Ben Stokes: 173 runs at 34.6; one wicket at 54.0; one catch

By the end, the body was broken, the spirit bruised but the attitude was still intact – I was reminded of Fred Dibnah, the ruins of a tall chimney at his feet, grinning and asking “Did you like that?” A rare series win in New Zealand was sacrificed on the altar of Bazball, a chance to set a target of 500+ for the draw that would have secured the series, eschewed with the follow-on. But an unforgettable denouement became the legacy, as Kane Williamson and Neil Wagner charged through a door ever so slightly ajar. Are you not entertained?

That said, is the price worth paying? You would have to possess no soul to answer conclusively in the negative. Grade B

Zak Crawley: 58 runs at 14.5; two catches

Is he dealing with his technical issues? Is he capable of doing so? Does this England set-up care? There is the whiff of the sunk cost fallacy about the continuing faith shown in him, the 33 Tests for a career average under 28 simply too painful an investment to consign to history just yet. Nicking off three times and bowled through the gate once is not a showreel to encourage his diminishing number of defenders. Grade D-

Ben Duckett: 151 runs at 37.8; one catch

A barnstorming 84 on the first morning of the series knocked so much stuffing out of the Kiwis that it’s tempting to think that they only really regained a collective composure in the second innings at the Basin Reserve. To scramble opponents’ minds through drives and slashes through the offside and an occasional heave for six is his brief and, if his series fell away a little after that electrifying first 20 overs, England will take one knock in four like that all day long. Grade B+

Ollie Pope: 115 runs at 28.8; five catches

Four scores in double figures, but no half-century speaks to a batter who couldn’t find The Zone, that place where everything flows. It’s frustrating for him and for fans, as he takes up residence in that mythical place so often in the county game. Superb at short leg. Grade B-

Joe Root: 319 runs at 106.3; one wicket at 54.0; five catches

Skittish at Mount Maunganui, perhaps he listened to the counsel that suggested he stop trying too hard to get down with the kids and so, when it came to shot selection in the second Test, he largely shut the funk up. Of course, the class then oozed from an immaculate technique and settled gameplan until, nine balls after losing his captain to a similar shot, he was sucker-punched by Wagner. Grade A-

Harry Brook: 329 runs at 82.3; one wicket at 25.0; two catches

It’s not just how hard he hits the ball that catches the eye, but he also possesses the broadest of bats in defence, an orthodoxy that underpins everything this phenomenon (too soon?) does. When he prised out Williamson on 132 with his part-time dibbly-dobblers, one felt the gods had gone a little too far in favouring him and, sure enough, his run out without facing a ball in the final innings of the series rebalanced his karma to some extent. Grade A+

Ben Foakes: 124 runs at 31.0; six catches

Classy as ever behind the stumps and comfortable to go at a strike rate of 60-odd with bat in hand in the Age of Bazball. Years of chasing targets in the fuddy-duddy county game showed in his marshalling of the tail in the nerve-shredding partnership that came within an ace of delivering a series win. Not, for once, the most likely candidate to be dropped next summer, but don’t be surprised if the alluring prospect of Jonny Bairstow proves too much if he’s fit and England are one down in The Ashes.  Grade B

Ollie Robinson: 74 runs at 24.7; six wickets at 33.8; one catch

The Glenn McGrath tribute act continues, the seam held upright, the line on or about fourth stump, the wrist snapping at the release point to generate unwelcome bounce. The figures do not reflect the quality of his bowling, just two wickets in 48 overs after his super effort in the first innings of the series is a scant return for his relentless accuracy. He also made handy runs down the order, something he should work on for the future. Grade B-

Stuart Broad: 34 runs at 8.5; 10 wickets at 26.1; one catch

Back in the harness after paternity leave, he was soon galloping in and finding that little bit of encouragement that he so often snowballs into momentum, as much by force of will as anything else. He couldn’t deliver a repeat of his first innings work when his captain told him to keep his bowling boots on at the Basin Reserve, but seamers a decade or more younger struggle to go again with the same gusto when the opposition follow-on. His batting has become a source of humorous diversion for some, but not for those who understand that series can be won or lost by a single run and that a batter who has crossed 50 in Test cricket 14 times should respect his ability rather more than seems apparent. Grade B

Jack Leach: 20 runs at 10.0; 10 wickets at 34.6; one catch

His fortitude, with ball or bat in hand, is remarkable, based on his captain’s unwavering faith in him to deliver what the team needs. Targeted in both first innings, in which he went at above 4.5 per over, he came back in both second innings at about 2.5 runs per over. He also took wickets in all four innings, a very decent return. The nagging feeling persists that he could attack more with his line and trajectory, but he justified his place fully in New Zealand, not always something that one can claim for a visiting spinner. Grade B+

Jimmy Anderson: 10 runs at 10.0; 10 wickets at 16.8; two catches

At times he looks like an AI propelled android, the run-up, gather and delivery so grooved and the variations so smart that one can forget how physically tough it is to do what he has done for 20 years in an England shirt. And then his captain asks him to go again in the second innings of the second Test, without even a chance to rest the feet and do the crossword, and he does, but the wickets, unsurprisingly, do not come. Grade A-

New Zealand

Tim Southee: 85 runs at 21.3; six wickets at 43.0; one catch

Having inherited a side that has grown old together, denied the services of his two best bowlers in Trent Boult and Kyle Jamieson, and with his country reeling in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle, he ran into Bazball and was blitzed for almost a Test match and a half. So he did the right thing, perhaps the only thing, and gave a bit back, hammering 73 off 49 balls to gain the tiniest foothold in the series. He got plenty wrong at the toss and in the field and his bowling was often anaemic, but that act of defiance and what it meant for his team was critical. A fine servant of his country and of the game was rewarded with squared home series and even the most one-eyed of England fans should take some pleasure in that.  Grade B+

Tom Latham: 134 runs at 33.5; six catches

Out cheaply twice in the first Test, he stuck to his tried and trusted method of old school opening and his 53 overs stand with Devon Conway, following-on, was worth much more than the 149 runs shown on the scoreboard. Grade B

Devon Conway: 140 runs at 35.0; one catch

Scores in both Tests going in against the new ball were two more additions to this most consistent of performers’ glowing record. The middle order wasted the first one; they did not waste the second. Grade B

Kane Williamson: 142 runs at 35.5; one catch

Given a platform by his openers, his near seven and a half hours vigil in his last innings of the series (in which he went past Ross Taylor as New Zealand’s highest run scorer in Tests) wore England down and wrested just enough of an advantage for his well rested bowlers. Almost comically understated in everything he does, it warmed the heart to see him, back in the ranks now, celebrate a win for the ages as just one of the lads. Grade B+

Will Young: 10 runs at 5.0

Brought in for one Test to bolster the fragile upper order, he didn’t.  Grade D

Henry Nicholls: 70 runs at 17.5; two catches

In a very poor run of form, he never looked at ease with the bowling nor his technique and must now fear the looming presence of Glenn Phillips, who is only four years younger, but seems to be of another generation. Grade C-

Daryl Mitchell: 124 runs at 41.3; no wicket for 61 runs; three catches

A half-century in both matches, his natural belligerence looks more suited to number six than number five, but he will need to work on his bowling if he is to occupy that slot for the foreseeable future. Grade B-

Tom Blundell: 267 runs at 66.8; six catches

His 138 avoided an annihilation in the first Test and his contribution of 90 to the sixth wicket stand of 158 that turned the second Test underlined what a classy performer he is these days – that he was last man out both times shows that he might have added more. He was outshone by his opposite number with the gloves, but took the draw-sealing catch, and is proving a worthy successor to BJ Watling on both sides of the crease. Grade A-

Michael Bracewell: 46 runs at 11.5; five wickets at 41.6; six catches

It may sound harsh, but “Beastie”, for all his wholehearted effort, is an example of the all-rounder’s paradox – he doesn’t do what a spinner should do and he doesn’t do what a batter should do. He gets revs on the ball, but his history as a manufactured bowler shows in the frequency of loose deliveries that congregate around the good ones. He has played six Tests now and it’ll be interesting to see if he gets a seventh. Grade C-

Scott Kuggeleijn: 22 runs at 11.0; four wickets at 40.3

The bustling all-rounder found some bounce once his nerves settled and he activated Wagner-mode, but he looked much more like a decent first class cricketer rather than a Test standard player – which, to be fair, is what he is. Grade C-

Matt Henry: 6 runs at 3.0; six wickets at 29.1; one catch

Returning from paternity leave at the Basin Reserve, he picked up his fair share of wickets and offered his captain the control he needed in a very long spell bowled to Root and Stokes on the last afternoon, all the more admirable as he was clearly struggling with a back problem. Grade B+

Neil Wagner: 36 runs at 18.0; 11 wickets at 33.9; two catches

Some of us claimed he was finished as his trick of bowling 80mph bouncers failed to deliver the end product that has driven him to a scarcely credible fifth on his country’s all-time wickets list. We should have known better. With a bit of culpable negligence on their parts and a discomfiting build-up of dot balls, he bounced out Stokes and Root in consecutive overs and then applied the coup-de-grâce with a filthy leg-side delivery to James Anderson. Bravo, sir, Bravo! Grade B+

Blair Tickner: 11 runs at 11.0; four wickets at 31.8

Another debutant in the first Test who looked short of class, but he kept going and got his rewards. Grade C


England’s Bazball strategy delivers a whitewash in a closer series than that bald fact suggests, and Pakistan find a mystery spinner for the future. 


