Posted by: tootingtrumpet | October 5, 2020

The Five County Cricketers of the Year

Rather like a longer established list, a player may only be named as a County Cricketer of the Year once. Here are the previous winners: 2019; 2018 and 2017.

Chef’s lockdown haircut getting a little out of hand

Sir Alastair Cook – The Great

There’s that quote from Sid Waddell – “When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer … [Eric] Bristow’s only 27.” Sir Alastair Cook is 35, but he doesn’t have any more cricketing worlds to conquer, has a farm and family back home and a microphone to pick up whenever he fancies a bit of media.

But he loves Essex County Cricket Club and they love him in return, so in he went to face the new ball. He made more runs in the Bob Willis Trophy than any other batsman, capping it with a magnificently watchable 172, the innings that shaped the match that delivered the Bob to Chelmsford.

He was on that cold, windswept North London field for 295 of the match’s 379 overs but that was no surprise to me. I would arrive soon after 7am for Test matches (believe me, worth it to see the mist lazily clear from in front of Lord’s pavilion) and Alastair Cook was always there ahead of me, getting throwdowns while I got coffee. Careers like his do not happen by chance.

Tom Lammonby – The Kid

Barely a household name in his own household when cricket started up in August, he must have been hoping for a bit of white ball cricket, his left arm seam probably more valuable to Somerset than his middle order batting.

Fast forward two months and he is established as his county’s opening batsman, with three centuries in six matches, including a sparkling ton in a Lord’s final that kept his team in with a shout deep into the fifth day.

The new ball can be a harsh taskmaster in England and the man third on the list of run scorers in the Bob need only look down to 29th place to see that flames that burn bright can be dimmed just as swiftly (that said, there were encouraging signs for Haseeb Hameed after his move to Nottinghamshire).

But, for now, the world is at the 20 year-old’s feet – don’t stub your toe kid.

Craig Overton – The Trier

While Jofra Archer and Mark Wood were sending the speedgun into the red and Chris Woakes was delivering a season to remember as the bowler who bats for England, Craig Overton found his large frame in the international shadows, his five international appearances spread over a couple of years, none more recent than 13 months ago. He has almost certainly heard the deathless phrase “You’re very much still in our thoughts” issuing from his phone at some point in the last year.

Whilst his twin Jamie has left for the bright lights of er… Southwark, Craig got on with winning cricket matches for Somerset, even though he probably didn’t need to read ahead to find out what happens on the last page. In the Bob, his splice splitting seamers dismissed 30 batsmen at 13.4, his lower middle order batting produced 248 runs at 31 and his slip catching reminded me of another Somerset all-rounder, one soon to sit in the House of Lords.

Perhaps Coverton is destined to occupy that space between the centrally contracted elite and the Darren Stevensish county pro – too good to be scoffed at by those keen to tell us that there are too many counties, too many players and too much cricket (I hope you enjoyed June and July), but not quite good enough to be England’s best option at six, seven or eight. All the more for the hundreds of thousands who follow the domestic game to enjoy.

Dan Christian – The Import

Twenty20 cricket has spawned a statistics industry – spend any time on Twitter during an IPL game and you’ll learn that Jonny Bairstow has a strike rate of 125 against left-arm spin outside the powerplay when chasing targets of 180 or more and wearing his third set of gloves.

But T20 is a game of moments: seizing the time to attack with the bat; to bring on the legspinner; to move Fine Leg into the circle. Much of this needs to be instinctive – plans adjusted on the hoof, little nuances of technique or attitude picked up in a batsman’s demeanour, responding to changes in the pitch, even the outfield. The key to success (ironically) is to blank out all the stats, plans and extraneous mental noise and bring clarity of thought to the next ball – in T20, as important an approach to bowling and captaincy as it has always been to batting.

Australian veteran, Dan Christian, went into a Nottinghamshire dressing room that still couldn’t win a red ball match and set about those moments through calling upon an unparalleled range of experience comprising over 300 matches played all over the world. He always knew what he wanted to do with the next ball and made sure that his team did too.

In the quarter-final that was about staying in the game knowing that, though seven down, he had two international cricketers (Samit Patel and Imad Wasim) at the crease and his opponents were an inexperienced XI feeling the heat of pressure in the cold of night. Anything might happen – and it sure did.

In the semi-final, he Kapil Devved four successive sixes off Liam Livingstone and you only needed to look at Matt Parkinson’s face to know that in those two minutes, he had lost the chance to win the match for Lancashire and now had only the job of feeding the winning runs to his opponents.

In the Final, he bowled three of the last six overs, as Surrey’s lift-off never left the ground, his personal return 4-23. He only needed one of his big guns to fire to chase down 128 and Ben Duckett’s undefeated half-century proved enough.

Who was at the other end when Duckett struck the winning runs? Well, who do you think?

The Man of the Moments.

The Backstage Cast – The Unseen

In 1966, Time Magazine, in that pretentiously innocent way that was so of its time, awarded its annual Person of the Year accolade to “Anyone under the age of 25”.

So, with that licence, the fifth county cricketer of the year is anyone involved in the game: the administrators who found a way to squeeze two meaningful competitions into the time available (and did so safely); the staff opening the gates in the morning and cleaning the dressing rooms in the evening; the media who brought the drama to us. And everyone else in-between.

Most of all to the hundreds of cricketers who are not in the quartet above. Many made unexpected debuts, some will have found the adjustments (psychological and physical) tough, others will be looking at a worrisome future as finances tighten to a degree never seen before.

Sports fans, calling on the extremes of emotions that the phrase connotes, are rather better at giving brickbats or adulation than plain old gratitude – so this is a heartfelt thanks and best wishes for the future to all those who did so much to brighten some very bleak days. And see you soon.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | October 5, 2020

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 5 October 2020

Ball One – Underdogs dogged by ill fortune

It’s only a game of course, but it’s only a play too, and we still call them tragedies.

I can recall a few times when I’ve stood up in response to watching sport on TV – Michael Owen’s goal against Argentina, Usain Bolt’s 100m in Beijing, Mo Farah second-kicking to gold on Super Saturday.

The endgame of a T20 quarter-final isn’t such an iconic event, but, incredibly, I was on my feet twice in five minutes, involuntarily shouting “Oh no!”. I didn’t have a dog in the fight but, like anyone not connected to Trent Bridge, I wanted Leicestershire to win their match with Leicestershire.

In the 19th over, in the dark, in the cold, in the dank dew, Arron Lilley allowed a well struck hoick from Samit Patel to go under his hands – the ball, like a rat, scuttled to the boundary. It was the most awful thing to happen to a player on the field all season.

Even worse, in the 20th over, Dieter Klein, heart racing, still in the gloomy chill of an October night repeated Lilley’s error, Imad Wasim’s mistimed drive apologetically kissing the boundary sponge.

Leicestershire surrendered their day at Edgbaston, Nottinghamshire progressing on higher powerplay score. Skipper, Colin Ackermann defined ashen faced in his interviews, but turned up like the pro he is. I had sat down by then.

