Mansfield hits hundred as Sudbury retain their East Anglian Premier League title
- Credit: Archant
Sudbury have achieved the ambitious goal that they set themselves at the start of this summer, by successfully retaining their Gibbs Denley East Anglian Premier League title.
The Suffolk side, fresh from winning the EAPL crown for the first-ever time in 2017, repeated the feat thanks to an outstanding effort throughout the summer.
In the end, they pipped Swardeston to the title by just one point, the slenderest of margins, but they led the table for virtually the whole season and so fully deserved this latest triumph.
The pressure was on as Sudbury could not afford to slip up during their final game, against relegation-threatened Norwich at Friars Street on Saturday.
If Tom Huggins’ men had failed to win this last fixture then Swardeston, winners of the competition for five years in a row (2012 and 2016), would have taken full advantage to regain their title.
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Yet Huggins led from the front, in harness with fellow opener Adam Mansfield, to completely overwhelm Norwich on their way to a big victory by 123 runs.
Captain Huggins hit an aggressive 76, while Mansfield obliged with a wonderful century (108) and club captain Darren Batch kept up the momentum with a fine 68 to see Sudbury to an imposing 323 for six off 50 overs.
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Norwich needed to win the match, to remain above basement dwellers Bury St Edmunds in the table, but they were always up against it during their reply, despite a threatening second wicket partnership of 92 between the dangerous duo of Jack Newby and Will O’Donnell.
However, it was apt that the inspirational Huggins should break that stand, by bowling New Zealander O’Donnell for 48, and although South African Newby went on to score a century, in the process setting a new League record for the number of runs scored in a season (1,233), Norwich eventually subsided to 200 all out.
For Norwich, that meant entering the end-of-season play-off phase, to decide their fate for next season – they beat Norfolk Alliance champions Fakenham on Sunday in the semi-finals, and so now take on Cambs & Hunts Premier League winners Saffron Walden in the final next weekend.
But for Sudbury, Saturday was the climax to another wonderful season.
Club captain Batch summed up the feelings in the Sudbury camp after their successful defence of such a prestigious regional title.
“The goal at the start of the season was to retain our title, but the old saying goes that it’s often more difficult to win it the second time around,” explained Batch.
“We knew that we probably caught a few teams by surprise last season, as an unknown quantity, but that was definitely not the case this year.
“That’s why we strengthened the squad, by bringing in overseas player Tim Johnston, and also Martyn Cull towards the end of the summer.
“We have led the table, from about week three or four to the final day, and it helped that Tom and Adam gave us such a brilliant start on Saturday, which is something that they have done so often this season.
“That opening stand gave us the platform to build a big score. It was a great effort by Adam (Mansfield), because when you open the innings you so often have to face the toughest conditions of the day. Everyone appreciates the job that he does for the team.
“We were all delighted to see him make his century, and of course Tom has been great with bat and ball. He only just missed out on 1,000 runs for the season, which is something he would have deserved,” added Batch. Huggins finished on 993 runs.
After Huggins had won the toss and elected to bat, he and Mansfield piled on the runs to ease the pressure on the home side. Huggins plundered 78 off 88 balls, with two sixes and 11 fours, before he was bowled by James Mirner with the score on 134, and Batch then joined Mansfield to put on a further 100 runs for the second wicket.
Mansfield’s superb knock eventually came to an end when he was bowled by Ashley Watson, having faced 116 balls for his 108, and struck two sixes and 15 fours. It was a cracking effort from the Suffolk county captain.
Batch’s 68 came off 72 balls, and featured three sixes, while both Kenny Moulton-Day and Tim Johnston struck a couple of sixes during brief cameos at the end of the innings.
James Poulson removed opener Lewis Sexton (2) early on during Norwich’s reply, before Newby and O’Donnell briefly threatened to revive the visitors. However, Huggins bowled O’Donnell, and when Billy Moulton-Day bowled Ashley Watson for 17, the floodgates opened.
Norwich lost their last eight wickets for just 56 runs, with three wickets apiece for overseas all-rounder Johnston (9-0-19-3) and Billy Moulton-Day (4-0-21-3).
Sudbury could then start celebrating.