South Northumberland are top club

Paul Coupar reviews the 2006 Cockspur Cup

Paul Coupar

South Northumberland's captain lifts the Cockspur Cup © Martin Williamson
South Northumberland CC, from one of Newcastle's leafier suburbs, won the 2006 national clubs' cup. By doing so, they completed a cracking year for the north-east - for so long cricket's forgotten region. Durham provided three England Test players; Northumberland won the Minor Counties knockout; and here was a triumph for the North East Premier League.
"People who didn't know much about our cricket were writing us off," said the general manager of "South North", Sachin Khanna, after the final against a more starry Bromley side, including the one-cap England player, Joey Benjamin, now 45. However, South North had several things going for them. They knew Lord's: man of the match Steve Humble, a swing bowler, had been there twice before in the summer, for Northumberland and for an MCC match. They had a five-lane indoor net built to the same spec as Durham's. And their players grew up playing together, often in cricket-savvy local private schools. The beneficiary of a recent property sale, South North was now run as a limited company. Grim up north it isn't.
Their relative youth - no players over 33 - also helped overcome a problem reported by several clubs around the country: getting thirtysomething players with families to add Sunday cup games to onerous Saturday league fixtures. And a pattern seems to be emerging. Bramhall won in 2001 with nine single players; Horsham won in 2005 with one divorced player in his forties, and ten young bachelors.
Despite increased pressure from modern lives (and modern wives) the number of entrants increased in 2006, after a long decline. There were 355 entries, up nearly 10%. It was reward for real ECB enthusiasm, targeted publicity and a new seeding system to make sure teams didn't end up playing others from their own division. Even so, 114 clubs from the ECB's premier divisions didn't enter. "In some areas it was appalling," said Patrick Mahony, ECB competitions manager. He hoped to repeat the overall increase in 2007. He will also hope for less rain. Caythorpe of Nottinghamshire made the journey up the A1 three times before completing their semi against South North. Having rejected a bowl-out, they finally lost by 34 runs. Boosted by 532 runs at 106 from Nadeem Shahid, Surrey's 2nd XI coach, Bromley of Kent also made the final. Both teams had won their league on the Saturday. Bromley did a bit of celebrating the night before the Monday final and dropped a spate of match-changing catches. South North stuck to squash - and had a double to celebrate instead.
But none of their players could match 44-year-old Alan Wells, formerly of Sussex and Kent, and once of England. Taking his son to play for Brighton & Hove against Lewes Priory in the second round, Wells found them a man short. He dug his kit out of the boot, pulled on the old whites and smashed the competition's best score, 208, including 14 sixes. Even this year, a southern Fancy Dan managed to steal the show.

Paul Coupar is assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer