Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 17, 2017

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 16 July 2017

Leicestershire arrive in Birmingham

Ball One – Clint’s ragtag posee ride into town, steal the points and will look to return

Leicestershire’s collection of imports and rejects added a third win in three to top the North Group, as they set their sights on another short trip for Finals Day. They found their July visit to Edgbaston amenable and will be keeping diaries clear for 2 September, always the red letter day at Leicestershire. Captain Clint McKay used six bowlers, five of them getting at least one wicket, amongst whom Matt Pillans and George Griffiths caught the eye. Pillans had washed out at Surrey, barely registering a run or wicket after his 2016 signing; Griffiths is a local lad who didn’t make the grade at Lancashire, despite a memorable contribution to the Red Rose success on Finals Day 2015 and got a move. As team mate Mark Cosgrove can attest, never listen when someone assesses your future and (in essence) says, “Fat chance”.

Ball Two – Nobody wins at Old Trafford

The “Game of Roses” match at Old Trafford was tied on Duckworth-Lewis after Lancashire had made 176 in their full allocation and Yorkshire responded with 64-2 after 8.1 overs. Though not as strange an outcome as the Lions’ drawn series with the All Blacks, it does seem contrary to fail to define a winner after two hours or more of tussle.Thankfully, the days of bowl-offs in sports centres (with professional cricketers proving largely incapable of hitting the stumps) are gone, but maybe some way of finding a winner should be developed. While a tie off the last ball can provide drama, the inevitable confusion about the D-L par score and the long-winded countdown as overs are lost to the weather and umpires emerge to poke and prod at the turf, produces an altogether different climax – one that won’t sit well with the IPLish marketing we’re likely to get for franchise cricket in three years time.

Ball Three – Six and out – for the celebration

The “Walk Off Home Run” is one of baseball’s great dramas – trailing at the bottom of the ninth, a man on base, the ball is sent into the stratosphere, the runs needed for the win secured, the hitter takes the acclaim of the crowd jogging round the diamond before being mobbed by team mates running from the benches. It’s great theatre. Craig Meschede must have felt a little of that frisson when he hit the last ball of a 443 runs match over the boundary to ensure the points went to Glamorgan at Chelmsford. Earlier, Varun Chopra’s century had been matched by one from Colin Ingram in a match that saw 29 sixes struck – and not a franchise in sight.

Ball Four – Finn finishes it after Batty keeps Surrey in the match

The emergence of Amar Virdi, Surrey’s off spinner who turns 19 this week, has led to captain, Gareth Batty, dropping himself from a couple of Championship matches, but he was back for the big local derby against Middlesex at a packed Lord’s on Thursday night. He introduced himself with the home side cruising, 68-1 with 91 needed at a comfortable 7 an over. In two spells of two overs, he bagged the handy quartet of Brendon McCullum, Dawid Malan, Eoin Morgan and Tim Southee to finish with figures of 4-1-14-4. Surrey knew they had to bowl out Middlesex to win and were a Steven Finn wicket short of doing that when the Number 11 hit the boundary to win it for the home team. Batty, whether we’re talking about a match or a career, isn’t ready to give up just yet.

Ball Five – Hey Joe, where you going with that bat in your hand?

Joe Denly is a member of that large group of English cricketers who surprises you by being so young. Still only 31, he played the last of his nine ODIs in the 2009 Champions Trophy and the last of his five T20Is a few months later. After an unsuccessful sojourn at Middlesex, he’s now back at Kent and in the form of his life. His 116 not out carried his native county past Surrey’s 205 at The Oval, adding another century to scores of 182, 78*, 227, 45, 119 and 71* scored in the last five County Championship matches. His leg-breaks aren’t the worst on the circuit either – an option that might enhance England’s somewhat narrow range of bowling options in white ball cricket. Worth another look I’d suggest.

Ball Six – High flying Crane lifts Hampshire to the top of the T20 Blast South Group

A man closer to selectors’ thoughts is Mason Crane, the young Hampshire legspinner. The last time I saw him, he was in the middle of a chastening experience at a sun-baked Oval, finishing the match with figures of 1-222: character-building might be the kindest way to describe that hammering. He bounced back with figures of 1-26, as Hampshire defended 167 vs Glamorgan and, last week, 2-24 defending 188 vs Sussex and 3-15 defending 189 vs Middlesex – all from his full allocation. Hampshire sit top of the South Group with maximum points and a formula that works – young Crane can expect to add to his two T20I caps later this season.

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 10, 2017

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 9 July 2017

Rory Burns carries his bat

Ball One – Rory Burns red hot in the South London sunshine

With pacesetters Essex and second placed Lancashire enjoying a week off, Hampshire and Yorkshire had a chance to put themselves into the Division One title mix before the break in red ball cricket, but neither could accept the opportunity. At least Hampshire managed the draw at a sweltering Oval, a result that owed much to the fortitude of Surrey’s stand-in captain, Rory Burns, and a very flat pitch. Acting captain Burns, a steady if unspectacular county pro who is probably half a notch below international class, concentrated in the sun for all but the last half hour of the match, directing operations for the home side while the visitors racked up 648-7d, then carrying his bat for 219* before striding back to the middle after the follow-on was enforced to add another 68, his 12 and a half hours vigil ending with defeat averted. Whether piling up a massive first innings (just because you can) and then expecting bowlers to take 20 wickets in such conditions is the optimum route to victory is moot (see Ball Four below) and Hampshire’s George Bailey may reflect on that over the next few weeks.

Ball Two – Yorkshire’s batting scarred at Scarborough

North Marine Road in midsummer is something of a cricketing idyll, but it proved more hellish than heavenly for Yorkshire as they went down to lowly Somerset in a match in which they missed first their unavailable England stars and then their injury blighted ex-England stars. Notwithstanding the incapacity of Ryan Sidebottom and Liam Plunkett, it was the batting that again failed the home side in a season in which Gary Ballance’s form has papered over significant cracks. Without their skipper, the Tykes collapsed to 12-3 in their pursuit of 337 and, with Craig Overton adding four second innings wickets to his five in the first dig, there was no way back from there. Yorkshire have used 22 players in nine Championship matches, but only the bowler, Jack Brooks, averages more than 34 (with the exception of Ballance). Though still mid-table, Andrew Gale has some work to do before red ball cricket resumes if he is to avoid a relegation dogfight in his first season as coach. Somerset’s first win of their difficult 2017 will give them something to work with as they face a late summer battle for survival.

