Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 27, 2014

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 28 September 2014

JGBall One – Lancashire down, but fans can look forward to thrills and spills in 2015

Oh Lanky, Lanky… Given a lifeline by both captains (Chris Rogers choosing to bat in tricky conditions; Glen Chapple forced to bat in trickier conditions, his 9 runs in the 110th over sealing an all-important bonus point), Lancashire could not dislodge Middlesex’s late order, in which Toby Roland-Jones and James Harris showed again what resourceful cricketers they are. So, as we kind of knew all summer long, Old Trafford will see Division Two cricket again next season. That will disappoint the legions of fans who follow Lancashire online (your writer included), but another rollercoaster season beckons and that’s plenty compensation. It’s only the weather that’s dull in Manchester.

Ball Two – Middlesex’s travails a sign of county cricket’s strength

How did Middlesex find their Division One status imperilled right up until the last afternoon of the season? Even with England calls, they can field XIs with plenty of experience and no little skill, big runs and twenty wickets looking likely rather than unlikely. Perhaps the reason for Middlesex’s difficulties is a simple one – there are six counties able to field better XIs across the season. And that augurs well for the quality of English county cricket, a product that really ought to trumpet its attractions more loudly.

Ball Three – Hampshire and Worcestershire seal promotion – in that order

In Division Two, the long time top pair went up, but Hampshire leapfrogged Worcestershire to earn the prizemoney after steamrollering Glamorgan, while Worcestershire took a comparable beating at the hands of Essex, whose charge came just a little too late. Many will feel that justice is served by Hampshire’s overhauling of Worcestershire, but Daryl Mitchell’s team’s achievement should not be diminished, even if Saeed Ajmal is currently undergoing remedial work on his action. They’ll need him back next season though.

Ball Four – The Final Over’s favourite batsman

Not best. That would be Adam Lyth, going in against the new ball and getting the Champions off to a solid start match after match; or Ed Joyce, the old stylist stroking runs at Sussex. My favourite batsmen this season is Daryl Mitchell, whose form only dropped off once promotion was pretty much secured. He’s a local boy, captain and opening bat whose average at the start of the season put him firmly in the journeyman category – in other words, he represents the bedrock of the county game. Five centuries and four fifties not only delivered the runs behind which Saeed Ajmal wove his spells, but in the vital first match without their Pakistani talisman, he lifted the team by winning the toss and carrying his bat for 167 runs to set up a crushing 8 wickets victory over Gloucestershire. That is how to lead from the front.

Ball Five – The Final Over’s favourite bowler

Though one cannot help but smile at the 100 wickets shared by Darren Stevens and Jesse Ryder – really, Division Two batsmen, you should know better – my favourite bowler this season is Yorkshire’s Jack Brooks. A late starter in the First Class game (and it shows a bit) his second season at Headingley saw him play all 16 matches, chugging in for more than 500 overs, taking 68 wickets and never letting his captain down. 30 now, he might never play international cricket, but he’s a throwback to what’s becoming an endangered species – the seamer who bowls and bowls and bowls until he gets his man out. We should treasure them while we still have them.

Ball Six – The Final Over’s favourite coach

In 2005, Jason Gillespie was subjected to something more than the pantomime booing that was Ricky Ponting’s fate in 2009, made all the more unpleasant by the fact that his bowling was disintegrating (he was dropped after three Tests of that series and played only two more, including his extraordinary farewell in Chittagong). Dizzy was plainly a fine bowler (rather more than that when unburdened by injuries on his first Ashes tour in 1997) and is now a fine coach, building a successful and happy team at Yorkshire. He has taken his club from Division Two to the summit of Division One without ever being anything other than himself, an endearingly straightforward and amusing bloke. “My daughter was born in Yorkshire, my son is getting the accent, so I’m stuck. We live in Leeds, we’ve bought a house, our kids are settled. This is our home.” Even this Lancashire fan is proud to have you Sir.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 21, 2014

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 21 September 2014

Chris Rogers gives his reaction to the close of play score on Day Two

Chris Rogers catches sight of the scoreboard at the close of Day Two

Ball One – Rogers, Morgan and Roland-Jones ease Middlesex’s relegation worries

Not so long ago, Australians would claim that county cricket is soft – a bloated, eighteen club anachronism, full of players coasting to their benefits – contrasting it with their lean, mean six state Sheffield Shield. One wonders what Chris Rogers would say to that proposition now. Having conceded 523 to Somerset, with ex-Future Of English Batting, James Hildreth, leading the way with 182, Middlesex finished the second day 64-7 with this week’s final fixture vs Lancashire sliding from “awkward” to “desperate” status. But Eoin Morgan eventually found a partner in Number 9 Toby Roland-Jones and Somerset’s bowlers were kept in the field for an extra (and crucial) 50 overs. Following on, Rogers did the thing he does best – he dug in for a seven hour double hundred and the game was saved, the five points for the draw taking the Londoners 19 points clear of the second relegation slot. It’ll take the spirit of 2011, some unlikely Autumn Manchester weather, and a remarkable performance if Lancashire are to overturn that deficit with an Old Trafford win over Middlesex.

Ball Tw0 – Chris Nash shows the value of an old retainer

One of those players whom one might accuse of playing county cricket without ever aspiring to international honours, is Sussex’s Chris Nash – but he’s exactly the sort of resourceful cricketer that I, and many fans of the domestic game, enjoy. The opener hasn’t had the best of seasons – not that anyone has noticed, with Ed Joyce and Luke Wright churning out the runs – so it was good to see him make 178 and 85 to set up the win over a Nottinghamshire side that had the wind knocked out of its sails with last week’s defeat by Yorkshire. Nash is a local lad, a product of Loughborough University who bats a bit and bowls a bit – the game will be diminished if the likes of him are squeezed out.

Ball Three – Hampshire cling on for a draw, as they cling on to a promotion place

While Lancashire and Middlesex duel to avoid the drop, their coveted place in the top flight will be disputed by Essex (home to promoted Worcestershire) and Hampshire (away at Glamorgan). Hampshire, long-time occupants of the second promotion slot, were indebted to Will Smith, who batted out the rain-affected fourth day to ensure that Sean Ervine’s first innings century and James Tomlinson’s two hours undefeated at the crease at Number 11, were not wasted. With just ten points in hand, Hampshire’s players will have two opponents this week at Sophia Gardens: the Welsh county’s players and the Welsh county’s weather.