Ball Two – Will Jacks flushes away Kent’s chances

Not so long ago, Surrey’s detractors (the “Surrey Strut” lurks in many memories) were regularly described as “winless Surrey”, the South Londoners failing to get their delayed season off the ground.

Cue September – with some players back from international bubbles but others in the IPL, Gareth Batty’s curiously random group of bowlers and batsmen contrived to win eight consecutive matches in the Blast, the last of which came in the quarter-final against Kent.

Will Jacks was the hero, decapitating the Kent order, seeing off Zak Crawley, Daniel Bell-Drummond, Joe Denly and Sam Billings to leave the visitors requiring 118 runs off 10.9 overs. Soon, their place at Finals Day, like the summer, just slid away more suddenly than expected.

Jacks is still only 21, hits a long ball and turns his off-break. He may well develop into that most useful of county cricketers – very good indeed, but not quite good enough to be an England regular.

Ball Three – Extremely Clumsy Business

In a rare moment of fan-friendly common sense, towards the end of a rain-sodden Finals Saturday (with play abandoned), it was announced that Wednesday would become the reserve day’s reserve day. Clearly, there was a financial outlay involved in adding a potential 12 hours of cricket to the production, but far less than there would have been had a crowd been involved (and no expectant crowd packed in to Edgbaston either). With a relatively empty sporting week ahead (well, football would be on its international break) it looked a smart move all round.

Then news emerged that if the first semi-final were completed, all bets were off and the other two matches would be played to a conclusion, possibly through bowl outs. And so it came to pass that the semi-finals would be 11 overs a side and the final 16. That’s a total of 76 Sunday overs, pretty much enough for two full length semi-finals with a proper final on Wednesday.

The Blast was one of only two trophies available in 2020. The huge number of people involved in getting the cricket on this year, not least the players who had given their all the moment light went green and the fans who had (in many cases) foregone any rebates on memberships, deserved a full scale climax to this most difficult of seasons. If Wednesday was available, it should have been used.

Ball Four – That’s all Foakes

There’s not much Gareth Batty hasn’t seen in his long career, so when the coin came down in his favour, some 28 hours on from the scheduled toss, he asked Gloucestershire to bat.

What would be a defendable score for Jack Taylor’s men in the 11 overs they would get? 100 would be my guess, but Gloucestershire set off with every impression that they wanted 200. As so often the case, even in shortened matches, in ambitious overreaching they fell short, and 74 was never going to trouble Surrey. Ben Foakes top scored, but he only made 20, I’m afraid that it really was that simple.

Ball Five – Dan Christian shows faith in his ability

Lancashire know the value of an overseas player. Clive Lloyd and Wasim Akram call the cotton county their second home and are as admired in Garstang and Lancaster as much as they are in Georgetown and Lahore.

Lancashire had no overseas players in their semi-final XI and it made a difference. Imad Wasim (188 T20 appearances) and Dan Christian (325) combined to bowl their 5 overs for 40 runs and then Christian, sensing that Matt Parkinson was winning (well, sort of) the match for Lancashire, swept Liam Livingstone’s rather less canny legspin for four consecutive sixes and Parky was left with nothing to bowl at with his final set.

Does that sound like sour grapes from a Lanky fan? Maybe there’s a bit of that along, with admiration for Christian’s clarity of thought and clean hitting, but, with all that goes on at multi-event venue Old Trafford, an overseas star or two couldn’t be employed? That was a long hop too many to deliver to your opponents.

Ball Six – Surrey’s charge tied up in knots

Finding form in October, Jason Roy, under more layers than a scorer at Derby in April, was going well with the much underrated Laurie Evans, Surrey on 98-2 with 29 balls left looking to set a target of 150+. But not a single boundary was scored subsequently, Notts’s death bowling plunging the innings into the deep freeze.

128 off 16 overs for the Blast title is no cakewalk, but it’s the kind of challenge for which the Nottinghamshire order could have been made – all those old pros weren’t going to fail en masse were they?

Alex Hales gormlessly lifted Reece Topley’s first ball to the one man in the deep and was quickly followed back to the dugout by Joe Clarke and a promoted Samit Patel. But Ben Duckett was still there and Peter Trego, at 39 old enough to have had his tattoos done when such decoration was the mark of a rebel, got together and hit a couple of boundaries every two overs and cashed in with the singles on offer.

There was time for a cameo from skipper Dan Christian and the memory of holding up the trophy to sustain him on a long and tricky trip home to Melbourne – he had played very well indeed.

Finals Day wasn’t a damp squib and the players should receive nothing but praise for providing any spectacle at all. It was a little low on thrills though, but (see Ball Three) that wasn’t entirely their fault.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 28, 2020

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 27 September 2020

My verdict? Pretty good Sir, pretty good.

Ball One – By Jove Byrom, you made a ton!

One of the less mentioned delights of county cricket is the margin for error. In Test cricket, any weakness would be probed relentlessly by the likes of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne – today, analysts get involved with their match-ups and databases. Better cricketers emerge, but (possibly) not better cricket.

Eddie Byrom couldn’t buy a run in the Bob and owed his place to Tom Banton’s decision to do whatever he’s doing in the IPL – net bowling and sanitiser replenishment I think. On commentary, Niall O’Brien was quick to identify the left-hander’s shoulder misalignment at the point of contact, opening up his stance and making him a candidate to be caught in the cordon.

But the Lord’s pitch was flat and slow and the Essex bowling, whilst good, is not international standard. Byrom had a bit of luck, showed a lot of heart and eventually found a partner in Craig Overton in his all-rounder guise. The Zimbabwean’s century kept Somerset in a match they were in danger of losing before they had a chance to win. Byrom would have been lucky to last 12 minutes, never mind 312, against an Australian or Indian Test attack, but that would have denied us the chance to watch a man make the most of his day in the sun cold.

Ball Two – Cook still on the boil

Sir Alastair Cook’s innings was a sharp contrast. Soft hands and that docile pitch saved him from a couple of outside edges that didn’t carry early on,  but once the eye was in, Cook showed us the flowing batsman he might have been.

The familiar cuts and pulls were used on anything short, but he punched hard through the covers (I’m still not convinced that they were full-blooded drives) and rotated the strike with Steven Smith like dibs and dabs just wide of the fielders. In terms of shot selection and pacing, his 172 should be required viewing for any opener over the winter – it was a (wait for it) masterclass in batsmanship.

Moreover, on a day when the wind whipped in with winter on its breath, Cook, a man for whom Test cricket was a mentally taxing affair (isn’t it always) managed to convey the simple enjoyment and pleasure of batting for his one and only county without ever suggesting he wasn’t deadly serious about winning the Bob. Anyone who saw this innings from Test cricket’s fifth highest run-scorer won’t ever say, “Well, it was only the Bob Willis Trophy…”

Ball Three – Lammonby’s tender years no obstacle to the ball hitting the meat of the bat

Two contrasting second innings knocks brought the match to life and then sent it back to sleep.

