Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 27, 2014

Summer The First Time – Outgrounds

AigburthMy mum had made me plenty of pork luncheon meat sandwiches (Mother’s Pride bread of course) and I may have had a flask of tea – but I had no hat, no rehydrating bottle of water and no sunblock as I walked to Seaforth Sands to get the unfamiliar green corpy (that is, corporation) 61 bus from the start of its route to its terminus at Aigburth. My dad had taken me to the first day’s play on the Saturday, but he was at work for the second (on the Monday) and I was 12 now and perfectly capable of a day out on my own. The sun was up and there was nowhere, absolutely nowhere else I wanted to be.

A half-fare in 1975 was probably 4p and I doubt that I had more than a few two pence pieces for the phonebox and maybe 75p for entry, a bottle of pop and some wine gums on the way home. The whole day’s provisioning was stored in a tupperware container and in a Kwik Save carrier bag. It’s how things were not so very long ago.

But some things haven’t changed. Aigburth comes up on you unexpectedly, with no pylons to house floodlights giving away its location, no little signs pointing the way to the car parks, no tacky stands selling club favours. Once in, I sat on the grass, hoping, hoping, hoping to get a touch of the ball, as it sped over the so so smooth field, my feet occasionally, rakishly, rebelliously, resting over the rope to show just how cool I was.

You could get right up close to the players – but you had to scatter on the rare occasion that a fielder would chase a ball all the way to the rope and its wall of kids. Two years on from that first visit, I recall a gazelle-like, beautiful human being floating about in the covers, a man with the balance and grace of a ballet dancer – he was an as yet unknown David Gower, still a season away from swivelling pulling his first ball in Test cricket for four.

Back to 1975 again, my 20p or so on the gate bought me witness to a century from Barry Richards, supported by 60 from Gordon Greenidge and, on the Tuesday (of course, I went back the next day), a dazzling century from Clive Lloyd, as Lancashire failed to resist the extreme pace of Andy Roberts. Is it any wonder that the game had me hooked?

I played once at Aigburth (in 1981 on the same pitch bowling from the same end that Richard Hadlee had used to take 7-25 for Champions Notts – I got half that: the “for 25″ half), but I played quite a few times at Southport, scene of another great day on an outground.

In 1981, Charles was marrying Diana on a glorious July morn and we all had a day off to watch it on the telly – except for the thousands who preferred Lancashire vs Middlesex at Trafalgar Road. At 9.00am, the queue stretched hundreds of yards – many didn’t get in and those who did drank the bar dry at 2.00pm. Big Clive was the big star again, blasting 91 to delight the (let’s be honest) 100% male crowd. Fewer were in the next day (though I was) to see Graham Barlow reply with 177 before Wayne Daniel’s five wickets delivered the points for the Londoners.

Neither of those two knocks were as good as Ken McEwan’s 128 for Essex three years earlier. The South African scored 99 of them before lunch on the first day – remarkable in itself, but more so when you know that only one other batsman crossed 50 in the match. McEwan oozed class at the crease and made 90 centuries, none for his country, his career coinciding with isolation. He was a mini-hero of mine.

To the end of the Metropolitan Line and Uxbridge station, the very heart of sweet suburbia. I’d braved that expedition to see the same teams I had seen at Southport ten years previously on Royal Wedding day, delightfully despatched to another outground. I had gone primarily to see Wasim Akram, who did not disappoint, taking 11 wickets in the match and scoring 78 runs for once out. I walked round the ground slowly (bumping into Phil Tufnell nervously pacing about with a fag on) as I tried to get the best angle to see the fabled fast arm. At no more than sixty paces distance, it was a blur from any vantage point on the boundary – I suspect things were hardly different at twenty yards distance.

I’ve seen a young Andrew Flintoff chatting amiably at Crosby, while I pushed my elder boy round in a buggy half-watching Lancashire IIs on another ground on which I had played (when I was Flintoff’s age). I’ve seen Jason Roy hit the very first ball of the match clean out of Whitgift’s little ground in Croydon and spent a couple of hours talking to Pat Pocock at the same venue during a four day game. I’ve even seen an ageing, ruddy-faced Darren Gough get into a row with a spectator at Guildford at the end of a Sunday match, the traffic roaring by oblivious just beyond the railings, Goughie being led away by teammates having given his all as usual with the ball.

When I can give up the day job and get a pensioner’s pass for the buses and trains, I  shall seek out any remaining outground cricket and travel to watch this unique form of the greatest of games. I know of at least one fellow traveller who will join me – but we will be legion! That is, so long as the authorities haven’t consolidated, rationalised and – well, take your pick from the beancounters’ lexicon – I’ll use destroyed one of the English summer’s greatest joys. Long live North Marine Road and your little cousins scattered all over this land!

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 27, 2014

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 27 July 2014

Middlesex - back in London

Middlesex – back in London

Ball One – Yorkshire’s classically balanced team win in the classical way

Yorkshire went back to the top of Division One having constructed a textbook win at North Marine Drive. Against Middlesex’s excellent seam quartet, enough Yorkies batted around in-form centurion, Adam Lyth, to get them up to 253, before handing over to veteran Ryan Sidebottom, whose seven wickets secured a first innings lead. When Lyth missed out in the second dig, skipper Andrew Gale’s century anchored a fine all-round batting display, allowing him to set Middlesex 422 in a day. Sidebottom missed out with the ball, but his fellow seamers kept chipping away before Adil Rashid’s wrist spin saw off any tailend heroics, the last five wickets despatched in ten overs, for a margin of victory 220 runs. Four day cricket demands contributions across all cricket’s skills and Yorkshire, with a blend of youth and experience, right and left hand batmen and seamers and Rashid to spin the ball both ways, look ideally equipped for the Championship run-in. White Rose fans can count themselves fortunate that only Jonny Bairstow will be distracted by England Lions duty in August – some of his colleagues can expect call-ups over the winter.

Ball Two – Chris Jordan and James Tredwell face down the Bears’ charge

Warwickshire missed the chance to register a hat-trick of wins and put pressure on Yorkshire’s lead, having run into two ex-England men with something to prove. On the annual excursion to Horsham, the home side were always ahead in the game, but knew that setting the visitors 326 in just over two sessions did put all four results on the table. 19 balls from Chris Jordan was enough to reduce those possibilities to two, as he bowled fast taking three wickets including first innings centurion, Jonathan Trott. James Tredwell, who often looks like an old-fashioned cricketer, then delivered the old-fashioned figures of 12.4-8-7-4 and the match was done. Having seemed to have forgotten how to take wickets for Kent, Tredwell has six in his last 17 overs for Sussex, a return to form that will please many followers of the domestic game.