Ball Four – Essex swat aside Leicestershire to heap the pressure on Hampshire

Essex’s expected (at least by me) charge for the season’s finishing line continued with a fourth consecutive win, this time over a predictably pathetic Leicestershire, a club that appears to be falling apart. Falling apart is certainly an apt description for their batting, twice dismissed in fewer than 76 overs, Jesse Ryder taking 8-90 with his dibbly-dobblers. It’s hard to know what lies in store for the Midlanders, without a win in two seasons and without many players for 2015. Something – anything – needs to be done.

Ball Five – Rushworth bags 15 as Northamptonshire go down to defeat yet again

Leicestershire’s counterparts in Division One, Northamptonshire, have shown much more fight, but their spirit finally snapped in the twelfth defeat of a winless season. Though that summary may not do sufficient credit to Durham’s bald seamer, Chris Rushworth, whose 9-52 and 6-43 returns will be the statistical highlight of the season. Rushworth must have had a tough paper round, as he looks much more than his 28 years, but he’s been a solid performer for a while now, holding the seam up and getting it there or thereabouts – never a bad tactic early and late in the English season.

Ball Six – Durham cruise (probably) to victory in the first Royal London One Day Cup Final

I recall reading that Time Passing was something philosophically different to Time Passed. I’m not sure what that means, but the statement came back to me watching the Royal London One Day Cup Final at Lord’s. Looking back on the match (and this view is supported by Duckworth-Lewis, the formula “calling the match” for Durham all through the second innings), it looks a fairly routine win, in which Durham made the most of the toss and some injudicious batting by Warwickshire to clinch the trophy. Yet, at the ground and in the comments made in immediate aftermath of the finish, it felt a much closer match, that could have gone either way until Ben Stokes and Gareth Breese had a bit of luck in their 36 run stand for the eighth wicket. That said, it was a slow burner that never really caught fire.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 15, 2014

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 14 September 2014

Jack Shantry. I mean, Jack Shantry....

Jack Shantry. I mean, Jack Shantry….

Ball One – The Yorkshire squad win the Pennant with a match to spare

The County Championship may not be the marathon it once was, but 16 matches is plenty enough to prove the identity of the best team in the country – so congratulations Yorkshire, Champions with a match to spare. The win that got them over the line (over closest rivals, Nottinghamshire) followed the template for so many this season. Big runs up top for Adam Lyth and Alex Lees with good contributions from the middle order (90s for England men present and past, Gary Ballance and Tim Bresnan) backed up by wickets shared by a bowling unit who deliver more wicket-taking deliveries than most, veteran Ryan Sidebottom leading the way with nine in this match. Yorkshire have nine batsmen who have played at least five matches and average more than 40 and the top wicket-taker in Division One in the unsung Jack Brooks. Remarkably, with a qualification of five wickets and 100 runs, Yorkshire have five players whose averages are “the right way round” led by Adil Rashid (566 runs at 44 and 40 wickets at 26) and a wicketkeeper (Jonny Bairstow) who averages almost 50 at a strike rate of over 60. The impressive Jason Gillespie has done what so few coaches manage – he has made sure that every player contributes over a full season – and his reward is a first title since another impressive Aussie was the driving force – Darren Lehmann. I wonder where he is these days?

Ball Two – Jonathan Trott – back in the groove

Warwickshire leapfrogged Nottinghamshire into second place, inflicting another crushing defeat on Northamptonshire, for whom young Ben Duckett impressed again with a pair of fifties in a hopeless cause. While another teenager, Sam Hain, caught the eye again with a double century, at the other end, Jonathan Trott compiled 164 in over seven hours as young and old put on 360 for the fourth wicket. Trott, despite only playing seven Championship matches in his rehabilitation season, has over 500 runs at 43. At 33 years of age, it’s hard to see a route back into the England set-up, but he might have five more years at least in the domestic game – and plenty of well-wishers on every county ground.

Ball Three – Dubliner, Ed Joyce, blooms late in his career

At the other end of the table, Lancashire twice crossed 300 at Hove, but ran into Sussex skipper Ed Joyce, who backed up his first innings 137 with a run a ball 79, as his team got up with 12 overs to spare. Joyce is having a magnificent season, despite turning 36 later this month – but he’s destined to be one of those unfortunate players (many of whom are Australian) who never quite built a convincing case for Test selection, though certainly far too good to be deemed a mere county journeyman (team-mate Luke Wright may prove another). Of course, had Ireland been granted Test status, things may have been different for the Dubliner. Meanwhile, a fairly ordinary West Indies team are hammering Bangladesh in the Caribbean Tests. And Lancashire need snookers to survive.

Ball Four – Borthwick completes his transition from bowler to batsman

Another Ireland player, Tim Murtagh, took ten wickets for Middlesex, but Durham had plenty in hand as they secured Division One status for next season with a comfortable win. Scott Borthwick anchored the first innings, seeing the score advance by 366 runs while he was at the crease for 100 overs making 176 runs. Borthwick is just 19 runs shy of a thousand in the Championship with two matches still to play, but, perhaps understandably, his bowling has collapsed, with just 13 wickets at well over 50. Unlike Joyce and Murtagh, Borthwick is a Test cricketer, getting his cap at Sydney in the last knockings of the disastrous Ashes Tour last winter. At 24, he has plenty of time to come again, but if selected, it will be as a middle-order batsman and not as, just eight months ago, a specialist spinner.

Ball Five – It’s a funny old game, though Surrey aren’t laughing

After more than 30 long, long years, have England finally found the next Ian Botham? Well, sort of. Surrey, gunning for Worcestershire’s long held promotion slot, had their opponents under the pump, restricting their lead to just 37 with seven second innings wickets down and Jack Shantry walking to the crease to join fellow journeyman seamer, Joe Leach. Both had got a few in the first dig and Shantry had picked up a six wicket bag with the ball too, but the odds of a home win must have been edging towards 500-1. Like Botham and Dilley at Headingley in ’81, they prodded around a bit before opening up and,  and, and… Two hours later, Shantry had a maiden first class century and Surrey had a distinctly awkward looking last day target of 217. By now everyone knew the script of course and, despite a valiant near five hour 64 from Zafar Ansari, when he was last man out, Worcestershire had the win and the place in Division One. Shantry, with four second innings wickets, became the first man ever to score a century from 9 or lower and take ten wickets in a match. The “New Botham” had his place in history and a slot in many an end of season cricket club quiz of the future. (Paul Edwards’ reports on each day’s play make for a superb read – click here and enjoy Shantry’s Match).

