Posted by: tootingtrumpet | April 12, 2021

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 12 April 2021

What really matters

Ball One – Bartlett pairs with Gregory for Somerset victory

Somerset started the season by taking a step closer to their traditional Autumnal heartbreak with a wonderfully resistant win over Middlesex. After Sam Robson’s opening day 165, Middlesex’s bowlers looked like earning double helpings of triple sweaters until Marchant de Lange biffed a few while Jack Leach wiped the ice off his glasses at the other end to save the follow-on. The home side were still favourites after Josh Davey and Leach won a flurry of second innings LBW decisions to leave Somerset chasing 285. Captain, Tom Abell, got his team over half way, but it was the unbroken seventh wicket stand of 98 between George Bartlett and Lewis Gregory that got them over the line.

Gregory didn’t need his first innings fivefer to justify his place in the bowling unit, but his performances at eight may be crucial in more than just this match. Usually in partnership with the last recognised batsman, an Eight must decide whether to dig in and rotate the strike or lead the counterattack as kind of auxiliary Seven. Gregory chose the latter, ten fours peppering his 62 while Bartlett, 23 last month, steered the ship to port.

Ball Two – Crane flying through an English spinner’s development

As in the schlocky 80s comedy, there were three daddies at Leicester where James Vince (231), Liam Dawson (152*) and Tom Alsop (119) brought the pain to Leicestershire, piling up 612-5 in 120 overs before the home side could gather round the radiators and warm bodies and souls. To their credit, Leicestershire made Hampshire work very hard for their somewhat inevitable win, resisting for 77 overs in the first dig and 96 following on.

Mason Crane – having already gone through the “Could this be the one for England?”, the “No it isn’t” and the “Is he even good enough for his county” stages of an English spin bowler’s career – is now entering the “Reliable at this level actually” phase, his match figures of 44 – 8 – 151 – 6 a strong foundation for a big season to come for the oldest 24 year-old in the game.

Ball Three – Surrey set off on the wrong foot

Gloucestershire were the other victors in the first round of matches, brushing aside a Surrey XI shorn of the Currans, but still boasting six international players in a manner that is growing too familiar for the well-resourced South Londoners.

With Ben Foakes’ 133 instrumental in setting a tricky but gettable target of 228, Surrey’s bowlers had no answer to Gloucestershire’s captain, Chris Dent, and all-rounder Graeme van Buuren as they cruised to the win at better than six an over. Rory Burns used five bowlers, but they could manage only 12 wickets in the match. Moreover, all five bowled at least one no ball as 16 were sent down at a rate of one every eight overs, which made me wonder how the pre-season work (by which the county sets great store) had grooved bowlers’ actions if they couldn’t be sure where their feet were landing.

Ball Four – England watch

Defending champions, Essex, could not do what they have done so often in recent years – convert an advantage into a win. With no restriction on first innings duration, Tom Westley chose to bat into the 158th over, which felt too long to me, but he had spent nearly nine hours in the middle compiling 213, so he was hardly guessing about the state of the pitch.

He had banked on two elements of the game working in his favour – his own attack’s proven ability to bag 20 wickets and the mental challenge of batting the best part of seven sessions for a draw. With Worcestershire 43-4 at the end of the second day, his assumptions looked likely to bear fruit.

Jake Libby had other thoughts and bedded in to carry his bat for over 11 hours, eventually finding a partner in all-rounder, Ed Barnard, whose maiden century turned his ratio of batting to bowling averages positive and secured the additional points now available for the draw.

Joe Root was pleased to see that adjustment to the County Championship, as it would encourage batsmen to fight for every run and develop the concentration Test match play requires. After a stop-start career, Libby had an excellent 2020 and has started 2021 with a backs-to-the-wall epic. With England’s packed schedule and a top three lacking consistency, Libby may soon get a chance to offer Root the luxury of a cup of tea between the toss and walking out to the middle.