Ball Three – Daryl Mitchell shrugs off the loss of Saeed Ajmal

In Division Two, Worcestershire reacted to the loss of talisman Saeed Ajmal by hammering Gloucestershire to extend their lead over third placed Hampshire to a yawning 45 points. All the bowlers got involved to cover the prolific Pakistani’s absence, but they were given the confidence boost they may have needed by captain, Daryl Mitchell, who carried his bat for 167 giving his bowlers nearly 400 runs with which to work. The local boy is enjoying the season of a lifetime, his 1222 runs at 81 topping the charts for both divisions. He’s a early contender for one of the Five Wisden Cricketers of the Year and would make a very popular choice.

Ball Four – Darren Stevens the hero for Kent

Surrey’s recent revival hit the buffers despite returning paceman Stuart Meaker’s eleven wickets against Kent. Robert Key had much to thank one of this column’s favourite cricketers for the victory – step forward, yet again, Darren Stevens. The 38 year-old warhorse had opened the bowling in both innings and was into his 41st over of the match before he snared danger man Tillakaratne Dilshan for 68. No matter – he just kept going, bowling what turned into a 15 over spell, getting a personal fivefer and the win for his county. Now that is what you want from your senior pro!

Ball Five – Tom Westley and Ateeq Javid fly the flag for the youngsters in T20 cricket

The NatWest t20 Blast finished its Group Stage with four teams from each division heading for the this week’s quarter-finals. Adding players’ batting averages to their strike rates revealed that only four batsman breached the 200 mark – Luke Wright, Tom Westley, Ravi Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate. Westley’s is the surprise name there, a player who has never quite fulfilled his early potential, but, at 25, may just be finding his niche. Amongst the bowlers, it takes wise old heads like Scott Styris, Rikki Clarke and Jeetan Patel to go for less than a run-a-ball over 20+ overs: but again, there’s a surprise name in the elite. Warwickshire’s 22 year-old Ateeq Javid is a bits and pieces man, but his 30 overs went for less than five and a half runs each, the kind of bowling that built the pressure that squeezed the Bears into the last qualifying slot..

Ball Six – Eoin Morgan has a point

There will be a few cricket clubs on tour just now and a week spent playing in Scarborough, London, Taunton and Cardiff, drinking some local ales to cool off and sleeping on the minibus as the motorway miles are ticked off sounds like it could be fun. Whether professional cricketers, obliged collectively and individually to play to the very best of their abilities, should be subjected to that schedule is debatable – especially as the week comprised four day, 50 overs and 20 overs formats. When highly paid sports stars complain about their workloads, it’s natural to  look on them living the dreams of millions and say “Suck it up!” Eoin Morgan didn’t like Middlesex’s week (for the itinerary described above was theirs) and I agree with him.

You can tweet me at @garynaylor999

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 20, 2014

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 20 July 2014

Sam Hain - no respect for records

Sam Hain – chopping through the eligibility admin

Ball One – Read constructs a thriller to send Nottinghamshire top

In 2011, Lancashire’s four wins from the six matches held at Aigburth played no small part in delivering the pennant to Old Trafford for the first time in 77 years. The lovely old ground that looks out on the Mersey and beyond to the Wirral Peninsula and on to the mountains of Wales may have hosted another Championship deciding match – the beneficiaries this time being Nottinghamshire, who went top with a nail-biting one wicket win. If Harry Gurney held his nerve to hit his one ball for the one run that got Notts up, skipper Chris Read was the hero. He arrived to join Riki Wessels at 79-5, with 91 still needed and only the tail to come – and he was still there at the end. Read has served his county for over 16 years now and will be 36 next month. Though his international career failed to take off, it’s hard to think of a cricketer who has done more for his county since the turn of the millennium. His club is now 11 points clear at the top on the table – is a third Championship coming his way?

Ball Two – Somerset’s turn to go second as Northamptonshire lose again

The shuffling of the top five places that has characterised the season since April, continued with Somerset eventually overcoming a spirited, but surely relegated, Northamptonshire. When Kyle Coetzer was dismissed (one of Luke Gregory’s 11 victims in the match), it looked another procession for Wantage Road’s visitors, with the home side 211 runs behind with only three wickets in hand. But Northants have batted deep for years, and half-centuries from Adam Rossington, Andrew Hall and David Willey got them within 53 runs of a remarkable win, before Craig Overton ran in to settle Somerset nerves and seal the 23 points haul. Willey had also made a fifty in the first innings, one spot up at 9, but that’s surely too deep for a man of his talents, especially if he’s batting and bowling in Division Two next season.

Ball Three – Talk of Australia and Hong Kong just phooey for England destined Hain

Durham welcomed back Graham Onions for the first time in two months, but were diced and sliced by a Warwickshire side who racked up 472 then dismissed them twice for well under 200. Sam Hain again caught the eye, the batsman enjoying a day off for his 19th birthday as the match was concluded in just three days. Hain is another one of these very 21st century men that can get Aussie journalists hot under the collar – he has roots in Hong Kong and Australia, but is eligible (and committed) to England through both his parents. With two tons and two half centuries in his last four Championship matches, England will be asking him to make that commitment official sooner rather than later.

Ball Four – Saeed Ajmal signs off with another seven wickets and a victory for Worcestershire

Worcestershire bade farewell to Saeed Ajmal with a convincing win over Leicestershire to go 27 points clear of third place Surrey with a game in hand. They might need all of that promotion cushion though, as the doosra delivering Pakistani’s replacement, Kiwi whirlwind Mitchell McClenaghan, is unlikely to take an average of seven wickets every match (though he may register a few retired hurts). Pears skipper, Daryl Mitchell, has enjoyed a tremendous season so far, but his mettle will be tested in the run in, as Worcestershire seek to bring Division One cricket back to New Road.

Ball Five – Mahmood resurrects the good old days at the end of a thriller

Gladiatorial combat – well metaphorically so – at Colchester, as Essex scraped home by two wickets against a Hampshire team now looking over their shoulders at their vanquishers and Surrey both of whom are building a case for the second promotion slot. When the eight wicket fell in the final day chase, Essex were still 25 short with just Monty Panesar left in the pavilion, but with Ravi Bopara still in the middle. It called for an old head, a reliable pro, a man confident in his role in the side – what Essex go was Saj Mahmood. Still only 32, but playing his first match of the season for the Essex First XI after doing nothing to suggest he was ready for top flight cricket in the Seconds, he hadn’t been one of the six bowlers called upon by James Foster in the Hampshire second innings. The ex-England man kept Ravi company to get his side within two blows of the win and then struck successive fours off Liam Dawson to deliver it. It probably won’t matter much to Saj’s future in the game, but one could only smile at a rare moment of glory for the big speedster.

Ball Six – Wright may still be the right man for England.