Ball Six – Alex Gidman signs off with a record

In a week in which the solid county pro has shone, Gloucestershire’s Alex Gidman hit the highest score of the season (264) against hapless Leicestershire. It’s a fine leaving present for the county, as Gidman is making the short journey to Worcestershire for Division One cricket in 2015. Though he and fellow centurion Gareth Roderick will remember the match, not least because their stand of 392 was a record for the county removing another of Wally Hammond’s from the history books, few others will. That, of course, is not the point. The point is that county cricket was played – maybe not by the very best cricketers in the world – but played and enjoyed by the hundreds of thousands who follow the game and who, when a future Gloucestershire pair raise 393, will look on a database and wonder who Roderick and Gidman were so long ago. County cricket is what happens in England during the summer – not inconsequential, but not overly important either. And what’s life for if not for such things?

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 7, 2014

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 7 September 2014

Ben Stokes - maybe

Ben Stokes – maybe

Ball One – Rashid rules the roost at Roses showdown

With the visitors going for the Title and the hosts fighting to avoid relegation, it was bound to be tense at Old Trafford. Too tense, in seems, for Yorkshire skipper, Andrew Gale, who will miss the rest of the season due to a ban after an altercation with Ashwell Prince – Gale’s second offence of the season in a Roses match and, at 30 years of age in his fifth season as captain, not good enough. Good enough – and then some – described his team’s performance as they cruised to an innings victory on the back of Adam Lyth’s 251 and Adil Rashid’s 159*, backed up by another solid effort from the bowling unit. Rashid, having batted for 78 overs, bowled for 40 to add a fivefer to his ton. Has any player in recent history done more, at 26, to win more First Class matches (especially at the sharp end of the season) than the all-rounder and still not played a Test match for England? (Indeed, he has only ten white ball appearances, the last nearly five years ago). Graeme Swann was three years older than Rashid when he made his Test debut – something England’s selectors may wish to bear in mind.

Ball Tw0 – Peter Chase runs through Nottinghamshire on debut

Notts vs Durham was another top vs bottom clash, but the result was very different, as the Northerners, not without some worries provoked by Notts’ last two wickets cobbling together 79 runs, got home by 54. While credit goes to grizzled old pros Paul Collingwood and Chris Rushworth, who added a vital 84 runs for the ninth wicket to take Chris Read’s target up to an intimidating 375, the key man turned out to be 20 year-old Irish debutant Peter Chase, who snared the in-form Riki Wessels en route to 5-64 – not bad from fourth change. Gary Keedy, in a rare appearance for Notts, will be able to tell the young man that, should he play another 223 matches, it won’t always go like that. Durham aren’t yet safe, but the win’s 21 points took them 12 points clear of the drop with a game in hand.

Ball Three – Worcestershire hanging on at the top of Division Two

In Division Two, Worcestershire’s match with Derbyshire ran along similar lines to their season, as a strong start gave way to a poor finish, Darryl Mitchell’s men collapsing to the unfancied spin of Will Durston. Of course it was never going to be easy to replace the wickets nor the presence of Saeed Ajmal, who had done so much to put his team in pole position for promotion before going on international duty and it’ll still take an unlikely set of circumstances to allow Surrey to bridge the 39 points gap, but Mitchell knows that he’ll need his Pakistani wizard back and firing on all cylinders, doosra and all, if his team are to prosper one level up in 2015.

Ball Four – Whither Leicestershire whose competitiveness is withering away

Hampshire, second and 32 points to the good of Surrey, look scarcely less likely to be caught for the other promotion slot having smashed hapless Leicestershire all round the Ageas Bowl. Six bowlers shared the wickets, but the lion’s share of the runs were scored by openers Michael Carberry (110) and Jimmy Adams (231), who added 253 in the equivalent of two sessions’ cricket before they were parted. With no win in the Championship for nearly two years, Leicestershire really are merely making up the numbers and, with their bright young prospect Shiv Thakor set to move to Derbyshire next season, any improvement looks some way off.

Ball Five – Billings unaccountably down at Number Eight

In front of just 3000 spectators rattling around Edgbaston (only a tenner to get in, but so soon after the ODI and Twenty20 Finals Day at the same venue and just as the kids are returning to school made the timing awkward) Warwickshire, with fifties from Varun Chopra, Jonathan Trott and Tim Ambrose, cruised to Lord’s after Kent simply could not get going. That stop-start innings was at least partly due to Sam Billings being held back at Number Eight, making his entrance at 152-6 in the 38th over. He still top-scored with 40* giving him 458 runs in the tournament, 129 more than any of the seven men who walked to the crease ahead of him, at the handy average of 115 and handier still strike rate of 154. Maybe he didn’t pay his subs in the quarter-final.

Ball Six – Ben Stokes following the Flintoff path to glory?

Ben Stokes, a feast or famine cricketer (at least in this stage of his development), smashed 164 from 113 balls to set Notts a mountainous 354 to reach Lord’s, a task that proved beyond them by 83 runs as Durham booked their place in the Royal London One Day Cup Final. In a season disrupted by injury and switches between formats and levels of cricket, prior to that Man of the Match knock, Stokes had passed 50 just three times in 32 innings and taken more than three wickets in an innings just once (a typically wrecking ball effort of 7-67 in a huge 309 runs Durham win over Sussex). However, one should not forget that he is just 23 years old and, at the same age, Andrew Flintoff (the player whom he most resembles in more ways than one) had not scored a Test 50, nor taken more than two wickets in Test innings and completed the corresponding First Class season passing 50 just three times in 23 innings with a best bowling of 3-36. Flintoff was 25 before he came of age as a Test player – Stokes, may not be a regular for England, but he is well ahead of that curve just now.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 1, 2014

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 31 August 2014

Still punching above his weight

Still punching above his weight

Ball One – James Taylor may be a good fit for England’s faltering middle order

In a week in which England’s white ball cricket looked as unconvincing as it has for years, James Taylor did his cause no harm at all making 146* to guide his Notts team to 313 off their fifty overs – which predictably proved far too much for Derbyshire. In List A matches, Taylor’s averages over a season have been truly remarkable – from 2009, the record reads: 46; 55; 64; 70, 78; and this season 67. If those kind of numbers do not earn a chance to add to his two ODI caps, what will?

Ball Two – Paul Collingwood still as dogged as ever with the ball

Who’s that chipping in with figures of 10-0-29-2 to help defend 237 against Yorkshire’s super-strong batting line-up? It’s the wily old fox, Paul Collingwood, now 38 but as smart as smart gets when the strangle is on. He bowled 850-odd overs in ODI cricket, seldom being collared, finishing with a career economy rate under 5. This season, in List A cricket, he’s bowled more 60 overs going at well under 4. There’s plenty who derided Colly as a bits and pieces man when he broke into England squads, but he’s always been a lot more than that. How many more county cricketers are being held back by that “Bits and Pieces” label, a term that’s flung around without much examination of the facts nor of what’s needed to balance a limited overs cricket side.

