Posted by: tootingtrumpet | October 2, 2022

The five county cricketers of the year

A player can only be named as a county cricketer of the year once. Here are the previous winners: 2021; 202020192018 and 2017

Keaton Jennings

In the days of Space Invaders, you could get your name on  the High Scores screen – if you were good enough. Somewhere in the multiverse, there’s a clunky old arcade game that flashes up

Jet 318

Jet 238

Jet 199

They were Keaton ‘Jet’ Jennings’ three top scores for Lancashire in the Championship’s Division One, a run short of matching a ‘triple doubles’ record from a very different era indeed. 

Despite playing only 11 of the 14 scheduled matches, the left-handed opener’s bounty of 1233 runs at 72.5 proved the largest haul in the division and played a major part in Lanky’s second place finish. He also captained the 50 overs side to the final of the Royal London Cup, leading his county’s run-getters with 390 at 48.8.

So much for the stats. At 30, Jennings appears at ease with his game, made evident in an economy of movement into line, the good balls defended, the bad balls hit hard. It’s well known that he is an accomplished player of spin but he looks to have the game for dealing with pace too. 

There’s a touch of Trescothick in his presence at the crease these days – and England might fancy some of Tres’s output from a batter who appears much more equipped to deal with the challenge of Test cricket than when he was last picked in February 2019.

Toby Roland-Jones

At Lord’s, you would watch this tall, strong man run in (yes, quite a long way) with the pavilion behind him, and move the ball a little this way and a little that, seldom offer much that could be comfortably left with enough pace to keep the batter honest, and you would wonder why he didn’t make it as a Test bowler. Then you’d dial up his stats and find that, actually, he did – it was injury that stymied him and then a sense that, at 34 now, his time has passed. But he took 67 wickets at 18.8 in Middlesex’s promotion season, topping the charts in Division Two. Just as importantly, he sent down 476 overs, only Dom Bess worked harder in the Champo.

Like Jennings, he has matured into a player who knows his limitations and focuses on his strengths to maximise his returns on different pitches in different conditions – Glenn McGrath would approve.   

With three half-centuries and 354 runs at 29.5, his batting is handy, but it’s more secondary than it once was when he threatened to hold down a spot at seven – he’s an eight these days, especially next year in Division One. 

Like Tom Bailey at Lancashire and Dan Worrall at Surrey, Roland-Jones is a classic English seamer (okay, Worrall is Australian, but he earns the label) all about accuracy and nibble at 80mph or so. Whether that will win series overseas where speed through the air and lift off the pitch matters more, is debatable – but some of us who value excellence on our pitches in our competitions, don’t really care that much. Genuine pace makes it own rules and will always come through – let’s not lose the old virtues in pursuit of the very few who can hit 90mph consistently.   

Hampshire’s Trident

Okay, they’re not quite these guys, but each of Hampshire’s three pacers finished in the top seven wicket-takers in Division One and were the main reasons why their county won more matches than any other, with nine wins from 14 outings. To finish third seems a rather meagre return when you put it like that, especially as Ben Stokes has backed a ‘go for the win’ policy regardless of the match situation and it’s working for England.

Keith Barker, Kyle Abbott and Mohammad Abbas played 14, 13 and 12 matches respectively, each taking over 50 wickets at about 20 – frankly, you are going to win a lot of cricket matches with numbers like those. Barker is left-arm, all muscle with more craft than initially meets the eye; Abbott right arm, still aggressive, making the batter play; and Abbas is as wily an operator as a traditional sub-continental spinner, the ball never quite arriving where you expect it and, whoops, you’ve nicked off again.

But there’s another reason the three get my vote. They bowled 1230 overs in the season in a variety of conditions and were always there for their captain, despite the fact that all three men made their debuts in 2009 and are well into their 30s. We know pace bowling hurts and it hurts more the older you get (everything does) so it’s a testament to their fitness and their motivation that they maintained their standards over six months of combat.

Harry Brook   

Better than Bradman? Of course not, but 107.44 is higher than 99.94, so the young Yorkie can at least claim to have a higher 2022 Division One average than the Aussie nonpareil’s Test career mark.

At 23, Brook started the season with 101 and 56 not out as Yorkshire beat Gloucestershire and had the Youtube watchers purring about his timing, particularly his driving through extra cover. Next up, Northants were taken for 84 and 77 not out. And so it continued.

By now, spectators were pitching up to watch him, others seeking out Yorkshire TV because what we had on our hands was not just a batter in form, but a batter in the mythical Zone. Few are granted access to that sacred space, the land where everything happens slowly, where the ball is never felt on the bat, when every delivery can be hit anywhere, but the right destination is always chosen. To watch is to observe a batter on another plane.

Brook exited The Zone on the 20th of July and has faced a red ball in one innings since then. If you want to back high performance, you really have to let the high performers play.

Sam Cook  

The surname didn’t help – there’s a more famous one in Essex after all. It also didn’t help a young seamer to have Jamie Porter and Simon Harmer hoovering up the wickets before you had your shoulders loosened for a second spell. 

But the local boy pacer has always been excellent, running in and getting top order batters out with movement both ways at fast-medium (not medium-fast). With Porter and Harmer around less at Chelmsford in 2022, Cook took his chance, snaring 51 wickets at the preposterous average of 16.2 and economy rate of 2.2.

If nobody gets hold of you across and season and you keep getting people out, you might have what in takes to succeed at Test level – you might not too, because it’s a tough game. We’ll only find out if we give him a chance – recently turned 25, he has time on his side and there are a couple of vacancies coming up soon.  

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Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 30, 2022

The Final Over Of The Week In County Cricket – 29 September 2022

Yorkshire down as Warwickshire survive in a thriller

Liam Norwell the hero for the Bears, but White Rose wilts at the end of its most difficult season  

Ball One – Norwell does well

Scenes! Absolute scenes at Edgbaston, as Liam Norwell, in the 11th over of a heroic spell, traps Mohammad Abbas in front of all three and sparks delirium in Warwickshire and despair in Yorkshire. County Championship you say? Who needs it?

It was a match the home side knew that they needed to win. They also knew that they needed help from elsewhere and also that, with a re-organisation on the cards for 2024, a place in 2023’s Division One was even more valuable than it would be in a normal season (if such a thing exists). No pressure in soft county cricket? Save that for the birds.

With weather taking time out of the game, Will Rhodes (who knows how to win cricket matches – the pennant was still in his possession after all) took a bold decision late on day two and declared at 272-4. He knew it was win or bust, so he needed his bowlers to have a break between Hampshire’s innings and he also wanted to get on with the job of taking 20 wickets. He refused the chance to add another 128 or so before lunch on day three – good on him! 

Despite that man Norwell’s four wickets, Warwickshire batted a second time 39 runs behind, and lost first innings centurion, Rob Yates, and nightwatchman, Henry Brookes, before they were out of the red. Only Dom Sibley, in his last match for the county, made much of a fist of it with 77, but that spared Rhodes another tricky declaration.

Everyone knew that if Warwickshire were to defend a target of 139, the experienced pair of Ollie Hannon-Dalby and Norwell would have to do it. They delivered 37 of the second innings’ 44 overs, Hannon-Dalby building pressure at one end while Norwell attacked the stumps at the other. Hampshire, motivated by a £145k difference in prize money between second and third places as well as professional pride, had plenty to play for but couldn’t resist the onslaught. Norwell earned career-best figures on 9-62, top flight cricket next year and a free pint in every bar in Birmingham for life.   

Ball Two – Bess bested

‘Every Loser Wins’ sang fictional Yorkshire bobby, Nick Berry, and the er… heartbeats would have quickened in the Broad Acres at the prospect of that apparent contradiction being proved right – but Liam Norwell had other thoughts.

Truth is Yorkshire should not have lost their match to bottom-placed Gloucestershire in a low scoring thriller at Headingley. They let the visitors slither from 128-7 up to 190 all out on day one, then were just 69 runs in arrears with seven wickets in hand  – but still conceded a first innings deficit. They might have been looking at a fourth innings chase of 140 or so when they had half Graeme van Buuren’s men back in the hutch for 74, but they allowed Oliver Price and Jack Taylor to get away and had 101 more runs than that to save themselves off their own bats.

