Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 22, 2016

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 21 August 2016

Alex Wakely at Edgbaston

Alex Wakely at Edgbaston

Ball One – Ollie Rayner regal at Lord’s come mid-August

Nobody thinks scheduling matches is easy, but the ECB might have chosen a better week than the closing one of The Olympics and opening one of the Premier League football season to stage crucial matches in all three domestic competitions – but they didn’t. Middlesex enjoy a 26 points lead at the top of Division One after seeing off Durham by an innings in a rare positive result at Lord’s. The home side’s two Nicks at the top of the order, Gubbins and Compton, both made decent hundreds and Toby Roland-Jones, seldom out of a game for long, applied the long handle just prior to the declaration with a lead of 332. But Middlesex had Ollie Rayner, off spinner, affable chap and late season specialist, to thank most for their win, the tall man returning figures of 4-17 in the first innings and 5-85 in the second. Spinners earn their corn in the Championship run-in and, if Rayner can repeat his trick from 2013 – taking 23 wickets in three late August / early September matches, Middlesex will fancy their chances of staying top.

Ball Two – CC for HH as Andrew Gale refuses to unleash a whirlwind

There are six other counties who could yet make a run for the pennant, led by its current holders, Yorkshire, who have a game in hand and plenty of know-how in the bank. So it was surprising to see the White Rose settle for what turned into a tame draw at Old Trafford, hands shaken on the field as Lancashire’s always fatalistic supporters wiped the sweat from their palms. After Haseeb Hameed had added to both his reputation and list of records with two centuries compiled over nearly eight hours at the crease against the best attack in English domestic cricket, Adam Lyth and Alex Lees were still together when the draw was agreed, the visitors with all ten wickets in hand. The target of 367 in 71 overs on a pitch that was said to have made scoring quickly difficult, was not chased despite Day Four bringing 350 runs for the loss of three wickets. Jason Gillespie and Andrew Gale have won more County Championships than I have, but I was not alone in being puzzled by their tactics and in wondering if their risk aversion may prove critical in the final reckoning.

Ball Three – Brad Wheal and Mason Crane can lift Hampshire even if they drop to Division Two

At the bottom of Division One, Hampshire beat Nottinghamshire to give themselves a lifeline and leave the home side with a lot to do in the last four matches if they are to avoid the drop. Hampshire led by 74 on first innings and a 160 runs stand between Jimmy Adams and Tom Alsop, who both fell in the 90s, took defeat out of the question, but there was still a lot to do to secure the win. Highly rated teenage leg-spinner, Mason Crane, had four sessions to spin Notts out and his 3-95 showed again that he has real potential in cricket’s most difficult art. But he was upstaged by another teenager, Scotland’s Brad Wheal, whose seam-up at fourth change brought figures of 19-4-51-6. Hampshire might yo-yo into Division Two next month, but these two young bowlers have shown that they can take wickets and can only improve with time in the middle.

Ball Four – Ravi Bopara shines away from the limelight

Essex, without a win since early July, extended their lead at the top of Division Two to the 23 points they picked up in the win over Derbyshire, rock bottom and winless in a miserable season. Nick Browne’s epic nine hour 229* set up the victory but the craft and nous of Graham Napier and Ravi Bopara took 13 of the 20 wickets required for just 132 runs between them. Bopara hasn’t registered three figures with the bat in red ball cricket in 2016, but averages a tick under 40 which speaks of his consistency. With the ball, his 37 wickets at 20 have compensated perfectly for the lack of output from Jesse Ryder, whose different version of nagging medium pace has been effective in recent seasons. Of course, few areas of national sport are more under the radar than Division Two County Championship cricket, but Bopara has dug in for his home county and has shown no sign of sulking now his international career appears over – something for which he deserves much credit.

Ball Five – Kumar Sangakkara is as cool and as ruthless as Andrea Pirlo

The winners of the Royal London One Day Cup quarter-finals were Yorkshire, who will play Surrey at Headingley and Warwickshire, who will play Somerset at Edgbaston, the matches sympathetically scheduled over the Bank Holiday weekend. The match of the round was won by the shot of the round, maybe of the season, as Kumar Sangakkara, needing 12 off the last over, squatted, crouched and lifted Azharullah straight over the keeper’s head and the boundary for a six. Rather like Andrea Pirlo (another veteran icon of world sport) with his Panenkaed penalty in Euro2014, Sangakkara knew the shot was worth more than merely what was recorded on the scoresheet with its impact on his opponents, and, sure enough, he got Surrey home off the last ball, his share 130*. Northamptonshire recalibrated their sights from 50 overs to 20.

Ball Six – Two captain’s knocks from Alex Wakely steer Northants to T20 glory

And they didn’t have to wait long for redemption, as they dodged the showers to lift the NatWest T20 Blast Trophy with a comprehensive win over Durham in the Birmingham gloom. After Ben Duckett’s bravado and Alex Wakely’s accumulation had set a target of 162 (worth 20 more in better batting conditions), Nottinghamshire were only really in the chase when they hit 34 off the 10th and 11th overs and fell 8 runs short, completing a difficult week. Enjoying the longer break afforded to the first semi-finalists, Northamptonshire’s pace-off sextet of bowlers and superb catching held all but Durham’s in-form opener, Keaton Jennings in check and could count themselves somewhat unfortunate to be chasing as many as 154. But Wakely, on the field for all but nine of the 80 overs comprising the two matches, was accumulating again, and found a different partner to blast away at the other end, as Josh Cobb hit the ball all round Edgbaston. Cobb left the crease with his team six runs short of victory which, after a bit of nervous prodding and panicky running, duly arrived in the last over. In T20, Northamptonshire so often punch above their weight, even when their finances appear as shot as some of their fans in the Hollies Stand after a long day on the beers. The first silverware of the season is deservedly theirs.

