Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 24, 2016

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

The teams line up for a T20 Blast match

The teams line up for a T20 Blast match

Ball One – Durham rock solid at the seaside

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

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

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

Ball Three – Gareth Batty – captain, batsman, bowler

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

Ball Four – Leicestershire win again

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

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

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

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

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


Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 20, 2016

At Lord’s, 17 July 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 17, 2016

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

Middlesex as seen by Somerset

Middlesex as seen by Somerset

Ball One – Middlesex stay top after sensational win over Somerset

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

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

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

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

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

Ball Four – Leach and Henry clean up sorry Northamptonshire

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

Ball Five – Mark Wood is back and barking for Durham

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

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

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

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 10, 2016

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

For Australian - Dutch - Welshmen everywhere

For Australian – Dutch – Welshmen everywhere

Ball One – Middlesex use the Yorkshire formula to defeat Tykes

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

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

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

Ball Three – Essex win – eventually

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 3, 2016

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

Lord's last week

Lord’s last week

Ball One – Lord’s flawed by bore draws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ball Five – Azeem Rafiq is back to tweak

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

Ball Six – Glee for Gleeson as Northamptonshire march on

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

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 26, 2016

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 26 June 2016

The veteran Leicestershire bowler appeals

The veteran Leicestershire bowler appeals

Ball One – Blond legspinner surprises everyone in first bowl at Old Trafford

Almost halfway through the season and five counties are within a win of Lancashire, who sit top of Division One, level on points with Yorkshire after securing a draw in a topsy-turvy clash against Warwickshire. It was a match in which Lancashire’s youngsters stepped up when Warwickshire’s experienced XI threatened to put them out of the game. Lancashire were 91-4 before captain-wicketkeeper-batsman-superman Steven Croft made a crucial century and Liam Livingstone shepherded the tail to post a total over 300. Warwickshire were in trouble too, losing six wickets before posting three figures, but Tim Ambrose dug in and Keith Barker did what he does at Number 8 and it needed blond legspinner, Matt Parkinson (19), to deliver a fivefer on debut to give the home side a lead of 45. Half of Lancashire’s second innings wickets were spent with the lead just 149, when Livingstone (22) joined opener Haseeb Hameed (19) to take their side to safety, Hameed scoring his maiden century in nearly six hours and Livingstone taking half that time to approach 500 runs in his debut season at an average of 98. The match concluded in a draw, but Lancashire will be happy to stay top and with the contribution of the next generation of Red Rose heroes.

Ball Two – Keaton Jennings is building a blockbuster season

In another example of how a draw can produce excellent cricket (and a fine product for spectators too), a depleted Yorkshire attack, led by the estimable Steve Patterson, shot out Durham for 172 and then watched their batsmen build a lead of 151 before they set to work again. Cue an epic undefeated 221 from Keaton Jennings, spread over nearly ten hours, that lifted his team from the peril of four down and still 46 runs behind, to a declaration with a lead of 356. Yorkshire were content to bat out time, with Tim Bresnan, in the runs again, solid in the last hour. Having turned 24 during the match, Jennings is stepping out of the shadow of his father, the teak tough South African wicketkeeper-batsman cum coach Ray Jennings, with a red ball season that has already yielded four centuries and 59 more Division One runs than any other batsman. England’s selectors will be monitoring his progress closely.

Ball Three – Zafar bowling jaffas as he stakes claim to all-rounder’s slot

Surrey’s improving season saw them get off the mark (and the bottom of the table) with an impressive win over a lacklustre Nottinghamshire at The Oval. Steve Davies found some form and a partner in Tom Curran to get past 300 before Gareth Batty continued his Indian summer with four wickets to take Notts from 120-3 to 182 all out. After Arun Harinath had added 83 to his first innings 73, as he quietly and effectively went about his work as usual, the away side never got close to the 386 target, collapsing again from 119-2 to 157 all out in 12 overs. After last week’s praise here for his white ball work, Zafar Ansari was the destroyer with 6-36 from his canny left-arm spin. Ansari, though he seems to have been around forever, is still only 24 and may, after 165 appearances in a brown cap, now be realising his potential. For a long time, he’s been expected to play all formats of the game, bat anywhere in the order from Number 1 to Number 8 and rip the red ball and dart the white. Though a multi-talented academic and musical high achiever, perhaps that was a bit too much versatility to ask of a man making his way in the game. But he has 13 wickets at 25 this season to go with 183 runs at 31 in four Division One matches – that’s all-rounder numbers and maybe it’s time to ask him to concentrate on that role if Surrey are to continue their climb to safety.