Michael Carberry has been in and around the England team for four years, but has only been selected 13 times in that period. Luke Wright has been in and out for England for nearly seven years, racking up over 100 appearances in white ball cricket, but always playing for his place – or so it seemed. The rivals for an England opening slot provided fireworks at the Rose Bowl, Carberry smashing 87 off 63 balls, with Wright replying with 116 off 66 – but Sussex’s feeble support meant that his superb effort was in vain. Wright probably has the better case for England selection in the upcoming ODIs and T20Is, his four scores over 50 in 13 T20 matches this season struck at almost 150, showing the kind of firepower England cannot afford to ignore in limited overs cricket.

Gary Naylor will be speaking at Words and Wickets at Wormsley on 25 July

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 13, 2014

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 13 July 2014

Big and bigger

Big and bigger

Ball One – The County Championship structure proves itself again.

With five games to play, Yorkshire sit a fragile five points ahead of Nottinghamshire after bossing a match against Durham that eventually petered out. That was a credit to Paul Collingwood’s men for whom the five points awarded for the draw were welcomed for altogether different reasons, as they seek to avoid the drop. Before the County Championship adopted its two divisions structure in 2000, a county in seventh place following on in a match against a county going for the pennant, might have had their minds on the next one-dayer – not any more.

Ball Two – Chris Rogers plays a cautious hand at Uxbridge

Middlesex and Somerset were nestled just outside the top two at the start of the week and stayed there, a draw helping neither cause. The match was played at Uxbridge, an outground that offers spectators a close-up experience, but one that can offer boundaries once the in-field is beaten. Perhaps that prospect played a little too much on Chris Rogers’ mind, as he delayed the declaration until he could ask Somerset to make 390 in 72 overs. He might have felt he was in with a sniff when Toby Roland-Jones snared a couple of wickets and Somerset were 61-3, but a positive James Hildreth and a solid Nick Compton did enough to prompt early handshakes and shared spoils. Was Rogers too cautious? He could have set Marcus Trescothick’s men 300 in 85 overs – the kind of target worth chasing even when 61-3. If Championships are to be won, brave decisions need to be taken.

Ball Three – Time and runs running out on Northamptonshire

Sussex arrested their slide towards the relegation slots with a overwhelming victory over surely doomed Northants, who are now 78 points adrift from safety having not won all season. After Luke Wright’s 158 had powered the home team to 405, Aussie veteran Steve Magoffin got to work, taking five wickets for just 12 runs to induce the follow-on, then picking up three more in the second innings to complete the win. Northants had ten batsmen with batting averages above 18, but none with an average above 36. If no batsman can make a ton, then you don’t get the runs and it’s hard to win matches.

Ball Four – Ansari might one day be an answer for England

Surrey won again to charge into the second promotion slot (for one day, before Hampshire’s bonus points reclaimed it) after a batting line-up that had sleepwalked through the first half of the season delivered again. Zafar Ansari anchored the innings, batting almost seven hours as the Londoners posted 589-8 declared spoiling Glamorgan’s annual awayday at Colwyn Bay. Ansari has had a disjointed start to his Surrey career, batting up and down the order and bowling his slow left-arm as a useful change option. But, in his first season without the distraction of Cambridge studies, he has played all 12 County Championship matches, amassing 718 runs at 65 at the old-fashioned opener’s strike rate of 36, also chipping in with 20 wickets at 32. Ansari has a long way to go before attracting the attention of the England selectors, but, still just 22, he has time on his side.

Ball Five – Sam Northeast’s knock points to a happier future

Performance of the week in Division Two came from another young player who seems to have been around for a very long time. Sam Northeast made his debut for Kent as a 17 year-old in 2007, but has never quite kicked on as they hoped at Canterbury – the instability at the club in recent years can hardly have helped him. His first century this season – an unbeaten 112 – got Kent up to 306-4, enough to defeat a Leicestershire side whose second innings of 388 had made them favourites for the win. Northeast will hope that will give him a run in four day cricket, Kent having six matches to mount a late, unlikely run for promotion.

Ball Six – Flintoff puts on a show, but he’s more than a mere showman

I met Freddie “Andrew” Flintoff in the departure lounge at McCarron Airport a few years ago (I recognised his voice when he went off for a crafty fag outside). He was still a little merry after a big night in Vegas and was en route to Canada for another stunt for one of his TV vehicles. He couldn’t have been nicer, was great with my kids and charmed my mother like few have over the years – a big, bluff Northern lad. He could play a bit though – and he still can as his three wickets in Lancashire’s NatWest t20 Blast win over Leicestershire showed. Far from the embarrassing gimmick some feared, he is putting bums on seats and delivering for his team. If Lancashire, already in the quarters, make Finals Day, the big man will do something, won’t he?

Gary Naylor will be speaking at Words and Wickets at Wormsley on 25 July


Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 7, 2014

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 6 July 2014

Ricky Ponting after too many pies. Sorry, it's John Hastings

Ricky Ponting after too many pies. Sorry, it’s John Hastings

Ball One – Warwickshire’s team of domestiques deluxes are back in the race

With Yorkshire on a week off (Tour de France fever?), Nottinghamshire had a chance to go top of the LVCC Division One and impose themselves on this nip and tuck race for the pennant. The first mission was accomplished with eight bonus points, but the second failed, as Warwickshire went third with a splendid win. That conclusion did not look likely when Chris Wright joined Chris Woakes with Warwickshire 218 runs behind with just three first innings wickets left. But Warwickshire’s late order has been very strong in recent years and three hours later, their deficit was limited to 64. Once Woakes – one of a platoon of cricketers just short of Test class at Edgbaston – knocked the top off the Nottinghamshire second innings, the match was on, with teenage Sam Hain and old hand Tim Ambrose leading the Bears’ charge to the line on the fourth afternoon. It was the kind of win that can fire a season run-in, something that won’t be lost on the Boys from Brum.

Ball Two – Spinners need to turn up for Middlesex

Middlesex must have targeted their home match against rock bottom Northants for a first win since topping the table in mid-May, but Steven Crook defied them with a maiden first class ton in the first innings and six home bowlers could only prise out three wickets on the fourth day. Middlesex’s problem – this from the county that fielded Emburey and Edmonds for so long – is the absence of an effective spin option. Between them, Ravi Patel and Olly Rayner have played nine Championship matches, taking just ten wickets between them in 249 overs. That’s leaving too much for the seamers, even those as talented as the bowlers at Chris Rogers’ disposal.

Ball Three – Good or bad match for Craig Overton?

At 20, both Overton twins are making waves at Taunton, with Craig currently a notch or two ahead of brother Jamie, provoking plenty of headlines with a dazzling 99 to establish a big first innings lead over Lancashire. But his match figures were 24-5-85-0, that lack of penetration playing no small part in the eventual draw, in which Paul Horton defied Somerset over nearly eight hours for once out. Jamie’s eight wickets in six matches has sent him back to the Second XI and, while Craig’s 24 wickets in seven matches is the kind of record that will keep him in the First team, his future will be determined by his output with the ball – the bat is a bonus.

