 24 and bowling three overs during a seven-wicket defeat.

While Walker admitted that the presence of Sims and New Zealander Jaden Hatwell was hugely beneficial for Swardeston, he also paid tribute to the man who will lead the side out today, skipper Mark Thomas.

'He's a good captain and a good lad as well, everyone gets on well with him. He's a one-club man as you might expect with his father, Peter, running things at Swardeston and he really wants to achieve success for the club.'

As for their south London opponents, who have former Swardeston player Richard Banham in their ranks, Walker said: 'We know they've got some strong players as you would expect at this stage of the competition. But we've proved we have the right mix and balance within the team and I think we've got a genuinely good chance of doing well.'

THE CONTENDERS

Swardeston: (East Anglian Premier League), 3rd, leading league scorer Jaden Hatwell (870), leading league wicket-taker George Walker (44)

Wimbledon: (Surrey Premier League), 2nd, leading league scorer Graham Grace (848), leading wicket-taker Richard Banham (35)

Bootle: (Liverpool & District Premier League), 6th, leading league scorer David Snellgrove (863), leading league wicket-taker James Dixon (36)

South Northumberland: (North East Premier League), 2nd, leading league scorer Christopher Jon Hewison (760), leading league wicket-taker Jonathan Wightman (56)