They were half way there, five down, but Adam Lyth fell to the spin of Zafar Gohar and Dom Bess couldn’t find the partner he needed in marshalling the tail. So it proved a bittersweet moment for stalwart seamer, Steve Patterson, last man out, his team 20 runs short, as he accepted warm applause from supporters and players of both sides. but knew that the trap door’s latch was (fatally as it transpired) still open. 

Ball Three – Goldsworthy shines and Qadri cashes in 

Kent also went into their last match in fear of the drop, but continued their superb end of season form with an innings win over a Somerset side who will be glad to see the back of 2022. 

Two 21 year-olds will take something away for the winter. Lewis Goldsworthy came within six runs of a second century of the season for Somerset and can look to fill the spot vacated by James Hildreth permanently. Afghan-born, Hamidullah Qadri’s 87 from number eight for Kent showed the potential with the bat that can supplement his off-breaks and keep him in a Division One XI next year. 

Ball Four – Jam today for Tom Hartley

Not so long ago, it looked like we might have a ‘Winner Takes All’ shoot-out on our hands as Surrey travelled to Old Trafford in the last round of championship matches. But it wasn’t to be and who can blame the champions if they lost their hitherto season-long unbeaten record demonstrating that you can’t really play this game in your flip-flops (okay, probably unfair, but a nice line). 

Not that Lancashire will see it that way. If there’s a side in front of you that needs putting away, then that’s what you do. As they have done all season, Keaton Jennings and Steven Croft scored runs and George Balderson fell just three short of the first of what will be many first class centuries for the club.

Dane Vilas turned to his pacers initially and they took the first six wickets to fall, but Lancashire’s spinners are in the team not to hold an end while the seamers rest, but to dismiss batters. Matt Parkinson and Tom Hartley took 12 of the 14 wickets the home side needed for the win, as Surrey followed-on and lost by an innings and 130. 

When the dust settled on the extraordinary events at Edgbaston, Lancashire had pipped Hampshire to second in Division One to complete a hat-trick of runners-up slots in all three domestic competitions. Maybe time for a cigarillo, if not a cigar, in Manchester?   

Ball Five – Nottinghamshire and Middlesex promoted to Division One

With Nottinghamshire piling up 652-5 declared (centuries for Haseeb Hameed, Matthew Montgomery, Lyndon James and Steven Mullaney) en route to shellacking Durham by 462 runs to secure the Division Two title and promotion, attention turned to the other slot available.

Middlesex nailed it down before the weather intervened, maxing out the bonus points by bowling Worcestershire out for 225 in the 83rd over and then crossing 400 themselves before the 110th. Two strong contenders for this column’s Five County Cricketers of the Year (watch this space) were at the forefront of the effort, four wickets and a 50 for Toby Roland-Jones and 92 and two catches for John Simpson.

News from Worcester reached Hove where Glamorgan had done their bit in securing a first innings lead of 275, but, with third now the best they could hope for, the wind went out of the visitors’ sails and it seemed rather cruel for Ali Orr and Tom Haines to plunder 328 for the first wicket en route to Sussex’s 554-8 following-on, Danial Ibrahim also bagging a maiden ton.

Ball Six – Smiles Of A Summer Night – past, present and future

This is the last ball of the last over of what might be the longest domestic season ever (I marked out my run on 11 April), yet it also feels like it was the shortest, such was its stop-start nature. Next season may look broadly similar, but, after that, who knows? 

I’ll be 60 by the time we’re next checking to see if anyone has made 1000 runs in May and I’ve always pooh-poohed the doomsayers when it comes to cricket as it has been played through my lifetime. And in some ways, I’m still right. We’ve never had more county cricket available to watch or listen to and it’s never (well, almost never) been played at more grounds. There’s a few faces beginning to emerge that don’t fit into the ‘white middle class from a private school’ county cricketer cookie cutter and, at the Royal London Cup Final, while we bid farewell to Darren Stevens we said hello to Joey Evison. Shan Masood will captain Yorkshire next season. Good signs. 

But the pooh-poohing has to stop when one looks at the load of [redacted] proposed for county cricket in the already infamous High Performance Review report. Whether that marks the high-water mark of those who wish to put everything in service of the ECB’s cash machine (England) and its would-be cash machine (The Hundred), will only become clear in time. 

I’d quite like to reach 70. Hang on – I’ll try that again. 

I’d quite like to reach 70 with a more coherent cricket season to fill the summer months, at least as much county championship cricket as there is now and with England the best team in the world. But if I have to compromise on one of those wishes, it’s the third one I’ll pick.

Thanks as ever to Paul Campbell at The Guardian for his ridiculously loyal commitment to getting this column up every single week since April, to the players who have entertained and, occasionally, infuriated us. And, most of all, to you, the readers who love the game as do I and were kind enough to give a little time each week to my thoughts, often supplementing them with characteristic generosity and insight below the line.

Until the next time they Send In The Clowns… 

        

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 24, 2022

The Final Over Of The Week In County Cricket – 23 September 2022

Surrey secure the title with a match in hand

Hampshire lose and Surrey win to send the pennant to The Oval for the second time in four championships

Ball One – Burns hot on collective excellence 

It was when the player profiles appeared on the big screens at The Oval that I felt sure it was Hampshire’s job to keep the title race open and not Yorkshire’s. The likes of Finlay Bean and George Hill may have talent, but they looked very callow compared to Surrey’s big beasts like Jamie Overton, Kemar Roach and Dan Worrall. Factor in Tom Kohler-Cadmore’s propensity to squander his talent and Will Fraine, in at five but with just the one half-century this season, and it never looked likely that the visitors would score enough runs – and they didn’t.

In some ways the match was a microcosm of Surrey’s season. Five seamers each took at least three wickets and a part-time spinner chipped in with a couple. Ollie Pope made a brilliant century and enough batters played around him to post 333, which was to prove enough to yield the opportunity to enforce the follow-on, which Rory Burns, one eye on Friday’s forecast, did.

Burns was one of just three ever-presents (with one match to come) alongside fellow opener Ryan Patel and the veteran Hashim Amla, forming a stable top three. But a remarkable 12 batters average 40 or more and six bowlers average 30 or less. In all, 22 players have played under Burns’ captaincy in the Championship and pretty much every one of them has made a genuine contribution. That is a remarkable feat of leadership with much credit also going to coach, Gareth Batty, in his first season. It’s one thing to be blessed with resources, but quite another to get so much out of them. 

Ball Two – Mighty Quinn sees off Hampshire

Hampshire ran into Kent with the club revelling in the backwash of their Royal London Cup victory and its players very much motivated to avoid the drop. On a mad first day, 23 wickets fell, Kent’s anaemic 165 all out made to look positively beefy by Hampshire’s dismal collapse to 57 all out, Matt Quinn (last seen on the receiving end of Essex’s 573) taking 6-23 as Hampshire’s seamers were, for once, out-bowled. 

Hampshire would have fancied their chances with Kent 55-4 second time round, but Jack Leaning dug in with 112, a captain’s knock, and a target of 378 proved too many, despite James Vince’s men fighting all the way.

It will be cold comfort to reflect on their superior win record in comparison to the champions (nine plays eight with one to go), but their three defeats sting. Next year, Hampshire will set off in pursuit of the pennant for a 50th season since last it caught in the Solent breeze – but maybe this was their best chance.   

Ball Three – Tall stories come true for Lanky at Chelmsford 

Records tumbled along with the stumps at Chelmsford as Lancashire, at one point a tennis-like 7-6, roared back to beat Essex on what might be described as a sporting track.

On day one, Sam Cook and Shane Snater did some damage with the new ball (as one might expect in mid-September) and then Simon Harmer did what he does, but the Toms (Hartley and Bailey) had biffed eight boundaries down the order and 131 felt disappointing rather than disastrous for the visitors.
 