Ball Four – Sensational Saeed spins Worcestershire to success

Worcestershire hammered Glamorgan to go clear at the top of Division Two, 28 points ahead of third place Surrey with a match in hand. They may need all that cushion because, while 20 year-old Tom Fell’s second century in consecutive matches augurs well in the long term, in the short term, Saeed Ajmal’s return to his country’s colours will hurt Daryl Mitchell’s men. The magician took 12 wickets in the match to bring his season’s haul to 56 in eight matches, including six five wicket hauls. Ajmal loves it in the Midlands – no doubt, they love him too!

Ball Five – Essex have the squad balance to make a late run for promotion

On paper, Essex have one of the strongest squads in Division Two and, for once, they all came to the party to smash Gloucestershire by ten wickets. Young openers Tom Westley and Nick Browne scored half centuries before old hands Ravi Bopara and Jesse Ryder showed their class with hundreds, before James Foster and Ben Foakes got on with it to raise over 500. That was enough to allow the experience of David Masters, Graham Napier and Monty Panesar, supplemented by the improving Reece Topley, to get through the batting order a second time. James Foster (a record breaker with nine victims in the match) will know that four wins in the last six matches should be enough for promotion and that the challenge, with eight proper batsmen and three very decent back-up bowlers to support the four frontliners, is well within his team’s compass.

Ball Six – Hastings battles for the role of seamers in white ball cricket

Big John Hastings (28, but looks 35) is just the sort of heavy ball bowler who gives seamers a good name in white ball cricket and he’s proving it in the T20 Blast for Durham. With just 123 to defend at Headingley against the Yorkies’ strong batting line-up, Hastings knocked over skipper Andrew Gale with his first ball and conceded just 22 runs from his four overs, taking three wickets. He has 11 scalps from his 17.1 overs this year and is going for under 8 runs per over – not bad in powerplay and death cricket. And no bowler with more than five wickets pays less than his 12 runs for each one – wickets still the best way to staunch runs. The Australian will need to continue with form like that if Durham are to push on into one of the highly competitive North Division’s quarter-final slots. If he does, it’ll be one in the eye for those who say that the future of white ball cricket lies with spinners and dibbly-dobblers.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 29, 2014

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 29 June 2014

Friday night at The Oval

Friday night at The Oval

Ball One – Finch flying in the Championship

Yorkshire, depleted by England call-ups, injuries and paternity leave, stuck to the traditional formula for winning County Championship matches to go top of the table as the days begin to shorten. Against Warwickshire, the seamers shared the wickets around, then the batsmen scored big and quickly to allow the bowlers another go – and they obliged to secure the innings victory. Headline friendly teenage spinner Kevin Carver sliced himself a little action with three wickets, but it was a more familiar face who gathered the plaudits. Aaron Finch is one of the most feared T20 batsmen in the game – a man who can tee off to make hundreds at strike rates around 200. He also has a modest First Class record, with just two hundreds in his 42 previous matches. But if he bats for a session or more, he’s going to shift momentum for Yorkshire, and that’s what he did in the pivotal Number Six slot, taking his county from a deficit of 78 to a credit of 137, from which there was no way back for Jim Troughton’s men. When Kane Williamson returns from New Zealand duty, it’ll be hard to forego Finch’s power in red ball cricket, if he continues to play like that.

Ball Two – Jaques a trump card against Somerset

Nottinghamshire pulled level with Yorkshire at the head of Division One with a comfortable win over third place Somerset, whose season is in danger of stalling after just one win in their last four matches. Phil Jaques must have something against Marcus Trescothick’s men (a dodgy pint of teenage cider perhaps) as he backed up his early season scores of 65 and 150* at Taunton with 113 and 42* in the reverse fixture. The Australian played only 11 Tests making three centuries (one in his last innings, six years ago) and nine fifties. In an alternative universe, he and Chris Rogers have 100 caps each – but Australia’s loss has been county cricket’s gain.

Ball Three – Lancashire’s record-breakers set up a much needed win

It was a familiar story for Lancashire as Glen Chapple was in the company of his top three less than a hour after sending them out to bat. But he didn’t see another team-mate cursing his luck until Steven Croft arrived back in the sheds just before the close for a career-best 156. The mood was catching as Ashwell Prince also delivered a career-best, in his case 257*, the two sharing the highest fourth wicket stand ever at Old Trafford. Chapple had the rare pleasure of a declaration to call, done with the score a hitherto unimaginable 650-6. That was enough to demoralise rock bottom Northants, whose two innings lasted fewer overs than Lancashire’s truncated one.

Ball Four – Stokes turns up the heat on Sussex

After three matches, Sussex were top of the table and wondering about a first pennant since the glory days of Mushtaq Ahmed – they now sit just two points off the relegation places having not won since April. Their latest defeat might be classed as a little unfortunate, as they ran into Ben Stokes with a point to prove, his ten wickets leading to a big defeat in which only Luke Wright passed fifty while the opposition racked up nearly 700 runs for the loss of 16 wickets. With the batting being carried largely by skipper Ed Joyce and the bowling by old pro Steve Magoffin, Sussex fans will be forgiven for hoping that Stokes’ confirmation of his readiness for Test cricket might bring the return of Chris Jordan to the domestic game – his wickets and runs are much needed on the South coast.

Ball Five – Gary Wilson channels the spirit of MS Dhoni to revive Surrey

Surrey suggested a late season challenge to long time promotion favourites Hampshire and Worcestershire with a crushing win over whipping boys Leicestershire (for whom lifelong bunny Charlie Shreck’s sixth place in the averages tells you all you need to know about their batting resilience). The match was a personal triumph for Irish wicketkeeper-batsman Gary Wilson who, since taking over the captaincy from the injured Graeme Smith, has made 246 Championship runs at 82, bolstered by a career-best 160* in this match. Surrey have used twenty players in 11 Division Two matches this season, but if injuries are avoided and selections calls prove correct, London may yet have two top flight four day derbies in 2015.

Ball Six – It’s the night out that counts

On Friday night at The Oval, Hampshire’s batsmen were abject, seemingly incapable of hitting the ball away from fielders, throwing in a stumping and run out for good measure. Until the late order played with a modicum of sense to help Will Smith get them up to an unlikely and much under par 131-9, the match had been terrible. Once Jason Roy blasted 63 in the first eight overs of the reply, the result was never in doubt, Hampshire having a collective bad day at the office. It didn’t seem to bother the crowd, many of whom seemed to be letting their hair down after a bad week at the office. Beer was drunk, conversations were shouted above the deafening music and Mexican waves passed round the ground both quickly and slowly. It was a cricket match, but it felt like a night out in Covent Garden – for many, I suspect it might as well have been.