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 19, 2016

The Alternative Cricket Bucket List

bucketAt the First Test of the summer, the ECB produced a promo brochure with a Bucket List of 50 things to do related to cricket. It was all interesting, if predictable stuff – take a crowg catch, watch a day’s play at Galle from the Fort etc. Jarrod Kimber and I were soon riffing on an Alternative Bucket List and amongst the throwaway stuff, we came up with the following, most of which I can tick off (Jarrod had 25 too)

1. Drop three catches in a match and be fined for jug avoidance

2. Be hit by the ball in the crowd – extra point if it pops up off the rope

3. Be hit for six fours / sixes in an over

4. Been told by the umpire, “It’s all right. I understand that he’s played a bit of first class cricket in Pakistan”.

5. Bat at 12 because both teams have an extra player

6. Be caught at cow corner when batting for a draw

7. Start the last over of a match with the opposition needing 7 runs with two wides

8. Play as emergency wicketkeeper with two odd gloves, wearing batsman’s pads

9. Discover you’re using somebody else’s bat only twenty minutes into your innings

10. Borrow a box – “I will wash it, promise.”

11. Be desperate to ask how long the egg sandwiches have been left in the sun

12. Be shooed off the outfield by stewards after playing cricket at lunch / tea

13. Narrowly avoid being the perpetrator of a Glenn McGrath type incident when a ball you were messing about with got on to the outfield

14. Fall asleep watching cricket on TV overnight and woken up to find a batsman is till at the crease but his score is lower than when you nodded off.

15. Bowl out a teacher at school who then refused to leave the crease

16. Beat the local public school because the local comprehensive’s XI all played Saturday League cricket

17. Get a cricket article spiked

18, Spill beer / tomato ketchup on a proper cable-knit cream sweater

19. Get off the mark with an edge to the keeper not given by “your” umpire,  – running while the keeper was having a strop.

20. Need two more throwers to get the ball in from the boundary

21. Umpire 25 overs of a game when you were told you would get a relief after 10

22. Drop the catch that would have given the bowler a hat-trick

23. Roll the pitch without clearing the stones / fox poo / broken teeth first

24. Put someone off cricket by being too enthusiastic and detailed in your explanations

25. Get rained off without a ball being bowled when due to play a match a first class ground

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 13, 2016

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 13 August 2016

Not that one!

Not that one!

Ball One – Greg Smith forges a hard hit fifty as Essex are hammered by Notts

It was T20 quarter-finals week in county cricket (with the final one clashing with both the Olympics and the Fourth Test, but ho hum…). The first quarter-final saw Essex win the toss and invite the home side to bat at Trent Bridge. Both sides would probably have settled for the 162 posted by Notts, Greg Smith (a man who averages 27 in all three forms of the game) top scoring with 50. At the end of the powerplay, Ravi Bopara must have been content with his decision to bat second, the scoreboard showing 62-0, the required rate a comfortable 7.2. But Jesse Ryder was run out in the seventh over and, for once, there was no late order rescue from Ryan ten Doeschate nor James Foster and even Graham Napier couldn’t smash a six or two in consolation. Nottinghamshire progress to Finals Day and have something from a disappointing season.

Ball Two – Adam Rossington – first man in to bat and still there at the end

Another one-sided match saw Northants progress at home to Middlesex, who just couldn’t get going, scoring 65 in the first ten overs but adding just 67 more in the second half of their innings. 133 was never going to trouble Alex Wakeley’s men who could pace their innings knowing that they were only ever a boundary or two away from being up with the ask. Adam Rossington opened and was still there at the end, cruising to 67 not out. Northants have a bit of everything in their XI and could well be dark horses on Finals Day.

Ball Three – Colly wobbles but Durham progress after late scare

It looked like the third quarter-final would be as one-sided as the previous two when Gloucestershire, roughed up by Durham’s Mark Wood, slumped to 54-5 at the halfway mark, needing another 127 for the win. Jack Taylor, with nothing to nothing to lose, swung at everything and middled most, with Paul Collingwood despatched for 22 runs from three legitimate deliveries before his high full tosses required him to call up Scott Borthwick to finish his over. Colly’s economy rate was a eye-watering 44! But Taylor couldn’t do it all himself, a last over comedy run out with his brother sealing Gloucestershire’s fate and giving Durham fans a rare day out at Edgbaston.

Ball Four – David Willey stands out as Yorkshire see off Glamorgan

So that’s why they signed David Willey. Over the last few years, Yorkshire’s red ball cricket has been almost irresistible, with two Championship pennants in the last couple of summers to prove it, but their white ball stuff has been curiously flat. That’s not an adjective you would ever use to describe the aggressive David Willey, who went in first, went aerial and will be going to Finals Day with, if both win their semi-finals, the prospect of facing his old county, Northamptonshire, on cricket’s biggest domestic day. Purists (and they are not short of them in The Broad Acres) might want to see a bit more of his skills in the four day format, but nobody will be thinking that at Edgbaston where he will open the batting and bowling bristling with intent.

