Paul Cook, the Lincolnshire and Bracebridge Heath CC batsman, has maintained a personal interest in England's progress as a former school team-mate of Stuart Broad, and last summer's cricket went very well for both players.
While Broad enjoyed a prominence in England's clear series victory over the Australians, Cook enjoyed a magnificent 2013 season in the Lincolnshire Premier League for Bracebridge Heath, hitting 1,169 runs at an average of 68.76, with four centuries. The only regret as captain was that his efforts failed to bring the crown to Lincoln.
Cook produced the runs while team-mates Matthew Carter, with an incredible 61 wickets, and Matthew Bradley, with 54, dominated the league bowling, but ultimately it was the blade of Tim McIntosh, the New Zealand batsman, that won the title for Sleaford.
Cook could cherish fond memories from his cricket scholarship to Oakham School. He and Broad shared the bowling and batting as fine all-rounders, with the ECB chief executive David Collier's son Mark as a fellow seamer. Interestingly even Cook and Broad were powerless when a certain Alastair Cook hit 200 not out against them at Bedford School in 2003. The scorecard shows that both finished wicketless and expensive in that game, though Broad, with 42 runs, and Cook, with 35, forced a dour draw.
Cook, having captained Midlands Under-15 in the national Bunbury Festival, went on to captain Lincolnshire while Broad took his rapidly growing physique into a career with Leicestershire and England. Both men doffered their cap to controversy, with Broad a victim of the unjust furore that followed the 'non-walking' Ashes incident last summer. Cook's incident in 2009 was a much less known, but more unusual, as he was given out for obstructing the field as a non-striker in a league game. The controversy cost him a week's suspension.
So Sleaford became 2013 champions. McIntosh would be best known in New Zealand as a gritty opening batsman who did not quite make it at Test Level, but in Lincolnshire the Aucklander's reputation as a fluent left-hander went sky-high. He topped the league batting aggregate ahead of Cook with 1.203 runs for Sleaford at an astonishing average of 109.36, including five centuries.
Perhaps a word connection with Lincoln, New Zealand Cricket's centre of excellence just outside Christchurch, might have inspired McIntosh, not to mention a similar flat landscape. While he was the undoubted powerhouse, it was the exploits of another New Zealander elsewhere that allowed Sleaford to pip Woodhall Spa for the title at the end of an extraordinary final day.
In the crucial match, reduced to 30 overs by rain, leaders Woodhall Spa made 150-9 against Market Deeping and had the home side seemingly out for the count at 36-6 in reply. That was until the Otago Under-19 wicketkeeper Ben Willemsen, batting at No 7, smashed a run-a-ball 55 to snatch a two-wicket victory, assisted by tail-enders Ali Sharp and Lee Peacock. The defeat allowed Sleaford, easy winners at Grimsby, to slip past them at the top of the table.
Billingborough were promoted to the top tier for the first time after winning the South Lincs and Border League Premier Division for three of the past four seasons. Their application to the ECB league had been rejected in 2011 because of the size of their changing rooms, but the league requirements were finally met, thanks to clubhouse improvements and a buoyant youth section. Haxey and Hartsholme were relegated.