Ben Stokes: 173 runs at 34.6; one wicket at 124.0; four catches

None of this happens without Ben Stokes. He did not look fit enough to bowl and was short of his best with bat in hand, finding odd ways to get out, but it doesn’t really matter when he can inject such confidence into his team. 

Stokes is redefining Test cricket and, perhaps, sports leadership more generally, in real time, before our very eyes – and it’s a privilege to witness. Before a ball was bowled, he donated his tour fee to Pakistan Flood Relief and then joined his opposite number in playing the series in great spirit, accepting the responsibilities that came with a first visit for 17 years. No grumbling about security protocols nor recommendations for mothers-in-law on vacation were allowed on his watch – this tour was about joy not pain.

The naysayers are still waiting with their “I Told You So”s but their beer is going very flat now. Grade A

Zak Crawley: 235 runs at 39.2 ; three catches

Would Bazball work overseas? Would it even be attempted? Three hours before the scheduled start of the series, the question was whether we would even have a Test match at all, a bug laying England low. 

With three fours crashed in the first over, Crawley answered those questions with an emphasis that shocked even Bazball’s most fervent converts, driving length balls through the covers with the power and elegance that vindicated the faith shown in him over his long development as a Test opener. England were 174-0 at lunch, his share 91, and en route to breaking records and (eventually) Pakistan’s spirit. He did not make as many runs again, but continued to play with all his chips pushed into the middle, setting a tone that brooked no argument down the order. Which is why he’ll stay where he is. Grade B+

Ben Duckett: 357 runs at 71.4; two catches

Still sweeping, swishing and swiping, he retained the aggressive intent that marked his first try at Test cricket six years ago, but, looser in the shoulders as a result of Ben and Brendon’s philosophy, it worked so much better this time round, his short stature (in contrast with his opening partner) giving bowlers no length to find between the punches and the drives and the pulls and the cuts. 

He favours, as does his generation, staying leg side of the ball and trusting his hand-eye coordination, so juicier pitches will examine his weaknesses outside off stump more, but let’s cross that bridge when we get there. Grade A 

Ollie Pope: 238 runs at 47.6; 13 catches; one stumping

He took the gloves at short notice from the stricken Ben Foakes at Rawalpindi and, having delivered a competent 250 overs keeping and a century to boot, held on to them for the second Test. Did little wrong again, but, in acknowledgement of the workload, dropped down the order for the second dig – what an effort though!

Delivered another busy half-century in the third Test to round off a splendid series in which he built up credit not just as a batter, but as a team man. Grade A 

Joe Root: 125 runs at 25.0; five wickets at 39.2; three catches

Suddenly the elder statesman picking out tunes on an acoustic guitar while all around him the kids are playing death metal turned up to 11. Not exactly lost in this new world, but a growing tendency to get out forcing things having got in, suggests he might be wiser playing his own game at a hardly pedestrian strike rate of 60 or so. 

Once again, he proved to be a handy third spinner on subcontinental tracks. Grade B-

Harry Brook: 468 runs at 93.6; two catches

Clarity of thinking (last seen when Virender Sehwag would ‘See ball. Hit ball’) marked an extraordinary series in which he seemed only ever five minutes away from clouting a boundary wherever he so chose. His weight of stroke, the product of superb balance and fast hands rather than slogs, ensures that a purple patch of form brings a cascade of runs. He hit 12 sixes in this three match series: Jos Buttler only hit 33 in his 57 Test career.

If it’s bowling that wins Test matches, it’s batting like this that provides the time and scoreboard pressure for pacers and spinners alike to attack for hour after hour. Has any batter ever enjoyed a more spectacular first full series? Grade A+

Ben Foakes: 64 runs at 64.0; three catches; one stumping

He recovered from the bug to take his place in Karachi, keeping with neat confidence and the occasional moment of genuine flair, but also advancing the score from 145-5 to 324-9 in a critical stay at the crease. Moved the scales both ways in his favour on the balance of adding skills behind the stumps at a cost of runs in front. Grade A- 

Will Jacks: 89 runs at 22.3; six wickets at 38.7

He responded to a last minute call up to take six wickets in Pakistan’s first innings in Rawalpindi. Inevitably, he found it harder to catch his skipper’s eye after that, his attacking line and tossed up off breaks still a work in progress, offering too many scoring opportunities. Batted in the now orthodox fearless style going at almost a run a ball. He will be back. Grade B

Liam Livingstone: 16 runs at 16.0

Injured on the second day of the whirlwind first Test, he barely got a shake before flying home. His might prove one of the briefer Test careers. Grade C 

Rehan Ahmed: 11 runs at 5.5; seven wickets at 19.6

Raw – as a teenager with just three first class matches behind him will be – but he seized his chance with a blizzard of wickets from leg breaks and googlies (and, to be fair, long hops). Smiled more on his debut Test than some England players did in 50 – things are very different now. 

Whether his variations will work as successfully once the analysts dissect them is an open question, but has the temperament and shoulders to build a career as a three-dimensional player (remember them?) and, of course, has the environment too. Grade A-    

Ollie Robinson: 74 runs at 18.5; nine wickets at 21.2; three catches

Often criticised for a lack of conditioning, he played all three Tests, bowling more overs than any teammate except Jack Leach, took wickets with some super deliveries and maintained a run rate below 2.5. Job description delivered without so much as a slumped shoulder. Ben Stokes has solved the Robinson riddle and is reaping the rewards. Grade A- 

Mark Wood: 77 runs at 38.5; eight wickets at 20.4

The Durham man wouldn’t know how to slump a shoulder, charging in with an ageing ball to bowl at 88mph+ whenever his captain asked it of him. To have flogged eight wickets in two matches from these surfaces without a single catch going to slip is a tremendous effort. Grade A- 

Jack Leach: 15 runs at 15.0; 15 wickets at 44.6; four catches

Because there were times when he genuinely did spin and flight the ball, it was all the more infuriating to see England’s senior spinner spend so much time firing the ball into a surface that would not help, even from the vestigial rough on pitches that refused to deteriorate. He was outbowled at times by tyros, Will Jacks and Rehan Ahmed and even Joe Root, but his head did not drop, his captain’s support never wavered and the wickets eventually came. He played his part.

That said, one wonders, nearly five years into his Test career, whether he will ever give himself the chance to find, consistently, the dip, drift and sharp turn he has in his locker but seems reluctant to use. Grade B  

Jimmy Anderson: 17 runs at 5.7; eight wickets at 18.5; one catch

The veteran pacer used all his wiles in taking four second innings wickets to set up the thrilling win in Rawalpindi, a match in which he bowled 46 overs. He had less work at Multan, but found a way to contribute by keeping the pressure on batters unwilling to take chances against the old maestro. Grade A- 


Babar Azam: 348 runs at 58.0; one catch

Lesser men would have wilted in the eye of the storm, but he, and his team, did not, playing the game with grace and heart, something that seemed to be acknowledged by fans in the stadiums who are not slow to dispose of an effigy if they so desire. 

One of the great multi-format batters of these times, he showed his class, particularly driving dreamily through the off side but, in a callow batting line-up, the feeling persisted that getting him out opened up an end. Grade B+

Imam-ul-Haq: 229 runs at 57.3; three catches

He scored his customary century at Rawalpindi and was much missed when forced out of the third Test through injury. Grade B+

Abdullah Shafique: 213 runs at 35.5; four catches

The bright new hope of Pakistani batting started with a century that portended another prolific series but couldn’t continue his run of big scores after that. He did not fail, but he did not cross 50 after that when his team very much needed him to do so. At 23, very much a player to watch. Grade B-

Shan Masood: 54 runs at 27.0

The incoming captain of Yorkshire was recalled to open in the third Test and got off to two positive starts but failed to go on. Grade B-

Azhar Ali: 112 runs at 28.0

It was a stop-start series for the old stalwart, who missed the second Test after toughing it out with a hand injury in the first. There were emotional scenes at Karachi as England’s players honoured a great in his valedictory match – one wonders if it got to him a little, out fourth ball for a duck in his last innings. Grade C

Saud Shakeel: 346 runs at 57.7; no wicket for 30 runs; five catches

Azhar’s heir apparent in the upper order, the left-hander’s compact technique has little to go wrong and he placed a high price on his wicket. Looked for all the world like a man playing in his tenth series and not his first. He has a big series coming up against New Zealand. Grade A- 