Ball Five – Keaton Jennings spies a window of opportunity

With England’s red ball cricket season coming to a close, it’s timely to look at who has impressed in county cricket and might just sneak a place in a touring squad. Keaton Jennings is top of the pops amongst Division One batsmen, his 965 runs coming at 69 including five hundreds (and over 250 ahead of team-mate Scott Borthwick). Now qualified for England, the tall left-handed bat can also bowl a little seam up, a useful string to one’s bow in an England side whose change bowler (Joe Root) has a long term back condition. Perhaps one might like to see more than one season of accomplishment before an England cap is awarded, but Jennings has had his eye on one since declaring for England four years ago, and he is not far away now.

Ball Six – Gareth Batty – the new Shaun Udal?

Amongst the bowlers in county cricket, few are enjoying a season like Surrey’s Gareth Batty. The ruddy-faced combative (sometimes too combative) Yorkshireman has 36 wickets at 28 and is bowling better than ever. With England casting about for a second (maybe a first) spinner, could Batty do “a Udal”? The combative (sometimes too combative) Hampshire spinner was 37 when he bowled England to a series squaring win in Mumbai ten years ago. Perhaps whenever England need to play a second spinner, the form man should be picked, regardless of age.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 8, 2016

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 7 August 2016

Haseeb Hameed

Haseeb Hameed

Ball One – Jack Leach leaves Durham’s late order in a bloody mess

Yet another draw at Lord’s kept Middlesex in Division One’s top slot, but wins for Somerset and, especially, defending champions Yorkshire, means that the title race will remain as fascinating in August as it has been since April – it really is a wonderful format and it’s so disappointing that it will change for 2017. Somerset leapfrogged opponents Durham coming out on top in a low-scoring thriller at Taunton, the match decided in a blaze of wickets early on Day Three, which started nicely poised with Durham needing 46 runs and Somerset five wickets. In less than 20 minutes, spinners Jack Leach and Roelof van der Merwe gobbled up the necessary scalps and sent Durham on the long journey home licking their wounds. The spin twins shared 17 wickets in the match and contributed to Somerset’s late order batting rallies which saw the last five wickets in the first innings score 103 of 184 and in the second 159 of 180. Durham drop to fourth, their only consolation that of being involved in another tremendous game of cricket.

Ball Tw0 – Yorkshire get their defence of the pennant back on the road

After a couple of months without a win, Yorkshire had their big wheels back in the side and Jason Gillespie’s juggernaut was soon on the move again, beating a spirited Warwickshire in another low scoring thriller. After putting together a handy last wicket stand of 53, grizzled old pros Steve Patterson and Ryan Sidebottom got amongst the Warwickshire batsmen to help establish a crucial first innings lead of 78. Alex Lees came within one wicket of carrying his bat second time round, but got scant support for his four hour 70 and Warwickshire fancied their chances with 229 to get for the win. With one of the most dangerous lower orders in the county game, Ian Bell’s men were still in with a shout when Rikki Clarke fell with 88 to get and four wickets in hand. But for the second time in the match, Adil Rashid ran through the bowlers who bat and Yorkshire found themselves third, 14 points off the leaders, with a game in hand.

Ball Three – Cricket fails to bloom at the Rose Bowl

In sharp contrast to the low scoring heart-thumpers elsewhere in the Division, the Rose Bowl played host to a dull run-fest as Hampshire drew with Lancashire, a result that helped neither the home team’s relegation scrap nor the visitor’s fast fading Championship hopes. Captain Will Smith batted nine and a half hours for 210, refusing to declare until into the sixth session of the match, a good innings, but dubious tactic. The visitors then had the task of batting 25 overs and two days without losing 20 wickets and did so comfortably, finishing three down following-on. That might have been torture for the spectators and the Hampshire bowlers, but it was heaven for Lancashire’s teenage opener, Haseeb Hameed, who would bat all-day every day given the chance. He spent 505 minutes at the crease accumulating 142 runs for once out and furthering the thought that Geoffrey Boycott may have returned, this time on the west side of the Pennines. As with fellow teen, Sam Curran, the question is not whether he will play Test cricket for England but when. I’ll be disappointed if I’m still asking that question this time next year.

Ball Four – Lord’s pitches are too “good” to produce good cricket

I love Lord’s, its history, its low hum of anticipation on a Test match morning and its unique sloping greensward. But I’m beginning to hate the square that commands our attention when we’re there. As mentioned above, the London derby finished in a draw, but what did you expect? It’s the fifth in five Championship matches this season at HQ and the innings scores make damning reading for those who believe that pitches should balance what they offer to bat and ball: 452 & 304-6 vs 468; 354 vs 203-3; 376 & 202-7 vs 423; 513 vs 419-5; and 415 & 266-7 vs 293 & 278-6.

Ball Five – Kent harvest useful points in August

It’s even tighter in Division Two, where Kent’s win left them one point ahead of long time leaders Essex after their crushing victory over Worcestershire. It was good to see Will Gidman, whose career was drifting at Notts, make a crucial 75* and chip in with three wickets, to justify his decision to move south on loan. He’s in good company at Canterbury as Kent fielded no less than six players who can claim to be at least bowlers who bat or batsmen who bowl (Gidman himself, Joe Denly, Darren Stevens, James Tredwell, Matt Coles and Mitchell Claydon). Moving into that part of the season when finding a way to win matters a lot more than how you actually do it, that’s a handy set of players to call upon.

