Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 19, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 18 June 2018

Ball One – Kent annihilate Notts – but why?

What makes a good team a bad team for just one match? As Kent hammered Nottinghamshire in the eliminator to depose the reigning Royal London One Day Cup holders, there was much talk of Notts “not being on it”; “displaying low energy in the field”; “failing to play with their usual intensity”; and that old favourite “just a bad day at the office”. I’m wary of abstract explanations being deployed to excuse unexpectedly poor performance (or to explain unexpectedly strong performance), but this is what we usually get, the alternatives sounding either whingey (“The lads were tired after a tough couple of weeks”) or platitudinous (“We were beaten by the better side on the day”). But has anyone studied what causes such collective collapses in form and confidence, something that seems to affect all teams in all sports on occasion? With the data and metrics available and the mini-industry of sports psychology on which to call, perhaps we (and Notts fans in particular) deserve a bit more than the tired clichés when the wheels fall off so spectacularly?

Ball Two – Gary Ballance: Yorkshire cricketer

Gary Ballance’s England career is likely over and so too his short spell as Yorkshire captain, but one of life’s great challenges is to find what works for you. Perhaps anchoring the middle order for Yorkshire – and playing for the county with (dare I suggest) the most passionate of fans across all formats – is enough for the 28 year-old. And who are we to judge? Three balls after taking guard at Chelmsford, he looked at a scoreboard that read 45-4, but the Zimababwean born Tyke dug in (as Yorkies have done since Geoffrey’s mother was a young girl with an eye on the rhubarb patch) and got them up to 259-7. With Essex favourites to progress to the semi-final at the innings break, cue his successor as captain, Steve Patterson, whose 10-1-36-4 broke the back of the home side’s middle order. Essex don’t go down without a fight and it took two wickets from the gifted Matthew Fisher to snuff out the Neil Wagner’s late charge for the line. The IPL, even The 100, must look like a different world to the likes of Ballance and Patto, but they’re valued by many in England and loved by many in Yorkshire – and that’s not so bad is it?

Not that one…

Ball Three – Saying “Hi” to Heino.

Not satisfied with his ton in the eliminator, Heino Kuhn bagged himself another, this time against Worcestershire, to propel Kent to the final and send fans on a pilgrimage to Lord’s for the first time in years. The South African looked all at sea on tour in 2017, his outstanding record of runs at domestic level looking a little cheap, as his technique and confidence unravelled in the cauldron of Test cricket. Kent saw something, and it’s paying off handsomely, the overseas pro delivering like it’s the 70s or 80s. Perhaps growing up watching the likes of Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Richard Hadlee and countless others illuminate our game (you could see these legends up close and personal for about £1.20 entry at outgrounds back then) has inoculated me against complaints about Kolpaks and other overseas players. They raise standards, add a cosmopolitan dimension to our domestic game and go back to their own countries better players as a result (Zaheer Khan a prime example after a spell at Worcestershire). And, with 18 counties to play for, freedom of contract, England players absent for much of the season and a loan system in place, are young English players really being stymied by Heino and co? I’d suggest not.

Ball Four – White flag from White Rose – but with some mitigation

Hampshire beat a depleted Yorkshire XI to make it an all southern affair in the final at Lord’s. While Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, David Willey, Liam Plunkett and Adil Rashid were netting at Trent Bridge, James Vince and Liam Dawson (England players of 2017) scored 171 and took 4-47 in a comfortable win. It seems almost quaint now, but not so long ago, those five Yorkies would have played for their county on the Monday and their country on the Tuesday and nobody would have batted an eyelid. While those days are gone forever, would it not have been possible for England to have allowed (say) Willey and Root to play for Yorkshire and rotated a couple of squad players in for the ODI? The ECB hierarchy seem more willing to support IPL franchises with player releases than counties trying to win their own competitions

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

Darren Stevens will be the big human interest story come 30 June at Lord’s, the old warhorse creaking in, 42 years of age and still looking for glory, but mark another veteran, ten years his junior, who has had an up and down career and deserves his day in the sun. Joe Denly first played for England at the end of the 2009 season and last played before the start of 2010’s – which tells you all you need to know about his handful of international days. Now back at Kent after a spell at Middlesex that did neither party any good, Denly had a splendid season in 2017 and he’s backing it up in 2018. His bowling has progressed from partnership breaking legspin to something that gives him a claim for true all-rounder status. The return of a prodigal son whose talents were squandered or unappreciated away from home, is always a story to appeal to fans. Denly might not be playing for Kent at 42, but he’ll be there a few years yet I suspect.

Ball Six – Cursing the commentators.

To their credit, BBC local and online radio cover county cricket extensively and, in consequence, require a number of voices, often commentating from something of a Heath Robinson set up (or so it seems) with sightlines less than ideal. Some ex-players act as commentators (eg Don Topley) or summarisers, (eg Fabian Cowdrey and James Taylor at the Kent vs Nottinghamshire match) adding local flavour and an inside track on events. But how much value do we really get from (most) ex-players? Sometimes they might not know the stuff of which they speak – after all, performing a skill and understanding that performance are different matters. Sometimes they may be unwilling to break the old pros’ omerta – “What goes on in a dressing room, stays in a dressing room”. Sometimes they might not be able to express the full richness of their thoughts under pressure between deliveries – it’s a tough call calling a tight match. All understandable. But the best cricket radio I’ve heard in years was a half hour discussion between Isa Guha and Wasim Akram at the England vs Pakistan Test at Headingley, describing the action but also analysing bowling in a way that was informative and entertaining – and which could only have emerged between two people who had played the game at the highest level. So it can be done – and maybe we should expect more of it.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 13, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 12 June 2018

Ball One – Ravi runs riot

Essex, who know a bit about winning cricket matches, disposed of already qualified Kent to join Hampshire in the trio progressing from the South Group to the knockout stages of the Royal London One Day Cup. It was a fourth victory in a row for Ryan ten Doeschate’s men, the margin a very comfortable 153 runs. Ravi Bopara top scored for Essex with 125 and provided an interesting contrast with his opposite number, Darren Stevens. Few would describe the Kent all-rounder’s career as unfulfilled, indeed the plaudits will ring out when the 42 year-old finally hangs up his spikes. But that word – unfulfilled – is the adjective that comes to mind most often when Ravi’s name is mentioned. Yet Bopara has better numbers and has won more trophies than Stevens – and has well over a 100 appearances for England on which to look back in old age. Remarkably, a stat was unearthed this week that put Ravi seventh on the list of run scorers over the last ten years in all forms of the game – worldwide! So, “unfulfilled”? You decide.