Tom Lammonby is county cricket’s Zak Crawley, a big blond breakout star who has the fearlessness given to all youth, but a talent given to few. The 20 year-old made 116 in a final, under pressure, against the best attack in the country at a strike rate of 77. He won’t make a century in every other first class match he plays, but it’s going to be fun watching him trying to add to the three he has after just six matches.

Two weeks ago, this column noted that “…his [Ryan ten Doeschate’s] experience is a handy insurance policy for a team that seldom needs one.” With his side wobbling at 98-4 with 44 overs left in the match, the 40 year-old erstwhile biffer, came in, blocked the good ones but still put away the bad ones, and didn’t leave until the job was as good as done.

You can go compare younger players for his slot in the order, but having a man like that in at number six, gives you a direct line to success.  

Ball Four – Not much changes about English seamers

Lewis Gregory (8-124), Sam Cook (5-132) and Jamie Porter (6-158) took 19 of the 31 wickets to fall for the two teams widely acknowledged to be the best in the country, in a final that lent an objective dimension to that subjective view. None will bowl for England in Test cricket.

Does this matter? Nobody quite knows the alchemy that produces the 90mph men and we seem no further advanced in the precarious job of keeping them fit than in the time before biomechanists, ice baths and limits on kids bowling in youth cricket did whatever they do to advance the fast men’s lots. 

What never stops being a slow joy is the sight of a county pro working out the lengths and lines required to dismiss another county pro 22 yards away and then, probing and persisting until pinpointing the exact delivery to do it. All three made for a wonderful watch while the sixes rained down on empty stands in the IPL. 

Ball Five – Tom Abell refuses a gamble and misses the jackpot

Churlish as it may be to criticise anyone involved in such a full-blooded contest played under the trickiest of conditions, but did Somerset give themselves their very best chance? They had a good idea from about the midway point of the match they they would need to force a win if they were to take The Bob Willis Trophy back to Taunton – anything else was just first loser. While that circumstance was clearly on Essex’s minds – witness their playing out the first innings’ full allocation of 120 overs rather than risk a higher but all-out score that would hand time back to Somerset. 

On Day Four, at the loss of their second wicket with a lead of 119, should the Somerset captain have sent in Craig Overton for quick runs? Should those batting ahead of the all-rounder who had played so effectively in the first dig for his 66 – Eddie Byrom, George Bartlett and Steve Davies – pushed on even at the risk of losing wickets? Nobody is suggesting it was easy to fling the bat, but their combined 25 off 99 balls used up precious time to little effect. 

Most of all, Abell’s declaration meant that his attack bowled a mere 27 balls more at Essex than his batsmen had received (in a win or bust situation remember), an eventuality that seems less than optimum strategising. Maybe declaring at the last moment at the start of Day Five setting a target of 192 would be too radical, but had 32 runs and not 12 been taken from the last eight overs on the previous evening, 212 would definitely have been worth setting as a quid pro quo for a whole ten overs more than Somerset gave themselves in pursuit on ten wickets. 

Maybe these are harsh words indeed, but chances to win trophies do not come round often and it was a highly unusual situation given the tie-breaking first innings Essex had secured. Boldness verging on the reckless may have been the only real option.

Ball Six – Sky’s the limit if streams are funded adequately

Whilst we must be grateful for a widely accessible, decent quality stream supported by elite commentators, should we demand more? Anyone who has peeked behind the scenes to see Sky’s operation at a Test will know that, like a reverse Great Oz, there’s actually even more wizardry than you expected, miles of cables, armies of technicians and caravans of trucks.

Nobody, even without Covid’s strangling of cricket’s finances, would make a case for that level of investment. But, with feature films being shot on i-phones and Go-Pros showing us what it’s like to fly in a wingsuit down a mountainside, should the visuals be stronger? I’m no techie (the reverse in fact) and there may be all kinds of red tape of which I’m unaware, but there’s surely room before next season to find a sponsor for (say) one first class match per round to be streamed with as full a complement of cameras as possible. If Sky’s full operation delivers 10/10, this match was a 6/10. It shouldn’t take too much to get to 8/10 – and that would make a big difference when you’re watching all day.

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 24, 2020

Dean Jones 24 March 1961 – 24 September 2020

Looking for a Queenslander

Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket had skewed an English lad’s view of Australian batsmanship in the 80s. I could just about recall the gritty qualities of Ian Chappell and saw those reflected in Allan Border, but where was the heir to Greg Chappell, that most elegant of strokemakers? We didn’t see much cricket played in Australia so Kim Hughes, after a disappointing tour in 1981, was hardly the real deal for us as he was for his compatriots.

England won The Ashes again in 1985 and, though we had read of Dean Jones, we hadn’t seen him and we could, in pre-internet blissful ignorance, consider him merely another Dirk Wellham, a product of the self-proclaimed mythology of Australian cricket, the next disappointment from Down Under.

Then 1989.

An Ashes average of over 70 was only good enough for fourth on the list and he was about there in the storylines too, after the astonishing breakthrough of Stephen Waugh, the relentless accumulation of Mark Taylor and gruesome ruthlessness of Allan Border. But Jones scored 566 runs comprising two centuries and another three fifties, each innings featuring the elegance of the iron fist in velvet glove that reminded us of the younger Chappell. We saw exactly what the fuss was about.

At 28, he was but four years away from playing his final Test, but what a run of form he enjoyed – 32 matches, 2360 runs at 50 with eight centuries and nine fifties. He batted with an elegance and an unshakeable positive approach and, if he wasn’t quite as pleasing on the eye as Mark Waugh (who succeeded him as the aesthetes’ favourite), he was a purist’s delight  for sure.

Recalled in 1986 after a false start against the awesome West Indians, his monument will always be his first innings back in the Baggy Green. The fabled 210 in the tied Madras Test would never happen today – indeed, law suits may ensue if anyone got even close to Jones’ ordeal . With only the nutritional knowledge picked up on the grapevine (and electrolytes considered something dangerous to Superman and not essential to bodily function) Jones was in trouble at the crease, his body expelling what it could, the head swirling. His captain, Allan Border, goaded him to stay in the middle, noting that Jones was no Queenslander and, though he could barely stand, he could bat and did, adding another 36 runs to his score before he staggered from the field. Had he made one fewer, the match would have been lost. He won the Man of the Match award and the opportunity to drink for free in any bar in which an Australian sat for the rest of his life.

Jones played 21st century ODI cricket in the 20th, winning the World Cup in 1987, four of his seven centuries coming at a run a ball or better – seriously quick back then. He played 164 ODIs and, as with Test cricket, some would argue that he was dropped a little early, but a Golden Age of Australian cricket had dawned and Jones must have looked at some of the twentysomethings who couldn’t get in the XI and, by now a thirtysomething, expected the reverse nod.

His spiky personality, allied to a speed of mouth that sometimes spun him off the track and into the barriers, did not always fit well into dressing rooms in which some egos needed stroking rather than dismantling. Broadcasters loved it though, the wit and wisdom wrapped within an enthusiasm for the game and that indefinable quality that kept you listening because he might just fall off the highwire – sometimes he did.