Ball Four – Charlie Shreck proves he’s no donkey

In Division Two, Essex held on to their lead despite being beaten by resurgent Leicestershire with just 11 balls left in a match reduced to three days by rain. Captain, Mark Cosgrove, dealt out the er.. heavy blows to get them over the line, but the win was set up by a couple of old warhorses whose combined match figures were an impressive 67.3 – 18 – 176 – 14. Clint McKay has a Baggy Green from his one Test seven years ago, but counts over 500 wickets in professional cricket around the world, working as a kind of Antipodean Angus Fraser, the ball held seam upright, a bit of movement each way at a pace that keeps batsmen honest. At 38, Charlie Shreck has five years on his Australian team mate and a few more wickets too, banging the ball in from a great height for Nottinghamshire, Kent and now Leicestershire. Though some will cite players like these as a fault with the 18 team County Championship, I enjoy the skills and knowhow older players bring to the domestic game – of course, youngsters need to be nurtured, but if they can’t learn from batting against the likes of McKay and Shreck, then they probably can’t learn at all.

Ball Five – Stephen Parry’s thrusts foil Worcestershire

Performance of the Week in the T20 Blast North Group came from Lancashire’s slow left-armer Stephen Parry, whose 5-13 blew away Worcestershire for whom only Brett D’Oliveira reached double figures as they slumped to 53 all out in 14 overs. Parry has five England caps and is a key component of the Red Rose white ball attack, but has still played only nine first class matches in nine years, captaining the Second XI these days. With tweakers Simon Kerrigan, Arron Lilley and (now) Matt Parkinson all ahead of him in four day cricket, should he move to get more game-time? I suspect he wouldn’t be short of suitors and, after all, you’re a long time retired.

Ball Six – Dawid Malan gets another mention in a fine season

In the T20 South Group, Dawid Malan gets my Performance of the Week with a double header that took his team to second in the table behind Glamorgan. On Thursday, the skipper led from the front, balancing the tricky risk and reward relationship in a shortened nine overs per side match at Lord’s. He batted through for 53 off 28 balls, Middlesex’s 92 proving just enough to defeat Somerset. A day later, notwithstanding Brendon McCullum signing off his sojourn in London with a fine 87 not out, Malan took responsibility to score quickly against the hard ball, out for 60 from 100 in the ninth over. Middlesex maintained that scoring rate and their 210 was far too much for Kent. Captaincy seems to agree with the left-hander, who must fancy his chances of picking up some silverware with Middlesex handily placed in all three competitions about halfway through the season.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 19, 2016

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 19 June 2016

Michael Klinger - possibly.

Michael Klinger – possibly.

Ball One – Josh Cobb swans into form with bat and ball.

After a close season of financial worries, Northamptonshire may even be surprising themselves by sitting joint top of the T20 Blast North Group having played six matches. Their latest win came against a much stronger (at least on paper) Durham line-up, whom they reduced to 9-4 and then took wickets at crucial moments to defend 161 successfully. The key wicket was Paul Collingwood, who had led the fightback and was about to launch the pyrotechnics when he fell to one of Josh Cobb’s darts. It was a good match for Cobb who was once exactly the kind of three-dimensional young cricketer England were looking for: hard hitting batsman; handy “pace-off” bowler and athletic fielder. He has barely scored a run this season, so he will have been pleased with his 68 off 48 balls, top scoring by a distance. Still just 25, he has time to come again as a key performer in white ball cricket for a county who need the big paydays more than most.

Ball Two – Andre Russell takes the nuclear option to seal easy win for Nottinghamshire

In Saturday’s televised match, Nottinghamshire clawed back some ground on the other county at the top of the North Group, Worcestershire, making a chase of 165 look very easy. For that, they had their imports to thank, Dan Christian imperiously smiting sixes inside-out over extra cover and Andre Russell standing and swiping it miles over cow corner despite being incapacitated by a leg injury. Russell has made mincemeat of better attacks than Worcestershire’s over the years and everyone knows what’s coming – so it was disappointing then to see few yorkers attempted, as even he can’t baseball those over midwicket. The yorker is no easy delivery to summon at will, but it’s surprising that it is used as infrequently as it is. Glenn McGrath might be wondering the same thing.