Mohammad Rizwan: 141 runs at 23.5; one catch

As bouncy a presence as ever behind the stumps, he just could not get going with bat in hand, skittish when he should have been watchful. England were wary of the damage he could cause over a couple of sessions on flat pitches, but those sessions never came. Grade C-

Agha Salman: 184 runs at 36.8; one wicket at 95.0; two catches

The all-rounder provided had useful ballast in the middle order, but his bowling was little more than fodder for England’s ravenous batters. As with many selections in this series, one had to wonder whether the talent factory that is Pakistani domestic cricket did not have better options that were ignored in favour of a 29 year-old with just two Tests behind him. Grade C

Mohammad Nawaz: 46 runs at 23.0; one wicket at 88.0; two catches

Another inexperienced all-rounder in his late 20s who looked short of the class required for Test cricket, particularly with ball in hand on unforgiving pitches. Grade C- 

Faheem Ashraf: 37 runs at 9.25; no wicket for 43 runs

Another curious selection whose medium pace did not enjoy his captain’s confidence, so he ended up playing as a specialist batter with a career average below 30. Grade D 

Nauman Ali: 35 runs at 17.5; four wickets at 41.0

He was drafted in for the third Test to provide a bit of control and, relatively speaking, he did so, allowing Abrar to weave his spells at the other end without the scoreboard advancing eight runs between his overs. Grade B-

Mohammad Wasim: 10 runs at 10.0; one wicket at 111.0

His figures on debut do not do him justice as he found more reverse swing than any other bowler at a lively pace. Surely he will play in the upcoming Tests because Pakistan’s bowling should never be bereft of the ball that tails in to the batter’s toes. Grade B-

Naseem Shah: 21 runs at 10.50; five wickets at 41.2; two catches

The teenage tearaway only knows one way to bowl and he paid the price for his flat out approach, missing the last two Tests with injury. To his credit, he stood up to a mauling at Rawalpindi and never shirked his responsibility to bowl fast. Batted with great courage too. Grade B  

Zahid Mahmood: 18 runs at 4.5; 12 wickets at 36.2

It boggled the mind why the Pakistan selectors could have chosen a 34 year-old leg spinner for his debut in the first Test. England treated pie after pie with the contempt they deserved. 

We saw a different bowler at Multan where, perhaps a little more relaxed after his monstering in Rawalpindi, he turned the ball and dismissed batters as a result (his victims in the first Test got themselves out to some extent). His figures flatter him a little (except his economy rate of almost seven), a comparison with Abrar a better indicator of his performance. Grade C-

Haris Rauf: 12 runs at 6.0; one wicket at 78.0

The big quick was injured in the first innings of the series, his point of difference missed in an attack that became too same without either of its 140kmh men. Grade C

Mohammad Ali: 0 runs at 0.0; four wickets at 65.3; one catch

Another debutant handed a cap lateish in his career, he looked more like a Lancashire League pro who would take 7-35 on a green top at Haslingden than an heir to Wasim and Waqar. England’s batting line-up did not need a second invitation and tucked in. Grade D- 

Abrar Ahmed: 29 runs at 14.5; 17 wickets at 27.2

Many Pakistan supporters were bemused by his omission from the first Test and it didn’t take long to see why, his mix of off breaks and leg breaks flicked from the front of his hand dismissing the first seven batters as England navigated their way to 281 all out in Multan. 

He found it a little harder to get through English defences after that, but he remained much the biggest threat to batters who might have been able to pick him, but still had to deal with his control of flight and dip. 

Whether he crashes and burns like Narendra Hirwani or finds a home in franchise cricket like Sunil Narine (on whom he appears to have modelled his batting too) remains to be seen, but I won’t be alone in hoping that he stays in Test cricket to delight us for years to come. Grade A

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 20, 2022

Three memories of cricket in 2022

Following on from reviews of 2014201520162017201820192020 and 2021 here are a few moments to savour from 2022.

1) Liam Norwell bears up well under pressure for Warwickshire

In those long ago times when England captains wouldn’t chase 273 off 75 overs for fear of defeat and the Australian pacers cowed our batters in The Ashes down under, a High Performance Review was commissioned which, alongside many sensible suggestions, proposed filleting the County Championship. Somehow England’s prospective Test players were to improve their skills by playing less four day cricket.

It feels like yesterday’s news now, but in September uncertainty over the shape of 2024’s first class structure made it imperative for the 2021 champions, Warwickshire, to preserve their Division One status for 2023. County cricket – always building the narrative…

There had been rain, a declaration, a collapse – all hallmarks of a side on the edge of panic, the extension of which is uniquely delicious in first class cricket. Will Rhodes had only 138 runs in hand and ten Sussex wickets to take for a crucial victory. He bet the farm on the experience and discipline of Oliver Hannon-Dalby and the fragile, mercurial talents of Liam Norwell.

He delivered a spell of 8-2-16-3, had a three over break, and returned with 10.5-1-46-6, enough to win the match by five runs – and preserve Warwickshire’s top flight slot for next year. There seemed to be, as there often is in such spells, an unseen force propelling him to the crease – ridiculous, but everyone, including the batters, can sense it.

Norwell’s season had been blighted by injury and a concussion, yielding the kind of appearance record that a 30 year-old seamer does not want placed in front of the board when contract renewals are under discussion. But he’s one of the great unfulfilled talents of the English game and all those skills and all that frustration were channeled into an emotional afternoon that had thousands watching and listening to every ball online.

The management consultants can have their metrics, their KPIs and their income stream projections and we have the joy of Liam Norwell and Warwickshire when the last wicket fell at Edgbaston – you can’t put a price on that.  

2) Jos Buttler and Alex Hales jazz things up  

The World Twenty20 Cup semi-final, with India’s IPL superstars every move cheered to the rafters by a partisan crowd at Adelaide. Adelaide – you’ll remember Adelaide…. 

England had the better of things for so much of India’s innings until Hardik Pandya wrenched the match back into the balance with a blitz of late sixes. At the innings break, the dressing room knew that 169 was gettable but that the 150-odd that had seemed the likelier target for most of the previous 90 minutes would have tilted the match their way. A good start was essential.

Jos Buttler, the captain, walked to the middle with the man he had brought back into the fold, Alex Hales. Hales owed Buttler his place; Buttler owed his team vindication of his ending of his opening partner’s long ostracising from the fold. If Bollywood were to make a movie, eyes would be narrowed, wordless nods exchanged, deep breaths taken. And there was a World Cup Final place at stake.

What happened next was surprising, then satisfying, then funny and, ultimately, easy. It took India 15 overs to find a set that did not go for fewer than seven runs (and many went for a lot more) by which time the fielding was ragged, the result long since decided.

Hales had come out of the blocks more quickly, but by the time the target was passed, Buttler had almost caught him up, 86 not out playing 80 not out, four overs left when the winning runs (a Buttler six) soared into the night sky and the bowlers were saved from further punishment. England were a step away from adding the 20 overs crown to their 50 overs title from 2019, the country so long constipated by outdated thinking and deep-seated insecurities propelled to such dominance by two batters who played as if following the tempos of free jazz. I’m not sure who was more shellshocked – England’s opponents or England’s fans.   

3) Ben Stokes declares in Rawalpindi

There’s often a scene in a film when the big words require backing up with big deeds – if you’ve seen The Banshees Of Inisherin, you’ll know what I mean. You sometimes see them in sport too. The outpointed heavyweight who had talked trash going for a knockout in the 12th, the ageing champion diving up the inside on the last lap of a grand prix, the wily medalist from the last Games kicking for gold with 200m still to run. Most such instances occur when a person is backed into a corner and, as Imran Khan memorably said to his team in the 1992, they have to “fight like cornered tigers”.

Ben Stokes was anything but cornered in Rawalpindi. Two extraordinary performances with the bat had brought 657 all out in 101 overs in the first innings and then his cavaliers had smashed 264-7 in 36 overs second time round. But Pakistan had fought back with bat in hand, scoring 579 runs of their own to keep a foothold in the match. It was the first Test of the series and England had only ever won two in the country in their entire history. Safe to say that a draw would be a much better result for the visitors than the hosts.

When Harry Brook, perhaps on his way to becoming the icon of (I’ll say it) Bazball, was out 87 off 65 balls, England’s captain declared leaving Pakistan 343 to win the match off 100 overs (less a few lost to the early dusk). 45 minutes more batting would likely have made England’s position impregnable, a draw the worst result on Day Five. But Ben Stokes had said that he wasn’t interested in draws, so he chose to bowl and risk defeat for the chance to win. And, as it turned out for the man with the Midas touch, he needed all those overs to force a victory for the ages.

I don’t know if England’s captain has seen Martin McDonagh’s beautiful, brutal movie, but Brendan Gleeson’s character’s chosen method to show how serious he was about his promise will have a perticular resonance for him. What a man, what a team!  