Ball Three – Dawid Malan’s leadership turning around a bad year for the defending champions

With the instant thrills of T20 about to muscle their way into the county fixture list, Middlesex and Warwickshire provided a reminder of just how thrilling the slow burn of a four day match can be. It took the cool head of Tim Murtagh (in his 198th first class match) to strike the winning runs, as the champions beat rock bottom Warwickshire 334 vs 334 and 233 vs 234-9. Though one could point to Steve Eskinazi’s first innings 179 or the increasingly impressive pacer Tom Helm’s five second innings wickets as crucial factors in the win, it was really a triumph for Middlesex’s collective belief under acting captain, Dawid Malan. No batsman made a fifty in the chase but, after the first two wickets realised but one run between them, no other partnership was broken without adding at least 17. That’s the kind of confidence that flying a pennant can bring to a side, and it’s exactly what Warwickshire, 47 points from safety, need to find if they are to stay in Division One for 2018.

Ball Four – Sean Dickson’s triple century in vain as pitch defeats both sides

Kent topped Hampshire’s 600-odd with 701-7 d albeit at Beckenham’s much smaller ground. The match will be remembered with fondness by Sean Dickson, who broke a few records with his 318 and by four other century makers, but the final day descended into benefit match stuff with wicketkeepers Adam Rossington and Ben Duckett bowling 15 overs between them as motions were gone through the draw a foregone conclusion. The match didn’t help Kent’s promotion chances nor the reputation of the domestic game, particularly after all the effort required to stage a match at an outground.

Ball Five – Currant T electric for Surrey in thunderous finale at Chelmsford

The Twenty20 Blast launched under cloudless, keg-emptying skies, the punters rolling up for cricket’s alcopop format. Okay, it’s easily knocked by purists, but I’ve often said that if T20 was a separate sport, it would still be my second favourite – especially live. And there was a good game at Chelmsford to get the party started, as Surrey held their nerve to defeat a hard charging Essex. It all came down to the last over with Tom Curran, resurgent after his tricky “second album” season in 2016, restricting the home side to seven runs with ten required for the win. Though it’s often said that wickets in hand are crucial at the end of a white ball match, whether Essex were two down or six down (or, as they were, four down) didn’t actually matter when there were just six balls to be delivered. Then it’s hit and scamper for the batsmen and bowl to plans for the bowler – in this case, Curran won.

Ball Six – Avoid a 19th over nervous breakdown to roll to a comfortable finish

Orthodoxy claims that, in a tight chase, the 19th over is critical to success or failure. Is that an unexamined assertion that gains traction because it’s repeated ad nauseam or is the 19th over more important than the other 95% of balls available to a batting side? The answer to that question might need Duckworth-Lewisian statistical analysis (and even that won’t really do it as the quality of batsmen on strike etc affects scoring off the fifth and sixth ball of the 19th over particularly). Warwickshire followed the template in making the 14 runs they needed from 12 balls to beat Nottinghamshire, scoring nine in the 19th over and a harum-scarum five in the 20th. Even without a boundary in the last 11 deliveries of the innings, Rikki Clarke and Colin de Grandhomme got the Bears over the line in front of a crowd who needed cheering up in a dispiriting season. That example suggests something instinctively felt – setting one’s stall out to make 66% of the required runs in the 19th, leaving 34% to get in the 20th is probably a handy way to bat at the death.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 2, 2017

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 2 July 2017

Essex need to keep their heads to have a great chance of winning the pennant.

Ball One – The only win is Essex’s

Essex can even beat the weather, their win at Chelmsford over defending champions, Middlesex the only positive result in Division One, enough to take them 29 points clear at the top with six games to play. It was an extraordinary match, one packed with drama, a fine advert for county cricket – day or night. There were records aplenty for the stats enthusiasts and, for those with a more subjective outlook, it’s a contender for the greatest win in the county’s history. Day One had hurtled along, powered by Paul Stirling’s 77 biffed off just 50 balls, Middlesex all out for 246 in fewer than 60 overs, ceding the crease to Alastair Cook and Nick Browne, who reduced the deficit to 140 before the close of a breathless day. After a washout on Tuesday, the openers batted on and on, not separated until the stand reached 373, Cook the first to go seven short of his double century. Browne (as is becoming his habit) got his double and there was time for Varun Chopra (subbed in as Tom Westley was fed to the Lions) to bash a quick, round undefeated hundred before the champions were challenged to bat out three and a half sessions for the draw. They were nine balls short of achieving that objective when Simon Harmer snared Steven Finn, his ninth wicket of the innings and 14th of the match, to send team-mates (and more records) scattering.

Ball Two – Andrew Umeed’s knock in vain as rain provides a bittersweet conclusion in Birmingham

The weather denied fans a fascinating finish at Edgbaston as Lancashire, needing points to challenge at the top, and Warwickshire, needing points to survive at the bottom, would surely have set up an interesting fourth innings chase had the rain gods relented. The visitors will be the more aggrieved, having knocked over seven of the home side’s struggling batsmen with the lead a useful 89, before Andrew Umeed (on his way to an eight hour 113) found a partner in Jeetan Patel, who, playing against type, caught the mood with a two hour 50 to eek out a first innings lead. Umeed’s vigil has injected some backbone into the Warwickshire batting which they will need as they face a tough second half to their campaign. Lancashire fans will see the nine points earned as a step closer to safety, no matter their second place in the table.

Ball Three – Five for 21st century boy, Hamidullah Qadri

Derbyshire don’t win many Champo matches, but they don’t play many 16 year-olds either. Hamidullah Qadri (born 5 December 2000 – just think about that for a moment) returned figures of 15-8-16-1 in Glamorgan’s first innings to show that he wasn’t overawed by being a boy amongst men, and went into the last day with 210 runs in hand and ten wickets to get – that’s the job description of a county spinner writ in neon. Five wickets (including three of the last four) later, the boy became a man in cricketing terms, as he bowled his team to their first win in two years. It’s a strange alchemy that turns youthful promise into sustained success and a stellar start does not guarantee star billing in the future, but with Imran Tahir coming to Derby, the young man from Kandahar should listen and learn more about the spinner’s art than merely how to celebrate a wicket.

Ball Four – “So fair and foul a day I have not seen” or… a typical English Summer

I went to an outdoor performance of Macbeth on Wednesday at Covent Garden and, knowing from previous years how chilly it can be, I wore two fleeces under a coat – and was still freezing cold by the time Macduff saw off the psychotic King. While boozy, raucous, carnivalesque Twenty20 is an experience more akin to attending a festival gig, County Championship cricket is more like watching a play – to appreciate it, you need to sit still and concentrate, catting sotto voce. No doubt the pink ball will be evaluated and attendances monitored – opening on a Monday night is never an easy sell, as any theatre producer will tell you – but maybe we’re looking at the issue through the wrong end of the telescope. With the bumper new television deal for International and T20 cricket announced last week, perhaps the time has come to make entry to County Championship games free, making money on the day through concessions and hospitality. Memberships might still be sold in a range of packages covering white ball cricket, access to pavilions and subsidised bars and other benefits – there are enough examples out there for marketing managers to plagiarise after all.

