Vauxhall Mallards captain Paul Bradshaw remains wary of old rivals Swardeston ahead of EAPL showdown
Vauxhall Mallards skipper Paul Bradshaw insists he was never fooled by suggestions that Swardeston might struggle this summer as his side attempt to knock their Norfolk rivals off top spot in the EAPL tomorrow.
Swardeston lost the services of star batsman Jaden Hatwell in the winter, while Zimbabwe international Richard Sims has been restricted to just one league appearance this year. Skipper Mark Thomas stated before the season started that a mid-table finish was a realistic goal for his side, but they have swept to the top of the table and, like Mallards, are unbeaten in the league this summer.
Bradshaw believes that Swardeston's early season caution was something of a smoke screen and is expecting the usual tough battle when the two sides meet at Brundall tomorrow: 'I'm not surprised in the slightest that they are top,' he said. 'They've still got six or seven guys who can win them the game by putting in a match-winning performance. I'm not surprised either that they tried to play down their chances at the start of the season.
'But they've still got plenty of the old faces who can win games.'
There was a brief precursor to tomorrow's showdown on Wednesday night, when the two sides met at Brundall in the EAPL Twenty20 competition. It was Swardeston who emerged victorious after racking up a massive total of 249 for three – although Mallards responded in similarly impressive fashion with 231 for four.
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Mallards therefore miss out on the chance to progress to the national stages of the ECB Club Twenty20, as Swardeston go through to the EAPL finals this Sunday: 'It was certainly entertaining for anybody who wasn't involved in the match, but then it was never supposed to be a bowler's game,' said Bradshaw, who saw 57 runs bludgeoned from his four overs. 'There were 480 runs in 40 overs so it was an exciting game. Once they had got 249 I don't think there were many people who thought it would be an exciting finish, so to be 18 short at the end was a great finish and I wish them the best of luck on Sunday.'
Ali Shearer raised hopes of an unlikely victory for the hosts with an unbeaten 127 from just 58 balls and Bradshaw is keen for him to transfer that form to the league on a consistent basis. Shearer is currently on the fringes of the Norfolk team having made his debut last summer and he also played a key role in last Saturday's four-wicket win at Burwell with a patient 65no.
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Former county captain Bradshaw said: 'He played really well on Wednesday night, although I know he would rather have scored a few less runs and seen us win.
'He struck it really cleanly and showed what a bit of attacking intent can do.
'I think he has got to go on and get bigger runs in the league. Obviously there are some very good players in the Norfolk side he would have to dislodge, but he got himself in the frame with the runs he scored last year and if he plays more innings like the one last Saturday, those are the ones that get you noticed.
'He is definitely pushing for a place in the Norfolk side and he really wants it as well, which goes a long way in local cricket.'
Bradshaw believes Shearer and his batting colleagues can learn from the example of experienced opener Carl Amos, who has been in consistent form again for Mallards this year.
The former Norfolk batsman is averaging more than 42 in the league and has comfortably outscored his Mallards team-mates.
Bradshaw said: 'It's something we have talked about. Some of the guys need to learn from the way he approaches it. He has got stuck in and been more patient than the others, who have been getting into the twenties and then getting out.
'I think some of the younger batsmen can learn from Carl.'
Bradshaw himself has been the leading light with the ball and he tops the EAPL wicket charts with 27 victims, including two five-wicket hauls.
He is keen, however, to deflect praise towards the rest of the bowling attack: 'It's gone quite well for me – it has been wet and the ball has seamed around a bit on most occasions and that is my strength.
'There will be times when the other bowlers get the wickets – I think we have taken more wickets than any other team in the league this season so the other guys have been getting involved, it's just I've been getting the big wicket hauls which get the headlines.'
Twenty20 apart, Mallards have enjoyed the upper hand over Swardeston in recent years and have not lost in the league to them since June 2009. Bradshaw added: 'I've been playing against Swardeston for 18 years and it has always gone in cycles – it's nice to be on top at the moment but we're not taking anything for granted and we will have to play very well to beat them, as they will have to do if they are going to beat us. But these are the games you really look forward to.
'We've played quite well in the last two weeks and those two wins have catapulted us up the league.
'I think the league will be a little bit closer this year and maybe there is more of a difference between getting beaten and holding out for a draw – that could make a bigger difference this season. I don't think you'll see anyone running away with it by 50 or 60 points this time.'