But cricket fans loved him for it, and the fact that he was broadcasting until his final day showed that executives were prepared to take the rough with the smooth the deal Jones made all his life.

Nobody ever asked “Who’s that?” whether Dean Jones had a bat or a mic in his hand – and the world of cricket is diminished by the death of one of its singular characters, who will be much missed.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 21, 2020

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 21 September 2020

Ball One – “Breaking News”

This column does not do news, but if you haven’t tracked down the T20 Blast’s quarter-finals to be played on Thursday 1 October, here they are –

Notts Outlaws vs Leicestershire Foxes
Surrey vs Kent Spitfires
Gloucestershire vs Northamptonshire Steelbacks
Sussex Sharks vs Lancashire Lightning.

It may have been a busy weekend for sport – Premier League goalfests, Tour de France sensations and a man whose golf clubs sport cricket bat handles winning the US Open, but details of the summer game’s one and only limited overs domestic competition proved quite difficult to find on paper, online, on television or even on the radio, the medium that serves the game best.

County cricket’s millions of followers deserve better.

Ball Two – Sun sets on Somerset once again

Somerset wrote their usual hard luck story with exactly the kind of match that other sports’ administrators would love to manufacture, but cricket gets largely for free.

Local rivals Gloucestershire, seeking a home quarter-final, but also keen to stick one over the Bristol Channel, had restricted Lewis Gregory’s side to 105-5 with 33 balls left, but the skipper found a partner in Roelof van der Merwe and a defendable target of 162 was posted.

But if you want to beat Gloucestershire, you usually have to get Ian Cockbain out and Somerset didn’t do that until the 19th over, with 89 coming off his bat.

As David Lloyd would say “13 off the last over – where’s your money?” Benny Howell had struck 10 of them before Ollie Sale got him trying to hit the winning runs off the penultimate ball of the match. Tom Smith having raced to the striker’s end while the ball was in the air, smashed his one and only ball of the match over long on and another last ball thriller was in the book. Gloucestershire will wear the pyjamas at least once more and Somerset can swap theirs for whites and a trip to Lord’s this week.

Ball Three – The Bard’s county barred from Finals Day in Birmingham

Northamptonshire consigned Warwickshire’s season to the archives in a match that showed why 120 balls is better than 100.

After Ben Sanderson and Tom Taylor had reduced The Bears to 20-4, Adam Hose and Dan Mousley constructed a stand of 171, Hose run out off the last ball for 119. It was a beautifully judged partnership, reaching 75 at the halfway mark, but with the wickets in hand that allowed for the planned acceleration, 85 runs plundered from overs 12 to 17.

With the dismissal of the dangerous Paul Stirling clicking the scoreboard over to 53-5 after 7.2 overs, Warwickshire must have felt that the game was theirs to lose. But Rob Keogh and Tom Taylor (having a good match) kept Northants in the game and when you’re in this game, you always have a chance.

Cue Graeme White, a journeyman pro in at number 9, who decided to grab back the four sixes he had conceded off his bowling in the first five balls that he faced. A stiff 52 off 27 balls was collapsed to 10 off the last two overs and final one was not needed at all.

Okay, that’s not cricket on the operatic scale of a Test match, but who wouldn’t want to see that drama, those swings and arrows of outrageous fortune and an unlikely hero cheered in by his band of brothers? I venture that even women and children would get it…

“Excuse me. We’re looking for a Mr Vilas?”

Ball Four – Ackermann backs a man – himself

Colin Ackermann, a journeyman deluxe (if that isn’t a contradiction) led his Leicestershire side to victory over Nottinghamshire with the bat earlier in the week, and then delivered a match-turning over with the ball to defeat Lancashire to squeeze into the quarter-finals.

After Lanky’s spinners had strangled Leicestershire, Matt Parkinson, Liam Livingstone and Tom Hartley combining for 11-0-77-2, the home side were odds on – 43 required off the last five overs, but with nine juicy wickets in hand. Ackermann decided to get the job done himself, removing Steven Croft and Alex Davies, who had put on 74, off consecutive deliveries and adding Josh Bohannon two balls later.

The usually reliable Dane Vilas fell first ball to complete a hat-trick of ducks in his last three knocks and, amidst the scrambling for pads, boxes and focus, Rob Jones and Danny Lamb failed to find the boundary and Lancashire lost a match they felt they had under control for 35 overs by a yawning 22 runs.

Ball Five – Battle of Sexes won by Mr Wright

Sussex knocked the last nail into Essex’s defence of their title and secured a quarter-final slot with a comfortable win at Chelmsford.

An inexperienced home XI were anchored by Paul Walter’s 76, but wilted in the face of the left-arm pace of George Garton and Tymal Mills and the right arm nous of Ollie Robinson and Mitch Claydon. Roll in the experience of Danny Briggs, Ravi Bopara and David Wiese, and few captains will have more weaponry at his disposal than Luke Wright (even with Jofra Archer indisposed with the Rajasthan Royals).

If Sussex can generate the bat speed needed against Lancashire’s spinners and pace-off merchants at Hove, I’d have them installed as favourites for Finals Day.

Ball Six – The Blast was a blast

This column did not join in the calls for the regionalism of the Bob Willis Trophy to be imported into the 2021 County Championship, so it may be somewhat perverse to suggest that such a structure may work for next year’s T20 Blast (Hundred or no Hundred). But it’s not really, as the competitions have different histories, different purposes and a different finale.

Three groups of six whittled 18 teams to eight in 90 matches, enough to satisfy the beancounters (insofar as they can ever be satisfied), enough to smooth the impact of weather on the standings and enough to build a narrative with highs and lows and (maybe) highs again. Fans get their local derbies (home and away), young players get the opportunity to learn the skills of the game and apply them in match situations and the overseas stars get a block of time to play in, aiding continuity of selection.

Now if only the ECB could market this fan-friendly format and make it as easy as possible for the media to tell the story of the tournament, there’d be no need for… Well, you know the rest.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 15, 2020

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 15 September 2020

Ball One – Clarke’s numbers beginning to add up

With all sides having three matches left in the Blast, Nottinghamshire are the closest to securing a top two slot in a group and thus guaranteeing progress to the quarter-finals at, wait for it, the beginning of next month.

Joe Clarke, enjoying an excellent late season, is a man making hay while the sun shines, a pair of half-centuries ensuring an easy chase against Lancashire and a comfortable defence against Derbyshire. Of those batsmen with 250 runs in the Blast, Clarke has comfortably the highest average (65) and strike rate (188). Having spent longer than expected dealing in the soft currency of promise, he is now dealing in the hard currency of runs.

Ball Two – Roses match wilts after surprise team changes

Lancashire occupy the second automatic qualification spot after a curious Roses match in which Yorkshire had to draft in the kids having lost captain, David Willey, and three senior pros just before its start as a result of the Covid protocols. The surprise seemed to affect both sides, especially in the field, the wet ball and slippery outer making matters tricky – but the concentration of both sets of players did appear to be affected by the departures.