Ball Two – Willey will bat higher won’t he?

Worcestershire, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire all won and all progressed from the North Group, a mean looking set of raiders with eyes on Lord’s. David Willey scored over 200 runs in two matches for the White Rose, and it gained him a promotion when back in England colours – all the way up to Number 8. Though the square-jawed son of the square-on Peter Willey is in decent form with the ball for his county, he’s probably seen as a batsman who bowls these days in domestic cricket but most definitely as a bowler who bats in the international game. That might not matter if Yorkshire and England keep winning (okay, I know, Bannockburn II last Sunday) but should England be getting more from Willey, a man ideally suited to the “dangerous floater” role to inject six overs of mayhem into an innings when required?

Ball Three – Renshaw a sure thing for Somerset

Though BBC Five Live’s sports news prior to The Tuffers and Vaughan Cricket Show gave us news of England’s Women’s ODI victory over SA and Scotland’s T20 defeat by Pakistan, of the county championship there was not a word. That won’t bother the decent crowds at Taunton this week, who saw a hard fought win over an obdurate Nottinghamshire send Somerset top of Division One. Asked to follow on, Steven Mullaney’s men scored 371 more runs to set the home side a tricky 248, which they got, four down. Australian Matt Renshaw top scoring in both innings and proving a more than adequate replacement for the banned Cameron Bancroft. Will the moment of madness in Cape Town be felt half a world away come September, with a first ever Championship?

Ball Four – Burns scorches to 500 runs

Surrey lurk just one point behind the pacesetters having swept aside Hampshire at the Rose Bowl. Opener, Rory Burns, is wearing the mantle of captaincy lightly (not always the case at Surrey). His 151 anchored the only innings his side needed, impressed Dale Steyn and won him the race to be the first to 500 runs in Division One. It’s hard to see what more he can do to impress the England selectors – perhaps a few pretty cover drives, like his opposing captain, out for 14 and 28 in this match. Amar Virdi showed that he had lost no rhythm after a month without first team cricket, with 3-23 in Hampshire’s second dig, the victims all internationals: James Vince, Sean Ervine and Kyle Abbott.

Ball Five – Essex defending the pennant with great heart

Essex, those southern not-softies, went to Manchester and returned with an easy win over a Lancashire side who were 59-5 in the first innings and 28-5 in the second. Fragile upper order or not, credit goes to the Essex attack led by the duo who were so instrumental in delivering the title last year. Jamie Porter (34.4 – 12 – 98 – 7) and Simon Harmer (33.3 – 9 – 69 – 7) are not a pair you want to run into when you’re searching for form. Just ask Haseeb Hameed, out for 5 and 4, with his heroics in India receding further and further into the past.

The majesty of The Bell

Ball Six – Bell chimes in with two tons

Warwickshire went 24 points clear at the top of Division Two with a forth win in succession after Glamorgan pushed them hard, four wickets the difference at the end. And who was most responsible Bear for this turn of events? Step forward Ian Bell, whose twin centuries had writers everywhere looking to avoid references to London buses – his previous one coming two years ago. Though he’ll always have something of a schoolboy’s mien that’ll cling to him as it clings to Alan Bennett (even in his 80s), Bell is 36 now but has three centuries red inked into the scorebooks in his last four knocks. If his appetite for batting (or rather, I suspect, the concentration batting big scores requires) is truly back, then the gate receipts will rise at Edgbaston and some of us will give a metaphorical nod in his direction, thanking him for The Ashes 2013 and plenty more.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 5, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 5 June 2018

Ball One – Bell turns back the clock as Warwickshire chase 300 with no alarms

Warwickshire joined Worcestershire at the top of the North Group, the Bears and the Pears enjoying a good competition. After Jeetan Patel’s men had allowed Durham to recover from 54-3 after 15 overs to set a target of 300, thanks to centuries from Michael Richardson and Will Smith, they knew that a decent batting effort away from home was required. Cue a stand of 202 in 35 overs from a couple of blokes of whom you may have heard – Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell. England’s Ashes hero of 2013 finished on 145 not out and, at 36 years of age, might be looking at an Indian Summer, if not a summer of India, now he has found a bit of form.

Ball Two – Fletcher’s sharpshooters see off Worcestershire with a 164 finish

Defending champions, Nottinghamshire, won twice to tuck into third place in the North Group and keep the prospect of a return trip to Lord’s alive. It was the bowlers again who impressed at Trent Bridge after Moeen Ali had taken four wickets for Worcestershire to bowl out the hosts for 202. But Luke Fletcher (who gets more mentions than most in this column) led the way with four wickets, and all six bowlers chipped in with at least one, the visitors falling well short on 164 all out. It’s batsmen who catch the eye and provide the spectacle in white ball cricket, but a balanced bowling attack with pace, bounce, dibbly-dobbling and spin delivered right and left arm is probably more useful than a couple of pyrotechnic batters over the course of a season.

Ball Three – K-C brings some sunshine to Yorkshire’s band of batters

Lancashire and Yorkshire go into the Roses match knowing that they have to win to stand a chance of progressing to the quarter-finals. Both sides have won their last two matches, so have a bit of momentum and, in Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Yorkshire have the form batsman in the competition. His 81 off 63 balls as Derbyshire failed to defend a target of 190 in 24 overs, gave him an average of 89 at a strike rate of nearly 110 in the competition, impressive numbers from the 23 year-old who could barely get a run for the Seconds in early season red ball cricket. With Yorkshire’s batting dire in the County Championship, will Kohler-Cadmore josbuttler his way into the top six later this month for the day-nighter at the Rose Bowl and, with just one day allocated  to wake up and travel 300 miles, the festival match at Scarborough? The cruel schedulers may well be doing Yorkshire’s squad players a favour.