Gary Naylor will be speaking at Words and Wickets 2014 at Wormsley in July.


Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 26, 2014

England vs Sri Lanka – Series Report Cards

Angelo Mathews's next opponent

Angelo Mathews’s next opponent

Alastair Cook (78 runs at 20) – If you’re reading this, chances are that you’ve read plenty about England’s beleaguered, defiant, troubled (sprinkle adjectives to taste) captain and have settled your own views. Mine are that he needs the rest of the summer to decide whether he can continue to take on a burden that eventually breaks men – ask Michael Atherton, Nasser Hussain or Michael Vaughan. He scored 14 fewer runs than Chris Jordan, but if that aggregate comprised a fifty and three failures, well – that happens up top against the new ball. But scores of 17, 28, 17 and 16 with no innings shorter than half an hour, speaks of a man with too much on his mind to feel “in” at the crease. Plenty of captains have broken such a trot with a “F*ck You!” century… but plenty haven’t. If the series against India goes quickly, surely so will Cook, for a little R and R, ready to return for the World Cup a refreshed man.

Sam Robson (171 at 43) – Nervous on debut at Lord’s, he settled in after a tricky start at Headingley to score a fine century demonstrating a cool temperament and the capacity to concentrate for sessions at a time. If that’s the upside, the downside is his indeterminate footwork that leaves him reaching for balls outside his eye line, something that bowlers will have noticed and, if as skilled (okay, half as skilled) as a Glenn McGrath, will work on, pulling him slowly from off-stump to fourth stump to fifth stump until he nicks one. The leave might just be the most important, and elusive, stroke in an opener’s locker – Robson needs it.

Gary Ballance (201 at 67) – Another whose feet don’t go where one might hope to see them, but, as throughout his career to date, his numbers look good. He won’t often get jaffas like the one Dhammika Prasad found as a greeting to the crease in the middle of England’s series-forsaking collapse late on Day Four at Leeds, so if he can get in, dig in and bat on (and 22 First Class hundreds set against First Class fifties suggests that he can) then England won’t miss Jonathan Trott as much as they fear.

Joe Root (259 at 86; 8-4-23-0) – Looked unconvincing early on (yet another young England player whose feet seem a beat behind his hands) but battled through it at Lord’s to post an undefeated double century, which, Jason Gillespie notwithstanding, is hard currency for a batsman. That score has bought him a summer in the middle order, but he will need to pass fifty at a better rate than his current seven times in 17 Tests if he is to hold down the middle order slot that has been marked as his destiny for some time.

Ian Bell (137 at 34) – Passed the 100 Tests milestone and notched a fifty in both matches punctuated by those familiar flowing strokes sweetly timed to race to the boundary. But it was a low key series for England’s deputy to Alastair Cook, a role that may assume greater importance as the summer progresses.

Moeen Ali (162 at 54; 52-4-181-3) – Batted with confidence bordering on recklessness before building a monument on the last day of the series that was two balls short of being remembered forever. That undefeated century showed that he has the goods to deal with one of cricket’s most difficult scenarios – no hope, becoming some hope, becoming very hopeful – settled any doubts about his batting chops. His bowling was at times revelatory, spinning the ball hard, his rip causing significant deviation out of the rough and on Sky’s rev-counter. Whether he has the control and variations, especially to right-handers, required to get good batsmen out remains to be seen, but if he can add two Virat Kohlis to his two Kumar Sangakkaras, England will have found one. A debut series packed with promise.

Matthew Prior (139 at 46, 14 catches) – Got a bit of luck and gutsed it out at Lord’s to deliver the sort of innings that locked down the Number Seven slot for so long. It was a different matter behind the stumps, where injury-induced rustiness made a tough job look even tougher. Worse still, his fumbling spread throughout the team as England’s fielding was, at times, reminiscent of their 1990’s nadir. He’s back, but not back to his best by a long chalk.

Chris Jordan (92 at 23; 89.4-26-273-5) – Nothing excites an England fan like a fast bowling, hard hitting all rounder, who just happens to stand at second slip to boot. So it’s hard to look at his output and ask the awful question one must of the all rounder – is it two slots wasted? For all his bustling pace and nasty short ball, Jordan has to show himself capable of getting wickets (five-fers really) if he is to hold down a place in the Test XI. Ben Stokes has already demonstrated that he can do that, and is likely to reclaim his place for the India series. But such are the strains placed on seamers these days that Jordan is likely to be rotated back into the XI before the summer is out.

Stuart Broad (75 at 19; 94-26-242-7) – Hit the deck hard – probably too hard too often – in a series that just did not include enough deliveries aimed at the top of off-stump. Aside from that strange overs-straddling hat-trick, he laboured not quite getting the wickets his better balls delivered, but not quite doing enough either. He is just 50 wickets behind Ian Botham, in third place on England’s all-time, all formats wickets list, so he knows how to send batsmen home – but there were too many spells in this series when he appeared to have forgotten.

Liam Plunkett (43 at 14; 92.5-11-331-11) – In a move with some parallels to the Australians’ remarkable recall of Mitchell Johnson, England returned to another bowler who had “lost it” but now found it again. Though not quite as fast as the Antipodean terror, he was sharp enough to hurry up good batsman on flat tracks and was happy to pepper his targets around the armpit and head from round the wicket. Though his action is much smoother than when last seen in Tests some seven years ago and his confidence much more robust too (thank you Jason Gillespie, Yorkshire coach), there’s still quite a bit can go wrong with an action that shares more with Stephen Harmison’s than anyone might like. That said, he might find himself welcoming Suresh Raina to the crease quite often in the next few months.

Jimmy Anderson (9 at 5; 94.5-27-258-12) – Swung it both ways and bowled at almost 90mph when the situation demanded it, he showed himself to be a real handful in English conditions yet again. He also came within a hair’s breadth of saving the series with the bat, which showed all the right qualities of a never-say-die fighter. The relentless, tedious and, I believe, counter-productive sledging, a seemingly “essential” part of his game these days, showed that fighting spirit in a less flattering light. He’ll be looking forward to bowling at India’s “plant the front foot and swing through the line” batsmen, who couldn’t cope with him last time round.


Dimuth Karunaratne (127 at 32) – Like his opposite number, he did all the hard work in getting four starts but converted none to a half-century. Like many Sri Lankan batsmen, we may need to wait for the retirement of the two middle-order giants before we see the best of him, as the shadow in which he bats now is a lengthy one.

Kaushal Silva (136 at 38) – Two half-centuries at Lord’s did not add up to a notch on the Honours Board and 136 runs in the series did not add up to everything expected of an opener. But, like many of his team-mates, he has lots of raw talent and, as a late starter in Test cricket, he’ll want to make the most of his opportunity.