Ball Five – Waiting for the gift of sound and vision

I am loathe to criticise anyone involved in cricket at any level after the last 12 months they have endured and the splendid entertainment offered to us in times when we needed it more than ever. But… (and you could see that coming couldn’t you?)

Can you find the reason why Somerset’s 19 points for their win translates to 11 points in the Group 2 table? I know it’s a penalty carried over from last season, but an * and a line of explanation would help. Indeed, aside from learning that there are now eight points for the draw, there’s no comprehensive statement regarding points allocations, never mind penalties for slow over rates etc, that I could find on any website. At the BBC, the County Championship appears to be contested by just six clubs, which may please some well up in cricket’s hierarchy – until they learn that Derbyshire are amongst them. On Groups Two and Three, the national broadcaster’s website appears as silent as it was for much of Friday afternoon.

Maybe I’m asking a bit too much here, but the excellent Youtube streams provided by counties are attracting very decent numbers, with pin sharp HD images from multiple cameras, onscreen real time information graphics and swift replays, supported by a social media effort that also brings the game to its audience. So why do we have the BBC local radio feed for audio? Not only is it too wordy for TV (perfectly reasonably so given its primary purpose), but it can be a little parochial too – is Simon Harmer really vying with Rashid Khan to be the best spinner in world cricket? Even in these straitened times, it shouldn’t be beyond the scope of counties to employ a couple of commentators to ensure the audio lives up to the pictures, especially when there often appears to be more people podcasting than not podcasting.

Ball Six – Disgrace Road?

I’m going to leave the morality to commenters below the line and focus on a relatively narrow point raised by the rather anodyne scorebook entry “Hassan Azad stumped McManus bowled Dawson 18”. You can see what happened for yourself here, as the appeal “for” a catch was unexpectedly upheld at square leg, after Lewis McManus, ball in his right glove, had whipped off a bail with his left.

Surely it should not have been beyond the ken of two captains (Hampshire’s James Vince and Leicestershire’s Colin Ackermann), two umpires, a match referee and (if necessary) two scorers to work out an equitable solution for all parties? Mistakes do happen and ask any motorcyclist about how concentration dips when you’re cold and they’ll have a story or two. And, for those who say that a recall isn’t possible under the laws once the next ball has been bowled. I pose a jurisprudential question – are the laws there to facilitate the game or is the game there to exemplify the laws. If you subscribe to the former (as this writer does) Azad should have resumed his innings with an * in the scorebook, a short explanatory note and Hampshire’s men looking rather bigger than they do today.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | March 10, 2021

Joey Benjamin – 2 February 1961 – 8 March 2021

Unlike his near-contemporary namesakes, Winston and Kenny, the unrelated Antiguans, Joey Benjamin was not quick nor would he have fitted into the West Indian mean machine still terrorising batsmen all over the world. Somehow the St Kitts born outswing merchant had the demeanour of someone pleased to be playing cricket, pleased to be given choice of ends, pleased with the recognition that came late in his career. His sole England cap came in a match in which another bowler who gave every impression of enjoying his time with ball in hand wrote himself into the record books with an enduring quote and 9-57.

Benjamin’s first innings 4-47 was forgotten in the wake of Devon Malcolm’s “You Guys Are History” whirlwind of South African wickets, but sending back Hansie Cronje, Kepler Wessels, Dave Richardson and Craig Matthews was enough to catch the eye of even the most myopic of 90s selection panels and, at 33, Joey was off on an Ashes Tour. A bout of chickenpox put him out of the first Test and the selectors, ever capricious, never awarded him a second cap, though he did play a couple of ODIs.

It may have been a blessing in disguise, as Michael Slater set the tone for the series smashing Phil DeFreitas’s first ball to the point boundary, three big Australian wins retaining The Ashes, as England cycled through six seamers in the five matches. Because, for all of his Caribbean heritage, Benjamin always looked like what he was – a fine bowler with plenty of craft picked up in Midlands league cricket, who lacked the bounce required for the Australia’s hard pitches and swing unfriendly conditions. In other words, a classic English fast-medium pacer.