Graham Onions, retired now and doing a good, if unabashedly partisan, job with Sky’s mic in hand, remarked on an aspect of wicketkeeping that has long interested me. He spotted that Alex Davies, who effected two stumpings off Lancashire’s varied spin attack, rather than ease the hands back as the ball “melts” into the gloves, aggressively moved his weight into the ball, the bails swiped off with a flourish. You often see keepers “give” a little and take a baby step back as the ball arrives in the gloves, before moving the hands back towards the wickets for the stumping – perhaps the classical style. I’m not sure that technique is the best these days – with super slomo cameras making the line calls, those fractions of a second required by the back and forth really count.

Ball Three – Benny Howell gets in a shout for the old pros

In the Central Group, Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire have opened up a four point gap and will likely claim the two qualification by right knockout places and, perhaps, one of “best of the rest” slots, between them.

Gloucestershire lead the trio having won their match against Northamptonshire, the teams cleared to play after their Bob Willis Trophy match was covided off last week.

It was a couple of old pros who got the job done against Somerset, Ian Cockbain and Benny Howell getting the target above 200 having made 99 runs between them off 45 balls. The absence of most overseas players from 2020’s cricket may have spread the glitter more thinly than is usually the case, but many fans of the domestic game take great pleasure in seeing players like these two apply years of experience and local youngsters given the opportunities so often denied them by a star import. It’s an ill wind etc…

Ball Four – Stone rocks up for the Blast

Warwickshire defended 142 against Glamorgan and then chased 179 to beat Worcestershire, Sam Hain steering them home, the Bears hitting form at the right time.

Olly Stone picked up five wickets in those matches and 10 in his six Blast appearances to date. Whether he will ever be fit enough to secure the place in England’s phalanx of quicks his pace demands is debatable, but, like Tymal Mills and Billy Stanlake, his body may be better suited to four over bursts. He’ll always go for a few, as Isaac Newton worked out before Darren Stevens was playing, but he’ll take wickets too, as batsmen transfer weight, almost involuntarily, on to the back foot, the reward for the 90mph bowler.

Maybe we should not lament the lost quicks of cricket (there have always been a few, and some of us haven’t got over Mfuneko Ngam, who played his last cricket for South Africa in 2001 at the age of 21)  but instead celebrate the chance T20 gives for us to see the speedsters sowing their mayhem instead of telling tales of what might have been.

I’d keep an eye out too if Zak is batting just up the road

Ball Five – Crawley on the charge

“2020. What a glorious year that was” – says nobody: ever. Except Zak Crawley, whose undefeated 108 proved too much for Hampshire and gave him 420 runs for twice out in his last three matches at the Ageas Bowl. Kent sit second in the South Group on net run rate, with both Surrey and Sussex also having won four of their six completed matches.

The data driven journalist might now go to an app that analyses match-ups between bowlers and batsmen to assess the likely outcome of the fixtures to come, or, perhaps, study weather forecasts for signs of rain that might lead to no results. They might even look at the history between teams or players to see where the edge might lie. Good for them.

Me? I suggest that Zak Crawley’s name may well be on the Cup, and I wouldn’t bet against Kent getting to Finals Day and the breakthrough player of 2020 timing the the ball sweetly all the way from Edgbaston to Bournville. If it’s your time, even in this year of living fearfully, it’s your time.

Ball Six – Laurie Evans’ juggernaut defeats Essex

Surrey may have something to say about such unscientific nonsense after piling up 416 runs in two wins, the better of which was a last ball thriller at the home of the champions.

Essex, whose stumbling defence of their 2019 title looked like it might have been relaunched after Cameron Delport and Adam Wheater crossed 100 in the ninth over, were pegged back by spinners, 21 years old Dan Moriarty and 42 years old Gareth Batty, and then had their tail docked by Reece Topley’s left arm pace.

With the 20.20 to Chelmsford having failed to leave the carefully constructed platform, Surrey were pursuing a gettable 196. Laurie Evans’ 88 was the foundation on which they constructed the chase, but it took a last ball boundary from newish boy, Gus Atkinson, to get them over the line. It was a fine comeback from the young seamer whose first over had gone 4441Wd61lb – which just goes to show that if you can stay in the game, good things happen.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 10, 2020

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 9 September 2020

Ball One – Staying on the scene, the Essex machine

Ryan ten Doeschate is 40 years old and isn’t blasting the volume of runs he once did. But his experience is a handy insurance policy for a team that seldom needs one. Having shot out Middlesex for 138, Essex’s batsmen looked like they had squandered the good work of their bowlers at 44-4, but the old man of the side had other ideas.

He did not leave the crease for over two hours, during which the late middle order transformed a deficit of 94 runs into a lead of 89, Adam Wheater and Simon Harmer getting in at the other end. Cue Sam Cook and Aaron Beard to elbow their way past the old firm of Jamie Porter and Harmer to bag a combined 7-49 and yet another victory was chalked up.

Essex are through to the Bob final and it would be a brave man – or an overly-confident weather seer – who would bet against them.

Ball Two – Lammonby carries his bat to Lord’s

The only other county to have won four of their five matches, Somerset, will be Essex’s opponents in the final at HQ, but not without being made to work for their day in the slanting Autumnal sun by Worcestershire.

The difference between the sides was opener, Tom Lammonby, who, at 20, has made centuries in consecutive matches and also has a “carried his bat” against his name, a rare distinction that many players spend the length of his lifetime trying to achieve.

But another stat is perhaps more revealing of a talent that is probably the find of the tournament. Under pressure to win, Lammonby’s 107* in an innings of 193, represented 55% of his team runs and, just to underline how tricky scoring proved to be, no Worcestershire batsman beat Ben Cox’s 32 when the hosts set off in pursuit of their target. That was no cheap century and Lammonby is a name to watch.

After last year’s Champo showdown, Somerset and Essex will go again later this month.

Ball Three – Duckett lifts Nottinghamshire’s head above water

Despite Nottinghamshire failing to register their first win of the Bob in their match against Durham, they finished ahead of Leicestershire (who do have a victory) in the North Group by ten points – see Ball Six for my views on that anomaly. Given the state of red ball cricket at Trent Bridge recently, that constitutes progress.

If Notts are to be competitive in 2021’s championship, much will surely depend on their two centurions in this match, Joe Clarke and Ben Duckett.

Despite both men being under 26, they have racked up a scarcely believable 175 first class matches between them so they should be entering the prime of their careers. It’s nearly four years since Duckett played the last of his four Tests, in which he looked painfully raw, but not without talent. He has quietly constructed a very decent 2020 season and might just have the platform now to explore the potential that won him that call-up in Bangladesh and India.

Zak Crawley and Darren Stevens celebrate Kent’s win

Ball Four – DI Stevens solves cricket again

While the future of English batting was making a century at better than a run a ball, a man twice his age was earning himself another year’s contract with the SF Barnesian match figures of 49-23-72-9 in Kent’s win over Hampshire.