Ball Three – David Lloyd’s batting carries a sting for Glamorgan

Things are very tight in the South Group, Glamorgan one point ahead of a three team logjam on eight points (Surrey, Sussex and Gloucestershire). David Lloyd may have a famous name, but, having turned 24 last week, he hasn’t had the opportunity to build up much in the way of famous deeds yet, particularly as he is one of those bits and pieces players who goes up and down the order and gets tossed the ball when a breakthrough is needed. He found himself opening against Kent and was still there at the end, 97 not out, Glamorgan’s total of 175 easily enough to see off Kent. It’s perhaps a specific 21st century problem for a young cricketer, switching formats, required to display skills in the three disciplines of the game and also to be as fit an athlete as any other professional sportsman or sportswoman these days. Is such a varied set of expectations a good apprenticeship or a mishmash of responsibilities that never allows a true specialism to flourish?

Ball Four – Zafar Ansari the answer to many questions at Surrey

Another young player who has developed a game to cope with white and red ball cricket in a range of roles is Zafar Ansari, Surrey’s all-rounder, whose season is just getting going after injury problems that kept him out of England’s winter tour to the UAE. He played a pivotal role in Surrey’s win over Middlesex at a damp Oval, in which everyone involved should be commended for getting the full forty overs in with 21,000 spectators to entertain. At 24 years of age, he finds himself in the tricky finisher’s role, this week arriving at the crease with the score 94-5 after 12.1 overs. His 34 not out balanced risk and reward intelligently, steering Surrey to a competitive 173-7, which subsequently proved enough, especially as he and fellow spinner, Gareth Batty shared six overs and four wickets for the concession of just 41 runs.

Ball Five – Adam Lyth in form as Yorkshire’s squad shows its depth

In the 50 overs Royal London Cup, the performance of the week in the North Group came from Adam Lyth whose second century in two days lifted Yorkshire to 325-7 in the Roses match at Old Trafford. That proved far too much for the home side, who capitulated to 84 all out with only Martin Guptill’s quickfire 45 reaching double figures. Despite being in patchy form, 20 year-old spinner, Karl Carver, was given a game and er… sliced through the late middle-order taking three wickets in no time. With Azeem Rafiq back at Yorkshire after two years out in the cold, competition for places remains as strong as ever under Jason Gillespie, England calls or not.

Ball Six – Michael Klinger is a craftsman at work

In the South Group, Gloucestershire got their season off the mark in a runfest at Bristol, their 352 enough by just ten runs after Hampshire’s valiant chase. The home captain, Michael Klinger, won the Man of the Match award for his unbeaten 166, part of an opening stand of 242 with Chris Dent (142). Klinger, now a veteran who turns 36 next month, is exactly the sort of experienced Australian who can really help a smaller county as captain (and possibly coach on retirement). He has nearly 450 appearances under his belt and, though never an international, has scored 49 hundreds across the three formats of the game. And, having backed up that century with T20 scores of 78 and 60 this week, there’s no sign of him slowing down.


Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 14, 2016

England vs Sri Lanka Test Series – England Report Card

Steven Finn at Headingley

Steven Finn at Headingley

Alastair Cook (212 runs at 71) – Only found his best form with the bat at Lord’s when the series was already secured, but there’s something to be said for a captain who can win two Tests without much of a personal contribution. Leading the side, he showed that his emerging willingness to set aggressive fields is here to stay, backing his seamers with a slip or two more than most captains these days and getting Moeen Ali into the game early. Understands the DRS better these days too, although Stuart Broad’s more circumspect approach is helping there too. Declared at Lord’s about 30 minutes earlier than anyone expected (or hoped).

Alex Hales (292 runs at 58) – Probably never going to be the right-handed Marcus Trescothick some of us once hoped for in the light of his white ball knocks, but he had a bit of luck, made the most of it, and has built a case as the best of those who have gone through the revolving door at the top of the order. Early on in his innings, can look to have that awkward combination of static feet and hard hands, but once in, uses his height and power well to look (perhaps) a little more secure than he is. Sixth man out at Headingley and in the second innings at Lord’s, so he definitely has some of the adhesive qualities all openers need.

Nick Compton (51 runs at 13) – If you’re out of form, you want to be making scores like 1 and 19 in a mid-table County Championship game at Uxbridge – and not in a showcase Test at Lord’s. But such has been the fate of Nick Compton, who just can’t get a run no matter where he plays cricket, tight in his movements, alternately impetuous and conservative in his shot selection and, ultimately, convincingly, fatally, looking a notch below Test class. Already the recipient of the dreaded reverse nod, it’s unlikely that he’ll get a third chance for the Three Lions – I wish him well at Middlesex.