Then Lancashire’s three seamers and two spinners got amongst the home side, Alastair Cook the only batter to last more than 35 minutes as five LBW shouts were upheld and two more were bowled. 

Keaton Jennings and Luke Wells walked out together for the second time on the day probably thinking about an hour’s batting or so before stumps and a reassessment in the morning. 35 balls later, their team were six down.

Teenage wicketkeeper-batter, George Bell must have wondered how he got this game for his debut, but he steadied the ship and Hartley and Bailey were effective again down the order. That said, the home side only needed 98…

At 28-1, it was all ‘Crisis? What Crisis?’ for the Chlemsfort faithful, but George Balderson bagged a grandchildren-bothering story of how he got Alastair Cook, and Dan Lawrence before splattering the stumps of Matt Critchley for his hat-trick and the wickets were barely tethered to the earth again, as Essex were all out 59, five of the last six clean bowled. Balderson must have been very surprised and disappointed to miss out on playing in the RL Cup Final, but 5-14 defending 98 successfully isn’t a bad pick-me-up.

Ball Four – Bears not out of the woods going into last round

Last year’s champions, Warwickshire, knew that they needed points from their last two matches to scramble away from the relegation slots. Gloucestershire this week, already down, looked the likelier bet than high-flying Hampshire next week, but chickens are always best left uncounted in this game – and so it proved.

After Surrey-bound Dom Sibley had carried his bat for 120, and spinners, Jayant Yadav and Danny Briggs, had taken eight wickets, it was pretty much a one innings match. Cue Tom Price, whose season-leading 8-27 had the visitors 36-5 at one point and left Gloucestershire with 148 required for the win – tricky.

A target like that usually requires two batters to play well and, no surprise here, it was opener, Chris Dent, and captain, Graeme van Buuren who delivered, scoring 113 runs between them, Tom Price at the non-striker’s end as Gloucestershire squeaked home by three wickets. 

If Warwickshire are to play Division One cricket next season, they’ll need to win at Edgbaston and hope results elsewhere to go their way – quite a contrast from the celebrations of a year ago. It’s almost as if there’s excellence spread through at least 12 counties if such tumbles can happen.    

Ball Five – Sun setting on a disappointing season for Somerset

Somerset got their act together in an inconsistent season to hammer Northamptonshire by 352 runs. Skipper, Tom Abell, led from the front with twin centuries and Tom Lammonby’s 111 marked a welcome return to form, his first score above 46 in two months. 

Twenty wickets are the other requirement for the win and Craig Overton spearheaded the attack as he has so often at Taunton with seven wickets in the match and a remarkably athletic run out off his own bowling. That spoke to the desperation the home side felt, standing on the trap door.

A haul of 22 points sees them join Northants in mid-table safety, but, looking at the talent available, it’s a case of under-achievement on Somerset’s part and over-achievement on Northants’. It’ll be a winter of reflection in the West Country with James Hildreth retired and another summer passed by without a title. Maybe 2023? Plenty will be hoping so. 

Ball Six – Notts’ promotion chances suddenly look a bit ropey

It was a bad, bad week for Nottinghamshire in Division Two. So long a shoo-in for promotion, they’re suddenly within reach of Middlesex and Glamorgan – though they should hang on to one of the two slots.

With the home side 99-5 at Worcester, Nottinghamshire’s sat-navs were being programmed for The Oval and Old Trafford, but an innings defeat was the fate that awaited Steven Mullaney’s men after a century from Gareth Roderick and wickets for all five Worcestershire pacers, the division two not-quite champions-elect despatched by lunch on day three.

Disappointment veered towards distress as news came through that Glamorgan, thanks to David Lloyd’s 313 not out and an Ajaz Patel fiverfer were putting Derbyshire to the sword and Middlesex were outgunning poor old Leicestershire, old pros Toby Roland-Jones and Tim Murtagh bagging six wickets between them in both innings. 

Nottinghamshire enjoy an 18 point lead over third place Glamorgan with Middlesex half way between them. Notts, home to Durham next week, are still big favourites to go up, but with Glamorgan at Hove and Middlesex at Worcester, anything could happen. Time to bring the abacus down from the loft.   

Kent win the Royal London Cup by 21 runs

Joe Denly’s team outplay Lancashire with fielding the crucial difference on a fine day out at Trent Bridge

Ball One – Remembrance of Things Past

“We’ll have a bat.” Really Mr Denly? In mid-September? In a one day final? Does nobody remember Phil DeFreitas?

But so much about cricket has changed since the old orthodoxies of the 70s and 80s, even since 1995 when I saw these two sides duke it out for the Benson & Hedges Cup at Lord’s.

Back the, three archetypal Test match batters, Michael Atherton, Jason Gallian and John Crawley, dominated the Lancashire innings, scoring 212 of 274-7 from the designated 55 overs. Hitters like Graham Lloyd, Wasim Akram and Ian Austin barely got in, but few cared because the target set (five an over!) was deemed a stiff one.

Those of us in the Lancashire seats sat back and enjoyed a perfect chase. Aravinda de Silva thrilled everyone with a magnificently constructed 112, batting on a different plane, fully deserving of the Gold Award. But local lads, Ian Austin, Mike Watkinson, Gary Yates and Glen Chapple (okay – he’s nearly local) kept squeezing and taking wickets at the other end and the result was never really in doubt.

Back in the present, the sun was baking a glassy outfield at Trent Bridge as the same two clubs locked horns again 27 years on. That heat so late in the summer is another difference from 20th century life, one that provokes an unease even as we delight in its warmth. Whether the 21st century will provide as warm a reception for 50 overs county cricket is another concern to cloud the bluest of skies.

Ball Two – Lavelle washes away any selection doubts

Ollie Robinson (whom we know can push on, as his 206 in the competition’s first match demonstrated) had got through the first hour at almost a run a ball and had a personal platform to accelerate. Then Liam Hurt got a length delivery to seam back through the gate, rapping the inside edge en route.

George Lavelle had to get everything right: sufficiently balanced to push off his left foot (usually the ‘wrong’ one for a keeper with a right-hander at the crease); sufficiently athletic to dive to reach a ball that would have eluded many other keepers, so thick was the edge; sufficiently adept with the gloves to hold on to the catch in the ends of his fingers, scooping it up from ankle height.

Lavelle is 22 and keeping in this match only because Phil Salt is away with England. It might have been a tight call in deciding between him and the other George, the all-rounder, Balderson, with Dane Vilas able to take the gloves if required. In a single moment of brilliance, the young technician justified his place as an old school wicketkeeper-battter (in that order).

Ball Three – Kent’s batters make the most of too many reprieves

Kent set Lancashire 307 to win the Cup.

At the halfway mark, that looked about par, the fact that no batter really got away offset by Lancashire leaking runs through dropped catches and some rather substandard out cricket.

With the camel an extinct creature in cricket, outfields akin to a snooker table’s baize and year-round contracts facilitating practice and analysis of almost any situation that might arise in the harum-scarum death overs, it seemed anomalous for so many errors to yield runs. Lavelle conceded a single with an unnecessary throw at the stumps and Keaton Jennings and Luke Wells were close to an on-field row after Jennings appeared to get a late call for a skyer. The Red Rose men dropped more than they caught too.

Rob Jones and Jennings did effect a fine relay catch in the deep, but that does not excuse a shoddy 25 overs or so from Lancashire. Fielding can often be the difference between sides in finals and it’s hard to believe that Kent will be more careless.

Ball Four – The long and the short of it

Luke Wells completed a less than happy day with a meek dismissal for 16 bringing Josh Bohannon to the crease. It doesn’t help that the number three is batting with the beanpole Jennings, but he looks very short to the naked eye. Power hitting is not his forte, and Kent knew that if they could choke off the horizontal bat shots square on either side of the wicket, Lancashire’s scoring rate could be arrested.