Ball Four – DI Stevens solves the case of the missing Surrey tail

Kent scored over 700 runs in two matches this week to go second behind Hampshire in the South Group. South African, Heino Kuhn particularly enjoyed the tight little ground at Beckenham, scoring back to back centuries as Surrey (without the injured Virat Kohli, whose planned appearance in South East London might have put the club ground’s infrastructure under some pressure) and Gloucestershire were swept aside. But not every bowler was tonked around the suburbs – surely that’s not 42 years-old Darren Stevens ripping through the Surrey lower order with 6-24 is it? Yes it is.

Ball Five – Bits and pieces men to sweep up another trophy?

Essex slotted into third in the South Group with two comfortable chases delivering four points. After Jamie Porter had returned 4-29 in his 10 overs like it was 1975 (though he’d have bowled 12 in the Gillette Cup), Varun Chopra and Adam Wheater got them to within 11 of Glamorgan’s paltry total on their own. Sussex made them fight a little harder, but Wheater found an ally in Tom Westley and they got to half the 282 target in the 23rd over with Wheater the second man out – as it should have been, it was straightforward from there. Essex is largely a team built in the image of its captain, Ryan ten Doeschate, lacking the glamour of true star quality but packed with experience and bits and pieces (bits and pieces deluxe perhaps) men who can chip in and get the job done. If they make it out of the group, don’t be surprised to see them find a way to win three in a row and add a Royal London One Day Cup to last season’s Championship Pennant.

Ball Six – These days, how would The Major find out that “Surrey lost again Fawlty.”

Did you catch any cricket scores on news bulletins last week? Sure, the Test match was reported with a bit of detail and maybe an interview clip, but county cricket? Maybe if you went looking for it via the BBC online commentary service, or invested in a Sky Sports subscription or knew which websites to visit, but county cricket has largely disappeared from mainstream national media (though local media may still cover it). These are editorial decisions and, I would suggest, unfair if based on traditional criteria of newsworthiness. But cricket cannot build the “Team GB” narrative so beloved of the BBC, nor can it provide heartwarming participation stories as the London Marathon and similar events do – and, of course, it has no “stars”. I don’t deny that county cricket presents challenges for non-specialist media, but if domestic rugby league – both a niche and regional sport – can carve out its place at national level, surely county cricket can too? Good luck with finding out the qualifiers from the RLODC group stages this week.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 28, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 29 May 2018

Ball One – Who’s winning? Lancashire – right up until the moment they lost

The Royal London One Day Cup North Group table is beginning to take on a shape and it’s something of a surprising one. Worcestershire lead it with three wins from four matches, the latest over Lancashire. In a match reduced to 48 overs per side, one could argue that the visitors were winning it for all but the last three balls (I understand that one of the supposed benefits of The 100 is a more straightforward answer to the question, “Who’s winning?”- good luck with that one). But Darryl Mitchell had anchored the chase with an old school 102* off 118 balls (breaking a run of poor form) and had put on 58 for the seventh wicket with Ed Barnard and, bolstered by a couple of boundaries and a wide in that last over, 104 for the eighth wicket with skipper, Joe Leach, to see Worcestershire home. Mitchell, Barnard and Leach are not the kind of cricketers who will appear on posters for the T20 Blast or The 100, but, having spent the week watching England’s abject display at Lord’s, I’m happy to confirm that they’re the kind of cricketers I like to watch.

Ball Two – Lancashire’s loss is Derbyshire’s gain as Luis Reece comes good

Derbyshire share the same record as Worcestershire, rounding out an unlikely pairing at the top of the table. It was a particularly good week for Luis Reece who backed up his 9-0-43-2 and 92 in a tight win over Durham, with 7-0-37-3 in another squeeker, this time over Leicestershire. Reece had looked like The Next Big Thing for Lancashire when he broke into the side in 2013, an opening batsman who could bowl a bit – one of those with a game that reminded me of those many League type pros who have worn the Red Rose over the last 150 years. His career stalled, he dropped off scorecards and it took a 2016 move to nearby Derbyshire to revive his fortunes. Like many of the cricketers highlighted in this column, Reece is probably a notch below international level but, still only 27, his resourcefulness is ideally suited to the county game. And there is, despite the naysayers’ relentless tinkering that devalues domestic competitions, nothing wrong with that.  .

Ball Three – Nottinghamshire bring in the heavy artillery to top 400

Nottinghamshire became the first team to pile up 400 runs in an RLODC innings this season, finishing on 409-7 against Leicestershire, who also gave it a go, but fell 93 runs short. After Riki Wessels and Tom Moores had each biffed 76 with 17 fours and six sixes between them, Samit Patel gave us another reminder of his, er, huge talent with a round 100 off 63 balls (10-0-52-2 wasn’t bad with the ball either). But that’s the kind of output you get from Samit, his ODI figures backing up his obvious class (482 runs at 32.1 and a strike rate of 93.2 with the bat; 24 wickets at an economy rate of 5.5 with the ball, all done before the “No Fear” era of England white ball cricket, his last match some five years in the past now). But Samit is a classic example of the need to avoid the glass-half-empty perspective – we should not lament his slightly underwhelming 60 appearances for England but celebrate his 16 years and counting at Trent Bridge.

Ball Four – Joe Weatherley blown off course in the 50th over

Hampshire lead the South Group table by a single point, but it could have been three were it not for a remarkable final over from Kiwi speedster, Matt Henry. Joe Weatherley had batted beautifully to register a maiden senior century and, with four to get off the last six balls, the bat was strongly favoured over the ball. Four dots later, he could only get a single from the fifth delivery and Lewis McManus, new to the crease, could not score the boundary required off the last ball. One feels for the 21 year-old who had been in the middle for 35 overs and just celebrated the milestone, but there is nothing more important in the 50th over of a chase, with bat or ball in hand, than a clear mind and a clear plan. Henry and his captain, Joe Denly can reflect on a job well done for Kent, but Weatherley will be back and all the better for the experience.