He had honed those league skills filling in at Warwickshire but really came to the fore at The Oval, where, already into his 30s, he found friends in the dressing room and success in the middle, Eight consistent summers brought him 459 wickets at about 30, the kind of numbers that nails down a place in the XI without necessarily winning trophies. He left the county in 1999 just as Adam Hollioake was to inject the swagger that did bring trophies.

Gone at just 60 while still working at Reigate Grammar School, Joey Benjamin’s life in cricket was one perhaps only possible in England – a county pro who got lucky with a shot at the big time, then unlucky in not getting a second go, but made a living on the domestic circuit and found the camaraderie every ex-sportsperson needs by staying close to the club for whom he played. To those of us looking on from outside the rope, he gave everything swinging the ball or swinging the bat, and we respected him for that.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | March 8, 2021

India vs England 2021 – The Report Cards

These Report Cards come with the proviso that “bubble cricket” presents challenges to players and management and that each will be affected as an individual. Assessment and grading is done on the performances alone, but, in the wider context, significant mitigation due to these unique circumstances must also be acknowledged. 

I don’t care how it plays, it looks beautiful

Joe Root (368 runs at 46; six wickets at 24; three catches) – Carried his sensational form from Sri Lanka to Chennai to deliver a win for the ages, sweeping a double century to set up the series. Subsequently, he failed to make more than 33, as India’s spinners’ patience preyed on his fatigue. Despite having much more than a popgun attack, he couldn’t stop Rohit Sharma’s series-changing boundary barrage in the second Test, nor Ravichandran Ashwin’s nails-into-coffin century in the second dig. Picked the wrong team for both matches he needed to win, but remains a personable character who was as amazed as anyone with his five-fer. Maybe that charisma, his record of victories and his status as an all-time great batsman protects him from more forthright criticism after defeats in which England were ultimately barely competitive despite gaining footholds in all three Tests. Grade B- 

Dominic Sibley (134 runs at 17; one catch) – This resourceful cricketer appeared to have done his thing with 103 runs chiselled out of the first Test’s red earth. Only 31 more were added to the ledger as technical deficiencies, crumbling confidence and bad luck did for him. Grade C 

Rory Burns (58 runs at 15; three catches) – The two ducks are an occupational hazard for an opening bat, but to have twice batted for an hour and got out must have infuriated him and, ultimately cost him his place. Still has plenty of heart, but with so few straight lines in his set up and defensive play, he looks vulnerable to lateral movement, spin, seam or swing. Grade C- 

Zak Crawley (67 runs at 17; two catches) – In a magnificent half century, he looked like the new Barry Richards, fluent drives, fierce pulls and cuts, the bowler given no margin for error by his height and decisive footwork. But once Axar Patel and Ashwin skidded the ball on to him, an almost imperceptible but fatal hesitation undid him. Grade B-

Dan Lawrence (149 runs at 25; 0 wicket for seven runs) – Like the new kid in a Sunday XI, he batted wherever he could get a game and (backhanded compliment klaxon) fitted into this England team well. He improved as the challenge became tougher by sticking to a well-conceived plan to play the turning ball – the old-fashioned one of going fully forward or fully back. Grade B-

Jonny Bairstow (28 runs at 7) – It took a lot more time to get home and back after the Sri Lankan leg of the winter than it took to get to the crease and back in India, the last of an horrendous portfolio of dismissals a first baller glanced straight into the hands of leg slip. There’s mitigation of course, but one wonders what the phalanx of coaches and support staff were doing with him that led to so calamitous a collapse in the basics of batsmanship. Grade D-  

Ben Stokes (203 runs at 25; five wickets at 31; five catches) – After an unexpected day off to start the series, came in and biffed a good position into a very good position with all the bristling aggression with which we have become familiar. Finished the series with a mind-over-matter gig as an opening bowler, in which all his skills and hostility with the ball were showcased. But he couldn’t find that game-changing spell nor that signature innings, too often beaten by relatively innocuous deliveries when looking as good as any Englishman at the crease. Grade B-  