Ball Six – Graham Napier lights up a match yet again

Essex slipped to second, but that was hardly the fault of one of their oldest stagers and one of this column’s favourite cricketers. I could write about Chris Jordan’s excellent match with seven wickets and a knock of 131, but I’m going to highlight Graham Napier, who took 5-114 in Sussex’s innings and then made 124 off 155 balls when defeat wasn’t quite out of the question. He’s 36 now, but he’s enjoying an Indian summer with 43 wickets at 26 and 251 runs at 28. What a servant to Essex, and the game, he has been and how he’ll be missed when he’s gone.

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 1, 2016

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 31 July 2016

John Hurt is surprised by the return of the Royal London Cup

John Hurt is surprised by the return of the Royal London Cup

Ball One – Tykes top as Royal London Cup bursts into life

Reminding me a little of that scene in Alien, the Royal London One Day Cup burst back into life after five weeks of slumber with a slew of midweek matches. Yorkshire went top of the North Group with two wins in a week, the first a 191 runs annihilation of Leicestershire and the second a well-managed chase of 252 to defeat Nottinghamshire. Travis Head (175) and Jack Leaning (131*) put Leicestershire’s bowlers to the sword with a third wicket stand of 274, but, cricket being cricket, they both got ducks three days later. What kind of old game is it?

Ball Two – Somerset’s old boys school Glamorgan and Middlesex

In the South Group, two wins in a week for Somerset saw them join Essex at the top of the table. Weight of runs from the top order played a big part in both victories, Somerset posting 200 in each innings with only three wickets down. That shouldn’t be too much of a surprise as there’s plenty of experience in a quintet of wise old foxes: Myburgh (35); Allenby (33); Trego (35); Jayawardene (39) and Hildreth (31). Who said this one day stuff was a young man’s game?

Ball Three – Stoneman and MacLeod rock solid and Durham march on

In the T20 Blast North Group, Durham needed to win to squeeze Lancashire out of a quarter-final slot and that’s exactly what they did, comfortably disposing of Derbyshire – who would have qualified themselves had they won. Paul Collingwood’s men were indebted to Mark Stoneman and Scotland’s Calum MacLeod who put on 141 in 13.4 overs, scoring over 90% of their team’s runs off the bat. Derbyshire never got the asking rate below ten, with Scott Borthwick again showing decent bowling chops with three wickets. With Stoneman departing at the end of the season and rumblings about others, Durham’s 2016 season is holding together remarkably well – something for which the skipper should take great credit.

Ball Four – Ashar Zaidi buries Middlesex’s bowling

In the South Group, Essex were grateful for the point that arrived with Friday’s rain after Glamorgan had posted a stiff target of 185 at Chelmsford. If that were the margin that separated them from fifth place Surrey and secured a quarter-final berth, the real work had been done the previous evening at Lord’s, where the target was a seemingly straightforward 127 off 16. It looked anything but that when captain, Ravi Bopara, was run out with 73 required off 7.1 overs. Enter the squat, almost square figure of Ashar Zaidi, who likes nothing more than being given the job of swinging from the hip and the hell with the consequences. From a solid base (some would say very solid indeed), bat is put to ball and the ball goes a long way. Half an hour later, Zaidi had 59* from 24 and Essex had a foothold in the quarter-finals. I guess you have to have some serious power if Ryan ten Doeschate is held back to knock it around at the death.

Ball Five – Ian Bell takes his toll on county attacks.

As the T20 Blast Group stage concludes (after 14 matches – don’t ask), gnarled Aussie pro Michael Klinger sits top of the runs charts with 530 for Gloucestershire with team mate, the unheralded Ian Cockbain, second on 499. (I am obliged to point out that I once played against “young” Cockbain’s grandfather, the terrifying Ron of Bootle CC back in the 70s). But who’s that in fourth spot, neither an overseas pro on the franchise circuit, nor a thrusting young Englishman, and not even a bit gnarly – it’s Ian Bell! The classy ex-England man scored 489 runs at 41 with a decent strike rate of 131 too – not at all bad in anyone’s reck0ning. It seems somehow appropriate that, despite his effort, Warwickshire missed out on a quarter-final by one point.

Ball Six – Benny Howell – top cat with the ball

It’s a Gloucestershire man on top of the bowling ladder too, but who would have guessed his identity… wait for it… Benny Howell! A classic bits-and-pieces man, Benny is ultra-competitive and thinks very hard about his bowling: 23 wickets at 15 and a truly remarkable economy rate of 6.7 are not numbers you get by simply whanging it down there. Second on the wicket-taking list is Graham Napier and fifth Tim Bresnan – a couple of wily campaigners if ever there were two. Field restrictions, the wides interpretation and big bats can make white ball cricket look like too much of a batsmen’s game, but nous with the ball can still go a long way.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 24, 2016

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 24 July 2016

The teams line up for a T20 Blast match

The teams line up for a T20 Blast match

Ball One – Durham rock solid at the seaside

When Lancashire faced Durham at Southport (one of many outgrounds favoured by last week’s good weather), the prize was worth fighting for – second spot in Division One, just behind leaders Middlesex. And how they fought! With the home side behind 87 on first innings, they needed someone to step up to the er… crease and Luke Procter, a bit-part player in recent seasons, did so with a fine 122, leaving Durham 247 to win and the fourth day to get them. With Keaton Jennings and Jack Burnham showing the more experienced heads how to do it, the visitors got over the line, eight down, late in the day. It’s more than 40 years since I first watched cricket at Southport and, if Paul Edwards’ evocative reports are anything to go by, little has changed – a pleasing thought in a game, indeed a world, which might benefit by standing still for a moment and valuing what it has.