Ball Five – Lewis Gregory not underselling his all-rounders

Somerset went level on points with Middlesex just one behind Hampshire with a victory that showed the benefit of having bowling options available for the captain. Lewis Gregory, having opened the bowling himself, whistled up five teammates to have a go and they all chipped in with at least one wicket and none were collared, Jamie Overton’s economy rate of 7.0 the most expensive. Gregory had the luxury of ignoring his seventh bowler, Johann Myburgh’s handy off-breaks not required. In the era of batsmen-wicketkeepers, many of whom have grown up with a licence to tee off, some teams have as many as three in their line-up – and see Ball Three above for Riki Wessels’ effectiveness on the biff. That said, captains must be wary of squeezing their bowling options, six surely being a minimum in the 50 overs format.

Unsurprisingly, not closed for business on the May Bank Holiday

Ball Six – Cricket? So you want to see some cricket do you?

It’s a Bank Holiday Monday and the weather is fine in London and elsewhere too. Just the day that might lend itself to a few hours watching the cricket, perhaps at an outground with a festival atmosphere and a glass of Pimms in hand. But there’s no cricket to watch – anywhere. Thanks for that ECB.


Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 22, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 22 May 2018

A man who knows how to build a narrative signals a wide

Ball One – À bientôt County Championship: hello Royal London One Day Cup

Elsewhere, I review theatre and, inevitably, the worlds of cricket and stage occasionally overlap. To succeed, both need to engage their audiences with performers displaying technical excellence in welcoming venues; provide exciting peaks of dramatic tension or bake slow burn thrillers to perfection; and tell us something about the world we live in – and ourselves. So far, so good for cricket and theatre, but which playwright would spend five acts constructing a complex, multifaceted narrative, only to abandon it in favour of another starting from scratch (and, soon, yet another)? It’s not just no other sport that does such a thing with the warp and weft of its unfolding plot, it’s no other business with a public to please.

Ball Two – Alex Davies has little of Jos Buttler but more than a touch of Jack Russell and Eoin Morgan

While one Lancashire (well, perhaps “Lancashire” might be more accurate) wicketkeeper prepares to play as a specialist batsman for England, another played as a specialist batsman for his county. Alex Davies fits more recognisably into the tradition of glovemen with bat in hand than Jos Buttler, the local lad is short and slight of stature, with something of a right-handed Jack Russell about his batting, squirting the ball into odd places, moving around the crease on quick feet to slash and pull with a horizontal bat. Having made Lancashire’s second highest individual score in their List A history (and that history includes some very famous names indeed), might Davies develop the kind of game that would most closely replace Eoin Morgan, like-for-like, in England’s 50 overs team when the captain calls it a day?

Ball Three – Hildreth enjoying a smashing season

Somerset hammered Surrey at The Oval – surely that was a bad day at the office for Rory Burns’ men, rather than a true indication of form for the 2015, 2016 and 2017 finalists – then backed up the win with another two points at home. The form batsman in the country was barely needed on a well-attended Surrey Schools Day riddled with schoolboy errors (pace Richie). Two days later, James Hildreth biffed a career-best 159 (with 13 fours and eight sixes) as Somerset cruised home beating Glamorgan by 83 runs. In the era of the international franchise circuses, guns for hire and inter-county loans, one club men like Hildreth are an endangered species – perhaps they’ll be even more treasured as a result.

Ball Four – The Strange Case of Steven Finn

What has happened to Steven Finn? In four matches do far this month, he has just the one wicket – this from a man whose strike rate in Tests was once up there with the greats? Unlike five of his Middlesex team mates, he went wicketless as Kent fell 70 runs and six overs short of their target at Radlett. Finn would have enjoyed the win as captain of his team, but he must wonder where he’s going as a cricketer – it’s a real shame for a talented and likeable man, his career blighted by injuries, losses of form and a seemingly fragile confidence.

Ball Five – Crane lifting himself back into England frame after tricky winter

Was that really Mason Crane on television bowling like Yasir Shah? The gawky kid who earned lots of praise, but few wickets in his one Test in Australia, appeared to have transformed himself into a man, looking older in the face and stronger in the body after recuperating from a stress fracture in the back. He bowled with a man-about-town’s swagger too, the ball that drifted into Ben Foakes to draw him forward and slightly over-balancing to leg, before ripping past the outside edge for a regulation stumping, was a thing of extreme beauty. The Hampshire man may prove to be another Danny Briggs, but his spell of 3-45 suggests that his game is built on stronger foundations than his Hampshire and England predecessor.

Ball Six – England Watch

It was a surprise to discover that Warwickshire’s Sam Hain is not yet 23. He seems to have been around for years – and, with well over 100 matches under his belt, he has – a once youthful record-breaker, whose championship form followed a similar trajectory to that of his (relegated) county in 2017. The white ball must be a little easier for Hain to sight, as its appearance has provoked two centuries in two matches, the latter undefeated in a successful chase at Headingley. The Aussie raised batsman is entering a crucial couple of years for his England ambitions, as he is no longer the brightest and youngest batsman looking to catch the selectors’ eye, but a summer debut in 50 overs cricket, playing against an old Aus Under-19 team mate in Ashton Agar, might be just what’s required to move to the next level.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 15, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 15 May 2018

Ball One – Lancashire’s opening bowlers see off Nottinghamshire, and Old Father Time

Nottinghamshire ran into the oldest swingers in town, as Jimmy Anderson and Graham Onions shared 15 wickets to register a first notch in Lancashire’s win column. Both will be 36 years of age before the season is out, but as the aches and pains pile up in the body, so too does the nous in the brain. Onions might still be playing for England, were it not for the injuries that blighted a career that barely got started before it was curtailed – and he should still be playing for Durham, but, understandably, he joined the exodus, albeit a year later than some, after the crash of 2016. Onions’ beautifully balanced run up has been praised by Michael Holding – who knows a bit about that sort of thing – and he’s never been less that a delight to watch going about his work exactly as Northern seamers should. Seeing two master-craftsmen in tandem must be a thrill for Red Rose fans – but will it happen again this season? Lancashire climb into the mid-table mire, while Notts stay top.