Ball Five – Stoneman is rock solid for Surrey

At the RLODC Final in front of more white seats than should be visible at the second biggest day in county cricket’s fixture list, Surrey got off to a flier, the ball coming off the bat as quickly as it came on to it, pace – as is so often the case – welcomed by top order batsmen with a licence to drive, cut and pull in the powerplay. But Samit Patel turned a few on a pitch that gripped and Steven Mullaney’s dibbly-dobblers somehow dismissed Surrey’s two trump cards, Kumar Sangakkara and Ben Foakes. Though both James Pattinson and Stuart Broad bowled with rhythm and pace (as class acts should), the value of bowlers who can nag away at 55mph – 65mph was underlined again (Samit and Mullaney’s combined figures were 19-0-101-5). Had Nottinghamshire’s fielding been up to the standards of the 90s – the 1890s perhaps – Surrey, led by Mark Stoneman’s 144 (dropped on 32) would have posted a target well below the 298 Notts were obliged to chase.

Ball Six – All hail Alex Hales

When Alex Hales broke into the England one day side, I saw something of a right-handed Marcus Trescothick in his stand and deliver biffing, a big man who intimidated, Haydenesquely, with presence as much as power. It didn’t quite turn out that way internationally, despite some fine performances, but, from the moment he was dropped by Ollie Pope on 9, it felt like his day. He hit the ball very hard indeed, but eschewed the unorthodox, driving, cutting, pulling and cutting to make a One Day Final record 187* . All he needed was a partner and he eventually found one in his captain, Chris Read, who busily rotated the strike and peppered the boundary. As the sun came out at long last and the shadows lengthened, Surrey slid to another Lord’s disappointment – but Hales would have dealt with ten bowlers and 15 fielders in that mood.

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 25, 2017

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 25 June 2017

Not just that – though it helps

Ball One – Simon Harmer does the damage for Essex

At the halfway point of the season, Essex are top of Division One. Even with Alastair Cook available, few expected that sentence to be written when Ryan ten Doeschate’s side planned this season, back in the top flight and without the services of old pros Graham Napier and David Masters. But the batting keeps coming at you – nine centuries shared between six batsmen in seven matches, the latest from Ravi Bopara (192) and James Foster (121) setting up the win over sorry Warwickshire, rock bottom and 40 points from safety. It’s s different story amongst the bowlers though, with just three crossing double figures for wickets in 2017: Jamie Porter (31); Neil Wagner (23) and Simon Harmer (33). The South African off-spinner relished the heat at Chelmsford, setting records with match figures of 66 – 24 – 128 – 14, proving that not every Kolpak is focused on the Pound – Rand exchange rate. .

Ball Two – Dane Vilas paints the town red for Lancashire

For Essex in first, read Lancashire in second and for Simon Harmer, read Dane Vilas. After six bowlers had shared Hampshire’s first innings wickets, Lancashire, despite a century from tough nut Alex Davies, opening after keeping for more than a day, were still behind by 172 and five down when Vilas was joined by his compatriot Ryan McLaren. Local knowledge may have proved useful though, because McLaren was likely aware that when Vilas gets three figures, he tends to stick around for a daddy, and the ex-keeper delivered his biggest daddy of all with 244 spread over seven hours. With McLaren cruising to a four hour ton at the other end, Hampshire’s deficit was 198 runs – and a helluva lot of energy. Jimmy Anderson led the bowling effort with four wickets, as Lancashire wrapped things quickly. Who knows – Red Rose fans might just allow themselves to think a tiny bit about the 14 points gap to first place and not the 65 points gap to seventh.

Ball Three – Paul Stirling caps a happy week for Irish cricket with a ton and a win

Having complained about Lord’s pitches being too friendly to batsmen, this column can hardly kvetch about an HQ strip baked into a a seamer’s delight in sunny St John’s Wood. Having won the toss, Middlesex needed a partnership and got one from Sam Robson (159) and Paul Stirling (111), the only batsmen (apart from the in-form Gary Balllance) to cross 50 in the match. Six home bowlers shared the wickets between them, as the White Rose was rolled for 208 and 174 to lose by an innings inside three days. A first win of the season for the defending champions will prompt talk of an early Autumn charge for the line, while Yorkshire, stalling after two successive wins, are still handily placed, third in the table.

Ball Four – Samit is busting runs all over in June

After a couple of draws, Nottinghamshire got back to winning ways by pulverising Leicestershire by an innings and 280 runs on a pitch that responded to the pace of James Pattinson and Jake Ball, the Test men notching 12 wickets between them. With one exception, no batsman found it easy, Brendan Taylor’s 61 the second highest knock in the match. But when the highest individual innings is 247, that statistical blip hardly matters, Samit Patel cashing in again in the form of his life. Nine years on from his England debut, since the beginning of the month, his scores read: 247; 122*; 66; 257*; 28; 82. I’d buy a lottery ticket now if I were you Samit.

Ball Five – Joe Clark writing his own script in marvellous match

Worcestershire matched the leaders five wins with a crucial victory over fellow promotion hopefuls, Kent, at an idyllic New Road. Joe Leach’s heart must have sank as the coin came down on the wrong side and Kent gained first use of the pitch, but he led his seamers by example with three wickets as the visitors were bundled out for 260. After Moeen Ali’s nine boundaries from 16 balls had cut the deficit to 165 at the end of a splendid first day, Worcestershire needed an innings of substance and got one from 21 year-old Joe Clark, whose 142 helped secure a first innings lead of 76. Back came Kent with a Joe Denly double century requiring the home side to make 399 for the win. Daryl Mitchell’s 142 anchored the chase (as he so often does), but it was Clark who was there at the end, 110*, to celebrate twin tons and a win over valiant opponents after a wonderful cricket match.

Ball Six – Durham still at the pit of the table, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel

At the other end of Division Two, Durham’s first win of the season finally turned their points total positive and, I venture, gladdened the hearts of county cricket followers everywhere. If another Irishman, Barry McCarthy, did well with wickets and runs, two major contributions came from old stagers Chris Rushworth (8-111 and 38) and skipper Paul Collingwood (92), but the crucial century was delivered by Graham Clark, one of the players seizing his chance this season with over four hundred runs already. With Jack Burnham feeling his way back after a long lay off with 39 runs for once out, add Cameron Steel with the bat and local boy, Paul Coughlin, with the ball and Durham may just be finding a few players for 2018

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 18, 2017

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 18 June 2017

Surrey, as seen by Worcestershire.