Ball Two – Marcus Trescothick turns back the clock as he turns up the pressure on Notts

Marcus Trescothick may be 41 come Christmas Day, but mere age didn’t stop him doing what he does for Somerset, spending the entire match on the field having been last man out for 218 and then helping himself to a few more as Nottinghamshire went down by ten wickets to drop into the relegation zone. It’s around this time last year that Peter Moores turned up and rescued Notts’ campaign and something similar is needed now, ten points off safety with five games to play. Not that Somerset, and their opening batsman who was out twice to Phil DeFreitas on debut for 1 and 3 some 23 years ago but hasn’t done too badly since, will care about that.

Ball Three – Gareth Batty – captain, batsman, bowler

In the Curran brothers, Dominic Sibley and Ben Foakes, Surrey have some fine young cricketers, but, as is the way with a developing side, there are times when a wise old head is required and so it was at the Rose Bowl. After skipper Gareth Batty had chosen to bat on all the way up to 637-7 dec, with centuries for Rory Burns and Foakes and one for himself at Number 9, he challenged his bowlers to take 20 wickets in seven sessions. Well not quite, because one of those bowlers was himself of course and he backed up his ton with match figures of 58-25-129-8. If it was Stuart Meaker who blasted out the last two men to secure the win and a vital 23 points, well I reckon he owed his no doubt ruddy-faced captain that one.

Ball Four – Leicestershire win again

Not so long ago, Leicestershire used to go through whole seasons without a county championship win, but their third victory of 2016 lifted them to fourth in Division Two, just 11 points off leaders Essex. It’s a very different Leicestershire this year, a side packed with experience (one might say veterans) and they drew on those years in a tight win over Gloucestershire, the 108 runs partnership between Mark Cosgrove and Paul Horton breaking the back of a 181 runs target. That said, it was 24 year-old Ben Raine, who has seen a few defeats in his short career, who led the way, with seven wickets and a handy 33 not out down the order. Whether Cosgrove’s squad could deal with Division One cricket in 2017 is a question that might soon need to be asked.

Ball Five – Yorkshire’s investment in David Willey begins to pay off

Performance of the Week in the T20 Blast North Group goes to David Willey whose blasting at the top of the order brought two wins for Yorkshire and a chance of qualification for Finals Day. On Wednesday, he made 32 off 14 balls, then backed that up with 74 off 46 on Friday, the kind of innings Yorkshire paid for when tempting him away from his opponents in the latter match, Northamptonshire, last winter. In T20 cricket, openers who can score at a strike rate of pushing 200 need not make really big scores to be effective, as even 30-odd will allow some relatively quiet overs later in the innings, either setting or chasing. And few batting sides don’t need a breather at some point, even in the harum-scarum format.

Ball Six – Middlesex in supreme form and looking good for honours

Performance of the Week in the South Group goes to Middlesex’s batting unit who showed, in front of a record crowd at Lord’s, how to chase down a big target. After Surrey’s eight sixes and 12 fours had carried the visitors to 196, Middlesex managed the reply so expertly that the required run rate never went above 10 and, despite scoring only three sixes, a remarkable 26 fours saw them home comfortably. The next day, a second half century in two matches for George Bailey supported by a fifty for John Simpson, enjoying the form of his life, proved too much for Hampshire, as Middlesex march on in red and white ball cricket.

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 20, 2016

At Lord’s, 17 July 2016

SaluteNearly a month on, my country feels unfamiliar, its howl against the future still echoing around its four nations, its politics stabilising a little, but perhaps, like Werner Herzog’s boat in Fitzcarraldo merely pausing in an isolated calm while malevolent rapids whip and pull at it. Every day since June 24 has had a moment when I have caught myself thinking that it didn’t actually happen, that all would be well again, that a common polity amongst a people sharing geographical, cultural and social space would be ours again, warts and all. But no. There’s Boris giving my country’s response to the appalling events in Nice, and emerging leaders casually frightening me about my kids’ future access to the hospital where they were born and which I love and revere like mediaeval peasants must have loved and revered their Gothic cathedrals. Are my kids’ passports stamped with the mark of heresy, excommunication their fate?

And there’s the much darker, much more immediate fear stalking the land – that shared by people with foreign accents, with names that show roots in faraway climes, with skin that just isn’t really white enough to avoid comment now, is it? The people sworn at on buses, abused from passing cars, the people whispering to their children at school gates in the language they use to express their family love at home. Fear has been planted in the hearts of those utterly blameless people at whom the graffiti, the tweets and the hate is aimed – and who must look forward to the next general election knowing that their children’s right to breathe England’s air is somehow now a subject for polite debate: for shame, England for shame. This hate was unleashed by the rhetoric of campaigns for whom second was nowhere, campaigns that always had another good reason to crank up the emotions just one notch more, campaigns that worked out that one message trumped all others – race – and it won’t be easily put back in its fetid box. This was the legacy of 23 June 2016, the day my side lost the vote and I lost a huge chunk of a future that I had complacently believed to be mine forever.

