Sunday 23rd July and the first day of the second Minor Counties championship game of the Norfolk cricket festival at Manor Park, near Norwich with the home side facing Cumberland. It was sixteen years ago since my last visit but little has changed still with the long line of small tents on one side of the ground and a much larger hospitality tent, which was doing good business throughout the three days. As ever plenty of support for the home side as it is a long way from any first class cricket.
There was a lot of muttering going on about last week's game with Suffolk, where the local rivals had batted out for a draw on the last day rather than declare and set Norfolk a target.
Veteran Chris Brown, the long term captain and coach of Norfolk, who started his career a long time ago with Lancashire, won the toss and decided to bat. Sam Arthurton, who I have seen score runs a plenty in the past for Norfolk, was the backbone of the innings after a good opening spell of pace bowling by Syddall and Grey reduced the home side to 44-3. The introduction of Toby Bulcock, Cumberland's slow left armer and leading wicket taker, precipitated a mid innings collapse and Arthurton was bowled for 59, followed quickly by Ewart and Stolworthy. Some late hitting by Coote added a few more but Grey finished off the last two and Norfolk were all out for 162.
When Cumberland batted, the pitch still seemed bowler friendly and they were soon 44-3 before opener Ross Zelem and skipper Gary Pratt put on a useful partnership of 63 before Pratt was out for 29. Zelem was still there at the close with 68 not out and the scores were level with Cumberland on 162-7.
Day two was hit by drizzle and light rain, which we were told was so light it did not appear on the weather forecaster's radar. Only 33 overs were bowled when the rain came soon after lunch and persisted for the rest of the day. Ben France, the veteran Minor Counties player once with Derbyshire, had been the bowling hero of day one and ended the innings with career best figures of 7-90. Zelem fell quickly for 74 but a fine innings of 36 not out by number eight Sam Wood gave Cumberland an all out total of 219 and a lead of 57. Norfolk were just 16-0 when the rains came.
All to play for on day three and again the weather was unsettled with hopes of a result looking unlikely. It had been hoped to get underway at 10.30 but the outfield was still wet after overnight rain and the covering of the square was not up to much. Efforts to dry the outfield with what appeared to be a piece of string, rather than a rope, attached to a tractor, didn't seem to help and no sawdust was available for some time when play finally started at 11.45.
This time James Spelman played the sheet anchor role for Norfolk and top scored with 42 from 197 balls. Syddall took three early wickets and eventually returned to get rid of Spelman, but it was as ever Toby Bulcock who turned the match back Cumberland's way. He took three wickets to destroy the middle order and it was left to the tailenders Brown, Stolworthy and Coote to hang around with time fast running out. Fortunately Grey's return to the attack soon took the remaining two wickets and Cumberland faced the formidable task of scoring 103 runs to win in only sixteen overs.
Norfolk opened the bowling with the two veterans, France and Brown, which paid off with Cumberland 12-3 in no time at all. Skipper Gary Pratt and Matt McKiernan, the hero of the last game win over Northumberland, came together and batted more sensibly without taking risks initially. They took the score to 50 before Pratt was bowled by Brown for 20. McKiernan, who could not bowl in this match because of a damaged hand, now took over in partnership with Zelem.
The run rate was increasing but after some punishment Brown took himself off and Taylor replaced him. 22 runs were still required off just two overs and Cumberland took 12 off France's last over. So ten required of the last over from Taylor. Four runs came from the first three balls, so six to win and McKiernan hit the next ball straight down the ground for six to win the match and to reach his 50 with just two balls remaining.
The Cumberland players and their small band of supporters were ecstatic! What a finish.
Treasurer Eric Carter must have run up a huge mobile phone bill giving ball by ball commentary to those back in Cumbria. Now they faced the very long journey home and next weekend will have to come all the way back to East Anglia to face Suffolk at Ipswich School