By Frank Smith
SWARDESTON may have broken the East Anglian Cricket League record by winning a fourth consecutive title this summer, but their captain insists the side will only get better with time.
Cricket lovers in Norfolk are not spoilt for choice when it comes to which team to play for, and that means recruiting top players can often be a struggle.
But that is arguably one of the key factors behind Swardeston’s success; they have kept a settled side and have had to place more emphasis on developing their own.
It has paid dividends as this year they won their sixth Gibbs Denley East Anglian Premier Division title in nine years – after lifting the national t20 title in 2010.
Captain Mark Thomas has been involved with the club for three decades and is still a member of the first team. So what does he think is the key to their success?
The 38-year-old replied: “We have been pretty lucky that we have probably had a similar team over the past four years. We have a pretty young team which is probably starting to peak and it could still get a bit better.
“I think the reason behind our success is mainly because we have a lot of strength in depth, a number of bowling options, a lot of batting options and we do not just rely on one person and certainly don’t rely on our overseas player.
“We actually won one of the league titles without an overseas player and last year we had an overseas player but he missed a number of games, so our success was a good team effort.
“We have built a good team and hopefully we will stick together and if we need someone to come to the fore they do.
“I think we are lucky we have people who are committed to the club and committed to playing. Normally we go through a season with only 14 or 15 players in the first team.
“We have a squad that is a lot bigger than that now as we have a lot of youth players coming through. Having that balance helps a lot.
“I have always played for the club. I remember watching our Norfolk local finals when I was ten years old and I have grown up watching cricket there. I’ve had that love for Swardeston my whole life.
“The club will always be a huge part of my dad’s life as well. He probably gets more disappointed when we lose than I do.”
Mark’s dad Peter holds a number of positions at the club and was the driving force behind the club changing their name in 1974. Mark’s uncle David Thomas is also heavily involved.
Members have traced the history of the club back more than 150 years after they were set up in 1852 in Mulbarton.
Mulbarton and Swardeston CC moved to Swardeston Common in 1964 and in 1974 dropped the ‘Mulbarton’ from the name.
They were a founding member of the East Anglian Premier League and this year saw them become the most successful team in the competition’s history after eclipsing Vauxhall Mallards’ five titles.
Secretary Stuart Bartram, who has been a member for 36 years and is now captain of the fourth team, said: “That is a record we are incredibly proud of it; it has taken a lot of hard work.
“I think it has been important that we have had the same squad of players, with only one or two changes to personnel over those four years.”
The club take pride in the development of their young players and that is evident as more and more of them challenge for a place in the first team.
One of them, Callum Taylor, was part of the England U19 side which drew the series with Australia this summer.
Mark Thomas said: “We like to put a lot of focus on our youth section so hopefully we can keep bringing through those young players, giving them chances and moving them onto higher things.
“It is critical to have a youth system. Norfolk is quite a small area for cricket so it is hard to recruit players from other clubs. Our aim is to keep hold of the players we have and grow the players that are coming through our youth section.”
Along with the four Saturday men’s sides and Sunday teams, Swardeston also have six teams between the U9 and U19 age groups.
And in recent years the club have also taken great strides in helping to promote women’s cricket in the area.
Bartram, 53, said: “We have been a progressive club and we have grown the club consistently over the years to a point now where we have four adult Saturday sides, two adult Sunday teams and a large scale youth section.
“In 2014 we made a real point of trying to establish a women’s and girls’ section which has gone well; the girls played their first competitive game this year and the women’s team did the same at the end of the year.
“We now have about 25 girls and women under the ladies manager Katie Treutler.”
It says a lot about the club’s success rate that Mark Thomas is still depressed by Swardeston’s narrow defeat in the quarter finals of the Royal London Club Championship to the eventual winners Blackheath in August. That was followed by three defeats in their final four league fixtures as Swardeston limped over the line to the title.
Mark said: “To be honest that Royal London Club Championship defeat was a massive kick in the teeth and it set us back in the league as we lost a few games after that.
“We have come close in a lot of national tournaments, and obviously in 2010 we won the national t20 competition.
“We have been pretty consistent in getting to the quarter final of one or the other in the last five years or so and it would be nice to go further and win the Royal London.”
Bartram echoed his views, concluding: “In terms of landmark achievements on the national front, winning the national t20 competition is by far the biggest thing we have achieved and we have spent the last five years trying to replicate it.
“We are striving to move forward in these competitions and winning those is definitely one of the biggest aims of the club going forward.”
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper on Friday October 16, 2015