Bohannon’s lack of power found him out in the end, a pale pick-up shot pouched well inside the boundary by Grant Stewart. If you’re going to hit the ball there (and the delivery did demand it) you have to hit it for six. If you can’t, then there has to be a question mark against the selection in a white ball XI. George Balderson (yes, I am missing him) would have offered more with the bat and also a very handy bowling option.

Ball Five – Good Game! Good Game!

Usually by 5.15pm on a sunny day, the Barmy Army might be in full (tedious) voice, a variety of royals in fancy dress may be essaying a conga or a DJ might be witlessly geeing up the crowd. Not so at Trent Bridge.

With 17 overs to bowl, Lancashire were 176-4, 15 behind the DLS par and a very interested crowd (in both senses of that adjective) were attending every ball. Kent supporters applauded every dot; Lancashire supporters every single. Everyone inside the ground (not much corporate hospitality, not many neutrals) was aware of the stakes and the fact that some six and a half hours after play started, we were no closer to knowing the eventual victors.

I had cause to reflect on a statement I used to trot out in the early days of T20 – Limited Overs Cricket is the second best game in the world.

Ball Six – Kent win in fine advert for the 50 overs format

In the final analysis, Kent bowled better and batted better, but the key difference was (as I suspected in Ball Three at the halfway mark) the fielding, with Lancashire no more than C- and Kent an A+.

Lancashire might wonder about the balance of their side, short of power-hitters and specialist slow bowling, but they were turned over by a fine team effort. It was led by 20 years-old Joey Evison, who sounds like he should be opening for Sammy Davis Jnr at The Sands Hotel in 1967, but actually opened for Kent with a beautifully judged 97, supplemented by canny spells with the ball and the second of three spectacular catches. He was an obvious Player of the Match, but his skipper wasn’t far behind, especially in galvanising so strong a collective performance.

Kent end a run of losing appearances in finals, but – cliché klaxon – there were no real losers today. Both sides stayed true to the players that had seen them through to the showpiece occasion allowing squad players the chance to go down in local folklore (with Darren Stevens, natch). If the stardust and standard wasn’t what it might have been with a Liam Livingstone or a Sam Billings in town, nobody cared much in a partisan crowd, who were right behind the lads who wore their team’s colours.

It was a hard fought match too, played in good spirit in front of a raucous, but not boorish, house that took perhaps half the seats available.

Like much of English cricket, the future of the domestic 50 overs competition is in question, but, for two years in a row, it has produced great entertainment (often at outgrounds where many fans looked neither old and male, nor canine), created new heroes and delivered a sustained narrative. With Kent’s name added next to Glamorgan’s in 2021, a pair of cricket’s less glamorous clubs have grasped a little glory too.

If the Royal London Cup and its successors are to be shunted around and devalued further in pursuit of ‘high performance’ (like that’s goulash produced from mixing ingredients correctly), English cricket should know what it’s losing. Feel free to ask Kent’s players and fans if you want an answer to that one.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 16, 2022

The Final Over Of The Week In County Cricket – 16 September 2022

Surrey resume leadership in Division One

Two horse race with Hampshire set for a final two weeks showdown

Ball One – Saif makes Northamptonshire safe 

Surrey leapfrogged over Hampshire to lead Division One by eight points with two matches to play. The gap comprises the reward for their draw with Northamptonshire, their fifth of the season compared to their pursuers’ one. Both sides will have a keen eye on the progress of each others’ matches in the final two rounds, as a little of Ben Stokes’ disdain for the draw may have to be adopted if their rivals look likely to be on their way to a win.

Cricket is a situational game, its challenges ebb and flow in their criticality during a match and across a season. The oft-used simile of the two innings format (contextualised within a Test series or championship) being akin to a slabby novel (Victorian or airport to taste) is a cliche because it’s true.

After Northants’ Emilio Gay and Rob Keogh had traded first innings centuries with Hashim Amla and a back-with-a-bang Tom Curran, Saif Zaib walked to the crease with his team’s lead just 32, four down in the second innings. A draw would all but secure Northants’ Division One status for 2023 but Surrey’s pack of seamers had the scent of blood in their nostrils. The one-time boy wonder (and he really was, playing for his county at 15 years of age) made a century, secured the draw his county required and, just maybe, heard the faintest echo of cheers borne on the wind all the way from Southampton. It was the fifth of the five centuries in the match, made when the pitch was at its most accommodating, but, and this is what matters, he delivered when his team needed it most. 

Ball Two – Penalties an own goal for Championship?

Lancashire were hit with a six points deduction for issues related to player behaviour. Not for the first time, cricket’s penchant for suspending sentences only to activate them at the sharp end of a campaign interfered unnecessarily with a developing narrative. 

The nuts and bolts do not concern this column, the independent Cricket Discipline Commission discharging its responsibilities, but the time for sanctioning offences committed in 2021 (the punishment for which was activated by misbehaviour in June and July 2022) is not mid-September 2022. Of course, Lancashire knew that they had to tread carefully, but that’s not the issue – justice needs to be swift as well as impartial.  

The pennant was already merely a distant dream for the Red Rose, but their red ball season could drift away if they are not careful, with Essex now pressing them for the podium spot, now just four points off third place.

Ball Three – Snater turns the tide and avoids the tie

Whose heart isn’t set racing by the prospect of a tie? Even to read of such a possibility after the event can send a frisson of excitement down the spine. I guess trainspotters feel the same about an engine with a particularly rare wheel configuration pulling into their local station. The incomprehension of the rest of the world simply enhances our own, slightly guilty and definitely nerdish, pleasure. 

After some late order heroics from Ben ‘Betsy’ Coad (whose 69 from number nine proved to be the top score in the match), Essex needed 162 for the victory. Steve Patterson, in his farewell season after 17 years of running in for the White Rose, had a fivefer in the bag, but Shane Snater was on strike, nine down with the scores level. Into the leg side it went, Snater had 65 not out from number eight and Essex had the 20 points they were looking for. Just the three days required, but a rollercoaster of a match in Essex’s rollercoaster of a season.

Ball Four – Abell pairs up with Bartlett but the draw helps neither county

Relegation haunted Edgbaston as Warwickshire faced fellow strugglers Somerset in a match that ebbed and flowed, ultimately producing a draw that merely confirmed that Division Two cricket in 2023 remained a threat for the two sides who fought to a standstill in Birmingham.

Somerset fans have become familiar this season with scoreboards reading 82-7 and the like, but half-centuries from Lewis Gregory and Sajid Khan got the visitors up to 219, a score that looked a lot better when the home side could muster just 196 in reply.

George Bartlett’s 111 gave skipper, Tom Abell, the opportunity to declare and, having spent four hours in the middle himself, he certainly knew the state of the pitch. He set Warwickshire 364 for the win.

Despite the radio commentators’ attempts to inject tension into the match and a flurry of late wickets, the draw that was always the most likely result once Somerset’s batters and not Warwickshire’s openers emerged from the pavilion at the start of the fourth day, duly arrived. Whether Abell got the call right (Warwickshire were six down in the 64th over when hands were shaken) can only be judged when the season is concluded. 

Ball Five – Stoneman’s solid knock shows how to play the conditions

Monday morning in St John’s Wood had an urgency about it. Streams of oldish men, sandwiches and binoculars in bags, gaits not quite fluent any more emerged from the tube station and headed for the ground. It was a decent crowd for the promotion battle, but most definitely not of the demographic that sets the heart rates of marketing men aflutter.

 

It’s not easy batting at 10.30am in September and Glamorgan’s batters set off with the attitude that there was one coming soon with their name on it so best to play a few shots, one-a-ball for some. They were 70-5 with barely an hour played and it took some typically smart play from Chris Cooke and effective late order biffing from Ajaz Patel to get up past 200. 

The home side played conditions much better, Mark Stoneman’s century setting up late middle order runs and a lead of 176. Despite an opening stand of 123 between David Lloyd and Eddie Byrom, the visitors collapsed to 220 all out, Middlesex’s seamers sharing 20 wickets in the match.