Ollie Pope (153 runs at 19; five catches) – He will be a better batsman for a chastening experience in which he was made to look like a rabbit in the headlights or a cat on a hot tin roof, stuck mesmerised as the delivery dipped in flight or running at the ball in hope as much as expectation of a clean connection. Grade C- 

Jos Buttler (54 runs at 27; five catches) – Twice arrived at the crease with England very comfortable, nevertheless he batted solidly rather than spectacularly. Tidy behind the stumps, but, like his Indian counterpart, was shown to be a batsman first, wicketkeeper second, by Ben Foakes’ next level glove work. Grade B-

Ben Foakes (78 runs at 16; four catches and three stumping) – On either side of the popping crease, he watched the ball all the way and used a firm base and still head to make good on the descriptor “wicketkeeper-batsman”. But his scoring options were limited, which is not what you want batting with a weak tail, and mistakes crept into his keeping too as India crushed England’s spirit. Grade B-  

Moeen Ali – (49 runs at 25; eight wickets at 28; one catch) – A late start and early finish for Moeen’s winter but burned brightly when he got his chance, especially with a blaze of (alas inconsequential) sixes as England slumped to defeat in Chennai. Dismissed India’s captain and vice-captain twice in his one Test and bowled his by now familiar mix of four balls and wicket-taking deliveries with too few stock balls in-between. For all his watchability, the question remains: are you going to win many matches on spin-friendly pitches with a frontliner conceding 226 runs at close to four an over? Grade C

Dom Bess (64 runs at 16; five wickets at 39) – He was treated with little sympathy on and off the field when he appeared to be selected and then bowled reluctantly by a captain who clearly wanted to bolster his fragile confidence but just couldn’t in the cauldron of Test cricket. Spinners need to bounce back from adversity – his England and Somerset teammate can tell him that – but Bess has hard work to do at his new county, Yorkshire, where one hopes he will get enough cricket to groove an action and release that is too unreliable as things stand now. Grade D

Jofra Archer (16 runs at 4; four wickets at 31) – His speed through the air and ability to add 5mph to his stock delivery with no change in run up nor action saw him knock over Shubman Gill twice and Rohit Sharma once in the three innings in which he bowled. His once rated batting appears to have disintegrated. Grade B- 

Jack Leach (48 runs at 8; 18 wickets at 29; one catch) – Delivered 95 more overs than any other England bowler and did not wilt in the heat nor under a premeditated assault from Rishabh Pant, who would have hit lesser men out of the attack. If he lacks a little mystery and skiddy pace off the surface, he makes up for it with consistency and spirit. If he had the luxury of bowling in tandem with a right arm version of himself, his figures would have been more impressive. Grade A-   

Stuart Broad (9 runs at 5; 0 wicket for 78 runs) – He was shown the respect his status in the game demands by India’s batsmen but carried little threat on surfaces that lacked the seam movement and carry that his bowling needs. Grade C

Ollie Stone (one run at one; four wickets at 17; one catch) – Hit the crease hard and bowled very fast to wring four wickets from a surface that gave him little support. Grade B

Jimmy Anderson (12 runs at 4; eight wickets at 16; one catch) – A master bowler in all conditions, he gave little to hit and India’s batsmen were not inclined to force the issue. He swung the ball and worked over batsmen constructing overs and spells in the manner of a Warne or Ashwin. Almost half his overs were maidens – cricket from a bygone age. Grade A-

Rohit Sharma (345 runs at 58; no wicket for seven runs; five catches) – After the shock defeat in the first Test and losing his opening partner without a run on the board, he creamed the bowling to all parts of Chennai to take lunch on 80 not out, en route to a series shifting knock of 161 that deserves to be considered one of the greatest this century. He also made contributions in the other two victories and, at times, looked like he was batting on a wholly different strip. Grade A