Darren Stevens isn’t quite old enough to have played with the man whose longevity and effectiveness surpasses even his own, but he was wobbling it a bit this way and a bit that way long before Zak Crawley was born. He has Michelles in three of the five Bob matches and finishes the group stage as the highest wicket taker (betting without Simon Harmer of course).

Just because we’ve got used to it doesn’t make it any less remarkable.

Ball Five – Bye Bye Belly

I’m not given to sentimentality (yes, I know, Scouser and all) but who didn’t feel a tear in the eye and a swelling of pride in our game when Glamorgan lined up to salute Ian Bell’s last innings in first class cricket and later, alongside Warwickshire, repeated the gesture to mark Jeff Evans’ last match as an umpire?

Some old school courtesies were always honoured as much in the breach as in their observation – walking the most obvious example – and, even today, the moral high ground is contested over running out players backing up yards down the pitch. But fans and fellow players recognise the game’s great servants and pay tribute with a quick and dignified guard of honour, before attempting to stick one up the batsman’s nose first ball.

Exactly how it should be.

Ball Six – A decent spell from the Bob Willis Trophy

The Bob has been a success. The players have given their all, with some new names and some old faces for fans to enjoy and an old truism proved again – there’s not much wrong with cricket that a bit of sunshine can’t cure.

Partly because it would be foolish not to learn lessons from a format foist upon the game and partly because administrators like nothing more than to tinker with the first class structure, the Bob’s backwash will have some impact on the four day cricket in 2021, Covid dominated or not.

I’d make three quick suggestions for any review.

(i) Simplify any points system, reduce the impact of bonus points and make tiebreak rules crystal clear at the start;

(ii) Consult county members and, if possible, the wider cricket community in any review;

(iii) Create a narrative that a casual (or semi-casual) cricket fan can follow – straightforward league tables and a system that ensures that a single sentence can summarises what’s at stake in any fixture.

 

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 1, 2020

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 31 August 2020

Last Monday in August

Ball One – T20 back in vogue

Shiny and new 17 years ago, when taxis would disgorge city types at The Oval to join the men and (yes, I know, because I was there) women and children in a blaze of music, lights and er… booze, Twenty20 was set to become passé in 2020. But the consummation of cricket’s troubled marriage with The Hundred has been put back a year and T20 has made it through the wilderness of Covid and cloud and is back! And, while this week’s fare may not been an immaculate collection of matches, it’s been good to see some old faces getting back into the groove and some new ones, playing for the very first time.

Ball Two – Lancashire beat Derbyshire at Headingley – Twenty20 in 2020

Nottinghamshire and Lancashire lead the North Group, each with five points from two wins and a washout.

My mother used to ask me “Who’s winning?” (a question The Hundred’s format will make harder to answer by the way). As long as the West Indies weren’t playing, I’d sigh and say, “Well…” and she’d mutter that it was a boring game and ask when it would be finished. I’d say, “Well…”… and that’s how we got a cuboid black and white portable television in 1976 or so.

Lancashire were winning their match against Derbyshire for 39 of its 40 overs (especially after Wayne Madsen injured his achilles attempting a ramp just when he had found his range on the drive). Cue Matt Critchley (a talented and resourceful cricketer who might captain his county or another quite soon) to go 6, 2, 4 off the first three deliveries of the last over, and just seven more were needed and Derbyshire were suddenly “winning”. But a leg bye that should probably have been refused, took him off strike and he was run out by Alex Davies’ bullseye (having a good night after 82 with the bat) and Lanky had their win by four runs – with squeakier bums than their superiority deserved.

Ball Three – Clarke writing a new chapter?

After Durham had made 181-3 in their 20 overs (losing only three wickets, are you leaving some runs on the field I wonder), Joe Clarke made short work of the target, his century including eight sixes and seven fours, as Notts cruised home. At 24, having had his seemingly inexorable rise to England’s senior squads derailed by the fallout from evidence presented in the trial of ex-team mate, Alex Hepburn (which led to Clarke serving a four match ban for bringing cricket into disrepute), he has little time to waste if he is to realise his potential as a cricketer.

Older, wiser and with the humility only a shock such as seeing one’s reputation shredded can bring, Clarke has a couple of important years ahead of him. For now, he can concentrate on rescuing Notts’ second consecutive dismal red ball season with a trip to Edgbaston for Finals Day.

Ball Four – Northants cash in on Stirling investment

Northamptonshire stole an early march in the Central Group after a couple of comfortable wins. Paul Stirling, playing as an overseas player so he can continue to turn out for his country, repaid the faith shown in him at Wantage Road with a fine display against Worcestershire. Having picked up a couple of wickets in conceded just 26 runs from his four overs, he teed off to score 80* as 125 target was obliterated with 29 balls to spare.

A few years ago, I used to claim that every T20 XI would evolve into a keeper and ten David Husseys who could bowl darts in at the toes and stand and deliver with bat in hand. It hasn’t quite worked out like that, but the Irishman is about the nearest to the template playing today – and it’s not a bad one.

Ball Five  – White ball princes party like it’s 2009

Sussex, by dint of recording the only win in the South Group, lead the table after a last over win vs Hampshire. It was Luke Wright who led his team home with 82, after Ravi Bopara had scuttled in to bowl his four overs for the concession of just a run a ball.

It’s six years since either man played T20 for England and both are 35 years of age, Ravi a little grizzled these days, but Luke retaining his boy band goofy grin. Each of them has racked up over 100 appearances for England and they could tell the inside story of a different first class match every morning for a year and not repeat themselves. If they’re picking up decent money as guns for hire in the T20 (and shorter!) formats leagues around the world, I wish them well – they’ve earned the right.

Ball Six – The knotty problem of keepers standing up or standing back produces two ties

Essex, Kent, Middlesex and Surrey slot in behind Sussex on two points earned in a tie and a washout apiece. The tie, once a rare and exotic beast, is now more commonplace, but just as much fun.

Ben Foakes, whose life in the England bubble has improved his batting no end, had led Surrey’s chase of 144, but perhaps the denouement should have been no surprise. The side that can’t win lost two wickets off the last two balls to Essex, the side that can’t lose, and the spoils were shared. Hats off to Foakes’ opposite number, Adam Wheater, whose take of a wide full ball from pacer Matt Quinn was a slick piece of keeping and deserved the stumping rather than run out that was recorded in the book against the last ball of the match.

Perhaps Wheater had been informed by John Simpson standing back to Tom Helm (understandably so – Helm is genuinely quick) as Kent looked for one run off the last three deliveries to beat Middlesex. After two dots, Jack Leaning scampered the bye to the keeper off the last ball (“scamper” is the only verb allowed in such circumstances) meaning Daniel Bell-Drummond and Zak Crawley’s opening stand of 89 in 6.5 overs did not return the victory it would do nine times out of ten. There are few more watchable opening pairs in the country than those two – if only we were allowed in to enjoy their work.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 26, 2020

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 25 August 2020

Ball One – Bartlett’s century bears fruit for cidermen

Somerset, six points clear at the top of the Central Group, prospered having rustled up a storm of their own to notch a win in quick time. George Bartlett and the Toms, Lammonby and Abell, scored undefeated tons, but the tempest came in the form of Craig Overton (9-51) and Josh Davey (7-46), who blew Gloucestershire away for 76 and 70 in just 73.5 overs. To collapse in both innings looks less like misfortune and more like carelessness, something that counties with little or nothing to play for in the final round of matches must guard against if the integrity of the competition is to be maintained.