Joe Root (87 runs at 22, 0 wickets) – Due a poor series and sure enough, he got one, with just his 80 at Chester-le-Street to remind us that he stands alongside Steve Smith, Kane Williamson and Virat Kohli as one of the leading batsmen in the world. Will be looking to redeem himself with trademark busy innings in white ball cricket.

James Vince (54 runs at 14, 0 wickets) – His debut series, so criticism must be muted, but nobody likes to mix getting out when set with leaving and missing straight ones early on. With a career average of 40 (and many of those runs scored in Division Two) the feeling persists that he might just be (as has become the received wisdom about Nick Compton) short of the talent needed to deal with bowling a notch above what he is used to. We’ll know by the Autumn.

Jonny Bairstow (387 runs at 129, 19 catches) – Gilchristian in his ability to hit the reset button and get the innings going again with good cricket strokes and running as dynamic as has ever been seen from an Englishman, Jonny B finally realised his potential – well, half of it. His sense of freedom may be the product of batting being his alternate suit with wicketkeeping his other – so if you take the gloves away, will the magic with the bat go with them? Because the keeping, for all the appearances on the Sri Lankan scorecard, was very scratchy, not just in dropped catches and missed stumpings, but also in taking returns from the field, a skill executed to barely club standards at times. The feeling persists that had he never worn the gloves, he would still be in the team on merit at Number Five and we would be celebrating having cricket’s next superstar batsman in England’s ranks. He is probably fortunate that his most likely rival for the gloves isn’t much of an upgrade – though Jos Buttler was much improved behind the stumps last summer. Man of the Series.

Moeen Ali (189 runs at 63, 2 wickets at 90) – When the ball hits the middle of the bat, you could be forgiven for believing him to be animated by the spirit of David Gower, all left-handed, languid and lovely. When he wafts outside the off stump, you could be forgiven for believing… Well, you get the picture. His 155 at Chester-le-Street may have had its moments of fortune, but it took England from 227-5 to 498-9 dec, and that’s a tremendous contribution. His bowling was less impressive, but the first Test series of an English summer is not a happy hunting ground for a tweaker, though his opposite number, Rangana Herath, snared seven victims and looked a class or two above the Worcestershire man with the ball.

Ben Stokes (12 runs at 12; 1 wicket at 25) – England’s talisman was injured early on and sat out the last two Tests, his star quality revealed in how many times the television cameras picked him out in the crowds. England barely missed him due to Woakes’ fine form, but he’ll be welcomed back to the fold the moment he is fit enough to play.

Chris Woakes (105 runs at 53, 8 wickets at 19) – If the Chris Woakes of the last two Tests was the first Chris Woakes you had seen, you would think him a tremendous prospect – a batsman with a solid, compact defence and plenty of shots around the wicket and a bowler who kisses the deck at a good pace with a bolt upright seam. But the all-rounder is still fighting early impressions that he was a bit down on pace and that his batting was more suited to Nine than Eight – and, of course, that he is not Ben Stokes. When difficult days come – as they will – he needs to remember how impressive he was in the last two Tests. He will be back, Stokes or not.

Stuart Broad (23 runs at 8, 12 wickets at 25) – Went through a series without one of his famous streaks that can turn a Test in an hour, but bowled with great control, the long limbs all pointing in the right direction and the narky nastiness kept under wraps, any anger channeled into just the right level of aggression for a fast bowler. He will bowl worse and post better numbers, but he won’t mind that – he played a full part in a solid series win. Just six Tests off joining the 100 club, a fine achievement for a big quick.

Steven Finn (41 runs at 10, 7 wickets at 28) – At times, the Middlesex man looked a bit like a bowling robot V 1.0, the whole business of arriving at the crease, getting the arm round and the ball to the other end seemingly the product of code still too full of bugs. To his credit, Finn recognised this and clearly had done some work before playing on his home ground in the third Test. Nobody would say that he was back to his best – there’s some rhythm and five mph yet to find – but it’s coming back.