Ball One – Nottinghamshire flay Somerset and show how to score 429/9 in 50 overs

After a month in cold storage, The Royal London One Day Cup lurched back into life with an extraordinary quarter-final (well, sort of quarter-final – more on that later) at Taunton. As is the way these days, Nottinghamshire went hard up top in the powerplay overs, kept going hard in the ex-boring middle overs and finished off the innings in a blaze of boundaries and wickets. There were no maidens allowed and the one over that went for a single was immediately followed up with 15 off the next – indeed, apart from overs 10 and 11 going for three each, no pair of overs went for fewer than nine with 21 overs going for double figures – such is the anatomy of a 50 overs innings of 400 or more.

Ball Two – Oldest swingers enjoy themselves on a day out

Mapping the route to a big score is one thing, but you have to have players capable of carrying out the plan. Notts’ top five (who collectively scored 385 off 277 balls at a strike rate of 139) comprised: Michael Lumb (37); Riki Wessels (31); Samit Patel (32); Brendan Taylor (31); and Steven Mullaney (30). T20 may have been conceived 14 years ago as family entertainment with the kids giving the old men the runaround, but it hasn’t turned out that way at many counties and at international level, as the thirtysomethings struck back with power hitting and imaginative shot-making.

Ball Three – It takes two, Baby, it takes two, Baby / To make a dream come true

It’s a cliche to say that partnerships win matches – but they do. Somerset’s Dean Elgar (91) and Peter Trego (66) put on 154, the biggest partnership of the match, to drag their team back into the chase from the mire of 67-3. But the next four largest partnerships in the match were all Nottinghamshire’s, and four usually beats one. The balancing of risk and reward in a long chase is a collective one, not least between the two men in the middle who need to rotate the chancy strokes as much as the strike if they are to wrest the initiative away from the bowlers conclusively.

Ball Four – Ravi Rampaul bowls a heavy ball in more senses than one

The second quarter-final followed a similar pattern to the first, with Surrey setting the big score that proved too much for Yorkshire – indeed the margin of victory was an identical 24 runs in both matches. To nobody’s surprise, Kumar Sangakkara top scored for the winners with 121 at exactly 100, getting good support from Ben Foakes, whose 86 rescued the innings from a tricky 70-3 off 14.3 overs. Two forgotten men of international cricket then did a job on the Tykes, with Jade Dernbach and Ravi Rampaul going through their considerable stock of variations to knock over five of Yorkshire’s top six – throwing in a run out each at the death for good measure. Rampaul’s comfortable build makes him a liability in the field, but he still has enough pace to push a batsman on to the back foot if needs be, but delivers most stuff in that awkward 77 – 81 mph zone that demands that bat speed is required if boundaries are to be struck consistently. He’s proved plenty of Surrey doubters wrong – including me.

Ball Five – Samit Patel and Steven Mullaney sprint for the line

The first semi-final, a day-nighter at Chelmsford, was an example of the kind of thriller that breathes life into 50 over domestic cricket and had cricket fans checking scorecards as they sat outside pubs enjoying a Friday evening scoop or two in the summer sun. After Alastair Cook’s 133 (at a shade above a run a ball) had set up some old school pyrotechnics from captain Ryan ten Doeschate (102 off 66), the home side must have fancied their chances with 370 on the board. They must still have been confident at the halfway mark of Nottinghamshire’s repky, with the quarter-final hero Brendan Taylor just dismissed and Samit Patel struggling to hit boundaries, just four in his 44 off 54 balls. But Steve Mullaney joined Samit (in cycling terms a domestique and a domestique deluxe) to construct a partnership of 185 in nearly 24 overs, leaving just six runs to be scored off 9 balls for the Lord’s slot when they were separated. While Samit has always had an innings of 122 off 123 balls (12 fours) in him, nobody expected Mullaney to make 111 off 75 (8 fours and 6 sixes). Last season’s disappointments seem a distant memory at Trent Bridge.

Ball Six – Surrey’s batsmen and Batty ease to the Final after sucking the life out of Worcestershire in bloodless win

The second semi-final, at a sun drenched New Road, proved as disappointing as the first was thrilling. Jason Roy must have enjoyed feeling the ball on the middle of the bat as he top-scored for Surrey with 92, though he, like all the Surrey batsmen with the exception of red hot Ben Foakes (86), didn’t appear at his most fluent. With Kumar Sangakkara walking off convinced that he got a rough one on 73, it took a couple of cameos from middle order teenagers, Ollie Pope and Sam Curran, to get Surrey up to 363, a fine, if not impregnable, score. Worcestershire’s reply, like Baldrick’s war poem, started badly, tailed off in the middle and the less said about the ending, the better. No batsmen was comfortable against Gareth Batty’s wily variations, though his figures of 5-40 flattered him, and it took a bit of long-handle stuff from Ross Whiteley, inexplicably held back at Number 8, to lift the hosts to respectability. Both finalists benefited from playing a midweek “warm-up” quarter-final: both losers were excused such obligations with byes their “rewards” for winning their groups. That structure might need another look come 2018.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 13, 2017

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 12 June 2017

Andrew Kennedy and Graeme Fowler walk out to open for Lancashire

Ball One – Target proves to be well within Tom Westley’s compass

With The Kia Oval (sorry, The Oval) unavailable due to The Champions Trophy shindig, third placed Surrey hosted second placed Essex at Guildford on a ground that might fit into their usual home’s playing surface twice over. So when Essex skipper, Ryan ten Doeschate, surprisingly opted to field rather than toss for the right to bat first, he must have fancied a fourth day chase – and, at the end of Day One, with Mark Stoneman 181 runs into a career-best 197, he knew he was getting one whether he liked it or not. After the captain himself had kept Essex in the match with an undefeated 168 to fashion a first innings lead of 36 from a deficit of 265 four down, that Day Four chase turned out to be 253 in 83 overs – reached with a minimum of fuss shortly after tea, the points secured and ten Doeschate’s tactic vindicated. Tom Westley steered the visitors home with a 108*, his second century of the season, both setting up victories. Westley seems to have been around forever (in fact, it’s a decade) but he is still only 28 (consequently comfortably inside the “younger than Mike Hussey when he made his Test debut” metric) and, after a long apprenticeship, seems to be realising his considerable potential in Division One cricket. Essex go up the ladder to top position, while Surrey slide down the snake to fifth.

