Major Minors

Last Tuesday was a big day for cricket. The world tried to come to terms with England winning a second consecutive ODI, the England squads for the Champions Trophy and the Ashes were named, and, most importantly (in my house, anyway), Devon won the Minor Counties Championship outright, beating Buckinghamshire in the final.

Most Minor County sides are an uneasy combination of weary old lags from the first-class game (Bucks' Keith Medlycott performed this role very ably when I was at Exmouth last Sunday), club cricketers who were never quite good enough to make it to county cricket and, in some cases, young home-grown talent from within the county borders. The Devon side which won all six of its Western Division games on the way to the final had all three sorts of player, but with a welcome accent on young players born, schooled and coached in the county. Devon's captain, Bobby Dawson, fits into at least two of the categories, having been born and educated in Exmouth itself and played for the county's junior sides prior to a lengthy period on the Gloucestershire staff in the nineties. For the last few years he's been captaining his native county with a potent blend of experience and tactical nous, and is a very good focal point for the younger players under his command. The only other player in Devon's victorious side with first-class experience was Ian Bishop, who had periods with both Somerset and Surrey but largely seemed to miss the boat with both. Having seen him bowl a majestic spell of controlled fast-medium outswing to run through the Wales side at Exmouth last month (he took 9-35), it was hard to understand why. Then you have the range of young players who have come through the county's excellently organised youth system, including the powerfully built seam bowler Trevor Anning, from whom much more will surely be heard around the Minor Counties circuit, the slight but powerful batting all-rounder David Court (who I once played against when he was sixteen - I doubt if he remembers) and the stylish and technically sound batsman Neil Bettis. And then you have the ones who don't fit into either of those categories, such as the excellent young wicket-keeper, Sandy Allen, who migrated south to Exeter University from Warwickshire when it became clear he wasn't going to make it there, and the county's two principal spinners, Andy Procter, an offie, and the leading championship wicket-taker this season, and Arwyn Jones, the former Oxfordshire left-armer who bowled Bucks out on the final's last day. Best of all is Neil Hancock, a New South Walian who came to Devon in the nineties, stayed, became naturalised and has repeatedly proved himself this season to be the outstanding batting all-rounder on the circuit.

Since moving to Devon at the start of the nineties I've watched a lot of the county's cricket, my early years here coinciding with the club's golden era under the captaincy of Peter Roebuck. Over recent seasons playing demands have meant that I've seen a lot less, but it's been a real pleasure to get back into it in 2006.

I reckon I might be seen at a few Devon games again in 2007.

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