Posted by: tootingtrumpet | October 2, 2022

The five county cricketers of the year

A player can only be named as a county cricketer of the year once. Here are the previous winners: 2021; 202020192018 and 2017

Keaton Jennings

In the days of Space Invaders, you could get your name on  the High Scores screen – if you were good enough. Somewhere in the multiverse, there’s a clunky old arcade game that flashes up

Jet 318

Jet 238

Jet 199

They were Keaton ‘Jet’ Jennings’ three top scores for Lancashire in the Championship’s Division One, a run short of matching a ‘triple doubles’ record from a very different era indeed. 

Despite playing only 11 of the 14 scheduled matches, the left-handed opener’s bounty of 1233 runs at 72.5 proved the largest haul in the division and played a major part in Lanky’s second place finish. He also captained the 50 overs side to the final of the Royal London Cup, leading his county’s run-getters with 390 at 48.8.

So much for the stats. At 30, Jennings appears at ease with his game, made evident in an economy of movement into line, the good balls defended, the bad balls hit hard. It’s well known that he is an accomplished player of spin but he looks to have the game for dealing with pace too. 

There’s a touch of Trescothick in his presence at the crease these days – and England might fancy some of Tres’s output from a batter who appears much more equipped to deal with the challenge of Test cricket than when he was last picked in February 2019.

Toby Roland-Jones

At Lord’s, you would watch this tall, strong man run in (yes, quite a long way) with the pavilion behind him, and move the ball a little this way and a little that, seldom offer much that could be comfortably left with enough pace to keep the batter honest, and you would wonder why he didn’t make it as a Test bowler. Then you’d dial up his stats and find that, actually, he did – it was injury that stymied him and then a sense that, at 34 now, his time has passed. But he took 67 wickets at 18.8 in Middlesex’s promotion season, topping the charts in Division Two. Just as importantly, he sent down 476 overs, only Dom Bess worked harder in the Champo.

Like Jennings, he has matured into a player who knows his limitations and focuses on his strengths to maximise his returns on different pitches in different conditions – Glenn McGrath would approve.   

With three half-centuries and 354 runs at 29.5, his batting is handy, but it’s more secondary than it once was when he threatened to hold down a spot at seven – he’s an eight these days, especially next year in Division One. 

Like Tom Bailey at Lancashire and Dan Worrall at Surrey, Roland-Jones is a classic English seamer (okay, Worrall is Australian, but he earns the label) all about accuracy and nibble at 80mph or so. Whether that will win series overseas where speed through the air and lift off the pitch matters more, is debatable – but some of us who value excellence on our pitches in our competitions, don’t really care that much. Genuine pace makes it own rules and will always come through – let’s not lose the old virtues in pursuit of the very few who can hit 90mph consistently.   

Hampshire’s Trident

Okay, they’re not quite these guys, but each of Hampshire’s three pacers finished in the top seven wicket-takers in Division One and were the main reasons why their county won more matches than any other, with nine wins from 14 outings. To finish third seems a rather meagre return when you put it like that, especially as Ben Stokes has backed a ‘go for the win’ policy regardless of the match situation and it’s working for England.

Keith Barker, Kyle Abbott and Mohammad Abbas played 14, 13 and 12 matches respectively, each taking over 50 wickets at about 20 – frankly, you are going to win a lot of cricket matches with numbers like those. Barker is left-arm, all muscle with more craft than initially meets the eye; Abbott right arm, still aggressive, making the batter play; and Abbas is as wily an operator as a traditional sub-continental spinner, the ball never quite arriving where you expect it and, whoops, you’ve nicked off again.

But there’s another reason the three get my vote. They bowled 1230 overs in the season in a variety of conditions and were always there for their captain, despite the fact that all three men made their debuts in 2009 and are well into their 30s. We know pace bowling hurts and it hurts more the older you get (everything does) so it’s a testament to their fitness and their motivation that they maintained their standards over six months of combat.

Harry Brook   

Better than Bradman? Of course not, but 107.44 is higher than 99.94, so the young Yorkie can at least claim to have a higher 2022 Division One average than the Aussie nonpareil’s Test career mark.

At 23, Brook started the season with 101 and 56 not out as Yorkshire beat Gloucestershire and had the Youtube watchers purring about his timing, particularly his driving through extra cover. Next up, Northants were taken for 84 and 77 not out. And so it continued.

By now, spectators were pitching up to watch him, others seeking out Yorkshire TV because what we had on our hands was not just a batter in form, but a batter in the mythical Zone. Few are granted access to that sacred space, the land where everything happens slowly, where the ball is never felt on the bat, when every delivery can be hit anywhere, but the right destination is always chosen. To watch is to observe a batter on another plane.

Brook exited The Zone on the 20th of July and has faced a red ball in one innings since then. If you want to back high performance, you really have to let the high performers play.

Sam Cook  

The surname didn’t help – there’s a more famous one in Essex after all. It also didn’t help a young seamer to have Jamie Porter and Simon Harmer hoovering up the wickets before you had your shoulders loosened for a second spell. 

But the local boy pacer has always been excellent, running in and getting top order batters out with movement both ways at fast-medium (not medium-fast). With Porter and Harmer around less at Chelmsford in 2022, Cook took his chance, snaring 51 wickets at the preposterous average of 16.2 and economy rate of 2.2.

If nobody gets hold of you across and season and you keep getting people out, you might have what in takes to succeed at Test level – you might not too, because it’s a tough game. We’ll only find out if we give him a chance – recently turned 25, he has time on his side and there are a couple of vacancies coming up soon.  

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 30, 2022

The Final Over Of The Week In County Cricket – 29 September 2022

Yorkshire down as Warwickshire survive in a thriller

Liam Norwell the hero for the Bears, but White Rose wilts at the end of its most difficult season  

Ball One – Norwell does well

Scenes! Absolute scenes at Edgbaston, as Liam Norwell, in the 11th over of a heroic spell, traps Mohammad Abbas in front of all three and sparks delirium in Warwickshire and despair in Yorkshire. County Championship you say? Who needs it?

It was a match the home side knew that they needed to win. They also knew that they needed help from elsewhere and also that, with a re-organisation on the cards for 2024, a place in 2023’s Division One was even more valuable than it would be in a normal season (if such a thing exists). No pressure in soft county cricket? Save that for the birds.

With weather taking time out of the game, Will Rhodes (who knows how to win cricket matches – the pennant was still in his possession after all) took a bold decision late on day two and declared at 272-4. He knew it was win or bust, so he needed his bowlers to have a break between Hampshire’s innings and he also wanted to get on with the job of taking 20 wickets. He refused the chance to add another 128 or so before lunch on day three – good on him! 

Despite that man Norwell’s four wickets, Warwickshire batted a second time 39 runs behind, and lost first innings centurion, Rob Yates, and nightwatchman, Henry Brookes, before they were out of the red. Only Dom Sibley, in his last match for the county, made much of a fist of it with 77, but that spared Rhodes another tricky declaration.

Everyone knew that if Warwickshire were to defend a target of 139, the experienced pair of Ollie Hannon-Dalby and Norwell would have to do it. They delivered 37 of the second innings’ 44 overs, Hannon-Dalby building pressure at one end while Norwell attacked the stumps at the other. Hampshire, motivated by a £145k difference in prize money between second and third places as well as professional pride, had plenty to play for but couldn’t resist the onslaught. Norwell earned career-best figures on 9-62, top flight cricket next year and a free pint in every bar in Birmingham for life.   

Ball Two – Bess bested

‘Every Loser Wins’ sang fictional Yorkshire bobby, Nick Berry, and the er… heartbeats would have quickened in the Broad Acres at the prospect of that apparent contradiction being proved right – but Liam Norwell had other thoughts.

Truth is Yorkshire should not have lost their match to bottom-placed Gloucestershire in a low scoring thriller at Headingley. They let the visitors slither from 128-7 up to 190 all out on day one, then were just 69 runs in arrears with seven wickets in hand  – but still conceded a first innings deficit. They might have been looking at a fourth innings chase of 140 or so when they had half Graeme van Buuren’s men back in the hutch for 74, but they allowed Oliver Price and Jack Taylor to get away and had 101 more runs than that to save themselves off their own bats.

They were half way there, five down, but Adam Lyth fell to the spin of Zafar Gohar and Dom Bess couldn’t find the partner he needed in marshalling the tail. So it proved a bittersweet moment for stalwart seamer, Steve Patterson, last man out, his team 20 runs short, as he accepted warm applause from supporters and players of both sides. but knew that the trap door’s latch was (fatally as it transpired) still open. 

Ball Three – Goldsworthy shines and Qadri cashes in 

Kent also went into their last match in fear of the drop, but continued their superb end of season form with an innings win over a Somerset side who will be glad to see the back of 2022. 

Two 21 year-olds will take something away for the winter. Lewis Goldsworthy came within six runs of a second century of the season for Somerset and can look to fill the spot vacated by James Hildreth permanently. Afghan-born, Hamidullah Qadri’s 87 from number eight for Kent showed the potential with the bat that can supplement his off-breaks and keep him in a Division One XI next year. 