Ball Two – South London teenagers beat up out-of-towners in Kennington

Surrey flogged 20 wickets out of the Oval square in smashing a strong Yorkshire side by an innings well inside three days playing time. That’s the kind of result that catches the eye of an England captain – though, since Joe Root was in the middle for much of the match, he could hardly have missed it. That said, missing the ball got him out twice, LBW to Sam Curran for 14 and bowled through the gate by Amar Virdi for 23. The current pride of English batsmanship dismissed twice by teenagers in the same match? It can’t have happened too many times in the past. On first sight of a schoolboy Sam Curran’s skiddy pace and swing, delivered left-arm and supplemented by handy batting, I said that I’ve never been more certain that I was watching a future England player – good judges told me something similar about Virdi last season too.

Ball Three – Peter Siddle takes his leave with a win

Essex bounced back from last week’s defeat with a win over rock bottom Worcestershire in one of those low scoring matches in which something always seems to be happening. For once, it wasn’t Jamie Porter in tandem with Simon Harmer in sharing ten second innings wickets evenly, but Aussie, Peter Siddle, who signed off his county cricket stint with a fivefer. The wholehearted Victorian is 33 now and it’ll take an unexpected turn of events in Australian cricket to see him back in the Baggy Green – but stranger, far stranger, things have happened. He has a few years left in his boots, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him follow fellow quick and vegan, Jason Gillespie, and go into coaching when he does.

Ball Four – Rhodes takes the road south to success

Warwickshire opened up a 15 points gap at the top of Division Two with what eventually proved to be a comfortable win over Northamptonshire. But there are few gifts these days, even in Division Two, as Steven Crook and Doug Bracewell put on 122 for the eighth wicket in Northants’ first innings and Tim Ambrose and Henry Brookes cobbled together 95 for the ninth wicket in the Bears’ reply. In the fourth innings chase, it still needed an undefeated stand of 86 between youngsters Will Rhodes and Matt Lamb to bring the win home in the Midlands battle, the match finishing with Warwickshire 180-4. Rhodes moved from Yorkshire to get more cricket and a round 100 not out opening is a pretty good vindication of that decision. Given the fragility of Yorkshire’s batting, they might want him back when his two years contract at Edgbaston expires.

Ball Five – All killer, no filler in Grace Road thriller

At various times in the scorecard read –

Leicestershire 67-6

Leicestershire 191, Glamorgan 90-1

Leicestershire 191, Glamorgan 178, Leicestershire 127-2

Leicestershire 191, Glamorgan 178, Leicestershire 158-7

Leicestershire 191, Glamorgan 178, Leicestershire 237, Glamorgan 139-8

Leicestershire 191, Glamorgan 178, Leicestershire 237, Glamorgan 247-9

Marchant de Lange’s 5 fours and 8 sixes got the Welshmen to within a blow of a victory, but the South African quick was caught on the boundary going for glory and the home side won by three runs.

Here’s some of what Paul Nixon, “The Badger” now installed as coach at Leicestershire, had to say.

“”It was an unbelievable game of cricket, absolutely extraordinary. The fight shown by both sides, it swung one way and the other from the first day on. I’m almost speechless. Championship cricket is the truest test, physically and mentally, and to come out on top at the end, there’s nothing like it.”

After a few months in which red ball cricket appears to be undergoing a slow motion nervous breakdown, a County Championship Division Two match retains the power to render the garrulous Nixon speechless – well, almost. Keep saying it Nico – and it might be useful if others (who should know better) could talk the game up a bit too.

Ball Six – England Watch

James Hildreth – left out in the cold again

There’s always been a reason not to pick James Hildreth for England: his numbers are too “Taunton”; his time has passed; there’s another whose form is just that bit better. He could be forgiven for believing that the main reason James Hildreth doesn’t get picked is that he’s “James Hildreth, Somerset (and not England)”, and that’s just the way things are. His second century of the season, a daddy 184, was supported by 80 from Craig Overton and 92 from Dom Bess (like Theresa May, cruelly hiding at Number 10) proved enough to lift Somerset above 500. Hampshire, 275 behind, needed some big knocks to save the game and they got them, with a century for Hashim Amla and a double from James Vince (England’s latest Number Three) proving the Curse of Hildreth once again.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 8, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 8 May 2018

Ball One – Nottinghamshire get Amla eventually – and get the win to go top

Nottinghamshire’s third win of the season puts them 17 points clear at the top of Division One, as they seek to “do an Essex” popping out of Division Two and going straight through Division One until the champagne corks fly in September. At Trent Bridge, Steve Mullaney’s men took a simple route to victory – score 300-odd twice yourselves and bowl the opposition out for 200-odd twice in return. Though Samit Patel chipped in with four Hampshire wickets, it was Notts’ four tall seamers who again proved the difference, Stuart Broad grabbing the lion’s share this week with six scalps. Conceding 66 and 112 to Hashim Amla (last man out in the second innings) but still winning by over 200 runs, is the mark of a side with significant weaponry in its bowling arsenal – and one that’ll take a bit of stopping.

Ball Two – Chat about Parkinson grows at Lancashire

Somerset, with a game in hand, lead the chasing pack after a late scare at Old Trafford. Centuries from Marcus Trescothick and George Bartlett (134 runs and 22 years between them) had apparently taken the home win out of the equation, but Dane Vilas bagged another of the daddy hundreds in which he specialises (a daddy double this time with 235*) before blond leg-spin protege (and they’ve seen them before at Old Trafford) Matt Parkinson got among the visitors second time round and an evening run chase loomed. A career best 66 from Jack Leach supported by Tim Groenewald old-proing it to 36 in 90 minutes at the other end, saw off that possibility and hands were shaken in the slanting sunlight. Parkinson finished with a fivefer and Trescothick a broken foot – padded up and ready to do his bit to save his team if required at 11. Let’s hope we see him padded up for Somerset again soon.

