Northumberland ran away with the Inter Counties Championship this year. Their team of David Appleton, Robin Brown, Gail Curry, Mike Hammelev, David Magee, John Moore and Bruce Rannie all sported navy baseball caps emblazoned with Northumberland CA (Gail had burnt the midnight oil unpicking seven Ss from local Schools Cricket Association caps) and they proved to be lucky caps indeed as the team won their first eight matches. Victory was thus assured by tea on the third day, though in fact they lost their last two matches.
The two division format has proved very successful, however, and any excitement lost on the last day of the tournament by knowing the winner was more than made up for by the battle to avoid relegation. Surrey, after a disastrous first day, were runners-up with 6 wins and one more game than the Channel Islands, last year's winners of the Second Division, also on six wins. Suffolk and Bedfordshire were relegated with three and two wins respectively, leaving no fewer than six teams on five wins vying for the third relegation place. Quite a few nails were being bitten throughout the last day! Sadly for the 1997 and 1998 champions it was Avon who lost out, despite winning both their matches on the final day, as they had won one less game than Cheshire.
Nottinghamshire won the Second Division with 8 wins. Their team of Keith Aiton, Jed Allen, Gary Bennett, Gordon Hopewell, Nick Hyne, Beatrice McGlen and Richard White finished just ahead of Sussex and Middlesex, who also gained promotion to the top flight next season. Hertfordshire, winners of the wooden spoon for three of the last four seasons, had a much improved team and finished fourth, with this year's wooden spoon going to Northamptonshire. One of the mysteries of the tournament was what has happened to the wooden spoon - Chris Williams had to fetch one from the kitchen to present to Lionel Tibble at the end of the tournament.
Reg Bamford (Middlesex) completed a three-ball triple and there were several quads. Robert Fulford (Essex) embarked on a sextuple, just failed to position the peelee in front of four back and completed the final three peels posthumously. Mark Avery (Suffolk) then hit in and started a septuple, but the return roquet after 1-back just missed the target ball, rebounded off the hoop and came to rest half an inch from the ball, giving Guy Willard of Essex a very easy finish. It was also good to see Debbie Cornelius playing for Essex again after a 2 year absence.
Surprising results kept cropping up. Middlesex (with Bamford playing for the first two days) had an impressive four 3-0 victories on the trot and then lost 0-3 to Nottinghamshire. Nottinghamshire thus went top of the table and promptly lost to Berkshire, at that point languishing without a win at the bottom of the table. The Second Division also saw the closest match of the tournament. Warwickshire and Glamorgan were tied 1-1 and when time was called in the deciding game both sides had missed the peg-out with the forward ball and pegged the other one out. With only two balls left on the lawn there followed an exciting 'golden peg' competition, which Paul Swaffield of Warwickshire eventually won by adopting golf green tactics and aiming three inches to the right of the peg.
Thanks are once again due to all at Southwick and Compton for their hard work with lawn preparation and catering, and to Chris Williams for managing the tournament. An enjoyable time was had by all.