Ball Four – Jam today for Tom Hartley

Not so long ago, it looked like we might have a ‘Winner Takes All’ shoot-out on our hands as Surrey travelled to Old Trafford in the last round of championship matches. But it wasn’t to be and who can blame the champions if they lost their hitherto season-long unbeaten record demonstrating that you can’t really play this game in your flip-flops (okay, probably unfair, but a nice line). 

Not that Lancashire will see it that way. If there’s a side in front of you that needs putting away, then that’s what you do. As they have done all season, Keaton Jennings and Steven Croft scored runs and George Balderson fell just three short of the first of what will be many first class centuries for the club.

Dane Vilas turned to his pacers initially and they took the first six wickets to fall, but Lancashire’s spinners are in the team not to hold an end while the seamers rest, but to dismiss batters. Matt Parkinson and Tom Hartley took 12 of the 14 wickets the home side needed for the win, as Surrey followed-on and lost by an innings and 130. 

When the dust settled on the extraordinary events at Edgbaston, Lancashire had pipped Hampshire to second in Division One to complete a hat-trick of runners-up slots in all three domestic competitions. Maybe time for a cigarillo, if not a cigar, in Manchester?   

Ball Five – Nottinghamshire and Middlesex promoted to Division One

With Nottinghamshire piling up 652-5 declared (centuries for Haseeb Hameed, Matthew Montgomery, Lyndon James and Steven Mullaney) en route to shellacking Durham by 462 runs to secure the Division Two title and promotion, attention turned to the other slot available.

Middlesex nailed it down before the weather intervened, maxing out the bonus points by bowling Worcestershire out for 225 in the 83rd over and then crossing 400 themselves before the 110th. Two strong contenders for this column’s Five County Cricketers of the Year (watch this space) were at the forefront of the effort, four wickets and a 50 for Toby Roland-Jones and 92 and two catches for John Simpson.

News from Worcester reached Hove where Glamorgan had done their bit in securing a first innings lead of 275, but, with third now the best they could hope for, the wind went out of the visitors’ sails and it seemed rather cruel for Ali Orr and Tom Haines to plunder 328 for the first wicket en route to Sussex’s 554-8 following-on, Danial Ibrahim also bagging a maiden ton.

Ball Six – Smiles Of A Summer Night – past, present and future

This is the last ball of the last over of what might be the longest domestic season ever (I marked out my run on 11 April), yet it also feels like it was the shortest, such was its stop-start nature. Next season may look broadly similar, but, after that, who knows? 

I’ll be 60 by the time we’re next checking to see if anyone has made 1000 runs in May and I’ve always pooh-poohed the doomsayers when it comes to cricket as it has been played through my lifetime. And in some ways, I’m still right. We’ve never had more county cricket available to watch or listen to and it’s never (well, almost never) been played at more grounds. There’s a few faces beginning to emerge that don’t fit into the ‘white middle class from a private school’ county cricketer cookie cutter and, at the Royal London Cup Final, while we bid farewell to Darren Stevens we said hello to Joey Evison. Shan Masood will captain Yorkshire next season. Good signs. 

But the pooh-poohing has to stop when one looks at the load of [redacted] proposed for county cricket in the already infamous High Performance Review report. Whether that marks the high-water mark of those who wish to put everything in service of the ECB’s cash machine (England) and its would-be cash machine (The Hundred), will only become clear in time. 

I’d quite like to reach 70. Hang on – I’ll try that again. 

I’d quite like to reach 70 with a more coherent cricket season to fill the summer months, at least as much county championship cricket as there is now and with England the best team in the world. But if I have to compromise on one of those wishes, it’s the third one I’ll pick.

Thanks as ever to Paul Campbell at The Guardian for his ridiculously loyal commitment to getting this column up every single week since April, to the players who have entertained and, occasionally, infuriated us. And, most of all, to you, the readers who love the game as do I and were kind enough to give a little time each week to my thoughts, often supplementing them with characteristic generosity and insight below the line.

Until the next time they Send In The Clowns… 


Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 24, 2022

The Final Over Of The Week In County Cricket – 23 September 2022

Surrey secure the title with a match in hand

Hampshire lose and Surrey win to send the pennant to The Oval for the second time in four championships

Ball One – Burns hot on collective excellence 

It was when the player profiles appeared on the big screens at The Oval that I felt sure it was Hampshire’s job to keep the title race open and not Yorkshire’s. The likes of Finlay Bean and George Hill may have talent, but they looked very callow compared to Surrey’s big beasts like Jamie Overton, Kemar Roach and Dan Worrall. Factor in Tom Kohler-Cadmore’s propensity to squander his talent and Will Fraine, in at five but with just the one half-century this season, and it never looked likely that the visitors would score enough runs – and they didn’t.

In some ways the match was a microcosm of Surrey’s season. Five seamers each took at least three wickets and a part-time spinner chipped in with a couple. Ollie Pope made a brilliant century and enough batters played around him to post 333, which was to prove enough to yield the opportunity to enforce the follow-on, which Rory Burns, one eye on Friday’s forecast, did.

Burns was one of just three ever-presents (with one match to come) alongside fellow opener Ryan Patel and the veteran Hashim Amla, forming a stable top three. But a remarkable 12 batters average 40 or more and six bowlers average 30 or less. In all, 22 players have played under Burns’ captaincy in the Championship and pretty much every one of them has made a genuine contribution. That is a remarkable feat of leadership with much credit also going to coach, Gareth Batty, in his first season. It’s one thing to be blessed with resources, but quite another to get so much out of them. 

Ball Two – Mighty Quinn sees off Hampshire

Hampshire ran into Kent with the club revelling in the backwash of their Royal London Cup victory and its players very much motivated to avoid the drop. On a mad first day, 23 wickets fell, Kent’s anaemic 165 all out made to look positively beefy by Hampshire’s dismal collapse to 57 all out, Matt Quinn (last seen on the receiving end of Essex’s 573) taking 6-23 as Hampshire’s seamers were, for once, out-bowled. 

Hampshire would have fancied their chances with Kent 55-4 second time round, but Jack Leaning dug in with 112, a captain’s knock, and a target of 378 proved too many, despite James Vince’s men fighting all the way.

It will be cold comfort to reflect on their superior win record in comparison to the champions (nine plays eight with one to go), but their three defeats sting. Next year, Hampshire will set off in pursuit of the pennant for a 50th season since last it caught in the Solent breeze – but maybe this was their best chance.   

Ball Three – Tall stories come true for Lanky at Chelmsford 

Records tumbled along with the stumps at Chelmsford as Lancashire, at one point a tennis-like 7-6, roared back to beat Essex on what might be described as a sporting track.

On day one, Sam Cook and Shane Snater did some damage with the new ball (as one might expect in mid-September) and then Simon Harmer did what he does, but the Toms (Hartley and Bailey) had biffed eight boundaries down the order and 131 felt disappointing rather than disastrous for the visitors.

Then Lancashire’s three seamers and two spinners got amongst the home side, Alastair Cook the only batter to last more than 35 minutes as five LBW shouts were upheld and two more were bowled. 

Keaton Jennings and Luke Wells walked out together for the second time on the day probably thinking about an hour’s batting or so before stumps and a reassessment in the morning. 35 balls later, their team were six down.

Teenage wicketkeeper-batter, George Bell must have wondered how he got this game for his debut, but he steadied the ship and Hartley and Bailey were effective again down the order. That said, the home side only needed 98…

At 28-1, it was all ‘Crisis? What Crisis?’ for the Chlemsfort faithful, but George Balderson bagged a grandchildren-bothering story of how he got Alastair Cook, and Dan Lawrence before splattering the stumps of Matt Critchley for his hat-trick and the wickets were barely tethered to the earth again, as Essex were all out 59, five of the last six clean bowled. Balderson must have been very surprised and disappointed to miss out on playing in the RL Cup Final, but 5-14 defending 98 successfully isn’t a bad pick-me-up.

Ball Four – Bears not out of the woods going into last round

Last year’s champions, Warwickshire, knew that they needed points from their last two matches to scramble away from the relegation slots. Gloucestershire this week, already down, looked the likelier bet than high-flying Hampshire next week, but chickens are always best left uncounted in this game – and so it proved.

After Surrey-bound Dom Sibley had carried his bat for 120, and spinners, Jayant Yadav and Danny Briggs, had taken eight wickets, it was pretty much a one innings match. Cue Tom Price, whose season-leading 8-27 had the visitors 36-5 at one point and left Gloucestershire with 148 required for the win – tricky.

A target like that usually requires two batters to play well and, no surprise here, it was opener, Chris Dent, and captain, Graeme van Buuren who delivered, scoring 113 runs between them, Tom Price at the non-striker’s end as Gloucestershire squeaked home by three wickets. 

If Warwickshire are to play Division One cricket next season, they’ll need to win at Edgbaston and hope results elsewhere to go their way – quite a contrast from the celebrations of a year ago. It’s almost as if there’s excellence spread through at least 12 counties if such tumbles can happen.    