Ball Two – Adam Lyth tilts the scales in Gary Ballance’s favour

Yorkshire vaulted into second place after an extraordinary win at luckless Somerset (it’s always “luckless” Somerset somehow). On a Taunton strip that produced four completed innings between 202 and 283 (now that’s a “good” pitch for all of the orthodoxy that applies the descriptor “good” to a road), Yorkshire’s depleted attack got the 20 wickets they required with just three runs in hand. That result owed much to the skills and wits of Tykes’ captain, Gary Ballance, whose second innings 98* proved 28 runs more than the next highest knock on either side and was sufficient to set up some inspired captaincy. Whilst analysts crunch data to produce plans that are executed by hitting good areas and playing natural games and so on and on and on, red ball cricket’s unparalleled capacity for setting its participants challenges that demand imagination and guts as well as skills, remains undiminished. With Somerset 96 runs short with six wickets in hand, Ballance tossed the ball to part-time off spinner, Adam Lyth, and asked him to have a go. He was to bowl unchanged to the finish, his spell 15.3 – 1 – 43 – 2, ex-England opener deservedly closing things out with the wicket of Jamie Overton, who was attempting to Kapil Dev his way to the win with Dom Bess in the role of Narendra Hirwani at the other end. Well done Adam Lyth, well done the old warhorse Ryan Sidebottom, whose spell at the death was 6 – 0 – 19 – 3, but biggest congratulations go to Ballance who needed to make something happen – and did.

Ball Three – Lancashire in pole position to stay up thanks to McLaren’s fast start

On the day Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles, I was amongst the throng at Trafalgar Road, Southport, an almost 100% male congregation who drank the bar dry by 2.00pm, and who looked through slightly glazed eyes as TV’s The Analyst, Simon Hughes, took six wickets. 36 years later, Middlesex were back on the Lancashire coast, but the match turned out as unhappily for them as the 1981 match turned out for poor Princess Di. It was a fine team effort from the hosts, who ran out comfortable winners over the champions with all eleven players able to point to a decent contribution, the sign of a side confident in each other’s work and well led. That leadership was called into question in the close season when veterans Shiv Chanderpaul and Ryan McLaren were brought to Old Trafford. While nobody doubted the West Indian’s class, the South African looked the very definition of a journeyman pro, the kind of Kolpak who blocks local lads, picks up the money and pisses off. Not so this time. McLaren has 279 runs in the Champo at 35 and 20 wickets at 25, fifth amongst Division One bowlers. With Liam Livingstone called up for England’s T20 matches and Haseeb Hameed beginning to find a little of the form he needs to justify his return to England colours, the Red Rose’s thin resources will soon be stretched. But, with two wins banked and resting on a 41 points cushion above the drop zone, Lancashire have earned themselves a little breathing space.

Ball Four – Paul Franks stamps his feet in frustration after bore draw in which Samit Patel gorges on runs

Nottinghamshire stay top of Division Two after a second consecutive draw, this time at Bristol. The comatose pitch (match aggregate 1092-23) attracted a few beamers from the visitors’ assistant coach, Paul Franks, who alleged a bit of doctoring after Notts had rolled Gloucestershire for 149 and 231 a fortnight ago at Trent Bridge. That said, take away Samit Patel’s 257* and Franks’ other batsmen couldn’t muster more than Che Pujura’s 67. English cricket does set its players challenges and, sometimes, they can require unorthodox thinking if they are to be solved (see Ball Two above). That said, Franks was right to say that a four day pitch should have some pace and carry (as did the Trent Bridge track in May) – but isn’t it time to develop some proper metrics for what those terms mean? Golf’s stimpmeter is 82 years old and while it’s “roll the ball along the green and measure how far it goes” methodology doesn’t transfer directly to cricket, surely 21st century technology can produce something that gives us objective data on exactly how a pitch plays?

Ball Five – Archer on target for a maroon cap as Sussex win again

Though he has barely got one off the square since assuming the captaincy at Sussex, Chris Nash must think this leadership lark is a piece of cake after notching a second consecutive win to take his side to fifth in Division Two and suddenly in with a shout of mounting a charge for promotion. The form batsman in the country, Luke Wells, whose last four matches have included scores of 258, 155 and, this week, 90* to drive his team comfortably to the 232 runs they needed to defeat Leicestershire, is delivering runs enough for three players. But it’s bowlers who win matches, and Jofra Archer’s match figures of 49.4 – 14 – 137 – 11 won’t have gone unnoticed among those due to play Sussex soon. The 22 year old Bajan has 35 wickets already this season at a Steynesque average of 23 (Vernon Philander has 16 at 27 and Chris Jordan 10 at 44 amongst teammates) and Archer is no mug with the bat either, with two fifties in eight visits to the crease. With the West Indies due to tour in late summer, they could do a lot worse than sending a scout down to the South Coast to see what the kid has got.

Ball Six – Colly’s not for wobbling

Gary Ballance may have claims to be (sort of) English County Cricketer of the Year so far, but he’ll have to walk over my dead body (and plenty more I fancy) if he is to wrest that accolade away from Paul Collingwood. In a desperate attempt to turn their points total positive, Durham bowled at Kent’s last three batsmen for well over an hour, but Numbers 10 and 11, Yasir Shah and Mitch Claydon, held firm and a draw it was (a draw that kept Kent in the second promotion place). But never mind all that, Paul Collingwood made 120 in the first dig and 51* in the second, taking his season aggregate to 636, the highest in Division Two (with just Gary Ballance and Kumar Sangakkara ahead in Division One). Against the background of points penalties, financial restrictions and player exits, for the senior player and club captain to inspire on the field like that, is little short of cricketing heroism. When Brigadier Block does hang up his boots, his first job should be to open The Paul Collingwood Stand at the ground he has graced since 1995.

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 6, 2017

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 5 June 2017

Bear fails to conquer Crane

Ball One – Mason Crane in form as Hampshire tower above toothless Bears

Ask the batsman dropped on 0 who makes a ton how to succeed in cricket and he or she will tell you that it’s not how many breaks you get that matters, it’s what you do with them. Many county cricket fans were less than pleased to see Hampshire restored to Division One having finished 2016 in one of the relegation slots (see Ball Six below), but a second win in a row has seen them sit atop the table like a fat cuckoo. Captain George Bailey may have scored just 2 off his own bat, but veterans Jimmy Adams (166) and Sean Ervine (203) – that’s runs not ages – amassed 367 for the fourth wicket and, once Number 9 Keith Barker, the only partner centurion Jonathan Trott could find in the first innings, was dismissed for 63, Warwickshire’s fragile confidence collapsed and they were seen off by an innings, having followed on. Leg spinner, Mason Crane, did absolutely nothing to dampen down enthusiasm for advancing his burgeoning talent with match figures of 57-17-154-5, while Ian Bell’s team languish rock bottom, winless and looking for that break to get their season started.