Ball Three – Budding talent, Harry Brook, blooms for Yorkshire

It was England’s winter sport that was once described as “A Funny Old Game”, but its summer counterpart might be funnier still. On Friday morning, I heard Essex old boy, Don Topley, struggle to describe one Yorkshire wicket before the next one fell, whilst maintaining a semblance of BBC impartiality – and I didn’t blame him. The White Rose was trampled underfoot in just over 100 balls – the hipsters – for 50 and surely en route to join the long list of counties vanquished at Chelmsford over the last couple of years. But, at the end of the day (I hope you’re keeping count of the clichés), things looked rather different, the Tykes having sorted out the home side’s batting and promoted Jonny Bairstow to Sehwag away the start of the second dig for 50 off 44 balls. The champions were 69 behind at the close of one of the more extraordinary three sessions of championship cricket and wondering what had happened. Well, Harry Brook and Steve Patterson is what happened next, the England Under-19 captain outshining the England seniors captain with 124 and the old warhorse, Patto, chugging in to take a career-best 6-40. If Andrew Strauss thinks women and children can’t understand T20, good luck explaining this one.

Weighell  – the big cheese for Durham

Ball Four – Weighell on a roll

And that match may not have been the most remarkable of the week! After four Leicestershire batsmen helped themselves to 70s, Durham found themselves invited to follow on, 256 behind. But, with Aiden Markram avoiding an “Audi” (he had registered three consecutive 0s so far in his county career), the home side were 10 ahead at Chester-le-Street with only one down and toying with bowlers who had 140 overs in their legs. Though Gavin Griffiths gutsy 6-49 pulled the visitors back into the match, a target of 148 in the fourth innings was exactly the kind that sparks a nervous collapse. Chris Rushworth did his thing in nipping out a couple early on, but the it was James Weighell who dismissed key batsman, Mark Cosgrove, the first of a career best 7-32 for the seamer. The follow on is always tempting for a captain, but he should consider how his bowlers will feel two sessions into the second innings – he’ll probably refuse to enforce if he answers that question honestly.

Ball Five – Brookes keeps Warwickshire on stream for promotion

Warwickshire lead Division Two after disposing of Derbyshire at Edgbaston. Though Jeetan Patel used his usual combination of spin and nous to garner ten wickets – what a fine bowler he is – another product of England’s Under-19 set up, Henry Brookes (it feels like there are more versions of “brooks” in county cricket these days than there are in the Lake District) caught the eye with 4-63 and 4-56, not bad as a stand-in for the injured Olly Stone. Though Warwickshire might struggle to get Brookes and Stone into the same XI, even if both are fully fit, it would be good to see them operating in tandem, working out some of the old lags who’ve seen a few young tearaways in their time. And I hope they’re listening to the likes of Chris Wright and Keith Barker, who know a bit about bowling in England – the headphones can be set to one side for a while.

Ball Six – England Watch

It is a strange alchemy that works to transform promise at domestic level into achievement at international level, and there is no better example than this quote from Joe Clarke’s Cricinfo profile: “(He) expressed the ambition to follow new caps such as Haseeb Hameed and Ben Duckett into the England side.” Things haven’t worked out for those young guns, indeed neither can buy a run at the moment, so will Clarke write his name more permanently into England’s batting order? His 157 at The Oval (yes, I know, The Oval, where exactly 28 years ago I was there for Clinton’s Match,  so there are runs to be had) wasn’t the top score – step forward Rory Burns, impressing again with a captain’s knock of 193 – but Clarke is delivering on a couple of objectives that selectors like to see. He is improving as challenges present themselves (a decent North vs South series in March and now runs in Division One) and he is batting time, his century spread over nearly six hours. Much the same sort of case could be made for the Surrey skipper, six years older with almost twice as many first class matches, but Clarke might just be the right man at the right time with a feeling abroad that Ed Smith needs to be bold. And if Clarke swivel pulls his first ball in Test cricket for four, we can start to dream.



Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 1, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 1 May 2018

Wrong all-rounder named TE Bailey, but a nice photo

Ball One – Fletcher and Ball arrow in on top spot

Nottinghamshire sit atop Division One after a second win of the season, blowing away Worcestershire by an innings at New Road. Four tall pacers proved too much for Joe Leach’s men, who surrendered their 20 wickets in just 65 overs – it might be a long season for the winless Pears. Stuart Broad and Harry Gurney did their bit,  but credit also goes to a couple of comeback kids: Luke Fletcher and Jake Ball. Fletcher spent the second half of the 2017 season wondering if he would play again after being hit hard on the head by a Sam Hain drive, filling in his rehab time doing media work, demonstrating that his reputation as a good egg is well earned. Jake Ball had been dreaming of Ashes glory, but looked intimidated and broken after a disastrous First Test in Brisbane and had but a single ODI after that on a long and difficult tour. Each got a “Michelle” in this match – and another boost to confidence.

Ball Two – Renshaw roughs up Yorkshire bowlers

Somerset sit second with two wins from two, Yorkshire vanquished after getting themselves too far behind in the game in a dismal first innings of 96 all out. The most impressive Tyke on show did not wear the White Rose (as he does not wear the three lions) – Baggy Green man Matt Renshaw. The opener has smoothly stepped into the shoes vacated by Cameron Bancroft and found his technically correct, slightly old-fashioned game ideally suited to April in Taunton (which, to be fair, probably feels like July in his birthplace, Middlesbrough). It’s an ill-wind that blows nobody any good, with Renshaw likely to reclaim his Test spot and Somerset the beneficiaries of his back-to-back centuries. As an aside, wouldn’t it be great to see Steven Smith play some county cricket this summer, perhaps using his fee to sponsor some young Afghan cricketers making their way in the game?

