Weather stalls Norfolk title charge

Norfolk CCC chairman Keith Bray was busy working out the sums yesterday after rain stalled their Minor Counties Championship charge in the Eastern Division finale against Staffordshire.

Norfolk CCC chairman Keith Bray was busy working out the sums yesterday after rain stalled their Minor Counties Championship charge in the Eastern Division finale against Staffordshire.

Only two overs of play were possible at Walsall - the hosts reaching two without loss, before persistent drizzle returned to cut short the opening day's action.

Norfolk need 19 points to clinch top spot and a potential Manor Park championship decider next month.

Bray conceded the wet weather could now come to Norfolk's rescue, with no play in the rest of the scheduled Eastern Division programme.

“The worst case scenario, if nothing else happened over the final two days, is that we pick up four points - which is pretty frightening,” admitted Bray.

“The forecast is not great for Monday but okay for Tuesday. Even if we could get on for the last day and forgo the bonus points, but pick up 16 points for the win that might be enough.

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“The light was fine and the ground was okay to start, but it just began to rain non-stop. This weather is now taking things out of our hands, but everyone else is in a similar position.

“Cambs and Suffolk are really the two main dangers and they have to face the same problem. If we weren't in pole position and had to come from behind you'd be suicidal. Staffs also want to play and get a positive result so we couldn't be at a better place - perhaps that is not always the case at certain other clubs.”

Bray revealed the county already has a contingency plan ready should Norfolk earn a first championship tilt since 2002.

“You can't arrange something like that in a fortnight,” he said. “We've had to put things in place. If it happens, then I can make two phone calls on Tuesday night and it will be all systems go.

“It's not a case of not trying to think about it - I have to think about it, but it would be a terrific occasion. Everyone would enjoy it and I don't believe the final could come to any better presented ground than Horsford.”

Bray praised Paul Bradshaw's tightly knit squad for bouncing back from the disappointment of a season opening derby washout at Cambridgeshire to take control of the Eastern section ahead of the final round of matches.

“Overall I think we have been the strongest side,” he said. “I'm not saying unbeatable, but we've had to recover from a lot of things right from when Brads got a fresh injury at the start of the year.

“We played magnificently at the festival. Maybe we should have beaten Northumberland but we chose to declare early and they played well. We had them six down but the two lads who came in did the business - so fair dues. We murdered a strongish Bucks side and against Lincs we had a young boy (Jaik Mickleburgh) who did absolutely fabulous. All the experienced boys were falling around him and he just stood up and did the job.”

The teenage Essex academy product's 45 not out dragged Norfolk home by one wicket to stay a point clear of the chasing pack.

“He's a fine player and a great kid as well,” said Bray. “I look at the likes of him, Robert Newton and Shaun Bailey and think we'll lose those players if they go on, but that's what its all about.

“We've got a lot of very good young players and believe me if they are good enough then they will get a game. You only have to look at our development side, which has an average age of 20.

“The problem they face is trying to dislodge the blokes who have got us into this situation. Go right through the openers to our bowling attack. You wouldn't leave too many of them out.

“I've not seen a better Minor Counties bowler this season than Brads. Ian Slegg is a steady, eddy and we know Chris Brown and Michael Eccles will take wickets. Everyone in the side gets on and that means a lot. It might not have always been the case with previous regimes, but they are contented now. They come from different clubs, but they are all mates and that shows in the performances.”