Kumar Sangakkara (342 at 86) – The records come more quickly than the dismissals these days for an all-time great player who is as prolific and elegant at 36 as he has been at any time in his long career. Had plenty of luck at Leeds, but had batted like a left-handed Bradman in London, so deserved it. Like his old mate, he walked off a Test ground in England for the last time as a winner – a fitting valediction in this country to a player admired unequivocally by English fans.

Mahela Jayawardene (174 at 44; 6-2-13-0) – Still made the runs but was more inconvenienced by the short ball than when in his pomp and, at times, looked all of his 37 years. Like Sangakkara, he will leave these shores as a winner and, like Sangakkara, will be welcomed back in whatever capacity he returns. Most England fans rather enjoyed his little parting snipe at Alastair Cook too!

Lahiru Thirimanne (4 at 1; 1-0-7-0) – Sometimes things just don’t go your way… except the result!

Angelo Mathews (306 at 77; 37-9-99-4) – Batting, bowling, captaincy: is there anything he can’t do brilliantly right now? If his Lord’s knock was a fine innings, his Headingley century was from the Big Book of Adam Gilchrist Momentum Shifters. This was the captain’s innings defined, pulling his team back into the match and pushing the on into a position to force the win. In his bowling and, especially, his captaincy, he showed himself to have all the cunning and ruthlessness of Arjuna Ranatunga – at 27! If Earth were playing Mars next week, he’d be our captain and Number 6.

Dinesh Chandimal (52 at 26; 4 catches) – The outputs did not match the talent, but Prasanna Jayawardene’s fading powers on either side of the wicket might give him the sustained run in the side that he probably needs (though the Lankans are not short of options). Already has three Test tons in 13 matches (albeit against Bangladesh’s popgun attacks), so it would be a real shame if he confines his hard-hitting counter-attacking style to white ball cricket.

Prasanna Jayawardene (14 at 7; 3 catches) – The purists’ delight behind the stumps picked up an injury early on and never showed us his best. At nearly 35, after years of squatting down to Murali and Herath, one has to wonder whether he will ever reach the heights that delighted those who believe in wicket-keeping as an art, rather than a task.

Dhammika Prasad (0 at 0; 42-8-125-6) – Something of a surprise change after Kulasekara had toiled without luck at Lord’s, but he hit a golden line and length at Headingley – as some bowlers just do – and dispatched a quartet of England top order batsmen back to the sheds at the end of England’s traumatic Day Four. He held the seam up and bowled fullish at a nippy pace – as men have done in Yorkshire since the 19th century. Remarkably, that was enough.

Rangana Herath (65 at 22; 127.3-23-351-8) – Looks even less of an athlete when bowling his round-arm rollers than he does in the field, but he is so vital to his team’s success. Made England look like chumps in his extraordinary 149 run eighth wicket partnership with his princely skipper, then did his share in the tension of the last day. His variations in flight and spin are so subtle, but they trouble the best batsmen, and delight the connoisseurs.

Shaminda Eranga (25 at 25; 104.4-30-305-6) – Wobbled it about and kept taking wickets without ever dominating, he is another late-developer who showed plenty of heart with the ball, though none more so than when holding out for the draw at Lord’s, bat in hand, heart in mouth.

Nuwan Kulasekara (10 at 5; 37-5-148-3) – Looked a white ball bowler doing his best with the red ball on an unresponsive track at Lord’s. Would have enjoyed Headingley more, but missed out, rightly, to Dhammika Prasad.

Nuwan Pradeep (17 at 6; 77-10-305-6) – Had something of the young Dennis Lillee about his hirsute appearance, but not his bowling, as he charged in but lacked the cutting edge needed to succeed in Test cricket. His telling, indeed, his series defining, contribution came with a superb 0* at Lord’s to secure the draw, an innings all the more laudable after a truly comical hit wicket first dig dismissal.


Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 22, 2014

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 22 June 2014

Riki Wessels looks for another set of county trundlers

Riki Wessels looks for another set of county trundlers

Ball One – Notts knock off 385 to win with ease

Nottinghamshire went top of the table, as the pack at the head of the LV County Championship was shuffled again in this topsy-turvy season. Nobody saw that coming, least of all pennant-chasing opponents Middlesex, who racked up over 500 in the first innings powered by daddy hundreds from one of the county game’s father figures, skipper Chris Rogers, and England Test reject Eoin Morgan. Middlesex still looked favourites after declaring their second innings, setting Notts a very stiff 385 in 86 overs. But, in the age of heavy bats, pitches that barely deteriorate and ten an over T20 run chases, batsmen are as likely to look at the run rate as the target when contemplating a chase, and, once Alex Hales and Phil Jaques had posted 150 in 30 overs for the first wicket, the game was afoot. When Riki Wessels teed off, as James Taylor complied yet another fifty at the other end, the win points were always going to Chris Read’s men. It was a good week for Riki (son of Kepler), who may well have won the lottery on Saturday night the way things are going for him right now.

Ball Two – Yorkshire go joint top after a draw at Arundel

Nottinghamshire’s sole residency at the summit was short lived, as Yorkshire joined them on 118 points after their match at Arundel fizzled out into a draw. The Tykes’ 470-7dec, built on another big hundred by an England reject – Jonny Bairstow’s 161* – occupied the two middle days of the match and Sussex, led by Luke Wells 81* in 95 overs, easily played out time. Did Yorkshire need to bat on to a lead of 154 on a slow-scoring track? Had they declared when Tim Bresnan was out and the lead was 89, they would have had 26 overs at the Sussex batsmen at the end of Day Three rather than ten. But, as the spat this week between Alastair Cook and Shane Warne shows, the timing of a declaration is a subjective matter, with hindsight a cruel judge.

Ball Three – Things already looking very difficult for Lancashire and Northamptonshire

Durham and Warwickshire gained themselves some very handy breathing space with wins that lifted them well above their opponents, Lancashire and Northants, who are beginning to look doomed. At Chester-le-Street, Durham had 21 year-old debutant Paul Coughlin to thank for wresting the initiative away from Lancashire after Kyle Hogg’s six wickets had left Paul Collingwood’s team struggling at 184-8. Coughlin’s 85 from Number Ten, in partnership with a watchful Phil Mustard, tilted a tight match that stayed just out of Lancashire’s reach, despite Jos Buttler’s fourth day century. Warwickshire’s 602-9dec was plenty enough to knock the stuffing out of Northants who look. like Lancashire, to be returning straight back to Division Two after last year’s promotion.

