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Title race ends in controversy as Aberdeenshire claim crown after game is called off

ABERDEENSHIRE were celebrating last night after clinching the Eastern Premiership crown but controversy overshadowed the climax of the campaign.

Shire made sure of the glory when their home tussle against Falkland was called off shortly before it had been due to get under way, despite the venue basking in sunshine and blue skies.

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The decision to pull the plug because of a small damp patch on the outfield left deposed champions Arbroath angry and frustrated. Their encounter with Stoneywood-Dyce at nearby People's Park had been cancelled earlier after water seeped under the covers. That left them relying on Falkland to beat Aberdeenshire to cling on to their title.

Award-winning Shire groundsman Kenny McCurdie said he had battled for three days to get Mannofield playable, only for the umpires to rule out action because of a the moist area on the bowlers' run-up 15 yards from the stumps.

McCurdie said: "The match officials are the ones who make the call on whether any ground is playable or not, always with the health and safety of players at the forefront of their thoughts.

"In this situation, the pitch itself was dry and in perfect condition. However, in the opinion of both umpires, this small patch of the outfield was not safe to play on.

"In the middle of the week, I saw that the weather forecast was not promising and with the water table so high, I spent a long, long time spiking and slitting the whole ground to assist the drainage process. Sure enough, we had a series of terrific downpours on Friday afternoon and evening, which seem to have put paid to any chance of play up at Stoneywood."

McCurdie said he was out in the middle at 6am yesterday to continue his efforts to get the match on.

"By 8am, the whole ground was fine, except for the patch on the run-up at the north end," he said. "I spiked and slit that area again and again, but the umpires decided it was still too damp and that in their judgment there would be no prospect of significant improvement in time to allow any play.

"The guys are celebrating their success in the clubhouse. It is not the manner in which they would have wanted to win the championship, but these things happen in cricket. I can assure any doubters that the umpires had 100% say in what happened."

Meanwhile, an unnamed Arbroath player who went to Mannofield after his own match was called off could be the subject of a report to Cricket Scotland disciplinary chiefs in the wake of an alleged exchange of views with the umpires. The officials will lodge their report with the ruling body this week, when it will be decided whether or not to take any action.

Clydesdale kept alive their hope of completing a remarkable clean sweep as they halted Ayr's bid to claim the Western title. Sam Page went on the rampage with a brilliant knock of 83 to propel the Titwood troops to 264 for five.

It left Ayr needing to reach 238 to claim the points that would make sure of the Western Premier crown, but there was no way back for the hosts after they slithered to a miserable 92 all out.

However, the fate of the seasiders is still in their own hands and they will be champions if they get the better of Dumfries at Nunholm on Saturday.

It was Dale's perfect build-up to today's Scottish Cup final against Grange at Williamfield in Stirling. A victory over the capital side would mean they still had the chance of triumphing in every senior competition in which they have competed this season - the others being the league, the West League Cup, the Rowan Cup and the Murgitroyd T20 Trophy.

Grange's preparations were cut short when their home tussle with neighbours SMRH was abandoned.

Ferguslie became Western First Division champions by beating Poloc at Meikleriggs.

David Kelso

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