Ball Two – Ben Coad in electrifying form as he raises hell for Tykes

Yorkshire leapfrogged Lancashire into fourth place with a three day demolition of the old enemy in a match in which the disparity in seam bowling resources proved critical. While Steven Croft had only Ryan McLaren (396) with more than 72 career first class wickets to his name, Gary Ballance could whistle up Ryan Sidebottom (745), Tim Bresnan (499) and Jack Brooks (364). But it was the least experienced of his quartet to whom the captain had most cause to be grateful, Ben Coad backing up his six first innings wickets with a couple more in the second dig to give him 31 Division One wickets at 14 this season, the best amongst England qualified bowlers by a distance. With England slated to play seven Test matches in two months from 6 July, don’t be surprised if “Highway” gets a gig for his country before his breakthrough season is done.

Ball Three – Lord’s square fails to promote flamboyant play

Flogging results out of Lord’s roads (they should just call the pitch the A41a) is hard enough with a full complement of overs, but when weather intervenes, it can be a thankless task. Once Lewis Gregory had notched a maiden century and Dean Elgar continued his extended warm-up for the Test series with second hundred of the season, Middlesex knew that a par score would surely be enough to make a draw the likely conclusion – and so it proved after their last four wickets added 110 runs. Though Somerset’s young skipper Tom Abell will be relieved to have batted almost three hours for a season’s best 71*, two of last season’s “three who could win it” going into 2016’s last day, are stuck in sixth and seventh places, both looking for the first win of the campaign.

Ball Four – Derbyshire’s chase unravels as rain saves Notts

Nottinghamshire’s charge towards Division One stalled with a draw against lowly Derbyshire at Trent Bridge. With four second innings wickets down and the lead just 51, Chris Read will be thankful for even for that, his own 74 not out critical in setting the visitors a target of 216 which proved just 26 too many when the rain came for the last time, Derbyshire big favourites with five wickets and eight overs in hand. Missing James Pattinson and Stuart Broad (36 wickets at 14.7 and 281 runs at 46.8 in 2017), Notts lacked firepower and Derbyshire can count themselves unfortunate not to have registered their first red ball win for two years.

Ball Five – Chris Nash’s seam battery menaces Worcestershire

With second place Kent sitting out this round of fixtures, third place Worcestershire had the chance to jump into first with a win over Sussex, a club in turmoil after Luke Wright’s shock resignation from the captaincy on the eve of the match. As can sometimes be the case, the change at the top, with Chris Nash taking over the reins, galvanised the side, his charges racking up 579-8d in good time, with Luke Wells adding 155 to the 258 he made when he last took guard at Hove. When the visitors cruised to 215 without loss in reply approaching lunch on Day Three, the draw looked likely, but the admirable Daryl Mitchell fell for 121, the Sussex seamers scented blood, and, just 30 overs later, Mitchell found himself back in the middle, following on, 267 behind. Despite missing experienced new ball man Steve Magoffin, Nash rotated his five medium pacers who, on a pitch now offering assistance, restricted Worcestershire’s highest second innings stand to just 79 runs and wrapped up the win early in the afternoon session on Day Four. As auditions go, it wasn’t a bad one from Chris Nash.

Ball Six – Durham yet to reach single figures with only moral victories to show in a most difficult season

Durham, whose place in Division One for this season was forfeited to current leaders Hampshire due to their financial problems, fought like cornered tigers to get themselves back into their match with Northamptonshire, only to lose off the penultimate ball, in the rain, with the visitors eight down. After conceding a first innings deficit of 172, a maiden century for Cameron Steel (who sounds more like a Pakistani team than an American born player) supported by 54 in nearly three hours from (who else?) Paul Collingwood, clawed Durham back into the game. But Colly’s opposite number, Alex Wakely, had other ideas and a captain’s knock of 84 laid the foundations for the last gasp win. Durham still seek that first victory of the season (and the points that will turn their total positive), but when it does eventually arrive, glasses will be raised well beyond the north east corner of England.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 30, 2017

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 29 May 2017

What Google Images returns for “Paul Collingwood MBE” – ’nuff said

Ball One – Kumar Sangakkara fails… to make a sixth century in six innings

Essex and Surrey started their match separated by one point at the top of Division One and finished it in identical shape, the draw not really helping either in a tight race for the pennant. Inevitably, Surrey were indebted to Kumar Sangakkara, who “failed” in his bid for six consecutive centuries, falling for 86 as the match meandered to a draw on the last afternoon. Having registered a round 200 in the first dig, the ageless Lankan scored 47% of Surrey’s runs off the bat, but will have to wait for that hundredth senior hundred – one suspects not for very long. Contributions were more spread amongst the Essex men, but teenager Dan Lawrence caught the eye again with a ton. He, like fellow teen Sam Curran who made 90 in Surrey’s first dig, can only learn from the honour of sharing a cricket field with an all-time great of the game. And I’m not just talking about cricket either.

Ball Two – Tom Abell needs to find a way to arrest Somerset’s poor form

Somerset’s heartbreaking final day of the 2016 County Championship appears to have cast a shadow over 2017, something that new young skipper, Tom Abell, needs to address. With just a draw in the credit column after four matches and 15 points from safety (and sixth place Middlesex have a game in hand), his team are venturing towards the kind of territory where you need snookers. It was another low scoring match at spin-friendly Taunton, the crucial passage of play coming with visitors Hampshire six down in their second innings with an advantage of just 105. Teenage spinner, Dom Bess, had five of those wickets but he, and Jack Leach who had bagged six first innings wickets, met stiff resistance from the late order, Gareth Berg, Kyle Abbott and Mason Crane all putting bat to ball, their shots lifting the lead to 258. The visitors’ spinners then got the job done, with four wickets for Liam Dawson and five for Crane, as the home side subsided to 168 all out. That Bess and Crane, whose combined age is about the same as Gareth Batty’s, an England spinner as recently as last winter, produced aggregate match figures of 57.5 – 6 – 207 – 15, will not have gone unnoticed by England selectors, but Somerset can be forgiven if their concerns are somewhat more parochial.