It was disappointing stuff from the visitors, particularly as the points conceded surrendered their promotion slot to their opponents. Whether the first morning betrayed a fear of the conditions having been invited to bat, or whether it was simply a positive mindset taken too far, it set the tone for a match in which the result felt foretold after its first hour.    

Ball Six – Potts is cooking with gas

Matthew Potts showed great heart to come roaring back for his county having been left out by England and seen his replacement and rival, Ollie Robinson, prove he had the conditioning to go with his undoubted skill. The Durham pacer got back to the day job and ran through Leicestershire twice with 6-52 and 7-52 as the visitors ran out easy winners.  

Potts’ attitude was his biggest asset in his nascent Test career and running in hard for 39 overs in Division Two shows it’s not just for the cameras. In a game in which players can appear to carp continually about workloads and play can slow to an almost farcical pace, Potts looks like he doesn’t want to be anywhere else for the top of his mark, ready to bowl another over.   

England

Ben Stokes: 149 runs at 37.3; 10 wickets at 15.7; one catch

If he threw his wicket away too often, when he really needed to build an innings, he delivered the best knock of the series with a superbly constructed century at Old Trafford. At times, he was unplayable at second change, a ferocious strike bowler swinging and seaming an old ball and a parsimonious stock bowler, maintaining a threat while choking off the runs.

Lest we forget, he also engineered a 2-1 win from the wreckage of an innings defeat at Lord’s and has earned the right to meet criticism of his all-out attacking philosophy and loyalty to his players by simply directing his critics to the scorebook. Grade A

Alex Lees: 96 runs at 19.2; one catch

The becalmed batter of the Caribbean now has a shot for every ball in his eagerness to get with the programme. His longest innings was still less than the equivalent of a single session and you need more than that from an opener, even when Tests are played on fast-forward. Grade C-

Zak Crawley: 134 runs at 33.5; two catches

Quietened, if not quite silenced, his critics with a barnstorming assault on what was, truth be told, a beaten side in the gathering gloom at The Oval. This was the prize that England can see, still frustratingly just over the horizon: the weight of shot; the clarity of thinking; the transfer of pressure on to the bowlers. Grade C+ 

Ollie Pope: 179 runs at 44.8; two catches

In at three behind two unreliable openers, he embraced the responsibility mixing glorious boundaries with scurrying singes. In a bowlers’ series, he top-scored twice in England’s three first innings in suggesting that the long apprenticeship may be approaching its completion. Grade B+

Joe Root: 46 runs at 11.5; five catches

He was due a poor series and, sure enough, one turned up, the product of perhaps the only fault is in his game – a stepping across the border between busy and skittish. Grade D

Jonny Bairstow: 67 runs at 22.3; three catches

Having lived by the sword with such extraordinary success earlier in the season, the cricketing gods reminded him of his mortality. His 49 at Old Trafford set up the key partnership of the series. Grade B- 

Harry Brook: 12 runs at 12.0; one catch

The best county batter of the Spring got his chance in the Autumn and unveiled the powerful drives that has had the Yorkshire fans purring. Suckered out in the deep by Jansen, he might be a little more judicious in his shot-selection next time. Grade C 

Ben Foakes: 133 runs at 44.3; 14 catches

Though less than his silky best standing back with the gloves, his 173 runs partnership with his captain at Old Trafford turned the series and earned him a second Test century. Grade B

Stuart Broad: 77 runs at 19.3; 14 wickets at 15.6; one catch

Now unequivocally relegated to first change if Robinson is fit, we saw the Broad smile, his silent movie star expressions of disbelief at his misfortunes and the infamously optimistic reviews, all done with the knees pumping, the blood up and the ball on or full of a good length. For a bowler known for his streaks, Broad was consistent in his work and very effective in a growing leadership role, on and off the field, in support of a captain who believes in him. Grade A- 

Ollie Robinson: 20 runs at 10.0; 12 wickets at 15.0

Back in the team and looking at ease with the new regime, he underlined his class by beating a tattoo on that awkward length where the best tall bowlers reside, on or about an off stump line. That much we knew. What was encouraging for the future was the leaner physique and the willingness to keep running in stopping the gun in the mid-80s mph. England may still be searching for Alastair Cook’s successor as an opening bat; they already have James Anderson’s successor as an opening bowler. Grade A- 

Matthew Potts: seven runs at 7.0; two wickets at 39.5; one catch

Ran in with the same sunny optimism he had in the New Zealand series, but had to toil for his wickets as he discovered that Test cricket can be a hard taskmaster. Likely to take his place in the pool of pacers required for the international game these days, but may be in and out of the side rather than a regular in the future. Grade C 

Jack Leach: 26 runs at 8.7; two wickets at 44.5

Often not required, so good were the seamers, so incompetent the batters, but the old questions, partially answered with his twin fivefers at Headingley in June, surfaced again. Is holding an end and being a great team man enough to justify a place as a specialist spinner? That lack of penetration did not cost England in this series, but there will be more expected come the winter tour to Pakistan. Grade C-

James Anderson: one run at 0.5; 10 wickets at 16.6; one catch

One could detect, even through the almost caricature weariness of his now fully crafted persona, a slowing in the trudge back to his mark whereupon he could take a breath, decide which of the many deliveries at his disposal to deploy, and run in, on rails as usual at 40 years of age.

It’s all so familiar now – a little in and little out, a little wobble seam and a little cross-seam, a tentative exploration in search of some reverse – but batters are none the wiser as to how to play him. The feeling persists that he would gain a little more success were he to pitch the ball slightly further up, but his figures are mainly diminished by batters settling for keeping him out. Grade A- 

 

South Africa

Dean Elgar: 107 runs at 21.4; four catches

The captain and best batter in an inexperienced order did not make a half-century, perversely omitted Marco Jansen at Old Trafford (arguably his team’s best bowler and best batter) and failed to review his own poor LBW decision when the third Test was in the balance. It was a disappointing farewell to these shores for an admirable Test cricketer. Grade D

Sarel Erwee: 127 runs at 25.4; three catches

The opener got his side into credit before his dismissal at Lord’s and always put a high price on his wicket. The 32 year-old late bloomer held his own, but did not push on after working very hard for his starts. Grade B- 

Keegan Petersen: 122 runs at 24.4; three catches

Three 20s and one 40 in five innings speaks to a series in which the stylish batter threatened to go on and define an innings but failed to do so. Grade C+

Rassie van der Dussen: 76 runs at 25.3

Injured for the third Test, the elegant right-hander also flattered to deceive consistently getting out at the wrong time. Grade C+

Khaya Zondo: 39 runs at 19.5

Drafted in for the third Test, he showed some grit, but anchoring a floundering batting order in only his second appearance proved too great a task. Grade C

Aiden Markram: 36 runs at 12.0; three catches

The one-time golden boy of South African cricket just could not generate any momentum against England’s high class seam attack. Grade D

Ryan Rickelton: 19 runs at 9.5

Given something of a hospital pass by being drafted into the number four slot for the third Test, the wicketkeeper predictably dropped the ball. Grade D

Kyle Verreynne 61 runs at 15.3; eight catches

The wicketkeeper-batter is still feeling his way into the considerable shoes of Quinton de Kock and that provides mitigation for some ordinary work on both sides of the stumps. Grade D

Wiaan Mulder: 17 runs at 8.5; no wicket for 11 runs

One of the form players of the county championship failed to make the step from Division Two to the Test arena in a single bound. Grade D

Marco Jansen: 82 runs at 27.3; nine wickets at 13.1

Very tall, very promising left-arm quick who swung the ball at pace and also made it bounce alarmingly at times. He also benefits from getting in close to the stumps and snapping his wrist at the point of release. The 22 year-old showed all-rounder potential with the bat, some of his driving positively dreamy. 

