Northamptonshire sides set a scorching standard at last week’s 125th anniversary of the Aegon sponsored inter county cup.
When the dust settled, Mark Taylor’s men’s team knew they would be competing in Group Two of the championships for the first time in 20 years in 2022, after finishing as runners-up to Derbyshire at Ilkley Moor.
The attractions of the Essex seaside holiday destination Frinton-on-Sea proved a remote second-best behind the form of Laura Mineards’ Northants ladies, who sped to a Group Seven title with victories on all five days.
Not since the likes of Richard Ward, Paul Robinson, Mark Blincow stepped onto court at Eastbourne in Group One in 2001 has so much promise flowered under the Tudor rose men’s banner. And to blossom in Yorkshire of all places!
After a stuttering start brought a 5-4 loss against 2015 national champions Derbyshire, the county defeated Norfolk (5-4), Nottinghamshire (6-3), Somerset (7-2) and Lincolnshire (9-0) over the next four days.
The legacy and duration of non-playing skipper Taylor is astonishing.
He admitted: “I first played county week as a 17-year-old and have now been running the side for 26 years – I turned 50 this year.”
But he stressed: “This has all been about the team.
“The satisfaction it gives me is built around the fact I have worked with players such as Jack (Haworth) and Joe (Tyler) as a coach at Corby, and also Kyle Rae, seeing them come through the ranks.
“There would have been another one with us in the form of young Jakob Bonnet, but he had to withdraw due to the covid rules the week before.”
Taylor admitted: “You always have doubts before the event as you never know who is going to show up (from the opposition) and Northants has always been considered a small county.
“Yet, next year we will be taking on the likes of Surrey.”
During the week, Haworth and Tyler won 14 rubbers apiece, teaming up at first pair on the first four days before being split up for the finale as Taylor attempted to use all his knowhow to squeeze the percentages in the county’s favour.
He said: “On the Friday we set our stall out not to worry about what everyone else was doing.
“We knew if Derbyshire beat Norfolk (which is eventually what happened) all we had to do was win. But we couldn’t be sure, and if Norfolk nicked it 5-4, we had to win 8-1 or 9-0.”
With an extra slice of opening day, even champions Derbyshire could have been topped.
Taylor said: “Norfolk and Derbyshire had come down from Group Two last year.
“Derbyshire have a good pedigree with the Rushby brothers. In the end we lost three match tie-breaks. Had they all gone the other way we could have been 7-2 winners!”
There was a sweet success on the Tuesday for Tyler against Norfolk’s Will Davies who has been an American university team-mate at Iowa. The pair are going to California next year.
Rae has been competing on the European circuit since April at venues such as Sarajevo, Croatia and Greece although he was back at Ilkley Moor this week competing in a British Tour event. He played alongside Charlie Swallow at second pair all week.
Taylor said: “I split up Jack (Haworth) and Joe on the final day which was an agonising decision to take, bringing in young Max Graham.
“Josh Golding had a tough day on the Thursday due to a diabetic condition and pulled out of the final match due to the heat.”
Taylor concluded: “Ilkley has always been lucky for us. The landlord at The Station remembered us and was fantastic with us all week.”
At Frinton, the Northants ladies’ team comprised skipper Mineards, Cassandra Dix, Catherine Thompson, Steph Patching, Alice Johns, Elita Silins and Robyn Everson-Watts.