On a day so sunny it could have been conjured by Enid Blyton, Lord’s looked its best on Sunday afternoon – no, it looked beyond even that superlative, an intangible atmosphere penetrating sense beyond vision. Nearly 30,000 people were completely absorbed by the match: no buzz and clinking of glasses in hospitality, few picnickers on the Nursery Ground, the near silence suggesting the collective concentration of Examination Room. Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes were fighting hard, still well short of their goal, but still fighting, while Yasir Shah and Wahab Riaz went through their bags of tricks and Misbah-ul-Haq pondered his next move from mid-off. It was a very good Test match, teetering towards becoming a great Test match, and I was there.

But it was more than that. Green shirts were scattered generously amongst the house, their support for the visiting team vocal and made visible on the big screens. It was the kind of support that could lift a team, but it lifted their opponents too – this was something that really mattered. There was no hate – nor even its precursor, insult. Thursday had brought a century for Pakistan’s captain which had lifted everyone to their feet, and a celebration that was as charming as it was surprising. Misbah is following the Brendon McCullum playbook of last summer in playing the game with a smile and a fundamental decency that respects his own team, his opponents and the game. His carapace of dignity did not just deflect insults, it deterred them.

There was little of the rancour that meets every (inevitable) defeat of England’s football team when Mohammad Amir (who had been treated decently by the crowd and whose palpable Day One nervousness was more of a sign than any interview soundbite of how exactly much it mattered to him, of his understanding of the extent of his terrible error) smashed Jake Ball’s stumps, cricket’s most inarguable dismissal provided the match the fullest of full stops. Pakistan’s fans were naturally joyful, England’s rueful, but with the considerable compensation that their team had not surrendered meekly against a very fine bowling attack, one blessed by skill, led with authority and touched by genius. Tickets for future Tests sold well in the aftermath of the Lord’s defeat, for these lads were worth supporting.

When the victors lined up in the slanty early evening sunshine for an impromptu set of press-ups in tribute to their army fitness instructors, peals of laughter rang round the ground. This was no over-rehearsed melodramatic haka (the players were gloriously out of synch – for the first time all match, they looked like a club side), nor was it set up for a cynical exposure of sponsors – it was simply a bunch of blokes who had achieved what they set out to do, saluting (literally, if haphazardly) their captain and the discipline he had brought to an often chaotic cricket culture.

When memories of the match fade – they won’t disappear, not after a match like that – the emotions will remain. Here was my game being played in my city with thousands of people reacting in my way to a game played the way I believe it should be played. 2106, having delivered misery and fear far too often, had brought forth four days that might not matter that much in the sweep of history – it’s only a game after all – but they sure mattered to me. And I suspect that I am not alone in that sentiment.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 17, 2016

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 17 July 2016

Middlesex as seen by Somerset

Middlesex as seen by Somerset

Ball One – Middlesex stay top after sensational win over Somerset

If Middlesex break Yorkshire’s stranglehold on the Division One title come September, expect plenty of references to their extraordinary win at Taunton last week as the turning point of the campaign. The Londoners were six down and still over 100 behind on first innings when they began to haul themselves back into the match. James Harris and James Fuller, who probably owed their places to England selectors favouring Steven Finn and Toby Roland-Jones, added 162 for the ninth wicket and Middlesex were unexpectedly ahead at the halfway mark. But Marcus Trescothick and Peter Trego scored tons prompting Chris Rogers to set the visitors 302 in a minimum of 46 overs – a positive, if ultimately doomed, declaration. Cue fourth afternoon mayhem that showed the county championship off to very best effect – Somerset striving for wickets, Middlesex refusing to contemplate the draw. If John Simpson’s six-to-win-it eight down at the death, made him the hero of the match, we shouldn’t forget to salute 22 players who played to win from first to last. Middlesex lead the table and Somerset continue to search for a second win of the season.

Ball Two – Yorkshire’s Adam Lyth gets the better of Surrey, but rain beats both teams

Yorkshire, without a win since the Roses triumph in early June, looked handily placed to force a win over fragile Surrey, but could do nothing about the rain which allowed fewer than 50 overs on the first two days at The Oval. There was time for Adam Lyth to compile a double century in a match in which the next highest score was his skipper’s 61 and put his name back in the selectors’ minds. He seems a long way off a return to England’s colours, but so did his team-mate, Gary Ballance, and he got the nod for the First Test, so who knows? With Yorkshire still handily placed to retain the pennant, 25 points off the leaders with a game in hand, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to deliver under pressure before the summer is out.

Ball Three – Gloucestershire have what’s needed to challenge for promotion

In what’s turning into a fine race for the one promotion slot available in Division Two, an impressive team effort from Gloucestershire saw them defeat leaders Essex, and squeeze up to within 11 points of their foes with a game in hand. With their young captain -opener-keeper Gareth Roderick leading from the front with 61 and 102 in a low scoring match, bowlers Craig Miles, Liam Norwell, David Payne and Josh Shaw shared the wickets around, ensuring that Dan Lawrence’s century and Matthew Quinn’s 11 wickets were in vain. With old hands Michael Kilnger and Hamish Marshall anchoring the middle order, in that quintet of players, none of whom is over 25, Gloucestershire have the tools to make a run for top spot in their seven remaining  matches.

Ball Four – Leach and Henry clean up sorry Northamptonshire

Worcestershire tucked into second place, between Essex and Gloucestershire, after a crushing win over winless Northamptonshire. For that, they had much to thank their opening bowlers, Joe Leach and Kiwi quick Matt Henry, who combined for match figures of 60.1-11-207-15, the kind of numbers that usually see a pair of pacers on the winning side. While Joe Leach’s progression to the top of Division Two’s wickets table has caught the eye, the New Zealander has taken his wickets even more cheaply, his genuine pace a real strike weapon in a division where it is a rare sight.