Ball Two – Matt Milnes floors Surrey

In the South Group, Kent tucked in behind Essex (who can beat most opponents, but not the weather) with a late win over hapless Surrey at The Oval. After England’s hand sanitiser head honcho, Ben Foakes, had kept the home side in the game with a welcome century, Kent’s lower middle order proved as brittle in the second innings as they had been resilient in the first, the fourth innings target a gettable 192. But after Darren Stevens bagged the dangerous Laurie Evans for his fourth wicket, Matt Milnes preyed on winless Surrey’s lack of confidence and Kent had 17 runs in hand when the tenth wicket fell. Six points behind the leaders, Kent have Hampshire at home in the last group match with Essex hosting Middlesex – cue the clichés about abacuses and rain dances.

Ball Three – Murtagh kills off Sussex top order as Middlesex cruise home

Even with the Harmer and Porter combo to face, Middlesex may take some confidence from a fine win over Sussex at Radlett. Having conceded a first innings deficit of 90, Tim Murtagh did the Tim Murtagh thing, his three wickets reducing the visitors to 4-4, his eventual fivefer supported by Miguel Cummins’ and Martin Andersson’s two and three wickets apiece. There was still 63 to get when Andersson walked to the crease in the fourth innings, but he found the right partner in John Simpson, who’s seen it all before, and Middlesex were soon over the line with something to spare.

Ball Four – Marchant de Lange goes long, but Northamptonshire keep their heads

Two also-rans showed that they can still produce a fine game of cricket as Northamptonshire essentially won their match with Glamorgan twice over. They had the game done when Marchant de Lange walked out to have some fun at Number 10 with his team still in arrears, an innings defeat likely. He swung and connected, then swung and connected, got to three figures in 62 balls and the target was suddenly a tricky 189. It’s very easy to lose three or four quick wickets after brains have been scrambled like that, but the inexperienced pair of Emilio Gay and Charlie Thurston (backing up a first innings ton) showed admirable sang froid in getting Northants to the close just one down with a third of the job done. Gay was still there at the end, another couple of hours sufficient to confirm the points they felt they had earned some 24 hours or so earlier.

The original Bob

Ball Five – Batsman of the Bob

Ben Slater was loaned from Derbyshire to Nottinghamshire before that move was made permanent, but then, amidst the rubble of Nottinghamshire’s 2019 County Championship campaign, started the Bob on loan at Leicestershire, before being recalled to Notts, where the music has stopped and he’s now sitting comfortably. He started the season with 172 and 25, before a pair against old friends Derbyshire suggested that they had made the right decision in 2018. Recalled to Trent Bridge by his permanent employers, he must have been delighted to see the Lanky bowlers he had put to the sword a fortnight earlier line up for more punishment and he helped himself to 142. First and second round teammates, Leicestershire, occupied him for nearly five hours in the last round, 86 runs his bounty this time in a weather-affected draw.

At 28, Slater had more to fear than most as the truncated first class season got underway with dire warnings about county finances, but he got in and got on with it and is the leading run scorer in the Bob with just one round to play. Well batted.

Ball Six – Bowler of the Bob

Simon Harmer’s continuing excellence may be remarkable, but it’s also expected, so one looks one below him in the wickets table to find Craig Overton. The Somerset man has 23 wickets, supported by SF Barnesian stats: average 9.6; economy rate 1.9; and strike rate 30.

With twin Jamie off to Surrey (presumably on significantly improved terms) and finding himself down the pecking order for England, it might have been easy for Overton to sulk or, at minimum, coast at Taunton his gifts easily keeping him in the side without trying that hard. But they don’t really do that amongst the feisty perennial bridesmaids in the West Country and Overton has some handy runs to back up his bowling, as if to underline his point.

Somerset have five more Bob points than any of the other 17 counties, with the two group winners with most to progress to the Lord’s final. Can the county that has never flown the pennant become the one and only winners of the Bob Willis Trophy? Over to Overton.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 26, 2020

England vs Pakistan 2020 – The Report Cards

England

Rory Burns (20 runs at 5; 3 catches) – He was twice out LBW and twice caught in the cordon, which is not a good look against a new ball that is always going to shape in the air and deviate off the proud seam. After a series with no failures, a series with no successes. A fallible slipping technique did not help matters. Grade E.

Dom Sibley (98 runs at 25; 0 wickets; 3 catches) – In a tough series for openers, he twice batted two and a half hours to blunt the new ball and help set a platform. Grade B-.

Joe Root (94 runs at 31; 1 wicket at 42; 6 catches) – It will irk him as much as it does us that he gets the hard work done so often before he’s walking back to the pavilion with a “nothing” score. That said, his 42 contributed to the 96 on the scoreboard before handing over to Buttler and Woakes for their First Test chase to 277 – so that can count as “something”. For a man with the weaponry he can deploy in English conditions, he appears too sanguine about a drifting session of play. Shaking hands with 15 overs in hand, just two wickets from Yasir Shah and three Number 11s, was inexplicable with World Test Championship points at stake. Had Buttler and Woakes with the bat, and Ben Stokes with the ball, not rescued a losing position in the First Test, he might have faced more scrutiny about his captaincy. Grade C+.

Zak Crawley (320 runs at 160; 1 catch) –  Who expected the promise of July to deliver as soon as August? Balance is the key to his game, head, hands and feet instinctively in the right place at the right time for his array of attacking strokes. Roll in height and reach, allied to the surprisingly light footwork he uses to determine length to his taste, and England may have discovered the heir to Kevin Pietersen. He’ll have tougher days (especially as the analysts will be examining his game in minute detail) but the sky’s the limit for a batsman with his gifts.  Grade A+.

Ben Stokes (9 runs at 5; 2 wickets at 6; 2 catches) –  When Mohammad Rizwan was threatening to make a stiff target unreachable, an injured Ben Stokes (playing as a batsman) grabbed the ball and got him out, later adding a bunny to puff the stats a little. It was remarkable but also, somehow, expected. Compassionate leave opened up his spot for Zak Crawley – they’ll soon be batting together. Grade B+.

Ollie Pope (81 runs at 20) – Top scored in the first innings of the First Test, allowing England to retain a toehold in a match they were losing, but Yasir Shah’s box of tricks subsequently proved too much for a player still finding his feet at the highest level. Grade B.

