Ball One – Bowlers who bat, and bat, and bat
Anyone who read Simon Barnes’s piece in Wisden 2015 “Come in, Number 11″ will have been amused by events at Chester-le-Street where Sussex’s Number 11, Mark Hobden, (previously 50 first class runs in 10 innings) scored 65 not out, sharing a last wicket stand of 164 with Number 9 Ollie Robinson, who biffed 110 on his first class debut. It wasn’t enough for their team though, who lost to Durham by six wickets, the points squeezing Colly’s men to within five points of Sussex at the top of the table. There’s nobody beyond the fielding team and their supporters who doesn’t rejoice in a last wicket partnership that goes through the familiar stages: “Let’s just see what we can get… This is good isn’t it – have you got a fifty before?… We’ve got them rattled here – just don’t give it away… Ah well, that was fun wasn’t it?”. Bowlers beware though – do it too often and the dread bits and pieces label can stick. Scott Borthwick was once a promising leg-spinner who has played for England in all three formats of the game. Now, at only just turned 25, he’s the kind of batsman who can play through two sessions to anchor a 262 run chase with 97 not out against Division One’s leaders. Borthwick has indisputably transformed himself into a fine county batsman, but he would be tagged a bits and pieces merchant if ever England come calling. One cannot but help wonder about what might have been, as England’s search for a reliable spin option continues.
Ball Two – James Franklin and Adam Voges get Middlesex over the line in a thriller
The other winners this week, Middlesex, were also guided home to their target (402 at Taunton, so worth about 350 anywhere else) by another bowler turned specialist batsman, Kiwi veteran James Franklin, whose 200 run fourth day stand with Adam Voges (combined age 70 years) put Middlesex ahead in the game for the first, and decisive, time. Franklin first came to cricket followers’ attention in the Under-19s World Cup Final played 17 long years ago. He wasn’t the only one, as a nostalgic look down the scorecard reveals. Did we ever hear of that GP Swann again?
Ball Three – James Middlebrook proves that there’s no place like home
It was another old-timer (and another bowler who has played as a specialist batsman from time to time) who caught the eye as depleted Yorkshire easily played out a draw with Warwickshire at Headingley. Signed as cover for England waterboy, Adil Rashid, it was James Middlebrook’s first match for his native county for 14 years. Match figures of 48 – 7 – 178 – 8 suggested that he relished his unlikely late opportunity, though he’ll probably cede his place next week to the returning Rashid, a man probably even keener than Middlebrook to bowl again for Yorkshire, after being left out in the cold again by England.
Ball Four – Brendan Taylor steps down from Zimabbwe and steps up for Nottinghamshire
Rain spoiled a stiff, but gettable fourth day chase of 392 set by Nottinghamshire at The Rose Bowl after Hampshire had been put under pressure for the previous three days’ play. Though Alex Hales again impressed for Notts, Zimbabwean opener, Brendan Taylor, also registered his second century of the season and sits fifth on the Division One run-scoring ladder. He has retired from representing his country, having played more first class matches for his Zimbabwe (in various guises) than for his domestic clubs. Which prompted me to wonder whether the old adage about the difficulty of adjusting to international cricket works in reverse – does stepping back into domestic cricket make the game feel easier? If so, Nottinghamshire have done some very shrewd business when they signed the 29 year-old Taylor, gone from the international game, but still very much international class.
Ball Five – Toil and sweat for the bowlers, but the Red Rose blooms in Manchester
In Division Two, Lancashire’s second win in two matches opened up a 13 points gap they’ll be keen to see retained over the course of the season. Having secured a first innings lead of 192, Steven Croft invited Robert Key (a veteran of that same Under-19s World Cup Final referenced in Ball Two) to have another go, and, though the Lanky bowlers needed 52 more overs, they vindicated the captain’s decision (not without a few anxious looks at the showers skirting the ground and the light meters staying just the right side of the red line). How much thanks Croft will have received from his two overseas pacers is moot however, after Peter Siddle (39 – 10 – 93 – 5) and Kyle Jarvis (46 – 13 – 117 – 8) bowled for two consecutive innings. Of course, the aches and pains hurt a lot less with the team victory delivered and with Jarvis topping the Division Two wickets ladder and Siddle going at well under three runs per over this season. After last year’s struggles with just three wins from sixteen matches and inevitable relegation, the sweet smell of success is back at the Red Rose county.
Ball Six – Shiv Thakor back on track
Derbyshire went third in Division Two after taking maximum points off Gloucestershire at Bristol. Though Martin Guptill’s four hour double century was the highlight of Derbyshire’s innings, it was pleasing to note Shiv Thakor’s 83, the ex-England Under-19 man putting on 190 at better than a run a ball with the Kiwi strokemaker. Thakor lost his way a little as Leicestershire imploded last season, averaging just 32 with the bat 63 with the ball after a fine breakthrough season in 2013. A new start a few miles north appears to be doing him good and, with 26 overs under his belt in this match and a slot at Number 6, he won’t want for work under Wayne Madsen. Still 21, Thakor’s progress this season will be well worth monitoring.