He’s too young to remember Wasim Akram, but I’m not, and the comparisons may be too early, but they’re not outlandish. His omission for the second Test looked bizarre at the time and only looks worse now. Grade A+ 

Simon Harmer: 18 runs at 9.0; one wicket at 73.0

The terror of the county circuit was a pussycat at Old Trafford, milked for runs at the batters’ pleasure. Grade D- 

Keshav Maharaj: 79 runs at 15.8; four wickets at 28.3, one catch

Despite being under-bowled by his captain, he looked much the best spinner on show, though that’s faint praise in this series. Showed a bit of fight with the bat and probably deserved more support than he got from his team-mates. Grade B-  

Kagiso Rabada: 48 runs at 12.0; 14 wickets at 23.4; one catch

A world class bowler who showed his mettle at times with class spells moving the ball both ways at pace, troubling good batters. Curiously, he seemed to lose rhythm as the series progressed and bowled far too many four balls at The Oval. Grade B

Anrich Nortje: 45 runs at 15.0; 10 wickets at 24.8

The big quick charged in and bowled fast (leaking runs as a consequence) but couldn’t find the movement to discomfit top batters on pitches that negated the value of his bounce. Inexplicably he was never given a new hard ball nor supported in the field for a spell of short-pitched stuff in at the body. Grade B

Lungi Ngidi: four runs at 2.0; two wickets at 44.0

Rumbled in for two Tests, but did not appear to enjoy the confidence of his captain, who gave him just 30 overs. Grade C-

Ball One – England’s bowlers will have to attack like England’s batters

So that didn’t take long.

England lost their last three wickets in the blinking of an eye to the less than peak Kagiso Rabada and the mightily impressive Marco Jansen to post a lead of 40 and, as I’m sure Ben Stokes underlined, an early chance to get in and amongst a fragile South African batting unit.

While the eye has been taken by Bazball’s impact on batting, its impact on bowling has been no less profound. Fuller lengths, straighter lines and more slips has buried ‘bowling dry’ in favour of ‘twenty wickets as soon as possible so we can get on with the chase’. An in-form attack will have to do their bit now.

Ball Two – Anyone for tennis’s review protocol?

In Ollie Robinson’s third over, Ben Stokes reviewed a ‘Not Out’ LBW that looked mighty close. The computer simulation (for that is what it is – the real stuff is the 0s and 1s of digital data) showed less than half the ball was in line with the leg stump when it pitched – however, some part of it (let’s say 25%) was.

I’ve long contested that, given the trust invested in the system, such a delivery should be considered as having pitched in line with the stumps and therefore eligible for the predictive element of the DRS protocol to be used. There isn’t any ‘forecasting’ of trajectory involved – the ball pitched with part of its spherical volume (represented as a two-dimensional circle) inside the line. So the data says.

In tennis, if the review system shows a millimetre of the ball (another sphere also illustrated as a two-dimensional circle) catching the line, the call is ‘In’. Cricket should adopt the same interpretation with regard to defining whether the ball has pitched in-line or not.

Ball Three – Lengths a little Fuller slakes thirst for wickets

It must be harder than it looks to replicate a successful formula, even for the two leading seamers in Test history.

After lunch, England came out and bowled a fuller length bringing both the stumps and the slips into the game as the ball wasn’t going over and had more time to swing before reaching the bat. It had been a curious innings to that point, because the bowlers knew the right length – the one they bowled to dismiss the same batters for 118 – but were consistently shorter, at least to the naked eye.

One wicket in 21 overs probably counts as a lull in Test cricket as it’s played in England these days, but the old double act of Anderson and Broad soon pressed the fast-forward button and three South Africans were sent back in the next six overs.

(Ab)normal service was resumed.

Ball Four – Strange, but true

True story.

I was walking round the ground when Stuart Broad rapped Dean Elgar on the pads. I heard the roar go up and stopped at a monitor (there is always a delay with the pictures coming through) to see the delivery.

Missing by miles I thought and didn’t wait for the inevitable review and overturn decision, but no further sound came. Puzzled, I paused at the next monitor and saw South Africa’s captain leaving the field and thought that I must have missed the review which must have been unexpectedly declined and rapidly so.

I hadn’t and, as the next monitor confirmed, I had been right – the ball was missing leg stump by a distance and Elgar had been wrong, refraining from a review that would have preserved his wicket.

It was a very bizarre couple of minutes.

Ball Five – Stokes fires up the swing

The last delivery of the afternoon was a spiteful inswinger from Ben Stokes that would have cleaned up better batters than Marco Jansen. Sure one can point to a gate through which the ball snaked to clatter into the leg stump, but that would be to ignore the succession of outswingers that Stokes had shown the South African all-rounder, one of which had taken the edge in the previous over and been spectacularly caught by Ollie Pope before the dreaded No Ball signal wound the scoreboard back.

All four England bowlers had found conventional swing in bright sunshine with an oldish ball. There are plenty of scientific papers that explain swing, conventional and reverse, as one would expect from a species that can land a satellite on a comet, but it remains a capricious servant, sometimes absent, sometimes uncontrollable and sometimes a weapon as effective as any medieval king’s champion. Like the Karma Chameleon, it comes and goes.

Ball Six – Ben’s is the word

We take the pressure, and we throw awayConventionality belongs to yesterdayThere is a chance that we can make it so farWe start believing now that we can be who we are

If you take over a losing side that looked fearful and tired and you bring the chaos and the chaos wins six out of seven (okay, not won six out of seven yet), I’d suggest BS has the right to call BS on the naysayers.

Ball One – Leaving in Silence

Thirty minutes before the scheduled start of play, a large proportion of the crowd are in their seats having been told that there will be ceremonials to mark the death of Queen Elizabeth II – 15 minutes later, there is little sign of such.

Some two hours earlier, most of Kennington will have heard a test playing of a very familiar tune with now jarringly unfamiliar lyrics – all at ear-splitting volume. God was implored, for the first time in the hearing of anyone under 70 years of age, to save The King – it felt strange in a near-empty ground, what it will sound like with a capacity crowd in situ, your writer is about to find out.

The silence was of a depth I have witnessed just once before – at Wembley Stadium for the post-Hillsborough FA Cup Final of 1989. Then it was suffused with anger; today with sadness. It was moving and vindicated, unequivocally, the decision to play today.

Another knock-on effect is worth noting – the absence of music on the PA and interviews and adverts on the big screen has given ownership of the atmosphere back to the crowd. It makes a huge difference to the experience and, perhaps, the players.

Ball Two – Elgar cancelled at The Proms and at The Oval

Ben Stokes may not have the Oxbridge background of England captains past and he may not always have displayed the best judgement on and off the field, but he instinctively feels the game and, so the evidence suggests, feels the cricketers too.

Backing his men – always and forever – may not produce the results he is looking for every time, but it appears to be working more often than not. He tossed the new ball to Ollie Robinson, a man who has spent his international career being criticised for one thing or another, leaving Stuart Broad, who won a Test almost singlehandedly here in 2009, to cool his heels.

Robinson produced a beauty to remove South Africa’s captain and Ben Stokes had got another one right.

Ball Three – Here’s to you, Mr Robinson

I go back to 1974 in terms of memories of Test cricket, so that’s a fair old sample space to back up the claim that the first session today was the finest collective display of bowling I can recall from an England side. They put an inexperienced SA order on the rack and brought the pain with lines and lengths born of smart thinking and control developed over many years of playing this strange game.

Sure they had help from the atmospherics and a pitch that had just enough juice to allow the seam to bite, but such conditions are not uncommon in England. What is uncommon is their relentless, ruthless exploitation by Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and slimmed-down, ultra-confident Ollie Robinson.

To their credit, Khaya Zondo (with a bit of luck) and Marco Jansen (with a lot of skill) stemmed the tide to take lunch at 69-6, but England had achieved their first objective in this three day Test. The game has progressed quickly.

Ball Four – Bish Bash Bazball

England wrapped up the SA innings on 118, Robinson with a fivefer, Broad with four and Anderson just the one early success. The Sussex man was the pick of the attack, but all three were at the peak of their powers and at the batters for over after over, barely wasting a ball short or down the legside, squatting in the corridor of uncertainty.