Jimmy Anderson (13 runs at 13, 21 wickets at 11) – Though the Burnley Express was born to bowl in the early summer at England’s northerly latitudes, he exploited them to the hilt in the first two Tests, finding the length that pulled batsmen forward and then the swing and seam to jag the ball in or out. It may have “only” been Sri Lankan batsmen, fish out of water until they eventually got some time in the middle, but he would have troubled the 1948 Australians at Headingley. Often bowled as fast as he has in years, with a bouncer that discomfited batsmen, another testament to how aligned he was at the crease and the precision of his timing in which the release is critical. His continuing fitness is an oft-ignored aspect of his success – he looks, just a few weeks short of his 34th birthday, in prime physical condition a tribute to his own self-discipline and to the England backroom staff who don’t quite get the criticism these days that was routine a few years ago.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 12, 2016

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 12 June 2016

Dominic Sibley after his double century vs Yorkshire

Dominic Sibley after his double century vs Yorkshire

Ball One – Cricket needs some of Harry Potter’s magic

Advertisers know the power of building narrative if they want to maximise the power of marketing. Oxo and Gold Blend are two brands of many that created stories that ran for years in highly anticipated TV slots that became a news story in their own rights. Then there are the Harry Potter books and films and movie franchises that, like Mad Max, can take a break that lasts decades and be confident that fans will simply pick things up where they left off. What we do not see are the same characters stepping out of one story and into another, before coming back, then going away again and so on – even James Bond was James Bond in the Olympics Opening Ceremony. But county cricket, struggling to hold its tenuous place in the skittish national consciousness and having endured a lacklustre start to the County Championship, has now binned its most prestigious competition for a few weeks in favour of its most lucrative (the NatWest T20 Blast) and its most unnecessary (the Royal London Cup). I presume it all looked fine on the spreadsheets in the powerpoint presentation.

Ball Two – Tom Kohler-Cadmore adds fizz to Worcestershire’s batting

There are at least a couple of reasons why it’s surprising to find Worcestershire at the top of the T20 North Group, but there they are, after four wins in five matches. The Midlanders’ most recent win came courtesy of a last over victory over Northamptonshire, chasing down 170. 21 year-old Tom Kohler-Cadmore (“Pepsi” to his friends) again caught the eye in a season in which he is realising his potential, anchoring the innings with 60. He’s a name to watch and, with a name like that, that shouldn’t be too difficult to do!

Ball Three – Dominic Sibley back in form

In the T20 South Group, Surrey top the table, level on points with Glamorgan and Sussex. While the Dale Steyns and Dwayne Bravos score highly in the name-recognition stakes, franchise globetrotters don’t always deliver – the game is bigger than even Shahid Afridi and Chris Gayle. So it was good to see Dominic Sibley play well on Thursday evening, his 67 helping the South Londoners to an easy win over Hampshire (though his undefeated 74 could not prevent a Somerset win on Friday). Batting ten hours for 242 against Yorkshire as an 18 year-old is about as big an expectation raiser as you can get and Sibley has struggled in the last two seasons with that burden, only twice passing fifty before this week’s knocks. But the evidence is there – at 20, he hits a long white ball from a solid base and can also maintain the concentration to bat all day against the red ball. When Surrey resume their dismal County Championship campaign, I hope they will find room for this gifted cricketer to develop.

Ball Four – Michael Lumb in plum form

Early days in the 50 overs competition, the Royal London Cup, but that hasn’t stopped Nottinghamshire’s Michael Lumb and Riki Wessels teeing off with partnerships of 342 and 178 to defeat Northamptonshire and Warwickshire. Lumb may be 36 now, but has played only three ODIs for England (scoring 106, 39 and 20 three years ago in the West Indies). England play 10 ODIs this summer, evenly split between Sri Lanka and Pakistan, so they’ll need a few players. If they go for a form batsman or two to assist rotation, Lumb can expect a call.

Ball Five – Hampshire showing belief in young players

Hampshire fielded two teenagers against Middlesex at Radlett: Joe Weatherley opened the batting and Mason Crane bowled his full allocation of ten overs (they also fielded a 21 year-old Lewis McManus at wicketkeeper). It’s easy to hide youngsters in an ODI match – three overs and 12 not out at 8 slogging at the end for example – but Sean Ervine  showed admirable faith in his charges, especially Crane who went for 80, but did take four wickets including superstars Brendon McCullum and Eoin Morgan. Hampshire’s enterprise was rewarded with a win after a breathless Duckworth/Lewis chase of 202 in 26 overs.

Ball Six – Yorkshire find solace in a no result

Friday’s rain brought an abandonment without a ball being bowled at Edgbaston, but at least it meant a point for Jason Gillespie’s men. So far this season, the Tykes have lost (often heavily) in white ball cricket to Worcestershire (twice), Lancashire and Leicestershire., continuing a trend over the last couple of seasons in which their cricket is transformed from four day domination to one day capitulation. Quite how such an exciting mix of three dimensional cricketers (there’s batting all the way down the order and lots of bowling options, whoever gets picked) continually fails to deliver is a mystery. No better place to put that right than under lights in front of a partisan crowd at Old Trafford on Wednesday in the Royal London Cup.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 8, 2016

How cricket (almost) made me a Tory

Don't mind if I do actually

Don’t mind if I do actually

Lizzy Ammon’s lovely piece in The Cricket Monthly explains why she can write,

“A friend recently asked me what it was that had made me left-wing. “Cricket,” I replied.”