Ball Three – The mysteries of the Essex batting order

I don’t much care for theorising about batting orders. I’ve always felt that batsmen are top three, middle order, Number Eight or lower order and that’s about as precise as one can be. But Essex, set 272 to reach the semi-finals by Treble chasing Warwickshire (aka the Birmingham Bears, if you will) surely got theirs wrong though not crucially, as they went down by 67 runs. Jesse Ryder, who made a brilliant 90, was in at five when surely he should have opened (as he has done so often before) thereby giving himself the opportunity to face the maximum number of balls. Ryan ten Doeschate put himself down at seven, meaning that he came to the crease when his team were already well behind the rate, with his ability to influence matters circumscribed. The explosive Graham Napier was at eight, and the finisher Ravi Bopara was at three – there may well be a case for their positions to have been reversed, especially batting second. Perhaps one reason why Napier was so low in the order was lack of practice – in List A matches in the last five seasons he has bowled over 300 overs, but batted just 27 times. Though Essex often field eight or nine players with claims to being at least handy batsmen, Napier’s second string does seem to have been somewhat neglected.

Ball Four – Fabian Cowdrey may lack his grandfather’s precocious skills, but has inherited his father’s ability to chip in with bat and ball

The fourth quarter-final saw Kent take the crucial Gloucestershire wicket, Will Gidman, in the 39th over and then cruise home. While Sam Billings gave another reminder of his extraordinary season in fifty over cricket, another, very familiar, name caught the eye. With England captains for both father and grandfather, Fabian Cowdrey, were he equine, would have cost a lot in the nursery sales – but cricket doesn’t work like that. But it’s probably true to say that if the name opens doors, it also raises expectations and, at just 21, Fabian is already delivering. This season, he has batted in the top four and hit 295 runs at an average of 42 and a strike rate of 80. His left arm darts have gone at under five and a half an over and included the odd wicket (Gloucestershire’s captain, Alex Gidman, was one in this match). FK Cowdrey has a long way to go before emulating CS Cowdrey never mind MC Cowdrey, but he has made a good start.

Ball Five – The Royal London One Day Cup Final on 20 September is too late in the calendar

Though much diminished from the annual showpiece occasion it was in the 70s when the Gillette Cup was cricket’s FA Cup, and definitely behind Twenty20 Finals Day in terms of its impact these days, the Royal London One Day Cup does not help itself by delaying its final until Saturday September 20? That’s deep into Autumn, cold and likely to favour the side bowling first at Lord’s at 10.30am, not long after the morning mist has cleared. Surely two semi-finals and one final do not need over three weeks to organise? I wonder what the crowd will number – and how much they’ll be asked to pay for a ticket? I hope it’ll be 20,000 at £20, but I suspect it’ll be more like 10,000 at £40, though I’d love to be proved wrong.

Ball Six – County cricket (almost) falls off the radar

One of the reasons I started writing this column three years ago was to address the feeling that there was a lot of county cricket that was passing me by, absent from mainstream media and lost a little in the avalanche of information online. It certainly did that, an hour or so every summer Sunday dedicated to looking back at the rich variety (and thrilling matches) of the English domestic season, stretching from the chilly greentops of April through to the worn wickets of September. Almost without exception, I have, like Jade Dernbach about to start a new over, had more options than balls available, the six talking points drawn from plenty more at hand. Except this week. For reasons unknown, there was (not for the first time in recent years) no domestic cricket at all to make a welcome alternative to the Bank Holiday drive to Ikea and, come the weekdays, only the four Royal London Cup quarter-finals. I know that Sky makes its demands and that some players needed a rest, but the last week of the school holidays was surely an option to let the kids in for free and build a bit of goodwill for next season? Not to mention giving the poor old county cricket supporter a last chance to sit with a cold beer rather than a warming thermos.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 24, 2014

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 24 August 2014

Ebony and Ivory - sorry Charlie

Ebony and Ivory Charlie, together in perfect harmony

Ball One – Tim Bresnan – valuable for Yorkshire if not for England

After its break, red ball cricket returned with seven positive results from the eight matches played – another little marker of what a magnificent season has been served up to followers of the County Championship. Yorkshire’s win over Sussex kept their noses in front at the top of Division One and, as usual, it was a fine team effort. Unlike the selectors (to whom he seems forgotten) Tim Bresnan caught my eye with one of his trademark unobtrusive but vital contributions. Joining Kane Williamson six down and 76 in arrears, he left the crease with his team 81 to the good, the vital seventh wicket having tilted the balance of the match as it so often does. He then chipped in with three wickets in the crucial third seamer role, as the Yorkies secured the victory. His season averages of 27 with the bat and 30 with the ball are useful rather than outstanding, but with Bresnan it’s always been about the timing of his contributions – as last week showed.

Ball Two – It’s raining runs for England bound Hales

Just six points behind the Tykes, Nottinghamshire are still in with a shout after their win over rock bottom Northamptonshire. Chris Read’s men were made to work hard for the points after 21 year-old wicket-keeper / batsman Adam Rossington top scored in both Northants’ innings, backing up his ton in the first dig with a fighting 80, as James Middlebrook’s batsmen managed to give his bowlers something to bowl at in the fourth innings. Unfortunately, that something turned out to be England’s big new hope at the top of the order – Alex Hales – who signed off before joining the ODI squad with an unbeaten century that proved plenty enough to see Notts over the line.

Ball Three – Kerrigan and Smith hammer out a warning to Durham and Middlesex in the drop zone

The Championship’s two divisions format’s strengths were underlined again in a pulsating match at Old Trafford that had listeners to the BBC’s web coverage and those following scoreboard updates on tenterhooks as Lancashire and Durham fought like two cats in a bag to avoid the second relegation slot. Set just 107 to win after Simon Kerrigan’s second four wicket haul of the match had left Paul Collingwood high and dry on 45, Lancashire were soon in big trouble at 36-5. Stand-in keeper, Alex Davies, got something going with the admirable Tom Smith to lift his team within 30 runs of the victory, before Ben Stokes muscled in to reduce Lancashire to 90-9. Kerrigan, now with bat in hand, joined Smith as the overs ran out and the tension mounted. Somehow they blocked, nudged and nurdled their way to the target over half an hour of the kind of nail-biting cricket that Lancashire seem to specialise in. Tom Smith is having the season of his life and Simon Kerrigan has shown, not for the first time, that he has ticker to spare, despite that nervous Test debut last year. Lancashire, though still favourites for the drop, won’t give up just yet. (As a footnote, a surely disappointed Ben Stokes was nevertheless able to tweet his pleasure at being involved in a great match – well played again Sir).