Ball Three – Surrey park the bus at Old Trafford

Surrey, taking their cue from the captain, Rory Burns who made 33 in nearly three hours, batted out the final day to force the draw, six down, after following on in Manchester. Lancashire’s card had a curious upside-down quality to it, with the all-rounders and bowlers-who-bat getting them up from 128-5 to 439-9, when the declaration came on the dismissal of Tom Bailey for a career-best 66. He added eight wickets in a personally impressive match, but Surrey’s young team (including two teenagers in Sam Curran and Amar Virdi and two 20 year olds in Ryan Patel and Ollie Pope – all England qualified) held out in a match in which a draw was the best they could hope for, but from which they will take the greater satisfaction.

Ball Four – Essex fail to forge ahead despite the hats

Peter Siddle showed what he thought of the Spring weather by donning a woolly hat to bowl, as just 16 wickets fell in the 180 overs possible as the elements had their say at Hampshire’s Rose Bowl. Hashim Amla and Alastair Cook – 21000 Test runs between them – both registered half centuries, while Ravi Bopara, who is still only 32, spent 50 overs making 84 not out. Essex are yet to lose in their title defence, but, with rain having ruined two of their three matches to date, they’ll be hoping for a little of the home comforts come Friday against Yorkshire.

Ball Five – Just you wait Ryan Higgins – for a second win for Gloucestershire

Things are tighter in Division Two with six of the ten teams boasting one win after three draws and a total washout this week. One of those tremendously exciting (yes, red ball cricket can be tremendously exciting) low scoring matches was poised for a fascinating final day when the rain arrived at Hove, Sussex needing four wickets and Gloucestershire 59 runs. Ryan Higgins was the pick of the bowlers, with match figures of 32 – 9 – 86 – 8 for his new county, having moved to Bristol at the end of 2017. How Middlesex must rue that decision now the luckless Toby Roland-Jones, their ace card bowler who bats, is out for the season.

Ball Six – England watch

Some numbers. 4, 24, 0 and 29. 75, 12, 6, 33 and 47. 5. 0, 82, 11 and 19. 17, 49 and 0. 2, 24 and 15. 3, 19, 8, 1 and 4. 6, 9, 0 and 12. These are the scores made this season by Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Dawid Malan, Gary Ballance, Tom Westley, Keaton Jennings, Haseeb Hameed and Ben Duckett, all of whom have played Test matches for England within the last couple of years. Who would want to be Ed Smith just now (apart from Ed Smith, obviously)?

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | April 24, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 23 April 2018

Wrong Virdi – right beard.

Ball One – Porter carries Essex to first win in their defence of the pennant

Essex won ten of their 14 Division One matches last year and six of 16 in their promotion season (2016), so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see them win again after the last week’s Headingley bogout. But, at 94-7 just after lunch against fancied Lancashire, the Chelmsford faithful must have been wondering. A winning mentality can be as infectious as a losing one, and, even by the end of that first day, the champions were probably favourites. There were handy contributions from Simon Harmer and James Foster, but Jamie Porter’s nine wickets got the home side back into the match and then finished off the visitors’ resistance, as the fourth innings target loomed closer and closer. Porter fits the description of a late developer and, were he a spin bowler, he’d probably be ascribed plenty of nous, though, for seamers, that usually just means “lost his nip”. One thing is for sure – Porter knows how to win cricket matches – and England could do with a bit of that kind of knowledge just now.

Ball Two – Yorkshire mining a rich seam of pacers

There are few places where winning cricket matches matters more to the locals than Yorkshire, so there’ll be smiles around Headingley as the Tykes red ball players took their leave of HQ until late August. Quite a contrast with a week ago when not a ball was bowled and supporters were miffed about Liam Plunkett and David Willey jumping ship at the last minute for the ocean of cash that is the IPL. But, no matter, Ben “Betsy” Coad backed up 2017’s breakthrough season by snaring ten wickets as Nottinghamshire were swept aside by a possibly unexpectedly comfortable 164 runs. Competition is fierce for places in the White Rose attack, with Josh Shaw (at 22, a couple of years younger than Coad) having a run in this match and perhaps the most promising of them all, 20 year old Matthew Fisher, still awaiting his chance. As might Plunkett and Willey once home again.

Ball Three – Hampshire dance to Virdi’s tune

After Ollie Pope had scored the second century of his nascent career (both against Hampshire), Amar Virdi, still a teenager, faced the classic challenge for a spinner – could he lead the attack in their objective of taking ten fourth innings wickets with all the time in the world and 400+ runs in the bank? He must have slept well after dismissing James Vince and Hashim Amla late on Day Three and he completed a quartet of international victims with Rilee Rossouw and Kyle Abbott in his impressive bag of 33-7-79-4. Credit too to Sam Northeast, who showed an all too rare concentration to bat nearly six hours, only falling after tea, last man out for 129 as the match went the distance.

Ball Four – Trescothick and Hildreth provide some stability in changing times

For about 20 overs in Somerset’s second innings, the Taunton faithful watched Marcus Trescothick bat with James Hildreth as they have done for some 14 years – not many sports offer that kind of continuity to a club’s supporters for all the 100 balls balls hogging the headlines. Hildreth’s 40th first class century for his county (only Viv Richards, Harold Gimblett and Tres are ahead of him on that list) was not merely for old times’ sake, as it set up a win inside three days over Worcestershire, for whom Ed Barnard made 95 runs for once out and took 11 wickets to boot. One down, 13 to go, but if those two old warhorses can lead Somerset to the holy grail of a first Championship, there won’t be a dry eye in the house. And I’m not just talking about the West Country.

Ball Five – Derbyshire break hoodoo with home win at last

Derbyshire win at home for the first time since 2014! Some might view that statement with a jaundiced eye, pointing to the fact that overseas guns for hire, Ravi Rampaul, Hardus Viljoen and Duanne Olivier bowled 111.4 of 168.4 overs, taking 14 Middlesex wickets. That said, openers Chesterfield born Ben Slater and Lancashire Academy product, Luis Reece, put on 219 before they were separated in the second innings, the lead then an already commanding 317. Reece was once highly rated at Old Trafford and, at 27, still has enough time to realise his considerable potential.

