Every run has to come to an end and so it was for Suffolk at the National Counties Final day on 4 July this year. As Bob has already mentioned in his first blog this month, Suffolk’s first team narrowly lost to Essex in the Minor Counties Final, thus losing its proud boast to have a 100% record for all teams that have reached the national final (Minor Counties and U125 [as was then] in 1995 and Minor Counties again in 1998 and 2014).
The final was always going to be a challenge when we learnt that Essex had overcome Somerset in the other semi-final and would be out for revenge from their comprehensive defeat we had inflicted on them the previous season.
We were also handicapped with the unavailability of some of our top boards. I therefore had to restructure the team to be able to field as competitive one as possible. Fortunately, Suffolk is blessed with strength in depth nowadays and I was still able to muster a team with an average grade of exactly 180. On paper the strongest possible, however I was concerned that in doing so I had to push players up the board order and I felt that we could be potentially exposed on the top boards.
There was not much else that could be done, so we set off to Coventry with high hopes.
The pre-match events could not have gone much worse. The Essex match captain hadn’t arrived when captains were called to confirm team lists and toss the coin for colours, so a stand-in was found and whether it was beginner's luck he won the toss and chose White on odd boards. This was unfortunate as I would have preferred White on odds due to the board order of the team. No matter it was a 50/50 call; we would just have to overcome this slight set-back. The Essex team was a formidable one and matched our average grade of 180! No margin for error here then.
Next thing, teams were being called to the board for a 13:30 start?! Hang on, wasn’t the start supposed to be 14:00? This is what I had thought and conveyed to the team. Four players hadn’t arrived by the time the match started and a stressful (for your team captain) 20 minutes elapsed until we were at full strength. Subsequent questions produced a confused picture in that some of the controllers were of the opinion that the match started at 14:00; however the official rules on the website had been changed to 13:30 and this is what the organisers adhered to.
As was usual in the final stages, my game was one of the first to finish. Whereas in the previous rounds I was leading from the front to victory, this time the reverse was true; my loss seemingly leading to the defeat of the team. After the first four games we were trailing 3 - 1. The match evened itself out after this with results trickling in over the course of the afternoon. With two games remaining we had reduced the difference to one point, the score being 7½ – 6½ to Essex. However we needed to win both games as board count was against us. This looked increasingly unlikely and so it proved to be with the penultimate game going to Essex. They had secured 8½ points and sealed victory. The remaining game was academic as far as the result of the match was concerned which was just as well as a superior position petered out to a draw and the final result of 9 - 7.
The full results can be seen here (follow links to Minor Counties and click on 'Essex' in the final column)