The visitors may not have the Test wickets in the bank that Broad and Anderson can boast, but Kagiso Rabada is world class, Anrich Nortje is appreciably quicker than any England bowler and Marco Jansen has height and left arm awkwardness to exploit.

Both sides are far stronger on paper with ball in hand rather than bat, but technique and temperament can trump talent in Test cricket. On an emotional day, Zak Crawley and Alex Lees have a platform to unleash the Bazball. It’s more a case of can they than will they as there’s only one way to play from here.

Ball Five – Happy Scamperers

Perhaps nothing indicates the attitudinal change effected by the Stokes-McCullum axis than the singles harvested by Ollie Pope and Joe Root in the half-hour before tea. For years, I would watch Ponting and Clarke (or Warner or Hussey or Martyn) drop it and run to keep the scoreboard ticking over, irritate the bowler and make the captain ponder taking out a slip to supplement the covers. England to follow suit? Back then, no chance.

Now they do and it’s interesting to consider what the strategy requires. Firstly, you have to be looking for it, the mind at least half on scoring a run rather than preserving one’s wicket. Secondly, you have to trust your partner, know that he won’t seek to blame you if he’s run out, know that the captain and coach will back your decision-making even when it’s proved wrong. Thirdly, you have to value every run, build the marginal gains into a substantial advantage, understand that glory is mainly hard work below the waterline.

Like much else about England’s uber-aggressive approach, it will go wrong in the future at some point – but, boy oh boy (pace Tony Greig), its bloody good fun while it lasts.

Ball Six – 272 runs, 17 wickets in 70 overs

High risk it was, and not all of it worked, but England finished the day on 154-7 with a lead of 36 and power to add.

In a sense, England’s innings can be judged on the fact that it’s a three day Test and that the opposition were all out for less than 120. Had some of the yahoos by Harry Brook, Ben Stokes and even Joe Root come off, England could be 60 or so on tonight and looking at a 100+ lead tomorrow. As it is, they’ll probably take a lead of 70 which, in the context of the match so far, is very handy indeed.

Recency bias is likely to leave fans a tinge disappointed and pundits a little chary of praising the home side’s effort because one has the feeling that 118-4 would have been attainable and that represents a stronger position than the one they hold. But this match is a shoot-out for the series, Ben Stokes says he will always go for the win from any situation (and has the history to back up the bravado) and England are more likely to win from here than they were when Jimmy Anderson bowled the first ball of the day.

A day that, in the round, belongs to England.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 9, 2022

The Final Over Of The Week In County Cricket – 9 September 2022

On the Championship’s return, Hampshire go top of Division One

Somerset miss a chance to ease away from potential relegation and Nottinghamshire look certain to join the top flight in 2023

Ball One – Hampshire take the weather with them

In cricket (especially in England) there are always two opponents: one is the team against whom yours is pitted; the other is the weather. Sometimes, the weather is working with you, sometimes it’s against you, but it’s never anything less than an active participant in the contest. Long may it be so.

Hampshire needed to make the most of their game in hand if they were to steal a march on Championship leaders, Surrey, and had followed the perfect template for maximising not just their chances of a win, but of securing maximum points. Form batters, Felix Organ and Aneurin Donald, made runs and Kyle Abbott surprised nobody in making a half-century just when it was needed.

Northamptonshire racked up 68 for the first wicket, but a seam attack as experienced as Keith Barker, Mohammad Abbas, James Fuller and that man Abbott won’t be denied for long and Emilio Gay and Will Young were soon obliged to pad up again.

Once more the openers made a decent start and once more the Hampshire seamers demolished almost all the Northants’ batting (with Ian Holland filling in for the injured Abbott). Clouds had scowled over the Ageas Bowl all day and the players had been on and off – the next time would be the last. James Fuller ran in, rain in the air, maybe one ball left to do it – and hit the luckless Jack White’s stumps.

Hampshire had their win, 24 points and an eight point lead in Division One – and the weather gods had to look elsewhere for a victim.

Ball Two – Fraine refrains from risk and secures draw for Yorkshire

They found one on a favourite patch of theirs – Old Trafford.

Actually, that’s unfair, as the Roses Match did not lose much time and Yorkshire’s young side showed real strength of character to earn their draw in a typically hard fought derby, brilliantly covered by Lancs TV.

After Keaton Jennings and Luke Wells had each scored centuries (203 runs in the first innings for the openers and 192 in the second, Wells notching Lancashire’s third fastest ever ton), Yorkshire had to bat last on a tired pitch against two good spinners, Tom Hartley and Matt Parkinson. Credit to Tom Kohler-Cadmore (34 runs off 159 balls) and Will Fraine (18 off 83) who batted against type to deny the home side.

Lancashire coach, Glen Chapple remarked, “We set them 302 in 84 overs which for me is 50-50 game”. But with Lancashire needing a win to keep their Championship hopes alive and Yorkshire needing a draw to help pull away from any threat of relegation, maybe it was worth risking a 30-70 game – not that it would have made much difference in the end.

Ball Three – Cook serves up a win for Essex

Essex, rueing their very slow Spring, annihilated Kent by an innings and 260 runs at what must have been a contemplative Canterbury, keen to look forward to next weekend’s (possibly)  Royal London Cup Final.

Feroze Khushi led the batting effort with a maiden first class century, taking it to 164 before he was last man out. Staring at a scoreboard (how long has it been since it was black-on-white at the St Lawrence Ground?) showing 573 for the oppo, the last thing you want to see is 40-3 on your own side and resistance was minimal from there. Jordan Cox played something of a lone hand with the bat, while the always impressive Sam Cook took his career average below 20 with 10-60.

Cook has always swum a little in the backwash of Jamie Porter (who found a bit of form with five wickets of his own) and Simon Harmer, but England will need to replace Broad and Anderson’s wickets soon and the 25 year-old has dealt in that hard currency for six years now. He might not look exactly like a Test bowler, but plenty don’t – until they do.

Ball Four – Abell caned by Harris

Somerset will have eyed their match with winless Gloucestershire as an opportunity to launch an autumn push away from relegation trouble – but cricket seldom falls into such easy narratives.

Somerset’s captain, Tom Abell, had a new toy to play with in Pakistan spinner, Sajid Khan and reasoned at the toss that the best way to take 20 wickets in a match is to get on with it. The lunchtime scoreboard’s grim logic (showing 115-0) disabused him of the wisdom of that plan and Marcus Harris’s day long vigil acquiring 159 runs meant that the home side were always chasing the game.

Set an unlikely 375 to win, rain washed away the slim chance of Bazballing to that target. The 12 points secured by the draw may prove to be the ones that keep Somerset in the top flight for 2023, but it’s an opportunity missed with Warwickshire, Northants, Kent (and weather) to come in September.

Ball Five – Good Evans, but not much more to beat as Notts cruise to victory

Nottinghamshire walloped Leicestershire by 241 runs at Trent Bridge to open up a 43 points gap at the top of Division Two and surely make top flight cricket a reality for them in 2023.

Steve Mullaney won the toss, batted, and will have been feeling a little disappointed as Nottinghamshire’s innings failed to build momentum, only one partnership realising 50 runs or more. He was a whole lot jollier after Leicestershire capitulated to 93 all out, Sam Evans surveying the wreckage as he carried his bat for 50.

The home side were much more solid second time round, 28 the lowest score of the eight batters required, Leicestershire’s target a notional 499. They put up more fight this time but the Notts’ seamers shared the ten wickets between them and it was all wrapped up with no need to check the weather apps for day four showers.

Ball Six – County cricket at the crossroads

You can read more about Andrew Strauss’s High Performance Review (this is as good a place as any) elsewhere and I do not intend to make detailed points here, merely invite considered comments below the line from a readership that has proved itself to be both knowledgable and committed – unlike some loud voices in the media who (let’s be charitable0 do not follow the domestic game as keenly as you.

This column was largely quiet about The Hundred in its first year, but has grown more critical in 2022, if obliquely so as it is somewhat off-topic, but it’s happy to nail its colours to the mast now.