Shubman Gill (119 runs at 20; two catches) – The talent is undeniable, but a technique that is more suited to freeing the arms and driving the ball on the up will be found out with Test lines and lengths supported by two slips and a gully. Grade C

Cheteshwar Pujara (133 runs at 22; three catches) – Understandably a little jaded after his herculean efforts in Australia, his signature concentration was a little off and England had the tools to exploit it. Grade C-

Virat Kohli (172 runs at 29; four catches) – Rusty after paternity leave, the mojo was lacking in the first Test wake-up call. Thereafter, he had pitches more to his liking and Kohli-Cam was back to showing the familiar whoops of celebration, as events bent to his will with his bowlers (new man, Axar, handled particularly well) delivering just what he wanted. His batting never got going – but it wasn’t needed. Grade B

Ajinkya Rahane (112 runs at 19; eight catches) – His catching was more influential than his batting, but his one innings of substance ensured that Rohit’s masterpiece was not wasted. Probably has enough credit in the bank for continued selection, but will need runs soon if he is to push on to 100 caps. Grade C+ 

Rishabh Pant (270 runs at 54; eight catches and five stumping) – The new superstar of Indian cricket, he showed that his extraordinary batting in Australia was no flash in the pan, as he produced two innings of extraordinary confidence and invention. His strike rate of 84 was a full 30 runs ahead of Joe Root, who was no slouch, and his boundary count (32 fours and 10 sixes)  was, like his balance of attack and defence, Gilchristian. His keeping improved in leaps and bounds for good measure. Grade A 

Washington Sundar (181 runs at 91; two wickets at 65) – Plenty of Indian fans told us that though he may have been selected as a back-up spinner down the order, he was a serious batsman and so it proved. Twice missed out on deserved centuries and he may find that a fit again Ravindra Jadeja and Axar – no mean batsman himself – are in competition with him for one place over the next couple of years, but talent has a way of breaking through. That said, don’t be too surprised to see him in Rahane’s slot at number five if his batting continues to develop. Grade B+   

Ravichandran Ashwin (189 runs at 32; 32 wickets at 15; two catches) – Quickly worked out that he needed few of his box of tricks beyond the hard spun drifter and turner and the hard spun dipper and skidder to bewitch England’s batsmen into crease-bound impotence or crazy charges. Knowing he was unlikely to add to the tattoo of bruises left by Patrick Cummins and Josh Hazlewood on Chennai’s black soil pitch, he came in to play and few shots and kept going all the way to a century. Grade A+ 

Kuldeep Yadav (Three runs at 2; two wickets at 21) – Should have played in the first Test when a third spinner was needed, but played in the second, when he wasn’t. Grade C

Axar Patel (55 runs at 14; 27 wickets at 11; one catch) – His debut series – really? Were India allowed to create a cyborg bowler perfectly manufactured to exploit Indian conditions and English techniques, a robot Axar is what you would get. His left-arm pacy deliveries that spun or hurried on from a high release point retaining an immaculate line and length, proving much too much for batsmen who had seen little of its kind before – and didn’t hang around long enough to see much of it this time either. Four five-fers in three Tests did not flatter him, as it was only Ashwin’s excellence at the other end that prevented him bagging plenty more. Grade A+  

Ishant Sharma (26 runs at seven; six wickets at 27; one catch) – Bowled with Andersonian skill to swing the ball, but he was only ever going to be a warm-up act for the A-men at the top of the bill. Grade B 

Mohammed Siraj (20 runs at 10; three wickets at 23; one catch) – The figures belie his hostile and street-smart pace bowling which yielded few boundary balls and shook up batsmen looking for a bit of respite from trial by turn. It will be interesting to see him in England come August in conditions likely to favour his brand of all-action aggression. Grade B

Jasprit Bumrah (Five runs at two; four wickets at 32; one catch) – After as disciplined and effective a display as one can expect in the series’ first innings with England piling up 578, he came back after injury for the third Test in which he was surplus to requirements. Grade B-

Shahbaz Nadeem (0 runs at 0; four wickets at 58) – Recalled 16 months after his debut Test, he looked out of his depth and will be fortunate to get another go given the progress of Axar and Washington. Grade C-

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 10, 2020

Three Memories of Cricket in 2020

With no crowd to congratulate him, every Pakistan player did the decent thing – to their credit.