Ball Four – Hampshire’s bowling unit under pressure to deliver as promotion beckons

Hampshire’s batting consistency (of the 15 times in the match that batsmen surrendered their wickets, ten times they had 30 or more to their names) was enough to see off Kent’s spirited but under-powered challenge and keep them nestled nicely in second place behind long-time leaders Worcestershire who suffered a first defeat of the season at home to Gloucestershire. Hampshire’s batting unit’s engine room, comprising James Vince, Jimmy Adams and Will Smith, have churned out the runs all season long, but come the sharp end, it’s those twenty wickets that turn five point draws into 16 point wins that really count. Time for Matt Coles and Danny Briggs – two cricketers who seem to have been promising for years – to step up and support old pro James Tomlinson.

Ball Five – Monty Panesar aiming to douse rivals’ hopes of promotion

With Surrey unable to break winless Leicestershire’s seventh wicket pair, Essex now look the most likely to challenge Hampshire for promotion after their third win in their last four matches, this time over a Glamorgan side that really only showed stomach for the fight once the game was up. While Saj Mahmood was predictably underused, James Foster gave his other ex-England bowler plenty of work and was rewarded handsomely – Monty Panesar delivering match figures of 78-25-168-11. Though one might argue that Monty, in Division Two, is operating at least one level below that justified by his skills, Essex fans won’t care about that. And it seems from that quantum of work he put in, neither does Monty.

Ball Six – Twenty20 Finals Day another excellent advert for cricket

I love everything about Twenty20 Finals Day: the morning ’til night cricket; the mascot race; even the scrabbling around for copies of the playing conditions once the baleful gaze of Messrs Duckworth and Lewis arrives with the inevitable showers. But, for the second year running, I couldn’t make it to Birmingham and relied on BBC Five Live Sports Extra for commentary. And what a splendid show it was. The standouts in an ensemble cast were: Charlie Dagnall, whose technical knowledge is lightly worn behind a cloak of genuinely winning bonhomie; Ebony Rainford-Brent, who has the voice and sense of humour needed for a long day’s company; Jason Gillespie, as decent a bloke as everyone says and proving to be as good a coach as anyone on the circuit; and, to my surprise, Luke Wright, who had some lovely tales to tell and explained the thinking behind one-day batting as well as anyone. In their differing ways for differing media, Sky and the BBC serve the day perfectly – what a shame more of the public can’t enjoy it too.

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 20, 2014

Entertainment, Competition and “Match-fixing”

My turn to breathe a little fire

My turn to breathe a little fire

What is the purpose of sport? No – let’s refine that question. What is the purpose of professional sport? One purpose (some would say the main purpose) is to entertain – after all, the fans pay the TV subscriptions and the ticket prices not merely to witness the processes that lead to league tables being re-arranged, rankings reshuffled, stats amended, but to be thrilled by superhuman skills, close finishes and the prospect of their heroes emerging triumphant, our modern day gladiators, our champions whose deeds will live forever This is sport as great unscripted drama, a visceral rush that exists above and beyond the confections of Hollywood and the PS4 – a bounded, separate, fulfilling part of our lives. But this exceptionalism is beginning to be diluted, perhaps fatally.

In a development that sits uneasily with most people over thirty, but for those younger seems entirely natural, scripted reality shows and sports entertainment formats have become hugely popular. The Only Way Is Essex and its imitators gain big audiences and sustain a whole industry of spin-offs in TV, print and online formats. WWE megashows make superstars of their “competitors” and succeed in media’s Holy Land – the Pay Per View market. No punter, having paid their $19.99 or whatever, believes that they are watching some distant cousin of The Olympics: they know they are watching some not so distant cousin of a Jason Statham movie. And they like it that way.

At Wrestlemania XXXIV (or whichever bombastic name it has now), the Show trumps the Result and always has. Slowly, mainstream sport is beginning to realise that this order may hold more widely than is comfortable for those who believe that the Result trumps the Show (ie that achieving the Result is the purpose of the Show).

With the Tour de France unable to name credible winners for many of the last twenty editions, hundreds of thousands of Brits turned out to cheer the riders through Yorkshire and London, the spectacle sufficient to attract the largest crowd in British history for a single sporting event. By no means starting with The London Olympics, but given a momentum then that now appears unstoppable, the presentation of sports in Britain has focused on the emotional impact of the event, not just on the competitors, but on friends, family and supporters. The Royal Box and the Players Box at Wimbledon getting more close-ups than the actual players themselves, as the camera noses into the fist pumps and the tears.

In American sports, the draft system loads the dice in favour of lower-ranking teams to strengthen them for the upcoming season. In football, Financial Fair Play regulations tilt the balance (albeit only a little) away from the externally bankrolled clubs towards those whose football pays its way. Sports administrators chip away at the purity of man0-a-mano competition to protect “the product” more and more every year.

To cricket. Anything that compromises the sifting of the best from the also-rans in international cricket and the long-established domestic competitions should, of course, attract the opprobrium justifiably heaped on the match-fixers who occupy cricket’s Hall of Shame. But what of the new, history-free, franchise-based T20 leagues that have popped up around the world in the last ten years? Are they more like the WWE than the LVCC? Entertainment is surely their primary (maybe their sole) purpose and its enhancement lies at the heart of their promotion, their presentation and their personnel. Few will be able to recite the list of winners going back through time (as schoolboys once could about the FA Cup), but most will be able to find a youtube package of “Ten Biggest Maximums” or “Five Crazy Run Outs”. The result is less important than the spectacle – isn’t it?

So should we be surprised if the trajectory of a T20 season proves to have been manipulated to “get the Final everyone wanted” or bring a struggling franchise the revenue and publicity of knockout stage matches it needs to remain solvent or to revive a flagging match with a bit of quasi-declaration bowling in order to make the last five overs interesting? Who would be surprised if evidence existed of such deals? I know I wouldn’t be.

But there’s a more interesting question – who would care? Not the fans of the media products I speak of above, happy with a great night’s viewing no matter its construction; not those whose interest in sport is about the emotions attendant on victory and defeat, rather than the result, loving those close-ups; not those who sit with a remote control in hand who might just as easily flick across to a Britain’s Got Talent segment with a heartrending backstory. The T20 leagues are for them more than me aren’t they? Why should they “eat their broccoli” if they don’t want to?

Should franchise T20 cricket be judged as entertainment and not as sport? Should it be regulated and administered as entertainment and not sport? Are we all just a bit too precious about it?

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 19, 2014

Cricket’s evolutionary dead ends

And some say keepers are eccentric...

And some say keepers are eccentric…

Fads fade – as they should – but why do some of cricket’s dizzying array of techniques, quirks and idiosyncrasies lead nowhere, despite their success?