Ball Four – Hampshire and Worcestershire are cruising into Division One

If Lancs and Northants are odds on to go down, Hampshire and Worcestershire are odds on to replace them. Two more wins sent the pair 41 points clear of a resurgent Surrey, with no sign of their easing off as they storm through the season. Skipper, Darryl Mitchell, made yet another century for Worcestershire, but it was Pakistan’s spin wizard, Saeed Ajmal, who secured the win running through Leicestershire with a spell of 6-19. His imminent return to his country’s colours will test his county’s resources, but they may well be able to coast to promotion in the late summer matches such is their points cushion. Things were even easier for Hampshire, as James Vince’s 240 (including 33 fours – really Essex, one boundary every eight minutes for four hours?) set up the bowlers for a 470 run win over a team boasting five internationals and some highly rated youngsters. That is, as James Foster will know better than anyone, not good enough.

Ball Five – All 18 counties still in the Blast

Things are different in the Natwest t20 Blast, as Essex squeezed a win, eight down with two balls to spare, over Middlesex to sit top of the South Division with six wins from seven matches. It’s even tighter in the North Division, with Lancashire’s and Worcestershire’s wins taking them top of the table, the Lancashire lads in second due to an inferior net run rate. There’s a month left in the group stages of the t20 Blast and no team is yet out of a chance of a quarter-final match and a tilt at a slot in the Finals Day extravaganza.

Ball Six – Riki Wessels is Man of the Week

It was a decent week for Riki (no longer just the son of Kepler) Wessels. On Monday, he completed an innings of 71 that kept Notts in the County Championship match against Middlesex; on Tuesday he made 74 off 48 balls to win it. On Thursday, he pummelled local rivals Leicestershire all round Grace Road making 66 from 31 balls as Notts won easily; then rounded things off on Friday with 95* off 51 balls to deliver another win over local rivals, this time Derbyshire. Those innings comprise 306 runs from 309 balls for twice out. “Seeing it big” are the mots justes.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 17, 2014

England vs Sri Lanka First Test – England Report Card

A Thriller!

A Thriller!

Alastair Cook (17 and 28) – He batted like a man not entirely at ease with his game – understandably so after the last six months’ turmoil led to his overseeing the award of three new caps for the second Test in succession. He lost the toss, but was happy to bat and happier still when his team piled up 575. His captaincy in the field was undemonstrative as usual, but showed signs of innovation when stationing a leg slip for Prasanna Jayawardene, who immediately obliged in the first innings and a claustrophobia inducing ring late on the fifth day as a shot at victory unexpectedly broke the rhythm of a drifting day. He might have declared England’s second innings on Sunday evening, but the lights were on and the umpires may have sent the players in with the overs consequently lost. He rotated his bowlers regularly, as he sought second innings wickets and when England got close enough to land the decisive blow, he backed his bowlers to the hilt. Like his opposite number, he was culpable for the Test’s dismal over rate, an insult to a very decent and appreciative crowd and, with 17 overs lost from the match, a key factor in the draw.

Sam Robson (1 and 19) – As a small boy, he would have dreamt of a Test debut in glorious sunshine on his home ground. That ground turned out to be Lord’s rather than the SCG, but the Sydney-born opener was no less nervous as a result, scratching around for twenty minutes on the first morning suspicious of a pitch that held its green tinge for not much longer than that. He nicked off, but openers do. His second innings dismissal was rather more concerning. Having played himself in for an hour, he was late on his stroke and bowled off the inside edge. He’ll go to Headingley knowing that Alex Hales is beginning to score runs in red ball cricket and that when Hales scores runs, people notice.

Gary Ballance (23 and 104*) – Plays from deep in the crease and looks a candidate for any bowler who can get the ball to seam in or out, but a first class average of nearly 55, having converted almost half his fifties into hundreds, suggests that he may join a long list of highly effective Test match batsmen with a less than exemplary technique. Of course, temperament is as important as technique in Test match cricket, and he showed plenty of the right stuff in the second innings, watching five partners trudge back to the pavilion as England risked throwing away a strong position. On Sunday afternoon, with just four wickets left and the lead 243, he needed to graft and then press on to the declaration – which he did, securing his maiden Test century in the dash to the line, time ran out on the day. If the adjective exists, one could describe the knock as Trottian (at least you could until that century raising six!)

Ian Bell (56 and 9) – Surrounded these days by nervous newbies, somewhat unorthodox techniques and a captain looking for form, his “textbook on legs” batting stands out even more than it did in his golden summer of 2013. His 99th was a low key Test personally, but he’ll want to mark his 100th with a hundred – if so, the Yorkshire crowd are in for a treat.

Joe Root (200* and 15; 3-1-7-0, 4-3-7-0) – Struggled to get his feet moving early on when England were in plenty of trouble at 74-3, but toughed it out before reaping the reward of his hard work with what turned into a fluent double hundred on what must be his favourite ground. Poignant would be too strong a word, but one could not help but be pleased to see two of the casualties of the winter Ashes debacle share the stand that took England’s first innings since the Sydney horror show from 209-5 up to 380-6. That won’t be the last substantial stand between Joe Root and Matt Prior this summer.

Moeen Ali (48 and 4; 16-2-56-1, 12-2-35-0) – Played with fearless freedom in the first innings, exemplified by his lifting the first ball he faced from Rangana Herath over the boundary for six. Herath is no mug though and got his man when Moeen was undone by his aggression, edging to first slip, trying to hit the ball too hard. It was a similar, if shorter, story in the second dig, with a big shot followed immediately by a dismissal, as Herath proved too smart again. He will have learned much from being suckered twice by Sri Lanka’s outstanding spinner, a lesson he can also apply to his bowling which looked innocuous, if enthusiastic.  That said, he will always have Sangakkara c.Prior b.Ali as a first Test wicket.

Matt Prior (86 and 16; 7ct) – After Jos Buttler’s astonishing white ball innings a fortnight ago on this very ground and repeated media updates about his fitness, England’s Player of the Year 2012 had much to prove on his recall to the colours. In sport you need luck, and he got his share with a very tight LBW referral going his way early on. Like the old pro he has become, he used that luck to build a typically busy innings in the early evening sunshine, scampering singles and pinging the four balls top the fence as the bowlers tired. The 76 runs he scored in the last session of Day One was a reminder of his momentum shifting ability, England raising their score from 195-4 at tea to 344-5 at the close to “win” the day. His keeping was similarly lively and efficient and, as long as he has no reaction to the demands made on his body, he looks set for another summer with the gloves.

Chris Jordan (19 and 35; 27.4-4-102-3, 18-10-34-2) – The figure of the aggressive all-rounder has been embedded in the England cricket fan’s psyche since at least 1981, gaining a significant boost in 2005 a series that did the myth no harm at all. On debut, Jordan promised much, if that is to be his brief. He bowled fast and into the body when required and batted with a mix of booming drives and better than expected defence, particularly during his 96 minutes at the crease in the second innings. Such was his hostility in the match’s last hour, he was given the new ball to propel at Nuwan Kulasekara having earned the right with the vicious Waqaresque inswinging toe-crusher that ended Prasanna Jayawardene’s 93 minute resistance. He might never be good enough to bat at six, as all-rounders should, but he showed that the package he brings to the team is plenty enough to warrant his place in the bowling quartet and as a late middle order batsman.

