Suffolk and Oxfordshire will meet in the final of the National Counties Championship at Tring Park on September 5-8 following a dramatic end to the last day of the regular season.
Suffolk snatched the Eastern Division One title from the grasp of neighbours Norfolk after a record-breaking last wicket partnership between Adam Mansfield and Ben Claydon clinched an improbable one wicket win over Staffordshire at Copdock.
When the pair came together, Suffolk were still 89 short of their target of 370 in 90 overs and, by that time, they knew that only a win would be enough to take above Norfolk who had beaten Cambridgeshire earlier in the day.
But Claydon, who was unable to bat in the first innings due to injury, made a maiden Championship half century, Mansfield finished on 47 not out and Suffolk got home with seven balls to spare to reach the final for the first time since 2005. Suffolk finished two points ahead of Norfolk with Staffordshire 25 points further back in third.
Oxfordshire topped Western Division One after they beat Dorset by seven wickets at Wimborne and ended Berkshire’s hopes of winning the Championship for a record fifth successive season.
Norfolk must have thought they had reached the final for the first time since 2002 after they overcame stubborn Cambridgeshire resistance to win by four wickets at Wisbech.
Cambridgeshire scrapped hard throughout the last day but defeat confirmed their relegation, with Lincolnshire staying up.
Cambridgeshire’s resistance was led by the experienced Josh Bowers and 17-year-old debutant Alex Maynard who added 68 for the sixth wicket and also took 27 overs out of the day’s allocation.
Harrison Craig chipped in with 23 not out at the end of the innings before Cambridgeshire were dismissed for 240 with spinners Ryan Findlay and Charlie Rogers taking four wickets apiece.
That left Norfolk needing 133 for victory and they had a few wobbles on the way, losing two wickets in ten balls before tea before Findlay and Hudson de Lucchi took them to within four of their target.
Norfolk then had to wait for the result from Copdock where Suffolk’s chase appeared to have faltered with the dismissal of former Warwickshire Academy batsman Alex Oxley for a superb 121.
Suffolk were still 100 short of victory when Oxley went LBW to slow left-armer Toby Bulcock and appeared to be heading to defeat when Matt Wareing was run out.
There were only 15.1 overs left when Claydon hobbled out to join Mansfield but that was enough for the pair to secure a remarkable win with a tenth wicket stand of 89 which bettered the previous county best for the wicket of 71.
Earlier Staffordshire had declared on 316 for eight after Michael Hill and Rob Hemmings had made half centuries against some undemanding bowling.
Oxfordshire overcame stubborn second innings resistance from Dorset’s Alex Eckland to take the Western Division One title.
Eckland batted four hours for his 87 and was joined by Simon Woodruff in a seventh wicket stand of 65 which frustrated Oxfordshire.
Off-spinner Max Mannering broke the resistance when he snared Eckland and Woodruff in successive overs on the way to his first five wicket haul in the Championship.
Berkshire briefly went top after they had beaten Cheshire by 158 runs at Falkland but by that stage Oxfordshire were already well on course for victory.
Having declared at their overnight score, Berkshire challenged Cheshire to make 351 to win on a pitch taking spin.
Slow left-armers Chris Peploe and Luke Beaven took four wickets each with off-spinner Euan Woods claiming the other two as Cheshire were dismissed for 192.
Oxfordshire were left with plenty of time to chase 114 and, after they had stuttered to 55 for three, Freddie Smith (23 not out) and George Tait (44 not out) saw them home in an unbroken fourth wicket partnership of 62.
Alex Money (31) led the early resistance and Will Evans (71) and David Wainwright (23) held up Berkshire during a fifth wicket stand of 90. Berkshire finished 14 points behind Oxfordshire, who inflicted a first defeat in seven years on them last week, with Cheshire further 12 points behind.
Shropshire’s tail guided them to a three wickets win at Sidmouth over Devon who finished their Western Division Two campaign winless.
Devon began the final day marginal favourites as they needed four wickets with their bowling attack refreshed and Shropshire still needed 58 for victory with all their frontline batsmen back in the pavilion.
But Sam Ellis (21 not out), Ben Lees (25) and Worcestershire Academy seamer Mitchell Stanley (20 not out) shepherded Shropshire to their second successive win.
Western Division Two champions Herefordshire had to settle for a draw against Cornwall at St Austell where a second innings half century from Scott Harvey denied them a fourth straight win.
Harvey and James Turpin (41 not out) added 81 in an unbroken fifth wicket partnership as Cornwall closed on 191 for four having been set 307.
Buckinghamshire wrapped up a ten wickets win over Northumberland at Chesham in Eastern Division Two despite a career-best 91 not out from Dale Shaw.
The Seaham Park seamer was making his first Championship appearance in five years and shared an eighth wicket partnership of 54 with Michael Oswell which left Buckinghamshire with a target of 83.
They cantered home inside 19 overs in mid-afternoon with Buckingham Town opener Michael Wells making a maiden half century in an unbroken opening stand of 85 with Alex Woodland.
National Counties Championship (Last day of 3)
Eastern Division One
Wisbech: Cambridgeshire 177 (Kieren Mackenzie 81 not out) & 240, Norfolk 285 (Ryan Findlay 82) & 133-6. Norfolk (23pts) beat Cambridgeshire (5pts) by four wickets.
Copdock: Staffordshire 206-5 (Alex Mellor 130, Joe Gatting 5-38) & 316-8 dec (Michael Hill 62, Rob Hemmings 51), Suffolk 221-9 dec (Ben Shepperson 73, Alex Oxley 55) & 370-9 (Alex Oxley 121, Ben Claydon 51 not out). Suffolk (21pts) beat Staffordshire (6pts) by one wicket.
Eastern Division Two
Chesham: Northumberland 139 (Matthew Oswell 57) & 178 (Dale Shaw 91 not out), Buckinghamshire 235 (Matt Scott 6-54) & 85-0. Buckinghamshire (22pts) beat Northumberland (4pts) by ten wickets.
Hertford: Hertfordshire v Cumbria. Abandoned. Hertfordshire (8pts), Cumbria (8pts)
Western Division One
Falkland CC (Newbury): Berkshire 190 (David Wainwright 6-38) & 252-9 dec (Euan Woods 122 not out, Dan Lincoln 57), Cheshire 92 (Euan Woods 5-17) & 192 (Will Evans 71). Berkshire (21pts) beat Cheshire (4pts) by 158 runs.
Wimborne: Dorset 129 (Harry Fisher 50) & 219 (Alex Eckland 87, Max Mannering 5-58), Oxfordshire 235-8 (Marcus Campopiano 90, Callum Russell 65) & 117-3. Oxfordshire (22pts) beat Dorset (3pts) by seven wickets.
Western Division Two
St Austell: Herefordshire 236 (Matt Pardoe 85, Zain Ul Hassan 50) & 220-7 dec (Ben Chapman-Lilley 66), Cornwall 149 & 191-4 (Scott Harvey 56 not out). Cornwall (8pts) drew with Herefordshire (10pts).
Sidmouth: Devon 148 (Graham Wagg 5-16) & 242 (Calum Haggett 109), Shropshire 178 (Graham Wagg 109) & 213-7. Shropshire (21pts) beat Devon (4pts) by three wickets.