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National Counties Championship final preview

4 Sep 2021

Suffolk will give a late fitness test to all-rounder Ben Claydon, one of the heroes of their dramatic semi-final victory over Staffordshire, before Sunday’s National Counties Championship final against Oxfordshire at Tring Park (10.30am).

Claydon, who batted with a runner because of back spasms, and Adam Mansfield shared a Suffolk record last wicket partnership of 89 to snatch a one wicket win against Staffordshire at Copdock last week and deny Norfolk the Eastern Division One title.

Although Claydon has been named in Suffolk’s squad for their first appearance in the Championship final since 2005, head coach Andy Northcote admits that his chances of making the final 11 are slim.

“Ben does have a side tear, so is doubtful but he has been such a big player for us that we are going to give him as much chance as possible,” Northcote said.

“If on the morning before the toss there is no chance at all, then I will slip into the 13th spot.”

Northcote has played his part on the pitch in helping Suffolk to the final having made his Championship debut at the age of 38 against Norfolk at Manor Park in July.

Northcote, who has played first-class cricket for Western Province in his native South Africa and for Italy in T20 matches, filled in as wicketkeeper for Mansfield in that match which was abandoned on the second morning owing to a positive COVID-19 test in the Norfolk side.

Northcote will not be required to play this weekend as Mansfield has been named in the squad for the four-day final.

Suffolk will be missing Sudbury batsman Ben Parker, who is unavailable because of teaching commitments but Mistley all-rounder Kyran Young returns to the squad and Copdock & Old Ipswichian wicketkeeper Jacob Marston, whose only Championship appearance came two years ago, is also included.

Suffolk shared the title with Cheshire in 2005 and have to go back to 1979 for the last time they won the Championship outright.

The last of Oxfordshire’s four titles came in 1989 when they beat Herefordshire by seven wickets at Worcester with their most recent appearance in the final coming in 2015 when they were beaten by Cumberland.

Oxfordshire topped the Western Division for the first time since then by trouncing defending champions Berkshire at Thame in their penultimate divisional match and then backing it up with victory over Dorset at Wimborne in the final round.

Oxfordshire had to make six changes to their side for the Dorset match but they are closer to full strength for the final with captain Jonny Cater among those returning to the squad.

Thame Town opening batsman Ollie Ebsworth-Burland is available for the final having made a century in each of his first two Championship appearances, including a match-winning one against Berkshire.Those matches came two years apart and were both played on his home club ground.

Ollie Currill, the Leamington seamer who has played first-class cricket for Gloucestershire, is also named in the 12-man squad after a successful debut against Dorset with Gareth Andrew, the former Somerset, Worcestershire and Hampshire all-rounder, also supplying significant first-class experience.

Andrew goes into the final having scored 711 runs and taken 85 wickets in 16 Championship appearances for Oxfordshire in three seasons.

But Oxfordshire are without Harrison Ward and James Coles who outstanding form for them this season has helped to secure them contracts with Sussex.

Having ended Berkshire’s quest for a record fifth successive Championship titles, Oxfordshire will be slight favourites to keep the trophy in the Western Division but Cater accepts that they will need to be at their best to deny Suffolk.

“We had a blemish against Cheshire at the start of the season but we then beat Berkshire quite convincingly over the three days was the reward for the work we have put in as a squad over the last four or five years,” Cater said.

“It’s no fluke. We’ve had a couple of close finishes in that time and we feel that we are now ready as a squad to move forward.

“We have had to beat the best. We felt that Berkshire were the best side we have played this season and to beat them so convincingly was great.

“That has laid the foundations and the standards for us going forward. We know what we can achieve as a squad and to go below that now would be disappointing.

“What was pleasing was to see the lads produce that performance in Dorset. After such a high of beating against Berkshire it would have been easy to see our standards and expectations plummet but it was really pleasing to see that we followed up by beating Dorset.”

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