Stuart Broad (47 and 24; 29-8-67-1, 21-9-43-3) – Bowled with plenty of craft and enough hostility without ever assuming the “Enforcer” role that seemed to distract him in the past. His figures do not reflect his contribution with the ball, as he flogged a bit of life out of a track made for ten days, never mind five. His last over was a good one – good enough for the umpire, but not for the DRS, something he probably knew. Once again, he batted just on the right side of reckless, proving an extremely dangerous customer at 9 against a tiring attack.

Liam Plunkett (39 and 2*; 32-2-116-2, 16-5-39-0) – Having terrorised a few county pros with renewed pace this year, the Yorkshire fast man returned to the Test XI after seven years away, during which he sometimes struggled to get a game for Durham. Bigger than he was in 2007 and less mechanical in his delivery stride, he showed that this season’s reports of 90mph spells were well founded as he troubled all the batsmen, bowling with confidence and vigour. He hit the ball hard too at Number 10, a handy slot to bring in a man with two centuries and 17 fifties in first class cricket. He may only be keeping the slot warm for Ben Stokes, but he’s back as an option for the England selectors.

Jimmy Anderson (9*; 31-7-93-3, 19-10-25-4) – Like all the bowlers except Sri Lanka’s admirable Shaminda Eranga, he often struggled to get the ball off the straight in the air or off the seam in excellent batting conditions. But he bent his back and bowled some hostile short stuff that tickled up even the most experienced of visiting batsmen and, when reverse swing eventually did turn up late in the game, he showed that he is still its master. His seven wickets haul took him closer to Ian Botham’s England Test record, a figure that we’ll talk about much more after next winter’s World Cup.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 15, 2014

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 15 June 2014

Darren Stevens - exasperated again

Darren Stevens – exasperated again

Ball One – Bowlers do a double shift to raise Somerset to the summit at the halfway mark

The LV County Championship season reached its midpoint with Somerset elbowing their way to the head of the three counties that have crossed the 100 points mark. Alfonso Thomas’s four wickets in four balls caught the headlines in a low-scoring affair at Taunton, but the match turned when Craig Overton walked to the crease after Craig Kieswetter’s counter-attacking 65 had raised Somerset to a (still perilous) 125-7. Overton, still just twenty, found handy partners in Craig Meschede and Thomas, as Somerset’s three Number 8s (though they batted at 8, 9 and 10) turned an 89 run deficit into a 75 run advantage by the time they pulled on their bowling boots for the day job. Sussex had lost half their wickets before they were in credit again and their late order couldn’t repeat their opponents’ batting heroics. That’s a second consecutive home win for Marcus Trescothick’s men who are turning the familiar high-scoring home draws of the past into more valuable low scoring wins.

Ball Two – Consistent James Taylor reminds us of his potential

There just wasn’t quite enough time left in a weather-affected match for Yorkshire or Nottinghamshire to force a win at Headingley. The visitors, just outside the top three, fielded nine players of international experience, with James Taylor’s four and a half hour 96 the pick of the capped men’s performances. The diminutive batsman has not added to his famous double century collection this season, indeed, he is yet to score a ton, but in six out of the seven matches in which he has batted, he has contributed an innings of at least 60 – consistency itself. Still only 24, his two Tests (against an attack featuring Steyn, Morkel, Philander and Kallis) are fading into the distance – the last two years have been particularly long ones for Team England. But Taylor is still only 24 and it’s surely too soon to be writing off his chances of further international honours.

Ball Three – Simon Kerrigan is getting plenty of bowling and taking wickets in Division One

Lancashire had carefully constructed a position from which they could have forced a much needed second win of the season, but time lost and both sides’ inability to score at above 2.7 runs per over in their first innings, consigned the match to a draw. Simon Kerrigan got through 50 overs across the two Warwickshire innings for his three wickets, giving him 220 overs in the Championship this season for his 18 wickets. He is much the most successful England qualified spinner in the top flight in the first half of the campaign, but I’m afraid that isn’t saying much.

Ball Four – David Wainwright flies the flag for traditional county cricket

The only positive result in Division Two saw Derbyshire and Leicestershire swap places in the basement, with Wayne Madsen owing much to his all-rounder David Wainwright, who delivered the rare match combination of a century and a five-fer to lift Derbyshire to eighth in the table. Wainwright travelled the short distance south from Yorkshire when it became clear that he wasn’t quite good enough to hold down a slot with bat or ball in Division One, particularly with Adil Rashid unwanted by England and a palpably better player. Nevertheless, as this match proves, he remains a favourite of mine, as he usually finds a way to contribute and is the kind of player that makes the domestic summer what it is (and, despite everything, what it has been for generations). Long may him, and his ilk, survive.

Ball Five – Cockbain and Smith fight on and on and on

If Wainwright personifies the remarkably unremarkable nature of much that sustains the county cricket fan, Surrey’s match at Bristol was drawn from the other end of the spectrum. Gloucestershire looked utterly doomed after the Londoners’ batsmen at last found form to post 626-6dec, asking the home team to bat two whole days for a draw. Incredibly – they did. The hitherto unheralded Ian Cockbain played the innings of his life, batting nearly nine hours as he resisted everything thrown at him for 146 overs of formidable concentration. He was supported magnificently by so-called nightwatchman Tom Smith, whose career-best 80 stretched almost to tea. It’s sometimes said that journeyman pros don’t always give their all in low profile matches as the treadmill turns swiftly, burying a defeat with another bright new dawn and the toss of a coin. The two Gloucestershire boys clearly didn’t get the memo.

Ball Six – Darren Stevens puts on a show, but doesn’t quite get his just deserts

You don’t always get what you deserve in life, a lesson Darren Stevens must reflect upon when he looks at some of the players who have played white ball cricket for England during his 17 years as a grizzled pro (for he was surely a grizzled even when starting out at 21). He’s 38 now and very grizzled indeed, but he can still do it, as he showed in the T20 Blast at Cardiff. Having opened the bowling, yielding just 22 runs from his four overs and snaring Glamorgan’s three most dangerous batsmen (Jacques Rudolph, Jim Allenby and, possibly the only man left on the circuit capable out-grizzling him, Murray Goodwin), he then biffed 71 off 39 balls. And he still didn’t get the win! A tie was his reward after royally entertaining the crowd. Given his career, one that never quite got what it deserved, that seems somehow fitting.


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