Ball Five – Mark Wood is back and barking for Durham

In the T20 Blast North Group, Performance of the Week goes to England’s Mark Wood whose long haul back to fitness is progressing well. He backed up impressive figures of 4-0-25-1 against Leicestershire with even more parsimonious stuff in the Northants match, going for just 19 in his four overs and chipping in with a wicket. Durham’s two wins helped them to third place in the Group, but it’s so tight that any of the nine clubs could yet qualify for the quarter-finals. What a shame that the race is so invisible in the mainstream media.

Ball Six – L Dawson plays all the right notes for Hampshire

It’s almost as tight in the South Group, where the Performance of the Week goes to Liam Dawson, recently something of a surprise pick for England’s T20 side. He backed up his 76* off 54 balls with four wickets for just 23 runs, as he and Shahid Afridi strangled a Glamorgan reply that never got going. Dawson seems to have been around forever but, despite being in his tenth season for Hampshire , he’s still only 26. Few as young as that have acquired the street-smarts T20 cricket demands and we can expect him to play plenty more of the format in England colours.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 10, 2016

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 10 July 2016

For Australian - Dutch - Welshmen everywhere

For Australian – Dutch – Welshmen everywhere

Ball One – Middlesex use the Yorkshire formula to defeat Tykes

Middlesex went top of Division One with a crushing win over a depleted Yorkshire XI. At the iconic outground, North Marine Road Scarborough, the home side must have been feeling comfortable after Gary Ballance’s century had powered them to 406 in the first innings, but Stevie Eskinazi, a South Africa born, Australia-raised 22 year old with a British passport, added a White Rose pruning century to his Red Rose ton of last week, making a big impact in his first two Championship matches of the season. James Franklin rolled back the years with a 99 (of a different kind to those available to spectators on the promenade) and 3-62, with Tim Murtagh and Toby Roland-Jones also having good games with bat and ball. It hasn’t happened often, but, with seamers taking plenty of wickets and also scoring match-turning runs, Andrew Gale was given a taste of his own medicine and will lick his wounds, fifth in the table, 15 points off his vanquishers at the summit.

Ball Two – Warwickshire’s experience bears out over Surrey’s young lions

The other positive result in Division One saw Surrey dissipate recent growing optimism at the hands of Warwickshire’s phalanx of ex-Test players. Jonathan Trott made 123, Ian Bell 66 and Tim Ambrose 53 with the bat, with Jeetan Patel taking a fivefer in each innings and getting good support from Rikki Clarke and Boyd Rankin. The Midlanders boasted five players with over 200 First Class matches to their names: Surrey just Gareth Batty and Steven Davies with over 100. The Londoners, now 17 points from safety, will have to grow up in a hurry if they are to play in 2017’s eight team Division One.

Ball Three – Essex win – eventually

A 22 points swing allowed Essex to leapfrog Kent into the promotion slot in Division Two with what turned into a hard-fought win at Chelmsford. It looked all over just after tea on Day Three when Essex’s remarkable second innings of 569 (in which there were no centuries, but six batsmen scored between 49 and 94) had set up the win with just three wickets to wrap up and a lead of 234 in hand. Cue a record-breaking 222 run stand between Sam Northeast, enjoying the season of his life, and James Tredwell, who usually does his best work when he’s been written off. It was 80 overs before they were separated and, just over half an hour after that, Essex had their victory. Division Two cricket has its critics – me for one – but that was good stuff from the Kent pair.

Ball Four – Extraordinary Joe gets a ton and a call-up

There was another excellent cricket match at New Road, where Worcestershire were set 366 off 75 overs and got them with ten balls to spare. Jack Leach enjoyed the rare distinction of making two half-centuries at Number 8, the second a quickfire 64 that got the home team over the line. But the chase was orchestrated by 20 years old Joe Clarke, who got lucky with an umpires’ recall in the second innings, but then did what good players do with such fortune – made it count. He saw 73-4 on the board at one point in his knock, but didn’t leave the crease until just 21 more runs were needed having made his third Championship century of the season. His reward is a slot in the England Lions squad named this week. Leicestershire’s reward was a paltry five points from a match in which they been ahead for all but the last hour.

Ball Five – Buttler serves up a thrilling knock, but is that enough?

Performance of the Week in the T20 North Group goes to Jos Buttler, whose 20 minutes of mayhem – all scoops and drills, the vocabulary of demolition rather than cricket – reduced Lancashire’s tough target of 199 in 20 overs to a straightforward 105 in 16.2. What to do with Jos Buttler is becoming a question for English cricket, as it just cannot be wise to have perhaps world cricket’s most explosive young batsman playing a few white ball games for England and Lancashire. Buttler is exactly the kind of sports star – articulate, photogenic and compelling – that marketing department’s dream of, yet he’s slightly lost in the English game and never really got going in the IPL this year nor in his brief spell in the Big Bash. One can’t help feeling that Buttler could be the poster boy English cricket needs, even more so than Ben Stokes, but he needs some of the marketing of Michael Jordan to realise that potential. And Sky need to build their future audiences, so could do a lot worse than show all their T20 cricket free-to-air.