Ball Five – Sun setting on a disappointing season for Somerset

Somerset got their act together in an inconsistent season to hammer Northamptonshire by 352 runs. Skipper, Tom Abell, led from the front with twin centuries and Tom Lammonby’s 111 marked a welcome return to form, his first score above 46 in two months. 

Twenty wickets are the other requirement for the win and Craig Overton spearheaded the attack as he has so often at Taunton with seven wickets in the match and a remarkably athletic run out off his own bowling. That spoke to the desperation the home side felt, standing on the trap door.

A haul of 22 points sees them join Northants in mid-table safety, but, looking at the talent available, it’s a case of under-achievement on Somerset’s part and over-achievement on Northants’. It’ll be a winter of reflection in the West Country with James Hildreth retired and another summer passed by without a title. Maybe 2023? Plenty will be hoping so. 

Ball Six – Notts’ promotion chances suddenly look a bit ropey

It was a bad, bad week for Nottinghamshire in Division Two. So long a shoo-in for promotion, they’re suddenly within reach of Middlesex and Glamorgan – though they should hang on to one of the two slots.

With the home side 99-5 at Worcester, Nottinghamshire’s sat-navs were being programmed for The Oval and Old Trafford, but an innings defeat was the fate that awaited Steven Mullaney’s men after a century from Gareth Roderick and wickets for all five Worcestershire pacers, the division two not-quite champions-elect despatched by lunch on day three.

Disappointment veered towards distress as news came through that Glamorgan, thanks to David Lloyd’s 313 not out and an Ajaz Patel fiverfer were putting Derbyshire to the sword and Middlesex were outgunning poor old Leicestershire, old pros Toby Roland-Jones and Tim Murtagh bagging six wickets between them in both innings. 

Nottinghamshire enjoy an 18 point lead over third place Glamorgan with Middlesex half way between them. Notts, home to Durham next week, are still big favourites to go up, but with Glamorgan at Hove and Middlesex at Worcester, anything could happen. Time to bring the abacus down from the loft.   

Kent win the Royal London Cup by 21 runs

Joe Denly’s team outplay Lancashire with fielding the crucial difference on a fine day out at Trent Bridge

Ball One – Remembrance of Things Past

“We’ll have a bat.” Really Mr Denly? In mid-September? In a one day final? Does nobody remember Phil DeFreitas?

But so much about cricket has changed since the old orthodoxies of the 70s and 80s, even since 1995 when I saw these two sides duke it out for the Benson & Hedges Cup at Lord’s.

Back the, three archetypal Test match batters, Michael Atherton, Jason Gallian and John Crawley, dominated the Lancashire innings, scoring 212 of 274-7 from the designated 55 overs. Hitters like Graham Lloyd, Wasim Akram and Ian Austin barely got in, but few cared because the target set (five an over!) was deemed a stiff one.

Those of us in the Lancashire seats sat back and enjoyed a perfect chase. Aravinda de Silva thrilled everyone with a magnificently constructed 112, batting on a different plane, fully deserving of the Gold Award. But local lads, Ian Austin, Mike Watkinson, Gary Yates and Glen Chapple (okay – he’s nearly local) kept squeezing and taking wickets at the other end and the result was never really in doubt.

Back in the present, the sun was baking a glassy outfield at Trent Bridge as the same two clubs locked horns again 27 years on. That heat so late in the summer is another difference from 20th century life, one that provokes an unease even as we delight in its warmth. Whether the 21st century will provide as warm a reception for 50 overs county cricket is another concern to cloud the bluest of skies.

Ball Two – Lavelle washes away any selection doubts

Ollie Robinson (whom we know can push on, as his 206 in the competition’s first match demonstrated) had got through the first hour at almost a run a ball and had a personal platform to accelerate. Then Liam Hurt got a length delivery to seam back through the gate, rapping the inside edge en route.

George Lavelle had to get everything right: sufficiently balanced to push off his left foot (usually the ‘wrong’ one for a keeper with a right-hander at the crease); sufficiently athletic to dive to reach a ball that would have eluded many other keepers, so thick was the edge; sufficiently adept with the gloves to hold on to the catch in the ends of his fingers, scooping it up from ankle height.

Lavelle is 22 and keeping in this match only because Phil Salt is away with England. It might have been a tight call in deciding between him and the other George, the all-rounder, Balderson, with Dane Vilas able to take the gloves if required. In a single moment of brilliance, the young technician justified his place as an old school wicketkeeper-battter (in that order).

Ball Three – Kent’s batters make the most of too many reprieves

Kent set Lancashire 307 to win the Cup.

At the halfway mark, that looked about par, the fact that no batter really got away offset by Lancashire leaking runs through dropped catches and some rather substandard out cricket.

With the camel an extinct creature in cricket, outfields akin to a snooker table’s baize and year-round contracts facilitating practice and analysis of almost any situation that might arise in the harum-scarum death overs, it seemed anomalous for so many errors to yield runs. Lavelle conceded a single with an unnecessary throw at the stumps and Keaton Jennings and Luke Wells were close to an on-field row after Jennings appeared to get a late call for a skyer. The Red Rose men dropped more than they caught too.

Rob Jones and Jennings did effect a fine relay catch in the deep, but that does not excuse a shoddy 25 overs or so from Lancashire. Fielding can often be the difference between sides in finals and it’s hard to believe that Kent will be more careless.

Ball Four – The long and the short of it

Luke Wells completed a less than happy day with a meek dismissal for 16 bringing Josh Bohannon to the crease. It doesn’t help that the number three is batting with the beanpole Jennings, but he looks very short to the naked eye. Power hitting is not his forte, and Kent knew that if they could choke off the horizontal bat shots square on either side of the wicket, Lancashire’s scoring rate could be arrested.

Bohannon’s lack of power found him out in the end, a pale pick-up shot pouched well inside the boundary by Grant Stewart. If you’re going to hit the ball there (and the delivery did demand it) you have to hit it for six. If you can’t, then there has to be a question mark against the selection in a white ball XI. George Balderson (yes, I am missing him) would have offered more with the bat and also a very handy bowling option.

Ball Five – Good Game! Good Game!

Usually by 5.15pm on a sunny day, the Barmy Army might be in full (tedious) voice, a variety of royals in fancy dress may be essaying a conga or a DJ might be witlessly geeing up the crowd. Not so at Trent Bridge.

With 17 overs to bowl, Lancashire were 176-4, 15 behind the DLS par and a very interested crowd (in both senses of that adjective) were attending every ball. Kent supporters applauded every dot; Lancashire supporters every single. Everyone inside the ground (not much corporate hospitality, not many neutrals) was aware of the stakes and the fact that some six and a half hours after play started, we were no closer to knowing the eventual victors.

I had cause to reflect on a statement I used to trot out in the early days of T20 – Limited Overs Cricket is the second best game in the world.

Ball Six – Kent win in fine advert for the 50 overs format

In the final analysis, Kent bowled better and batted better, but the key difference was (as I suspected in Ball Three at the halfway mark) the fielding, with Lancashire no more than C- and Kent an A+.

Lancashire might wonder about the balance of their side, short of power-hitters and specialist slow bowling, but they were turned over by a fine team effort. It was led by 20 years-old Joey Evison, who sounds like he should be opening for Sammy Davis Jnr at The Sands Hotel in 1967, but actually opened for Kent with a beautifully judged 97, supplemented by canny spells with the ball and the second of three spectacular catches. He was an obvious Player of the Match, but his skipper wasn’t far behind, especially in galvanising so strong a collective performance.

Kent end a run of losing appearances in finals, but – cliché klaxon – there were no real losers today. Both sides stayed true to the players that had seen them through to the showpiece occasion allowing squad players the chance to go down in local folklore (with Darren Stevens, natch). If the stardust and standard wasn’t what it might have been with a Liam Livingstone or a Sam Billings in town, nobody cared much in a partisan crowd, who were right behind the lads who wore their team’s colours.

It was a hard fought match too, played in good spirit in front of a raucous, but not boorish, house that took perhaps half the seats available.

Like much of English cricket, the future of the domestic 50 overs competition is in question, but, for two years in a row, it has produced great entertainment (often at outgrounds where many fans looked neither old and male, nor canine), created new heroes and delivered a sustained narrative. With Kent’s name added next to Glamorgan’s in 2021, a pair of cricket’s less glamorous clubs have grasped a little glory too.

If the Royal London Cup and its successors are to be shunted around and devalued further in pursuit of ‘high performance’ (like that’s goulash produced from mixing ingredients correctly), English cricket should know what it’s losing. Feel free to ask Kent’s players and fans if you want an answer to that one.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 16, 2022

The Final Over Of The Week In County Cricket – 16 September 2022

Surrey resume leadership in Division One

Two horse race with Hampshire set for a final two weeks showdown

Ball One – Saif makes Northamptonshire safe 

Surrey leapfrogged over Hampshire to lead Division One by eight points with two matches to play. The gap comprises the reward for their draw with Northamptonshire, their fifth of the season compared to their pursuers’ one. Both sides will have a keen eye on the progress of each others’ matches in the final two rounds, as a little of Ben Stokes’ disdain for the draw may have to be adopted if their rivals look likely to be on their way to a win.