I (nearly) could have written the opposite!

I was about to turn 16 when Mrs Thatcher came to power and more interested in my exams later that month than what the Prime Minister planned to do, but that ambivalence was soon to change as I started reading NME, listening to The Clash and The Jam and noticed that my city, Liverpool, was being hollowed out. Over the previous winter, I had seen the ugly side of the Left in the strikes and the screaming headlines of the Right’s propaganda sheets (then, as now, the Sun, the Daily Express and the Mail) but this systematic evisceration of northern industry was of a different order. It was a class conflict led by a woman with her hands on the levers of State and a will to use them.

Though I’ve never voted anything other than Labour, and never will (as anyone who voted for Frank Dobson and against Ken Livingstone in 2000 can confidently assert), my political views were being shaped not by economics, but  cultural values. I watched The Boys From Blackstuff, laughed at Ben Elton and Alexei Sayle and sat in The Scala for hours with Andrei Tarkovsky’s long takes for company, squinting at the subtitles. I latched on to the thinking of Antonio Gramsci, probably through one of those long interviews that NME would publish with some geeky New Wave band (Scritti Politti if you want me to guess). A bit later, I graduated to Marxism Today and wallowed in Martin Jacques’ ongoing critique of Thatcherism. (I ended up doing an MA in Communication, Culture and Society at Goldsmiths 15 years later, so it was no passing fad and, if truth be told, even today, I see politics as a cultural as much as an economic preference).

Pulling against all that was, er… cricket. At 15, I was playing for Hightown IIIs (and sometimes IIs) on the beautiful fields of the Liverpool Competition’s grand old club grounds. I opened the bowling at Southport and Birkdale, Oxton, Chester Broughton Hall, Liverpool itself and many more clubs that reeked of private wealth, of (and the Honours Boards bore testimony to this) privilege being handed down from generation to generation, and of what can be achieved when you can close a gate behind you and lock it (literally and metaphorically). I played at some of Liverpool’s old schools too: Merchant Taylors, St Francis Xavier and Liverpool Collegiate – very different from my 70s comprehensive. Only feeling a momentary sense of intruder guilt, I liked these places much more than the well-meaning, but tatty, municipal facilities – who wouldn’t?

I also liked the men with whom I played. Many, though not all, were in the professions – doctors, lawyers, accountants – and they were funny, relaxed and confident. They also talked about the kinds of films I was starting to enjoy and they told wickedly indiscreet stories about their clients that I, standing at first slip as I could catch pigeons then, lapped up with ears flapping like an elephant’s. These men were, needless to say, not natural lefties. (In parallel, I realised that I favoured polite, middle-class girls too, especially when their parents owned holiday cottages…)

There were other seductive aspects of middle-class life to which cricket introduced me. I recall waiting at a bus stop chatting to my next door neighbour when my lift to the game pulled up – in a Jaguar XJS. I regret to say that I don’t believe I failed to mask a smug grin as I climbed in – hell, I was 16 FFS! The car was… fabulous!

I liked cricket crowds too. They were partisan (at Old Trafford or a Lancashire outground, especially for a Gillette Cup tie) and boozy, but the frisson was born of competition and not of violence. I liked going to Everton matches home and away in the 70s and 80s, but, though actual hooliganism was rare, its threat was never absent. And neither was the racism, which, my heart sinks as I write, I saw again at Selhurst Park in April 2016 after years of complacency that it had gone forever.

This tapestry was what cricket showed me – the English Middle Class at their best, self-effacing and relaxed, rather than strident and strutting, an image their leader at Number Ten so often adopted. Though cricket in the North of England has never been the preserve of public schools and their products, its tone was set by middle-class mores and, though it had room for a working class lad like me, I knew that I had to bend to its culture rather than it bend to mine – and, of course, why should it?

Thirty-odd years on, cricket has problems reaching out to a much more diverse country than it was when I was running in at Neston in 1980 (4-14, since you ask) but this personal tale isn’t really about that. It’s about how cricket, working against so much evidence to the contrary, nearly lined me up with Norman Tebbit and Geoffrey Howe, however preposterous that looks now.

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