Ball Six – Timm van der Gugten swaps tulips for daffodils to impressive effect

After two wins in a week, Glamorgan sit at the top of the South Group, with games in hand over most of their rivals. Performance of the Week goes to their Australian bowler Timm van der Gugten, who plays his international cricket (if, perhaps, for no other reason than that splendid name) for the Netherlands. On Thursday at home to Sussex, his figures were 4-0-17-4 and he backed that up on Friday against Middlesex with 3-1-13-2 – it isn’t easy scoring sufficient runs to win off the other bowlers when one is as tight as that. van der Gugten runs in without any frills, holds the seam up and hits the deck hard – a simple formula that has brought him 21 wickets at 32 in the Championship and he goes at less than a run a ball in 50 overs cricket and not much more than that in the 20 overs format. There’s much to be said (in cricket as in life) for knowing one’s strengths and sticking to them.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 3, 2016

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 3 July 2016

Lord's last week

Lord’s last week

Ball One – Lord’s flawed by bore draws

Lancashire stayed top of the table in a week in which the weather ensured that there were no positive results – defending champions, Yorkshire, picking a good round to sit out. That said, Lancashire’s match at Lord’s was as close to a nailed on draw as one could imagine notwithstanding the fourth day washout. The visitors had piled up over 500 in the first innings, Alviro Petersen leading the way with 191, before a couple of Middlesex’s bright young things, Nick Gubbins (201*) and Stevie Eskinazi with a maiden century, put on over 200 for the second wicket, the home side marooned on 419-5 when the match was abandoned. The question, not for the first time, must be asked about Lord’s pitches which, since the remarkably effective drainage was laid a few years ago, start greenish but good for batting and then simply get “better and better”. Of course, cricket demands that bowlers work out batsmen, but the balance between bat and ball is beginning to look a bit one-sided at Lord’s, where “good” pitches are not producing enough good matches, with five draws in the five first class matches played at HQ this season making my point.

Ball Two – Is it time, once again, to find reasons why James Hildreth should not be selected for England

There was a draw of altogether different character at The Rose Bowl, where the Overton twins shot out the home side for 219 before handing over to their batsmen who plundered 474-8 dec before the experienced pair of Michael Carberry and Sean Ervine steadied Hampshire’s second dig with a painstaking stand of 52. When the rain washed out the fourth day, Somerset still held an advantage of 82 runs and, with six wickets to take, were only one scalp away from the bowlers. The centrepiece of the visitors’ innings was, once again, a James Hildreth masterclass, adding a 38th first class century to his impressive record, one as yet unmarked by international honours. At 31, he may think his time has passed, but he should not lose heart – his captain is Chris Rogers, who played the second of his 25 Tests aged 35. With England’s absurdly overstuffed itinerary for 2017 now published, selectors may well need to look beyond centrally contracted players to get a fit and firing XI on the field next summer.

Ball Three – Does Sam Northeast have international cricket within his compass?

They got plenty of overs in at Canterbury, but no result – nevertheless, Kent’s ten bonus points were enough to leapfrog long time Division Two leaders, Essex, into the promotion slot, albeit having played a game more. For that, Kent had much to thank their captain, Sam Northeast, whose 191 carried his team from 34-2 all the way to 379 all out, with only Adam Ball’s 66 offering support. Northeast has scored 638 runs in the Championship at 71 this season and, though he seems to have been around forever, is still only 26. While his team-mate, Daniel Bell-Drummond catches more of the limelight, Northeast, playing all three formats of the game day-in, day-out, is quietly putting together a wonderful season.

Ball Four – Chris Dent punching holes in Division Two attacks.

Leicestershire may have an experienced bowling unit, but Chris Dent and Graeme van Buuren pretty much treated them as they pleased in making 165 and 121* respectively, as Gloucestershire racked up 403-2 on the way to yet another draw. Dent is enjoying a fine season with 712 runs in the Championship at 59, but even he can’t match van Buuren’s average of 100 (nor captain, Michael Klinger’s, 148!). Decent players though they are, those kind of numbers are an indication of the lack of depth in the domestic game’s bowling and that surely plays a part in England’s relative paucity of resources at international level. Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad cannot go on forever, but they’re hardly being pressed for their places – nor is there much sign of that happening in the short to medium term.

Ball Five – Azeem Rafiq is back to tweak

With the 50 overs format in a midsummer hiatus, it’s T20 or nothing for fans of white ball cricket and there were plenty of them at Headingley for another Roses showdown. The White defeated the Red, as Yorkshire defended a target of 142 in 18 overs after a wet outfield had delayed a start (though umpires, groundstaff and players showed an admirable urgency to get things going in front of a capacity crowd). It was splendid to see Azeem Rafiq, brought back to the colours after time out of the county game, produce figures of 1-20 in his four overs, backing up last week’s figures of 1-22 in 3.5. Much has happened to the 25 year-old in his short career, but the old cliche about “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” may well be in play for the Barnsley boy – and even this Lancashire fan hopes that will prove the case.

Ball Six – Glee for Gleeson as Northamptonshire march on

Northants top the North Group of the T20 Blast having won two tosses to set up two successful chases in a week, their seamer Richard Gleeson delivering figures of 8-0-32-6 to catch the eye. At 28, Gleeson is a late starter in the professional game, but, in his debut season, he’s going for about five an over in white ball cricket, doing a super job for his captain, Alex Wakely, and his county, suffering as expected in the County Championship, but doing much better in white ball cricket after a stormy winter.

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