Ball Three – Steve Mullaney keeps Nottinghamshire on the road to Division One

Nottinghamshire continued the scorched earth approach to their season in Division Two, seeing off Gloucesterhire by an innings to notch a fourth win from five matches. Shorn of James Pattinson and Jake Ball due to international call-ups (but still able to field Stuart Broad, Harry Gurney and Samit Patel), skipper Chris Read was confident enough to enforce the follow-on and his bowlers duly delivered 20 wickets in 105 overs. Seen more these days as a batsman who bowls in white ball cricket, Steve Mullaney, still only 30 despite seeming to have been around for ages, picked up seven of those 20 with his medium pace wobblers. Having old pros to step up when the class men are away is just about the final piece in Notts’ promotion jigsaw puzzle – they’ll take some stopping now.

Ball Four – Nathan Lyon yet to roar, but seamers weave a spell for Worcestershire

And the man who might do that stopping is Daryl Mitchell, in the runs again with 161 and 78* as Worcestershire maintained their 100% record with a hard fought win over Northamptonshire at Wantage Road. Captain Joe Leach leads the seam attack, joined by Jack Shantry, Ed Barnard and teenager, Josh Tongue, with only the youngster paying more than 20 runs for his wickets this season. With Nathan Lyon yet to fire as a spin option, the September Trent Bridge showdown with leaders Notts looks like being a critical fixture. (Yes, they have to wait that long for their one and only match-up of the season – go figure…).

Ball Five – Kent join a top three in clear blue water after win at Tunbridge Wells

Kent interpolated themselves between leaders Notts and Worcestershire, matching their four wins this season with a comfortable victory over Sussex at Tunbridge Wells. Though many sides can make a claim to have batting through the order, not many sides can ever have matched Sam Northeast’s embarrassment of riches, his XI in this match boasting a lowest career average of 20 (Matt Coles). Not that batting can ever do much more than set up matches, 20 wickets being the key to turning draws into wins. Despite Sussex being 8-3 in their second innings (having conceded a lead of over 200 on first innings), the visitors battled hard, James Harris eventually wrapping up the resistance with match figures of 7-140 – Sussex all out 356, Kent’s victory margin 147. Effective though late order runs can be, Kent need to be ruthless in selecting bowlers who can take 20 wickets throughout the season, as three into two doesn’t go and one of Division Two’s pacesetters will not gain promotion come the falling leaves of Autumn.

Ball Six – Paul Collingwood – loser against Glamorgan, but winner in the grander scheme of things

Durham languish in bottom place in Division Two, without a win this season and on a ridiculous total of -24 points after the understandable penalty demotion last year and the knife-twistingly cruel 48 points deficit with which they started the season. With promotion a distant possibility (over 124 points distant as matters stand now) and without a win this season, Paul Collingwood’s Day Four lunch declaration (after losing overs to rain) setting Glamorgan 266 to win in a minimum 51 overs looked bold but necessary. What made it admirable, goddammit I’ll say it – noble, is the fact that he was on 92 at the time, having made 127 in the first dig in this, his birthday match. Chances for twin centuries don’t come round too often (especially not at 41 years of age) and he would have been Durham’s first such batsman, but the man with more reason than anyone to put personal achievement ahead of the match situation and season context, chose to make a game of it. That Glamorgan won a thriller in the last over of the day is to their credit, but when Colly eventually does hang up his boots, he won’t be buying himself many drinks if there are cricket fans in the bar.

 

 

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 23, 2017

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 22 May 2017

The administrators’ plan to maintain interest in the RLODC

Ball One – Nottinghamshire enjoy a rainy day at Northamptonshire

The early abandonment at Wantage Road handed Nottinghamshire the point they needed to join Worcestershire and Yorkshire in progressing from the North Group of the Royal London One Day Cup. It also took the wind out of the sails of Durham, Leicestershire and Lancashire, all of whom might have squeaked in as the last round of matches started. It’ll be scant consolation for him, but Lanky’s Jordan Clark ended the group stage with the best strike rate of batsman scoring over 250 runs (143), a sentiment that might be shared by rock bottom Warwickshire’s veteran spinner, Jeetan Patel, whose economy rate of 5.12 was the lowest among bowlers taking at least ten wickets.

Ball Two – Southern discomfort in the wet sends last week’s top three through

With only Essex dodging the weather in the South Group, their win over Kent consolidating their position at the top of the table to earn a semi-final slot, Somerset and Surrey went into the eliminators with their North group counterparts. Despite having had a thin time of it lately, Kent’s white ball specialist, Alex Blake, took the batting honours in the South Group with a strike rate of 158, with Jade Dernbach’s economy rate of 3.8 just edging out Toby Roland-Jones as best of the bowlers. After a four week break (nobody is quite sure why), the tournament resumes with the knockout stage on 13 June.

Ball Three – Porter rises to the challenge of carrying the Essex attack

Just twelve points cover the top four in Division One of the County Championship, with Essex capitalising on Alastair Cook’s availability to lead the ladder having been promoted last season. Ryan ten Doeschate’s men simply hammered Hampshire (reprieved relegation last year, but I’m going to the Rose Bowl on Saturday, so I can’t say anything unkind) in just over 200 overs cricket. Whilst runs don’t look a problem for Essex, the question for 2017 was always about who would take the 103 Championship wickets delivered by those retired old foxes, David Masters and Graham Napier. Well, Matthew Quinn and Jamie Porter showed plenty of promise last year and combined to take 10-124 in this match. The two 24 year-olds will learn much from Neil Wagner and (can it be possible to say this?) the veteran Ravi Bopara, and will get plenty of overs if they can stay fit.

Ball Four – Picture perfect centuries for Kumar Sangakkara

Weather and some obdurate batting saw the other three Division One matches drawn. At Lord’s, Surrey’s somewhat imbalanced attack (Tom Curran, Sam Curran, Mark “Hot” Footitt and Stuart Meaker look like four new ball specialists with nobody to do a Peter Siddle job as third seamer) proved a notch or two below Middlesex’s, with two more potential England men, Toby Roland-Jones and Tom Helm, a very classy opening pair. Ultimately, it didn’t matter though, because Kumar Sangakkara walked past his portrait in the Long Room and did not stride back until he had stroked twin centuries, the ageless master half a dozen notches above his fellow batsmen. Two more needed now for a century of centuries in First Class and List A cricket – standing ovations can be cheap these days, but his will be richly deserved when it arrives.

Ball Five – Joe Leach sucks the lifeblood out of Derbyshire’s batting

Worcestershire squeezed the only positive result this week in Division Two (basement dwellers, Durham and Sussex, started their match on Sunday) to go three for three, as they say stateside. Hapless Derbyshire (played three, lost three) were swept aside once openers Daryl Mitchell and Brett D’Oliviera had replied to the home side’s 275 with 243 runs of their own. Joe Leach added five second innings wickets to his four in the first to lead his team to a very comfortable innings win. Australia’s greatest ever finger spinner and ninth on their all-time wicket-taking list, Nathan Lyon, picked up a couple of scalps, but was barely needed (or noticed) at all.