First Test England vs West Indies – Shannon Gabriel to Zak Crawley

It had been an emotional few days.

Early July, deep in lockdown, we didn’t know whether we’d see any cricket at all, we didn’t know when we would be back at grounds, we didn’t even know when we would just get outside properly in the open air.

Then, in the middle of Sky’s usual speculation about team selection and pitch conditions, commentators, Michael Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent, invited us into a different kind of isolation, their lifelong prison, the prison of racism, with a searing 15 minutes of television. I can add nothing to their words except to say that they lose none of their power on repeated viewings – so click now.

We took a deep breath and, shaken up, bore in mind the words of the Italian football manager, Arrigo Sacchi, who described his sport as “the most important of the unimportant things in life” and settled in for some Test cricket.

To the immense credit of the players, the ECB, CWI, the broadcasters and everyone at the Ageas Bowl, Test cricket is exactly what we got, fought hard and fair with quarter neither asked nor given. Without a crowd, it sounded and looked different, but nobody could doubt for a second that it mattered.

Greater even than the joy of your side winning is that inward glow of pleasure that suffuses your whole being when a new talent emerges, one ready to write Test cricket’s future history, a torch illuminating a path that had never looked darker.

Shannon Gabriel was bowling fast and had a new ball in hand. He hit a length just outside off stump and Zak Crawley stood tall to punch it with a vertical bat through the covers. I thought of Barry Richards, who had played so many matches in the same county if not the same ground, or, more prosaically perhaps, of Michael Atherton, but he played the shot ever so slightly hunched – stiff in the back as always. Maybe VVS Laxman too, though he wouldn’t have hit it as hard, or Inzamam-ul-Haq with his economy of movement. Here was a player indeed.

Crawley scored just ten more runs as England collapsed, the West Indies going on to a famous win and Zak was to find himself in and out of the XI, as England wondered whether it was too soon for him to become a fixture in the top order.

Against Pakistan, in the final Test of the summer, he provided 267 answers.

The Bob Willis Trophy

I read a tweet that praised “The Bob” and suggested its structure might act as a template for the 2021 County Championship because “it took up less time.” For many of us, we’d be happy to see the 2021 County Championship take up pretty much every day from mid-April to mid-September, but I guess we might find some room for the 50 overs knockout matches and the T20 crowdpleasers under lights.

Somehow, the ECB not only got the show on the road (and, again, gratitude and kudos to everyone involved), but what a fine show it was, innovative, competitive and starring a marvellous cast of old favourites and new faces. The streams, though variable in quality, were a lockdown lifeline and the daily reports (please take note anyone with the power to preserve this ancient craft next summer) were a delight to read, an oasis of calm in a summer in which time was out of joint.

In the final, in the cold and the wind, Alastair Cook, Knight of the Realm, batted on and on to win the first ever Bob for his beloved Essex. County cricket mattered to a man who has achieved pretty much everything Test cricket has to offer – and it matters to quiet, faceless millions too, from the one who turns up with his dog in April, to those who just like to catch the scores in the paper or on the radio from time to time.

In 2021, the sporting calendar will be packed like a White House swearing-in of a Supreme Court judge. It might be easy (and convenient for some) if the County Championship were to slide into the shadows, but mark these words – ground, once ceded, will never be recovered. The Summer Game must hold its own and we should all do our bit.

New Zealand vs West Indies First Test 

It wasn’t much of a match, New Zealand far too good for a ramshackle West Indies possibly feeling the pace of their schedules in this year like no other. But that didn’t matter.