Nobody has bowled – before or since – like SF Barnes, the man I would most like to have seen play in cricket’s history. Though many cricketers have been as bolshie (well, maybe not quite as bolshie) no bowler gets anywhere near his extraordinary figures sprawled over decades – sure they were different days, but why didn’t his contemporaries deliver those numbers too? Those who did see him describe Barnes as many bowlers in one – a quick, a seamer, a swinger and (this appears to be his most unique quality) a fast-medium spinner capable of ripping it both ways. With all the talk of Moeen Ali finding that bit of zip at 56mph that makes all the difference, has nobody – not even Jade Dernbach – attempted to rip the ball at 75 – 80mph (rolling won’t do)? Perhaps if Shahid Afridi had greater respect for his frightening physical attributes, he might have properly developed that kind of delivery as a stock ball, but I can think of no other bowler in my time who would even consider the option. SF Barnes leaves behind a remarkable record, but no legacy.

We have more empirical evidence of Jeff Thomson’s bowling action. Innocuous at first, just a hair-bouncing jog to the crease before unleashing – with a straight arm – something akin to a baseball pitcher’s fast ball, his right hand touching the turf as his body arched back, before the ball was rocketed at the batsman (and, occasionally, at the stumps). Of course, the action stressed the body – fast bowling does – but it did not break it and Thommo enjoyed a long career, albeit without that literally shocking pace of his 1974-75 breakthrough series. Perhaps the bowler who most resembles the terror of the Poms is fellow Australian, Shaun Tait, who has something of Thommo’s slingshot pace, but little of his brutal accuracy. Tait isn’t quite the real deal though – Thommo stood up as he released the ball, resisting the easier option of squatting a little and rolling away off the pitch, making his deliveries lift horribly off a length. Maybe today’s biomechanics boffins would not like such extreme contortions at the point of delivery, but maybe they would help too. Perhaps someone needs to find a few old youtube clips and have a go at emulating the man often credited with being the world’s fastest ever bowler.

Mike Procter would have joined the great all-rounders of the 70s and 80s were it not for South Africa’s isolation – he had it in him to mirror Jacques Kallis’s figures, his bowling (just) outshining his batting. And no kid who grew up watching the BBC’s coverage of Gillette Cup cricket could ever forget the blond whirlwind who would hurtle into the crease before hurling the ball at the stumps. The action had something of Picasso’s cubism about it – routinely described as chest on and off the wrong foot, Procter appeared to give a 360 degree moving image to spectators, presenting his whole body at that moment of release. Add the billowing shirt and baying crowd and the poor batsman can barely have located the ball before it detonated the base of his stumps. There have been a few chest-on quicks since (Sylvester Clarke probably the sharpest) and a few wrong-foot merchants too (Chris Harris is probably still doing his thing in New Zealand even now) but no bowler has got near Procter’s “windmill in a hurricane” blur.

That there aren’t as many genuine quicks in the game these days is said so often that we don’t need the evidence of the speedgun showing new ball bowlers at 82 – 85 mph. Even an all-time great like Dale Steyn has to portion out his efforts on the international treadmill, seldom getting close these days to the 90mph that Allan Donald would reach routinely. So why don’t more opening batsmen adopt Matthew Hayden’s guard, a stride (sometimes more) down the wicket? Hayden’s method was rooted in his desire to intimidate bowlers (reversing the age old descriptor of “the bowling attack” into a “batting attack”) but it was also the product of his need to limit the effect of the ball swinging back into the left-hander’s pads, allowing him to plant that heavy front foot and bludgeon the ball. The option was only possible due to the body armour that protected Hayden from head to toe, making batting infinitely less physically perilous than a generation earlier. You do see batsmen taking guard outside their crease these days, but not often and seldom as part of a systematic plan to defeat the bowler.

Graham Gooch, notably, and one or two other batsmen in the 80s would “take guard” with their bat raised behind them, not quite baseball-style, more frozen in time part way through an orthodox stroke. Which was, of course, the idea, as it saved the time spent lifting the bat as the bowler released the ball, a distinct advantage when facing the quicks. Standing with bat cocked also ensured that the pick-up was straight, as there was no time for the bat to be pointed towards the slips on the way up (just watch early career Hashim Amla for an extreme example of that foible and then look at his numbers once he corrected it). Few batsmen stand at the crease in the full Gooch these days, with some talk that the stance limits scoring options or reduces power responsible for the technique dying out. I find that a little hard to believe as the bat, no matter when it is picked up, must reach a stationary point before it comes down to meet the ball – so why not identify that point in the stance?

As wicketkeeper Jack Russell’s famous hat became something like Trigger’s brush as his career entered its glorious Gloucestershire Indian summer, he would stand up in white ball cricket from first over until last. This tactic would pin the batsmen to the crease in powerplay overs, open up the stumping as a dismissal option and, most importantly, disconcert the man on strike who would feel his physical space diminished by Russell’s hyperactivity in and around the crease and his mental space compromised by the keeper’s constant chatter – not quite sledging, but not exactly designed to promote concentrating on the next ball. Keepers do stand up to pacemen these days, but usually as a result of a tactical ploy, seldom as an innings long strategy, a strategy that went some way to Gloucestershire’s winning five one day trophies from the six available in 1999 and 2000. With white ball cricket increasingly dominated by slow and medium pace bowling, why do keepers ever stand back?

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 18, 2014

England vs India – Series Report Cards

MS Dhoni leaves Lord's one-up in the series

MS Dhoni on his way to The Ageas Bowl one-up in the series

Alastair Cook (298 runs at 50; 1 wicket at 6) – The captain-batsman who won the Ashes and the Pataudi Trophy before turning thirty finally turned up to silence the doubters and cement his place in both roles for the foreseeable future. Or did he? Once the Lord’s debacle was done, there was more energy in the field, more evidence of planning, more of the showy side of leadership that impresses impressionable fans and gives journalists something to write about. But there were also the extraordinary ovations that rolled round The Ageas Bowl, a spontaneous demonstration of England supporters’ respect, even love, for a man they felt unfairly maligned. It affected him: it affected me and I was behind glass in the Media Centre, insulated and distant. From that moment, the downward trajectory of his captaincy was arrested and he looked, once more, a leader of men – indeed, he looked like the leader his men wanted, which is 90% of Test captaincy right there. His batting isn’t quite back, but he has worked hard on getting forward, transferring the weight and playing positively and the runs (aided by a combination of luck and dismal Indian slipping) have begun to flow. He will have learned much from this summer: the same goes for his hasty critics.