Cricket is a situational game, its challenges ebb and flow in their criticality during a match and across a season. The oft-used simile of the two innings format (contextualised within a Test series or championship) being akin to a slabby novel (Victorian or airport to taste) is a cliche because it’s true.

After Northants’ Emilio Gay and Rob Keogh had traded first innings centuries with Hashim Amla and a back-with-a-bang Tom Curran, Saif Zaib walked to the crease with his team’s lead just 32, four down in the second innings. A draw would all but secure Northants’ Division One status for 2023 but Surrey’s pack of seamers had the scent of blood in their nostrils. The one-time boy wonder (and he really was, playing for his county at 15 years of age) made a century, secured the draw his county required and, just maybe, heard the faintest echo of cheers borne on the wind all the way from Southampton. It was the fifth of the five centuries in the match, made when the pitch was at its most accommodating, but, and this is what matters, he delivered when his team needed it most. 

Ball Two – Penalties an own goal for Championship?

Lancashire were hit with a six points deduction for issues related to player behaviour. Not for the first time, cricket’s penchant for suspending sentences only to activate them at the sharp end of a campaign interfered unnecessarily with a developing narrative. 

The nuts and bolts do not concern this column, the independent Cricket Discipline Commission discharging its responsibilities, but the time for sanctioning offences committed in 2021 (the punishment for which was activated by misbehaviour in June and July 2022) is not mid-September 2022. Of course, Lancashire knew that they had to tread carefully, but that’s not the issue – justice needs to be swift as well as impartial.  

The pennant was already merely a distant dream for the Red Rose, but their red ball season could drift away if they are not careful, with Essex now pressing them for the podium spot, now just four points off third place.

Ball Three – Snater turns the tide and avoids the tie

Whose heart isn’t set racing by the prospect of a tie? Even to read of such a possibility after the event can send a frisson of excitement down the spine. I guess trainspotters feel the same about an engine with a particularly rare wheel configuration pulling into their local station. The incomprehension of the rest of the world simply enhances our own, slightly guilty and definitely nerdish, pleasure. 

After some late order heroics from Ben ‘Betsy’ Coad (whose 69 from number nine proved to be the top score in the match), Essex needed 162 for the victory. Steve Patterson, in his farewell season after 17 years of running in for the White Rose, had a fivefer in the bag, but Shane Snater was on strike, nine down with the scores level. Into the leg side it went, Snater had 65 not out from number eight and Essex had the 20 points they were looking for. Just the three days required, but a rollercoaster of a match in Essex’s rollercoaster of a season.

Ball Four – Abell pairs up with Bartlett but the draw helps neither county

Relegation haunted Edgbaston as Warwickshire faced fellow strugglers Somerset in a match that ebbed and flowed, ultimately producing a draw that merely confirmed that Division Two cricket in 2023 remained a threat for the two sides who fought to a standstill in Birmingham.

Somerset fans have become familiar this season with scoreboards reading 82-7 and the like, but half-centuries from Lewis Gregory and Sajid Khan got the visitors up to 219, a score that looked a lot better when the home side could muster just 196 in reply.

George Bartlett’s 111 gave skipper, Tom Abell, the opportunity to declare and, having spent four hours in the middle himself, he certainly knew the state of the pitch. He set Warwickshire 364 for the win.

Despite the radio commentators’ attempts to inject tension into the match and a flurry of late wickets, the draw that was always the most likely result once Somerset’s batters and not Warwickshire’s openers emerged from the pavilion at the start of the fourth day, duly arrived. Whether Abell got the call right (Warwickshire were six down in the 64th over when hands were shaken) can only be judged when the season is concluded. 

Ball Five – Stoneman’s solid knock shows how to play the conditions

Monday morning in St John’s Wood had an urgency about it. Streams of oldish men, sandwiches and binoculars in bags, gaits not quite fluent any more emerged from the tube station and headed for the ground. It was a decent crowd for the promotion battle, but most definitely not of the demographic that sets the heart rates of marketing men aflutter.


It’s not easy batting at 10.30am in September and Glamorgan’s batters set off with the attitude that there was one coming soon with their name on it so best to play a few shots, one-a-ball for some. They were 70-5 with barely an hour played and it took some typically smart play from Chris Cooke and effective late order biffing from Ajaz Patel to get up past 200. 

The home side played conditions much better, Mark Stoneman’s century setting up late middle order runs and a lead of 176. Despite an opening stand of 123 between David Lloyd and Eddie Byrom, the visitors collapsed to 220 all out, Middlesex’s seamers sharing 20 wickets in the match.

It was disappointing stuff from the visitors, particularly as the points conceded surrendered their promotion slot to their opponents. Whether the first morning betrayed a fear of the conditions having been invited to bat, or whether it was simply a positive mindset taken too far, it set the tone for a match in which the result felt foretold after its first hour.    

Ball Six – Potts is cooking with gas

Matthew Potts showed great heart to come roaring back for his county having been left out by England and seen his replacement and rival, Ollie Robinson, prove he had the conditioning to go with his undoubted skill. The Durham pacer got back to the day job and ran through Leicestershire twice with 6-52 and 7-52 as the visitors ran out easy winners.  

Potts’ attitude was his biggest asset in his nascent Test career and running in hard for 39 overs in Division Two shows it’s not just for the cameras. In a game in which players can appear to carp continually about workloads and play can slow to an almost farcical pace, Potts looks like he doesn’t want to be anywhere else for the top of his mark, ready to bowl another over.   


Ben Stokes: 149 runs at 37.3; 10 wickets at 15.7; one catch

If he threw his wicket away too often, when he really needed to build an innings, he delivered the best knock of the series with a superbly constructed century at Old Trafford. At times, he was unplayable at second change, a ferocious strike bowler swinging and seaming an old ball and a parsimonious stock bowler, maintaining a threat while choking off the runs.

Lest we forget, he also engineered a 2-1 win from the wreckage of an innings defeat at Lord’s and has earned the right to meet criticism of his all-out attacking philosophy and loyalty to his players by simply directing his critics to the scorebook. Grade A

Alex Lees: 96 runs at 19.2; one catch

The becalmed batter of the Caribbean now has a shot for every ball in his eagerness to get with the programme. His longest innings was still less than the equivalent of a single session and you need more than that from an opener, even when Tests are played on fast-forward. Grade C-

Zak Crawley: 134 runs at 33.5; two catches

Quietened, if not quite silenced, his critics with a barnstorming assault on what was, truth be told, a beaten side in the gathering gloom at The Oval. This was the prize that England can see, still frustratingly just over the horizon: the weight of shot; the clarity of thinking; the transfer of pressure on to the bowlers. Grade C+ 

Ollie Pope: 179 runs at 44.8; two catches

In at three behind two unreliable openers, he embraced the responsibility mixing glorious boundaries with scurrying singes. In a bowlers’ series, he top-scored twice in England’s three first innings in suggesting that the long apprenticeship may be approaching its completion. Grade B+

Joe Root: 46 runs at 11.5; five catches

He was due a poor series and, sure enough, one turned up, the product of perhaps the only fault is in his game – a stepping across the border between busy and skittish. Grade D

Jonny Bairstow: 67 runs at 22.3; three catches

Having lived by the sword with such extraordinary success earlier in the season, the cricketing gods reminded him of his mortality. His 49 at Old Trafford set up the key partnership of the series. Grade B- 

Harry Brook: 12 runs at 12.0; one catch

The best county batter of the Spring got his chance in the Autumn and unveiled the powerful drives that has had the Yorkshire fans purring. Suckered out in the deep by Jansen, he might be a little more judicious in his shot-selection next time. Grade C 

Ben Foakes: 133 runs at 44.3; 14 catches

Though less than his silky best standing back with the gloves, his 173 runs partnership with his captain at Old Trafford turned the series and earned him a second Test century. Grade B

Stuart Broad: 77 runs at 19.3; 14 wickets at 15.6; one catch

Now unequivocally relegated to first change if Robinson is fit, we saw the Broad smile, his silent movie star expressions of disbelief at his misfortunes and the infamously optimistic reviews, all done with the knees pumping, the blood up and the ball on or full of a good length. For a bowler known for his streaks, Broad was consistent in his work and very effective in a growing leadership role, on and off the field, in support of a captain who believes in him. Grade A- 

Ollie Robinson: 20 runs at 10.0; 12 wickets at 15.0

Back in the team and looking at ease with the new regime, he underlined his class by beating a tattoo on that awkward length where the best tall bowlers reside, on or about an off stump line. That much we knew. What was encouraging for the future was the leaner physique and the willingness to keep running in stopping the gun in the mid-80s mph. England may still be searching for Alastair Cook’s successor as an opening bat; they already have James Anderson’s successor as an opening bowler. Grade A- 

Matthew Potts: seven runs at 7.0; two wickets at 39.5; one catch

Ran in with the same sunny optimism he had in the New Zealand series, but had to toil for his wickets as he discovered that Test cricket can be a hard taskmaster. Likely to take his place in the pool of pacers required for the international game these days, but may be in and out of the side rather than a regular in the future. Grade C 

Jack Leach: 26 runs at 8.7; two wickets at 44.5

Often not required, so good were the seamers, so incompetent the batters, but the old questions, partially answered with his twin fivefers at Headingley in June, surfaced again. Is holding an end and being a great team man enough to justify a place as a specialist spinner? That lack of penetration did not cost England in this series, but there will be more expected come the winter tour to Pakistan. Grade C-

James Anderson: one run at 0.5; 10 wickets at 16.6; one catch

One could detect, even through the almost caricature weariness of his now fully crafted persona, a slowing in the trudge back to his mark whereupon he could take a breath, decide which of the many deliveries at his disposal to deploy, and run in, on rails as usual at 40 years of age.