Ball Six – Boers bore to a valiant draw

Hitherto unstoppable Nottinghamshire looked like making it four wins in a row when Chris Read invited Glamorgan to follow on, 361 behind with two whole days to play. But Division Two cricket proved itself tougher than some (including me) say, as the Welsh county (if not quite Welshmen) dug in for an old-fashioned stalemate. Skipper Jacques Rudolph set the tone with 14 made in an hour and a half, before fellow countrymen, Colin Ingram and Chris Cooke, batted out the last day (yes, the last day!) with the former racking up nearly ten hours at the crease for his 155 not out. Stuart Broad had figures of 34-10-55-0 in Glamorgan’s second innings, which may or may not please Andrew Strauss, As for Broad, he’s probably sick of the sight of South Africans already and the First Test doesn’t start until July!

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 15, 2017

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 15 May 2017

Friends? Just for this week. Please?

Ball One – Three out of three this week? The only one is Essex.

With one round of matches to come, Essex top the South Group, assured of a place in the knockout stage after three wins in the last five days. The last of that hat-trick was a convincing display at home to second place Somerset, the Westcountrymen seen off by 72 runs. It was a real team effort too, Tom Westley’s round 100 supported by Ravi Bopara’s 92* and (I kid you not) Alastair Cook’s 65 off 71 balls – the old chorister can rock out after all. Cue the “pace-off” men to apply the tourniquet in the middle overs, spinners Simon Harmer and Ashar Zaidi picking up 3-89 in 17.2 overs and wily old foxes, Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate notching a couple of scalps, as they shared 10 overs for just 50 runs. It’s a bowling formula that can work in May – it’ll need to work on the harder pitches of June if Essex are to bring home a second one day knockout trophy since 1998.

Ball Two – Surrey’s Sanga smashes Hampshire

Somerset are assured of a place in the eliminator (teams finishing second and third in each table progress to a match to determine who will face the group winners away in the semi-finals), but the other South Group place lies between Surrey and Sussex. (But, bizarrely, Glamorgan who currently lie fourth having finished their matches, might go through on net run rate if Sussex lose and Surrey get hammered. Cricket wouldn’t want to make anything too simple now would it?) Both sides are away, Surrey at Bristol and Sussex at the Rose Bowl, but the Londoners will be feeling confident having disposed of Kent and Hampshire in their last two games. The latter victory was due in large part to the ageless Kumar Sangakkara who, having watched George Bailey brilliantly rescue his team’s innings from an abject 89-7 with a beautifully constructed 145*, calmly drove, cut and pulled his way to 124* before the rain came to South London to put the visitors out of their misery. At 39, it was a 96th century in List A / first class cricket for the master batsman. with only a run out looking likely as a dismissal. The Lankan doesn’t often get the accolades that Sachin or Brian or Ricky get, but he fully deserves his place in The Pantheon. One day, we’ll tell our grandchildren that, “Yes. I saw Sangakkara bat”.

Ball Three – DI Stevens: still criminally underrated?

James Vince has a decent shout for Performance of the Week in the South Group having made 178 off 138 balls as Hampshire piled up 332 – which they then failed to defend against Glamorgan, for whom Colin Ingram scored a century and Chris Cooke smashed 59* in the last eight overs. But he played a shocking shot at The Oval on Sunday, so he forfeits the award in favour of an old (very old) favourite of this column. Darren Stevens, at 41, chrisgayled 147 off 67 balls with 10 fours and 14 sixes smashed into the Welsh air on the ground where Garry Sobers eviscerated Malcolm Nash all those years ago. Unfortunately for the grizzled old stager, ten other batsman (and extras) couldn’t muster the remaining 210 runs off the other 233 legitimate deliveries and Kent lost. But few in attendance at Swansea on Sunday will be talking about Glamorgan’s win for long – they’ll be talking about the 35 sixes they saw, almost half of them off the bat of a man who is 19 months older than Andrew Flintoff and Stephen Harmison.

Ball Four – A bit of Daryl Mitchell leaves Durham’s innings in pieces

In the North Group, Worcestershire secured a knockout spot with a home win over Durham. Another of this column’s much-mentioned cricketers over the last few years, Daryl Mitchell, found a way to contribute to the cause again. After failing with the bat, he had to wait until the 24th over before Joe Leach tossed him the ball with Durham sitting pretty on 122-1, the required rate below a run a ball. The seventh bowler to be used, Mitchell held his nerve when centurion, Graham Clark took him for ten off two balls and bowled his next two overs for six runs and the wicket of Michael Richardson. With nine overs left and the required rate a more challenging, but gettable, 8.1, Mitchell took the ball again picking up the wicket of Ryan Pringle and gaining revenge with Clark’s, as his three overs went at a run a ball. Like Stevens, Mitchell can be damned with the descriptor “Bits And Pieces”, but you don’t have to be Jacques Kallis to do a job for your county.

Ball Five – David Willey isn’t getting enough action

Yorkshire join Worcestershire in progressing from the North Group, the necessary points secured in a resounding win over Northamptonshire. There was no way back for the home side after Gary Ballance, the season’s form batsman, had made 152* off 118 balls and then David Willey had dismissed the dangerous Ben Duckett and Rob Newton on his old stomping ground to leave his ex-employers 11-4 in the third over. Though he’s picking up wickets here and there, Willey has scored just 30 runs in senior cricket this season, batting down the order for Yorkshire (if at all). For a man in the prime of his career (at 27 years of age) with five centuries and 22 fifties on his CV, that’s a waste of talent. One can’t help thinking that he might have been better to stay at Wantage Road and form a frightening white ball opening partnership with Duckett, that might translate to T20Is, if not ODIs.

Ball Six – Jordan Clark turning into a Lancastrian superman

Performance of the Week in the North Group goes to a man who a few weeks ago was definitely a “bits and pieces” merchant but has blossomed into a genuine all-rounder, Lancashire’s Jordan Clark. At Old Trafford, arriving at the crease with his team on an awkward “stick or twist” score of 153-5 in 31 overs with not much batting to come, he made 79* off 58 balls, while Dane Vilas made a ton at the other end, the partnership unbroken and worth 160 runs. With ball in hand, he ripped through the Worcestershire middle order, his figures of 8-0-34-4 making the match safe for the home side with less than half the overs bowled. Lancashire are still in with a chance of squeezing through on Tuesday, but will need to beat Durham away and see wins for Northants and Yorkshire over Notts and Leicestershire respectively. So – hands across the Pennines?

 

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