Sam Robson (165 runs at 24) – Does he know where his off stump is? Not now he doesn’t, otherwise he would not have had so painful a series, nicking off and being bowled. But it’s hard for a new Test batsman to get out of a rut in today’s absurdly compressed schedules with no room to drop a notch to the county game and work through a problem. Since he doesn’t play international white ball cricket, Robson should seek out as much red ball cricket as he can get anywhere in the world this winter and bat and bat and bat. It’s weight of runs that got him into the side and it’s weight of runs that will keep him in the side. I’d take him to the Caribbean in April, but he must perform there or it’s time to look at Alex Hales.

Gary Ballance (503 runs at 72) – At Number Three, it’s all about output and the left-handed shuffler delivers plenty (and it would have been even more had he a little more fortune with the series long erratic umpiring). Traditionalists say that batting is about watching the ball, playing it late and attacking the good ones while defending the bad ones – so far so good for Ballance. But those same batting gurus do not advocate a trigger movement that is almost a walk and feet so deep that a forward defensive is played from barely over the crease. But batting cannot be reduced to diagrams or algorithms – methods are gloriously individual (are Shiv Chanderpaul and Mark Waugh even of the same species?) If the technique holds up against the hostility and craft that lie in wait in the ranks of Australia, South Africa and Pakistan (and New Zealand’s bowlers are no mugs), England’s Number Three slot is locked down for a decade, as the temperament and attitude (and catching) are exemplary.

Ian Bell (297 runs at 42) – Apart from a crucial knock in the innings at The Ageas Bowl that turned the series England’s way, a quiet series from the man who lit up Summer 2013. Still doing his old trick of batting like a dream until you look up and find him walking off just when you think his bat is all middle with no edge at all. Hardly needed as the youngsters flayed the runs that led to three huge victories, but there will be tougher days to come in which a five hour occupation will be worth infinitely more than a diverting cameo.

Joe Root (518 runs at 104, 1 wicket at 33) – Got in and cashed in, England’s Golden Boy back in the saddle with the Mitchell Johnson nightmare fading into the distance. His key strength is his appreciation of the requirements of an innings: he can build partnerships, he can dig in and he can accelerate, each moment of a Test’s potential 30+ hours instinctively understood (which bodes well for his eventual captaincy claims). Unlike fellow Yorkie Gary Ballance (whose technique is the same from first ball to last), Root’s hanging back in the crease early in his innings is more a flaw, since, once in, his foot movement becomes much more deliberate and his security improves as a result. If he can play his first hour at the crease as he plays his second, he will score big runs against all attacks.

Moeen Ali (124 runs at 21; 19 wickets at 23) – A failure at Number 6, but a magnificent unexpected success as front line spinner. The batting was much like Ian Bell’s (without Bell’s big ton) – lovely to look at then suddenly gone, too often as a result of a short ball attack that will have been spotted by Mitchell Johnson and Morne Morkel. The batting may come good in Tests, though whether he is a deluxe Number 8 rather than a genuine Number 6 remains to be seen. But the bowling! Who saw that coming? Learning quickly (yes, an England player learning quickly!) he found the slightly quicker pace that limits batsmen’s options while still allowing the ball to dip, turn and bounce. Moreover, as is vital for a spinner, he has a bit of character about him, a crowd favourite posing for selfies after a win and handling the wristband controversy with shoulder-shrugging dignity. Still bowls a few four balls – but only Glenn McGrath and Joel Garner didn’t.

Jos Buttler (200 runs at 67; 11 catches) – He’ll have tougher assignments in the future and pay higher prices for the occasional untidiness behind the stumps, but what a start the batsman-keeper has made. The crack of the bat hitting the balll reminds me of Adam Gilchrist and the unclouded mind recalls Virender Sehwag’s famous “See Ball. Hit Ball” mantra that should be given to every Number 7 in the game.  The keeping has room for improvement, but it’s not bad, and the likes of Matt Prior and Alec Stewart have shown that hard work with the gloves pays off, especially for such a natural athlete. But that ball striking – wow!

Chris Woakes (33 runs at 33; 5 wickets at 43) – Earned his place with consistency and pace as a new ball bowler at Warwickshire, but has been asked to play the third seamer role for England – and is yet to convince. His pace allayed any doubts about lack of nip, indeed he often looked the quickest option available, if not the most hostile, being a “pitch it up” rather than a “bang it in” man. Joins a roster of back-up bowlers for England’s Big Two and can expect to be in and out of the side as conditions and rotation demands. No opportunity to show off his classy batting.

Chris Jordan (33 runs at 17; 10 wickets at 22) – A legacy of an injury-blighted development in the game, his bowling looks like he learned it phonetically, but when he gets it right, he can take wickets with pace, swing and seam. There will be days – spells – when it’s not synching and a captain has to recognise that and withdraw him, with the assurance that he’ll be back. Another good option for the back-up seamer squad, but probably needs to play in a five man attack.

Stuart Broad (108 runs at 27; 19 wickets at 23) – Like his new ball partner, he started the series looking a little jaded, hoping for something to happen rather than making something happen, possibly distracted by too flat a pitch at Trent Bridge and too green a pitch at Lord’s. Once it clicked, he found the line and length that troubles all batsmen in England, seeking the outside edge for the slip cordon and the inside edge for the bowled and bat-pad. His partnership with Jimmy Anderson is a fine example of cricket rewarding complementary skills – as evidenced by England’s bowling records slowly being  overhauled.

Jimmy Anderson (112 runs at 22; 25 wickets at 21) – After two relatively low key Tests (excepting that extraordinary 81 at Trent Bridge), the talk was of workloads, burn out, the hangover from The Ashes thrashing. Three Tests later, the talk is of Ian Botham’s Test wickets record, nonpareil skills with the ball and Man of the Series Awards. Swing is always a capricious partner, but once it returned (with, it must be said, an energy in the delivery stride that cannot be unrelated to anger at the mid-series disciplinary hearing and, one hopes, a new willingness to let the ball do the talking) there was no answer to movement either way provoked by undetectable finger pressure at the point of release. Batsmen who had spent April and May on the greentops of Haslingden and Accrington playing Lancashire League cricket would have struggled against such craft: those who spent April and May playing in the Indian Premier League at Kolkata and Delhi had no chance.

Matt Prior (40 runs at 13; 12 catches) – Brad Haddin came back, but it seems unlikely that Matt Prior will do the same, regardless of the result of his operation. He could easily play at least five more seasons for Sussex and will be guaranteed of a warm reception everywhere, as fans recall his years of service, unsoured by his last 18 months of struggle. I hope he does.

Ben Stokes (0 runs at 0; 7 wickets at 33) – Literally couldn’t buy a run, but showed promise bowling with something of Andrew Flintoff’s strong arm pace, if not yet his swing. Another useful addition as a seam bowling option, but probably never going to be one of the best six batsmen available to England, so might have a future at 8 or as an alternative to Moeen Ali at 6 if five seamers looks like the right composition for the bowling unit.

