"I am a Norfolk man and Glory in being so." Horatio Nelson

ESMBA publish I.C.C draw

The ESMBA have published the Inter-County Championship knockout draw. Norfolk Premier, winners of Group 2, have avoided the preliminary round and face Cheshire Premier in the quarter-finals. Defending champions West Mids, who defeated Norfolk in last season’s final at Daventry, will take on the winners of the still to be decided Group 4 which will be either Oxfordshire or Avon. If ever there was a good incentive to finish as runners-up in Group 4 to avoid the mighty West Mids at this stage this could be it. In the other quarter-final ties Dorset play either Kent or Hampshire while Surrey will have to wait for the outcome of Group 4 and the subsequent qualifying match before they know who they will play. The final positions in the group stages obviously give a good indication of the state of play in I.C.C Premier bowls at present. Norfolk Premier’s feat of finishing 59 points clear of second placed Kent, with Essex failing this season to even make the main knock-outs, emphasize the strength of a Norfolk side determined to add to the titles won in 1995/96 & 2015/16. Since Norfolk’s convincing win against Essex in the 2015/16 final only West Mids have stood in their way and they obviously remain favourites to win for the third year. But if the two rivals meet in the final again this year they will find Norfolk more than up for the challenge. Essex have faded as a major force since finishing as runners-up in 2015/16 and a good run in the consolation knock-outs could help them get back to winning ways while Kent have a way to go before they can hope to recreate the glory days when they lifted the title seven times. Dorset won Group 3 27 points ahead of Cornwall and are definite contenders while it is sad to see both Devon & Somerset languishing in the bottom two places of their group. Both counties have seen much better days in the I.C.C in past years. The current results page on the ESMBA website still shows Gloucestershire as having three games to play against Avon, Herefordshire & Oxfordshire in Group 4 but the mixed results indicate that this group is unlikely to provide a team strong enough to challenge for the title this season. Surrey and Hampshire won five games apiece in Group 5 and lost just one game each but will have to up their game if they are to compete in the latter stages. Both West Sussex and East Sussex struggled this season and again the consolation stages could help them regain confidence. West Mids won a Group 1 that only comprised of three teams, but suffered a surprise defeat against a North Yorks team who will be competing in the “A” section next season. West Mids though are always up for the big occasions and remain a formidable side. Cheshire Premier, Norfolk’s quarter-final opponents, finished second in Group 1 with two wins and two defeats. They are far from the side that dominated the competition between seasons 2006/07 and 2013/14 while chalking up eight I.C.C titles. Their surprise defeat in the 2014/15 final against Hampshire brought their run of success to an end and Norfolk players will well remember the semi-final win against Cheshire the following season when the match threatened to boil over on occasions with weak umpiring not helping. In the I.C.C “A” Team knockouts Norfolk “A” have to navigate a tricky preliminary round tie against Surrey “A” with a quarter-final clash against West Mids “A” the prize for the winners.