Ball Six – England Watch: Ben Foakes

PG Wodehouse may have remarked that there is nothing so useless as the second son of an Earl, but he hadn’t chance to consider the role of back-up ‘keeper on a 21st century tour. Ben Foakes was England’s Freddie Threepwood last winter, when he made it to the crease six times in nearly six months spent in Australia, Jamaica and New Zealand. Back home, he shook off the cobwebs to make 46 and 81 in Surrey’s hard fought win over Hampshire and kept wicket with his usual aplomb, including pouching a one-handed blinder to wrap up the victory. Though Foakes seems to have been around for ages, he’s still only 25 – or nearly two years younger than Alec Stewart when he played the first of his 133 Tests, should you prefer. If Ed Smith wants to burnish his credentials as an innovative thinker, he’ll pick Foakes as keeper and number seven and bat Jonny Bairstow at five. Or, if Smith really fancies making his mark, he could ask YJB to open the innings – Sehwagishly.


Posted by: tootingtrumpet | April 17, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 17 April 2018

Ball One – Thorny problems at Old Trafford

With unrest amongst Lancashire fans finding a voice in the Lancashire Action Group (two of whose leaders have been told that they are no longer welcome at Old Trafford), the Red Rose could have done with an early bloom at home this season – instead, it was trampled underfoot by newly promoted Nottinghamshire. While the visitors found five batsmen to chip in with scores between 24 and 44, Lancashire lost eight second innings wickets in an hour on the fourth morning to be all out for 73 having been 49-0 late on day three. Credit to the Nottinghamshire bowlers, ex-England men Jake Ball and Harry Gurney, who shared those wickets and ex-Lancashire keeper, Tom Moores, who held six catches and whose stand of 82 with Riki Wessels was the best of the match. Not a bad way to start the job of strapping on Chris Read’s old pads.

Ball Two – What do you think you’re doing sunshine?

Things aren’t much better across the Pennines, when one of two Championship matches at Headingley this side of the August Bank Holiday was not so much rained off and soaked off, as the ground wouldn’t drain effectively without some help from the sun, still shying away from 2018 like Theresa May recoils from a Parliamentary vote. But The Broad Acres are not short of cricket grounds and one assumes that the risk of waterlogging was known a few days in advance, so could not the match have been moved? All a bit inconvenient, administratively complicated and inviting scorn if teams were bowled out for (say) 73 or so as a result, but can’t we just do everything to get cricket on when it’s scheduled to be played? Oft-times it seems, from the perspective of us poor saps with the jumpers, coats and thermos flasks, that actually playing cricket can get in the way of all the other stuff that everyone involved in the game needs to be doing.

Ball Three – Immigrants – they get the job done

There’s a certain kind of South African all-rounder who hits the deck hard with ball in hand and hits the ball hard with bat in hand. It’s as if there’s a factory with a blueprint of a “Mike Procter” up on a wall in a room of engineers trying out prototypes, with the Jacques Kallis model the most successful to date. Hampshire have a couple of their own mini-Procters and they did what so many before them have done in contributing to a win over Worcestershire. In Hampshire’s first dig, Gareth Berg numbereighted his way to 75*, progressing the score from 193-6 to 290 all out. He only got 10 second time round, but Kyle Abbott replaced him in the middle and made 51, at the crease while the lead advanced from 216 to 323. They also took half the visitors’ wickets while going at less than three runs per over. The South African pro is often seen as a block to England qualified talent, but shouldn’t our lads learn from them? They do tend to get into a game no matter what the circumstances – a useful attribute in any form of cricket.

Ball Four – Is Steven Smith’s template the right one for batsman in April or should it be scratched?

Gloucestershire won a low-scoring match at Canterbury which featured an extraordinary 17 LBW decisions amongst the 35 wickets that fell. Is this an outlier or something we might witness more of in 2018’s Championship? International cricket has seen more and more batsmen adopting Steven Smith’s covering of the stumps with his pads, with some batsmen taking guard on the off peg – or even outside it. Of course, not every batsman enjoys the dead fish eye with which the ex-Australian captain is blessed, but, even so, the County Championship uses a Duke ball, in seaming conditions and does not offer the opportunity to review umpires’ decisions. A couple of generations ago, the batting fad was to follow Graham Gooch’s baseball stance, bat raised as bowler ran in. Trigger movements were all the rage in the first decade of the 21st century – but nowadays, the still head and level eyes is more valued. Of course, the “Goosch stance” can still be seen (eg Jonny Bairstow) and the forward press trigger movement has its adherents today, but neither works for everyone. Getting your pads in front of the stumps and working the ball to leg probably doesn’t work for everyone either.

Ball Five – Middlesex lord it over Northamptonshire with “veteran”, James Harris, to the fore

You won’t win many Championship matches by 160 runs when your side’s top score is 46, but that’s what Middlesex did at Lord’s (at Lord’s!), Northamptonshire the punchbags. The batsman in question is James Harris, embarking on his 12th season of first class cricket, yet still only 27! Of course, his day job is bowling – and few days suit his style more than those of mid-April, as his match figures of 15.2 – 6 – 48 – 9 prove. He’s had an up and down career as a Chris Woakes lite bowling all-rounder, but he’s exactly the kind of cricketer who can cut a swathe through Division Two – especially if the Welshman continues alongside Toby Roland-Jones, Tim Murtagh and Tom Helm, the seam quartet fighting for the ball while eyeing the green, green grass of home. If Harris plays as long as Darren Stevens, he’ll still be running in come 2032.

Ready to propel some missiles?

Ball Six – England watch

Warwickshire’s Olly Stone is the fastest English bowler right now (probably the fastest bowler in England). He has a patchy fitness record, but so too has his fellow 24 year-old, Patrick Cummins, and things have gone okay for him recently, haven’t they? Though innings figures of 22.5 – 4 – 80 – 8 are enough to make anyone sit up and take notice, there’s a case for saying that they don’t really matter. 90mph men are so rare (and, for England at least, seem – viz Steven Finn, Mark Wood, even Stuart Broad – to become 85mph men all too soon) that there’s a case for getting Stone into the team for the two Tests against Pakistan and seeing what damage he can do. Had he been born in Nawabshah and not Norwich, he’d be measuring out his run now.



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