Liam Plunkett (69 runs at 69; 7 wickets at 41) – Hit the pitch hard and was especially hostile round the wicket to right-handers, he will be useful option (one hopes alongside Steven Finn) when fire needs to be met with fire.

 

(Rather than assess each individual Indian player – which might be unduly cruel  and repetitive – each component of the game is assessed below).

Batting -

If India intend (rather than hope) to win Tests outside the subcontinent with anything like the regularity that their resources would suggest, Indian batsmanship will have to change, maybe even be re-invented. Playing through the line, following the ball or going with hard hands simply will not work, notwithstanding the talent of the man doing so. The willingness to bat for sessions at a time, when every ball is a challenge, by adhering to the old nostrums of leaving balls on a fifth stump line, defending with a straight bat and earning the right to hit boundaries, must return to the heart of the batting unit’s play.

If MS Dhoni showed fight in raging against the scoreboard’s sorry tales and Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane the technique to succeed in less than ideal batting conditions, it’s a sad indictment that two bowlers (Ravichandran Ashwin and Bhuvneswar Kumar) looked the most likely to make runs purely because they were the most orthodox batsmen. England bowled well, but not as well as India’s batting suggested – and if you don’t make the opposition work hard for your wicket, you really shouldn’t be in the side.

Bowling -

Bhuvi Kumar was excellent, bowling lovely lines with a craftsman’s control of swing and seam, but at 24 with only six Tests behind him at the start of the series, Ishant Sharma’s injury demanded too much of him and he faded as his team subsided. Beyond those two pacers, it’s almost impossible to believe that India could come up with nothing better than Varun Aaron’s potential, Ravi Ashwin’s inexplicably underused spin and other bowlers who would be lucky to get a gig in county cricket. Is Pragyan Ojha, experienced in English conditions, really not good enough for this squad?

Captaincy and fielding -

MS Dhoni will retire as a great of Indian cricket, a player of enormous self-belief and resilience, a man who did what was asked of him. But the ideas and the concentration demanded of a captain, seemed to be exhausted once the tide turned at The Ageas Bowl. Did he lead the fielding effort as a wicket-keeper must? Did he have the right bowlers on at the right times? Did he balance attack and defence correctly as England’s innings progressed? Well, history is written by the winners and not many series-losing captains could answer those questions in the affirmative, so maybe that’s a little unfair.

The harsher indictment of Dhoni’s captaincy is that he let India drift into a shambles, fulfilling an old description once (notoriously incorrectly) given to an England Ashes squad – “Can’t bat. Can’t bowl. Can’t field.” With a drawn series still a possibility at The Oval, India barely provided opposition worthy of the name, denying millions of fans a team of which they could at least say, “Our lads gave it everything – but it wasn’t enough.” Dhoni has earned the right to stay on to defend the World Cup he played such a key role in winning, but surely he will go after that, leaving a huge job for his successor – at least in the five day format, especially overseas.

 

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 17, 2014

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 17 August 2014

Wee James Taylor

Wee James Taylor

Ball One – Lyth and Lees keep rolling along

Yorkshire secured their quarter-final slot in the Royal London One Day Cup with an emphatic ten wicket win over Derbyshire. Adam Lyth and Alex Lees knocked off the 152 needed for qualification in fewer than 30 overs to promote their claims for international recognition. Lyth averages 56 in the Championship and 45 in 50 overs cricket, while his younger partner, Lees, averages 41 and 43. Those numbers up top get innings off to the kind of starts that make life easier for the middle-order strokemakers and for the bowlers who like nothing more than runs on the board. Yorkshire have six important weeks to come as they tilt at trophies.

Ball Two – Essex essay shots at three goals

The Tykes didn’t have it all their own way last week, going down to Essex at Scarborough failing to defend 290. The chase was built on Tom Westley’s ton (another in a fine white ball season with bat and ball) and a Ryan Ten Doeschate pyrotechnic display, six sixes amongst his fifteen boundaries. Essex are impossible to work out this season – again. In white ball cricket especially, they have experience and options to burn with bat and ball, yet they seem to find ways to lose matches they really ought to win. That said, like Yorkshire, they have the sharpest of sharp ends to the season coming up, still alive in both one day competitions and with promotion still an outside possibility in the Championship. Delivery of all three objectives might be too much to expect, but don’t be surprised if there’s celebrations of some kind at Chelmsford.

Ball Three – Rain comes at the right time for Gloucestershire

Gloucestershire are also through to a quarter-final after a Duckworth-Lewis win over Worcestershire. When the rain came for a a second time, Michael Klinger’s men were 14/3 with much to do to secure victory. Of course, the dressing room talk in such circumstances is always of “Still being in with a shout”, “Someone needs to stand up and make a ton”, “We can do this”, but hope, rather than expectation, underpins the cliches. Maybe not in the case of Ian Cockbain though, who fell two short of the desired ton, while the Gidman brothers combined for 72 runs from 69 balls as Gloucestershire cruised home. Will Gidman, who is taking his Kallis-lite numbers to Notts next season, will want to bow out with a trophy for Gloucestershire.

Ball Four – Kent deliver from 1 to 11.

Kent are the other team sure of a Royal London Cup quarter-final berth having seen off Sussex at Canterbury. While Sam Billings has deservedly hit the headlines in 50 overs cricket (average 169, strike rate 175!), Kent have seven other batsmen who strike at more than 80 – so they just keep coming. Back up those stats with the eight bowlers who have turned their arms over with none going at more than Dougie Bollinger’s 6.7, and you have a tight unit that will win many more matches than it loses.

Ball Five – Notts smash it round St John’s Wood

Notts field four internationals at the top of their order and they all cashed in at Lord’s, compiling 368-2 in 45 overs to flatten Middlesex. While one might expect musclemen biffers like Alex Hales and Michael Lumb to get in and get going at better than a run-a-ball, they were outscored by wee James Taylor (100* off 55 balls) and roundish all-rounder Samit Patel (37* off 15). Power-hitters catch the eye in the one-day game, but there’s room for one and all – even today.

Ball Six – A move for Azeem

Azeem Rafiq, at 23, is looking for a new county having decided to leave Yorkshire. It’s the kind of news that brings mixed feelings: on the one hand, one feels for Yorkshire who have nurtured his talent for years; on the other, if the all-rounder is to make the most of his undoubted talents, he needs to be regularly playing more than just T20 cricket. Expect to see him at one of the promoted teams next season., batting at 8 and bowling plenty of overs in all three formats.

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