It’s all so familiar now – a little in and little out, a little wobble seam and a little cross-seam, a tentative exploration in search of some reverse – but batters are none the wiser as to how to play him. The feeling persists that he would gain a little more success were he to pitch the ball slightly further up, but his figures are mainly diminished by batters settling for keeping him out. Grade A- 


South Africa

Dean Elgar: 107 runs at 21.4; four catches

The captain and best batter in an inexperienced order did not make a half-century, perversely omitted Marco Jansen at Old Trafford (arguably his team’s best bowler and best batter) and failed to review his own poor LBW decision when the third Test was in the balance. It was a disappointing farewell to these shores for an admirable Test cricketer. Grade D

Sarel Erwee: 127 runs at 25.4; three catches

The opener got his side into credit before his dismissal at Lord’s and always put a high price on his wicket. The 32 year-old late bloomer held his own, but did not push on after working very hard for his starts. Grade B- 

Keegan Petersen: 122 runs at 24.4; three catches

Three 20s and one 40 in five innings speaks to a series in which the stylish batter threatened to go on and define an innings but failed to do so. Grade C+

Rassie van der Dussen: 76 runs at 25.3

Injured for the third Test, the elegant right-hander also flattered to deceive consistently getting out at the wrong time. Grade C+

Khaya Zondo: 39 runs at 19.5

Drafted in for the third Test, he showed some grit, but anchoring a floundering batting order in only his second appearance proved too great a task. Grade C

Aiden Markram: 36 runs at 12.0; three catches

The one-time golden boy of South African cricket just could not generate any momentum against England’s high class seam attack. Grade D

Ryan Rickelton: 19 runs at 9.5

Given something of a hospital pass by being drafted into the number four slot for the third Test, the wicketkeeper predictably dropped the ball. Grade D

Kyle Verreynne 61 runs at 15.3; eight catches

The wicketkeeper-batter is still feeling his way into the considerable shoes of Quinton de Kock and that provides mitigation for some ordinary work on both sides of the stumps. Grade D

Wiaan Mulder: 17 runs at 8.5; no wicket for 11 runs

One of the form players of the county championship failed to make the step from Division Two to the Test arena in a single bound. Grade D

Marco Jansen: 82 runs at 27.3; nine wickets at 13.1

Very tall, very promising left-arm quick who swung the ball at pace and also made it bounce alarmingly at times. He also benefits from getting in close to the stumps and snapping his wrist at the point of release. The 22 year-old showed all-rounder potential with the bat, some of his driving positively dreamy. 

He’s too young to remember Wasim Akram, but I’m not, and the comparisons may be too early, but they’re not outlandish. His omission for the second Test looked bizarre at the time and only looks worse now. Grade A+ 

Simon Harmer: 18 runs at 9.0; one wicket at 73.0

The terror of the county circuit was a pussycat at Old Trafford, milked for runs at the batters’ pleasure. Grade D- 

Keshav Maharaj: 79 runs at 15.8; four wickets at 28.3, one catch

Despite being under-bowled by his captain, he looked much the best spinner on show, though that’s faint praise in this series. Showed a bit of fight with the bat and probably deserved more support than he got from his team-mates. Grade B-  

Kagiso Rabada: 48 runs at 12.0; 14 wickets at 23.4; one catch

A world class bowler who showed his mettle at times with class spells moving the ball both ways at pace, troubling good batters. Curiously, he seemed to lose rhythm as the series progressed and bowled far too many four balls at The Oval. Grade B

Anrich Nortje: 45 runs at 15.0; 10 wickets at 24.8

The big quick charged in and bowled fast (leaking runs as a consequence) but couldn’t find the movement to discomfit top batters on pitches that negated the value of his bounce. Inexplicably he was never given a new hard ball nor supported in the field for a spell of short-pitched stuff in at the body. Grade B

Lungi Ngidi: four runs at 2.0; two wickets at 44.0

Rumbled in for two Tests, but did not appear to enjoy the confidence of his captain, who gave him just 30 overs. Grade C-

Ball One – England’s bowlers will have to attack like England’s batters

So that didn’t take long.

England lost their last three wickets in the blinking of an eye to the less than peak Kagiso Rabada and the mightily impressive Marco Jansen to post a lead of 40 and, as I’m sure Ben Stokes underlined, an early chance to get in and amongst a fragile South African batting unit.

While the eye has been taken by Bazball’s impact on batting, its impact on bowling has been no less profound. Fuller lengths, straighter lines and more slips has buried ‘bowling dry’ in favour of ‘twenty wickets as soon as possible so we can get on with the chase’. An in-form attack will have to do their bit now.

Ball Two – Anyone for tennis’s review protocol?

In Ollie Robinson’s third over, Ben Stokes reviewed a ‘Not Out’ LBW that looked mighty close. The computer simulation (for that is what it is – the real stuff is the 0s and 1s of digital data) showed less than half the ball was in line with the leg stump when it pitched – however, some part of it (let’s say 25%) was.

I’ve long contested that, given the trust invested in the system, such a delivery should be considered as having pitched in line with the stumps and therefore eligible for the predictive element of the DRS protocol to be used. There isn’t any ‘forecasting’ of trajectory involved – the ball pitched with part of its spherical volume (represented as a two-dimensional circle) inside the line. So the data says.

In tennis, if the review system shows a millimetre of the ball (another sphere also illustrated as a two-dimensional circle) catching the line, the call is ‘In’. Cricket should adopt the same interpretation with regard to defining whether the ball has pitched in-line or not.

Ball Three – Lengths a little Fuller slakes thirst for wickets

It must be harder than it looks to replicate a successful formula, even for the two leading seamers in Test history.

After lunch, England came out and bowled a fuller length bringing both the stumps and the slips into the game as the ball wasn’t going over and had more time to swing before reaching the bat. It had been a curious innings to that point, because the bowlers knew the right length – the one they bowled to dismiss the same batters for 118 – but were consistently shorter, at least to the naked eye.

One wicket in 21 overs probably counts as a lull in Test cricket as it’s played in England these days, but the old double act of Anderson and Broad soon pressed the fast-forward button and three South Africans were sent back in the next six overs.

(Ab)normal service was resumed.

Ball Four – Strange, but true

True story.

I was walking round the ground when Stuart Broad rapped Dean Elgar on the pads. I heard the roar go up and stopped at a monitor (there is always a delay with the pictures coming through) to see the delivery.

Missing by miles I thought and didn’t wait for the inevitable review and overturn decision, but no further sound came. Puzzled, I paused at the next monitor and saw South Africa’s captain leaving the field and thought that I must have missed the review which must have been unexpectedly declined and rapidly so.

I hadn’t and, as the next monitor confirmed, I had been right – the ball was missing leg stump by a distance and Elgar had been wrong, refraining from a review that would have preserved his wicket.

It was a very bizarre couple of minutes.

Ball Five – Stokes fires up the swing

The last delivery of the afternoon was a spiteful inswinger from Ben Stokes that would have cleaned up better batters than Marco Jansen. Sure one can point to a gate through which the ball snaked to clatter into the leg stump, but that would be to ignore the succession of outswingers that Stokes had shown the South African all-rounder, one of which had taken the edge in the previous over and been spectacularly caught by Ollie Pope before the dreaded No Ball signal wound the scoreboard back.

All four England bowlers had found conventional swing in bright sunshine with an oldish ball. There are plenty of scientific papers that explain swing, conventional and reverse, as one would expect from a species that can land a satellite on a comet, but it remains a capricious servant, sometimes absent, sometimes uncontrollable and sometimes a weapon as effective as any medieval king’s champion. Like the Karma Chameleon, it comes and goes.

Ball Six – Ben’s is the word

We take the pressure, and we throw awayConventionality belongs to yesterdayThere is a chance that we can make it so farWe start believing now that we can be who we are

If you take over a losing side that looked fearful and tired and you bring the chaos and the chaos wins six out of seven (okay, not won six out of seven yet), I’d suggest BS has the right to call BS on the naysayers.

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