Everything about the match stood in contrast to the recent overloads of T20 cricket with its garish colour pallet, its gruesome heaves to leg, its gargantuan stadiums. That format has its place and it can make for a fun evening out, but how many times can one cope with that sensory assault, as 57 is chased down off the last four overs yet again, without tapping out?

Hamilton’s Seddon Park was the antidote I needed. Grassy banks, glorious sunshine and a palpably human scale provided the environment for Kemar Roach, his father having died on the eve of the match, to bowl his heart out, fortune, good or bad, met with the same smile. Kane Williamson played an epic Test innings, leaving when he should, defending or missing the good ones, hitting the bad ones, his heart seemingly bouncing off a rev limiter set to 50, a master craftsman at the top of his game. Neil Wagner, having had a tutorial from Trent Boult on the boundary the previous day, swung the ball beautifully as, joined by Tim Southee and the impressive newcomer, Kyle Jamieson, the Kiwis got home with an innings to spare, only Jermaine Blackwood and Alzarri Joseph resisting.

Watching the live stream made available on New Zealand Cricket’s Youtube channel, a couple of voices I had not heard before perfectly captured Test cricket’s commentary’s two most important elements.

Jeetan Patel cooly and clearly explained the technical side of what the players were trying to do and why, and went on to suggest what they might try next. The game is opaque (and, gloriously, the more you watch it, the more opaque it becomes) but his insights were most welcome and beautifully delivered.

Grant Elliott set the tone with as a wonderfully relaxed presence, describing the plays but asking questions of his co-commentators with a voice so soft that it took a moment to register just how pertinent his enquiries were. In the cutaways, he lounged a little in his chair and I half-expected to see a panama and a cheroot in a holder nearby ready for his break – he looked, a a year characterised by relentless discomfort, a man comfortable in his own skin. What a contrast with the incessant jabbering of their Australian counterparts.

The best memory went above and beyond cricket and takes me back to where I came in. The country whose leadership and populace led the world in their single-minded determination to defeat the virus were reaping their rewards. Kids played pick-up cricket round the back of the scoreboard; spectators wandered about half watching the cricket, half enjoying a summer’s day; and men and women sat at tables, drink in hand, laughing at tall tales of matches called off for snow in Invercargill back in the 70s.

It looked like the prize that is now almost within our grasp – it looked normal.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | October 5, 2020

The Five County Cricketers of the Year

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

Chef’s lockdown haircut getting a little out of hand

Sir Alastair Cook – The Great

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

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

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

Tom Lammonby – The Kid

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

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

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

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

Craig Overton – The Trier

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

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

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

Dan Christian – The Import

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Man of the Moments.

The Backstage Cast – The Unseen

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

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

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

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

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | October 5, 2020

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

Ball One – Underdogs dogged by ill fortune

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ball Two – Will Jacks flushes away Kent’s chances

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

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

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

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

Ball Three – Extremely Clumsy Business

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

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

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

Ball Four – That’s all Foakes

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

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

Ball Five – Dan Christian shows faith in his ability

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

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

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

Ball Six – Surrey’s charge tied up in knots

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 28, 2020

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

My verdict? Pretty good Sir, pretty good.

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

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

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

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

Ball Two – Cook still on the boil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ball Four – Not much changes about English seamers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 24, 2020

Dean Jones 24 March 1961 – 24 September 2020

Looking for a Queenslander

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

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

Then 1989.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 21, 2020

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

Ball One – “Breaking News”

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

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

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

County cricket’s millions of followers deserve better.

Ball Two – Sun sets on Somerset once again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ball Four – Ackermann backs a man – himself

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

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

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

Ball Five – Battle of Sexes won by Mr Wright

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

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

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

Ball Six – The Blast was a blast

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

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

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

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 15, 2020

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

Ball One – Clarke’s numbers beginning to add up

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

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

Ball Two – Roses match wilts after surprise team changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ball Four – Stone rocks up for the Blast

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

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

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

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

Ball Five – Crawley on the charge

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

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

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

Ball Six – Laurie Evans’ juggernaut defeats Essex

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

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

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

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