County cricket faces an existential threat from many sources, perhaps all but one of which are beyond its control – not so with The Hundred. The format is not selling overseas (rendering the ECB’s IP rights an asset less valuable than was anticipated) and is doing great things for the women’s game, but is cannibalising the men’s.

At the start of this year’s tournament, The Hundred’s managing director Sanjay Patel said: “We’re not worried about [the critics], it doesn’t consume us. We’re very, very clear with what we’re trying to achieve. If we’re achieving our KPIs and our objectives, and that means that the game is growing, then I’m okay with what people want to say.”

Growth at what cost? This column says the price is too high and, if that means fewer business class flights for suits, BMW 3 series cars for county players instead of 5 series and, yes, a few star players we see about as often as we see Jos Buttler, then it’s a cost to be borne.

We live in times when things can change very quickly – the future of our game lies not on balance sheets, KPI trackers or in marketing meetings, but within the souls of those who love the game. It’s time those voices were heard – loudly.

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 31, 2022

The Final Over Of The Week In County Cricket – 31 August 2022

Lancashire and Kent will play in RLODC Final

Dane Vilas and Darren Stevens showed their experience and class to steer their counties through to Trent Bridge final

Ball One: Hove is where the broken heart is

When Steve Eskinazi invited Sussex to bat at Hove, he knew that a win for either side would be enough to reach the knockout stage, maybe even zoom straight through to a home semi-final. At 160-2 with 18 overs left, he was aware that if he could keep things tight, the pyjamas would not be going back into the wardrobe for their winter hibernation just yet.

When the wheels fall off for the fielding side at Hove, the batters can fly like angry seagulls on the wind and, boy oh boy, did Middlesex get a bombing. Seven sixes and 30 fours swept the visitors’ chances into the English Channel, an absurd 240 runs coming in 18 overs of carnage, Sussex seeing 400 on the scoreboard, Tom Alsop 189 not out and Cheteshwar Pujara (who had hit over half of those fours) out for a dazzling 132.

As Group A winners, it’ll be “Sussex by the Sea” in the first semi-final, while Middlesex lick their wounds without even a shot at redemption through a knockout match against Group B’s runners-up.

Ball Two: Scarborough unfair for callow Tykes

Hampshire cruised past an inexperienced Yorkshire XI (who have done very well to get so close to reaching the knockout stage) at Scarborough, their three point cushion more comfortable than the phrasing suggests.

It was the Tykes’ misfortune to run into Aneurin Donald on one of his disappointingly infrequent hot days after a chilly summer for the 25 year-old who once hit 234 off 136 balls as a teenager for Glamorgan. Some of that muscly muscle-memory returned as he stood on the platform of 150-2 and hit 76 off 31 balls to push the visitors towards the 300+ target they wanted to set.

Yorkshire’s top four, just 54 List A matches between them, could not cope with the new ball movement of Ian Holland and John Turner (on his way to a fivefer) and there was no coming back from 31-4 in the eighth over, despite some doughty middle-order resistance.

Hampshire, the form side in the country, will fancy their chances against whomever emerges from the knockout match as winners of the dubious pleasure of a trip to Southampton.

Ball Three: Lamb a tasty batter late in the order

Quarter-final? Not quite right. Eliminator? Too WWE. Play-off? Let’s go with that.

Nottinghamshire went not to Old Trafford – as so often, unavailable to Lancashire for cricket – but to Blackpool like it was Wakes Week again for a day. But it wasn’t just the kissing and the preparations that were quick, but the scoring too. After Keaton Jennings had invited the visitors to bat, Ben Slater and Sol Budinger rattling along at better than a run a ball.

It was George Balderson (who has come of age in this competition) who got the breakthrough, but Slater went on to post his century, Matthew Montgomery maintained momentum with a quickfire 78 and Lanky, facing a target of 339, were second favourites at the innings break.

Unlike T20, the longer white ball format requires more strategy than simply going hard from the first ball to the last and the home side knew that the powerplay would need to be utilised, then someone needed to bat through, hitting boundaries and rotating the strike. That has been the role of local hero, Steven Croft, for his 20 seasons in the team and he buckled in for the ride.

The final piece of the chasing jigsaw is the late order push to the line. George Lavelle had obliged in the last match at the seaside, but he was sixth man out with 102 still to get. Cue Danny Lamb, the kind of bits and pieces man that is scorned in some parts of the country, but loved by those who grew up watching pros in the leagues. The two all-rounders – almost certainly the kind of cricketers the brave new world dedicated to concentrating talent would squeeze out of the county game – got it done and Lancashire could plan a trip to a very different seaside ground: the Ageas Bowl.

Ball Four: Kent’s batters can

Kent, with plenty of momentum after their late charge to third in their group, blew up the M1 into Grace Road and blew away Leicestershire who never really established a foothold in the match.

Invited to bat first by Wiaan Mulder, seven of Kent’s batters made decent contributions, Darren Stevens starting his latest farewell tour by tonking 41 off 24 balls – the old boy keeps swinging.

With 326 to get, the home side had pretty much the same target as Lancashire 150 miles or so to the North West. But Mulder, attempting to play the Steven Croft role, was out for 81 and the late order could make nothing of Grant Stewart’s pace, Leicestershire well short of the required runs leaving eight overs unbowled too.

Stevens, who first played in this competition (for Leicestershire) when it was the Benson and Hedges Cup (well, maybe the Nat West Trophy – it has two parents) may yet bow out of his Kent career running, okay, maybe walking, round Trent Bridge with a trophy in hand. Stranger things have happened – but not very often.

Ball Five: Red Rose blooms in semi-final at Hove

“Somebody has to make a ton.” That’s what your writer texted as Lancashire had burned through half their side with just 67 on the board. Vultures, rather than seagulls, were circling.

But Dane Vilas has been the visitors’ big beast for a few years now and, back from an injury without which he may have sat on a bench for the last four weeks, the South African brought 17 years of experience to bear, hitting singles and sixes. He was ably supported by fellow wicket-keeper, George Lavelle, who made a composed 50 and Danny Lamb and Tom Bailey, as accomplished a nine and ten as you’ll find in this competition.

Sussex set off in pursuit of 320, about 100 more than they had expected three hours earlier, with Ali Orr again underlining his class with a pugnacious 71. But when Cheteshwar Pujara was pinned LBW by George Balderson, Keaton Jennings’ tactic of backing his bowlers to go straight was already paying off. Six of Sussex’s top eight were clean bowled, at least one each for the other four seamers.

Come mid-September, Lancashire’s fans will go to a one-day final for the first time since 2006 – the dark, cold nights can wait a little longer thank you very much.

Ball Six: Stevens leads streak for the line

“Who writes your scripts?”

That was Graham Gooch to Ian Botham back in the day, but had Joe Denly said the same to Darren Stevens, nobody would have blamed him. Hampshire were 45-1 after 8 overs, with Nick Gubbins and Ben Brown having already notched nine boundaries, when the veteran (a label applied to players ten years his junior) got his hands on the ball. He bowled through his 10 overs conceding 45 runs including just the four boundaries. At the spell’s conclusion, Hants were handily placed at 145-2 with 22 overs left, but Kent were holding their own.

Aneurin Donald got out just as he was set to launch his attack and though Felix Organ and Toby Albert made quick runs, the home side probably felt 310-9 was no more than par, especially after being 106-0 in the 20th over.

Things looked better when the Hampshire seamers sent both Kent openers and the captain back with 68 on the board, but wicket-keeper, Ollie Robinson, in at three, is a resourceful batter and has that 206 not out in the first match of the competition to draw upon for confidence His 95 steadied the ship in partnership with Harry Finch, supporting well with 52.

When he was out, Kent needed 128 runs at 7.5 per over with five wickets in hand – second favourites. But the game’s not over until the fat man swings and Stevens, off the mark to his tenth ball, got 84 of them himself, with 11 fours and three sixes, those runs coming from just 55 more balls.

Kent have chosen not to renew his contract for next year, but he’s got to play in the final hasn’t he? And who would put it past him repeating the trick at Trent Bridge?

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