Jos Buttler (265 runs at 88; 9 catches) – Those who supported their man through thick and thin were vindicated, but so too were those who claimed that he didn’t (then) have the technique for Test match batting. The small but significant tweaks we saw in the West Indies series – a modified forward trigger, the head going at the ball and not falling away, footwork more nimble, less leaden – paid off handsomely in two masterful innings of forbearance and character, one to win the First Test, the other to secure the series. On the other side of the wickets, we got the soft smiles of satisfaction that came with spectacular catching and a few scowls from bowlers as sitters were spilled. Still not the extraordinarily dominant player seen so often in white ball cricket, but a batsman who has finally found a method that works and used it to deliver game-changing innings. Grade A-.

Chris Woakes (143 runs at 72; 6 wickets at 28; 1 catch) – That he batted with such freedom to end a dry run might be expected – he has the talent and, five down with still 160 to get, what’s there to lose? But to get his team from “possibly” to “probably” to “definitely” with all the attendant pressures of a big fourth innings chase? That’s top class all-rounder work, not just a bowler who bats catching a lucky break.  Grade A.

Sam Curran (DNB; 1 wicket at 44) –  Knocked over a well set Abid Ali in the truncated Second Test in a generally tidy bowling display. Grade B.

Dom Bess (28 runs at 28; 3 wickets at 79) –  Is he the new Chris Schofield, whom Michael Atherton once snippily described as “A better batsman than he is a bowler.” A real competitor, trying so hard and aching to succeed, but is he the best spin option right now?  “Not even for Somerset”, is the rather damning reply, as his off-breaks were cut at will on a fifth day pitch. Grade D.

Jofra Archer (16 runs at 16; 4 wickets at 40) – He bowled very fast indeed at times with the infamous bouncer that disturbs – read hits – the very best batsmen when set on a flat deck. He doesn’t always get the wickets he deserves, but there’s no captain in the world who wouldn’t want him in their phalanx of rotating quicks. Grade B-.

Stuart Broad (51 runs at 26; 13 wickets at 16) – The infamous petulant/passionate (delete to taste) reaction to being dropped for the first Test of the summer has fired a five Tests long fit of fury that has seen the stumps targeted relentlessly (even when fielding). Did we ever doubt the 500 wickets man? We did, but not in this late “sitting on the top of off stump” incarnation that asks so many questions of batsmen that they inevitably just have to get some wrong. Grade A.

James Anderson (7 runs at 7; 11 wickets at 23) – Like a practised conjuror who shows you the Queen of Hearts then whisks it from sight only to produce it from your zipped inside jacket pocket, Anderson’s skills of misdirection allow him to produce the ball on sixth stump when you see it on off and on off stump when you felt it was almost wide enough to leave. How much more Test cricket is in him, time will tell, but it would be a brave selector indeed who can find three or four better options than the 600 man for the first Test of summer 2021. Grade A-.

Pakistan

Shan Masood (179 runs at 36; 0 wicket; 1 catch) – An outstanding 156 in the first innings of the series put his team ahead in a match they were winning for all but the last two hours or so. Thereafter, he struggled, as England’s wily old pair of pacers targeted his pads and swing and seam did the rest. Grade B.

Abid Ali (139 runs at 28) – His compact, orthodox style is a throwback to the pre-Sehwag, pre-Warner school of opening batsmen who get in and graft for their runs. Despite his modest returns, he batted over an hour in four innings of five in tough conditions, so he can be pleased with his work. Grade B.

Azhar Ali (210 runs at 53;  0 wicket) – The effigies were being readied as one of cricket’s gentlemen couldn’t buy a run and had failed to drive home a winning position as captain in the First Test. Then ,having toughed it out early on in the Third Test, he unfurled a sublime exhibition of subcontinental batting, solid defence punctuated by languid drives and controlled cuts and pulls that had this observer thinking of Zaheer Abbas. With the follow-on enforced, as the man in form, not out in the first dig and with eyes adjusted to the gloaming, he had the cojones to walk out in light so challenging that he did not, as it turned out, have to take guard. What mattered is that he was willing to do so for his team. His grace on the field and in interviews, under pressure, deep into weeks of lockdown, far from home, in miserable weather, does him, his country and cricket great honour. Grade A.

Babar Azam (195 runs at 49; 1 catch) –  He arrived with a reputation that marked him out as the successor to the great Younis Khan, who looked on, coach’s notebook in hand. In glimpses, you could see why, but batting in England is a hard road to travel and innings that promised to shape days merely shaped sessions.  Grade B+.

Asad Shafiq (67 runs at 13; 1 wicket at 24; 3 catches) –  The senior pro with plenty of experience in England, he never looked at ease and found ways of getting out that evidenced his lack of confidence. Grade D.

Shadab Khan (60 runs at 30; 2 wickets at 24; 2 catches) – A livewire in the field, a smile never far from his lips, he batted and bowled with plenty of confidence and showed enough to suggest that he might grow into a Ravindra Jadeja type player for Pakistan. Grade B.

Fawad Alam (21 runs at 11; 2 wickets at 23; 1 catch) – He infamously waited over a decade for another chance at Test cricket and promptly made a four ball duck. His esoteric face forward, bat raised stance, followed by a hop into a side on crouch as the bowler hits the crease, has delivered big runs in domestic cricket, but whether such a blizzard of movements can work at the highest level remains to be seen. Grade C.

Mohammad Rizwan (161 runs at 40; 5 catches, 1 stumping) – He seized the gloves from ex-skipper Sarfraz Ahmed (not a development met with universal acclaim) and it was easy to see why. An outstanding, if not flawless keeper, he batted with sound judgment and no little aggression and displayed that extra bit of vim all glovemen need. When he stumped Crawley to end his monumental innings, he celebrated, then led the charge of Pakistanis to congratulate the young Englishman – a wonderful moment in our game. Grade B+

Yasir Shah (63 runs at 16; 11 wickets at 33; 1 catch) –  The veteran turned his leg-break, hurried on his top spinner and threatened, even if the old one wasn’t quite there, to slip in the googly, all done with the bounce of his much missed predecessor, Abdul Qadir. The challenge of leading an inexperienced attack in English conditions proved a little too much in the end, but I shan’t be alone in hoping to see him open his box of tricks one more time in front of English crowds come the next tour Grade B.

Mohammad Abbas (6 runs at 2; 5 wickets at 36) –  Really? Five wickets? Every time you looked at the screen, he was wobbling one past a groping batsman like a Lancashire League pro hoping for a decent collection. But sometimes it’s like that – the ball hits the middle or fails to carry off the edge or misses the bat completely. Were he a little taller and a little quicker, he’d be his near namesake, Mohammad Asif, and he’d have 15 wickets and not five. Grade C+.

Shaheen Shah Afridi (14 runs at 5; 5 wickets at 52) –  He swung it into the pads, seamed it away towards the cordon and tried out the middle of the pitch with some sharpish short stuff, but, once the shine and hardness left the new ball, he looked like a 20 year old making his way in the game. Grade C.

Naseem Shah (5 runs at 2; 3 wickets at 69) – It was no hype! The kid has the most beautiful flowing action that can generate 90mph at will and possesses a heart that keeps him charging in and bowling fast. But he doesn’t yet know how to get batsmen out – how could he at 17? Grade C-.

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