Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 2, 2021

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 2 August 2021

Ball One – Shhh! There’s county cricket being played

This column doesn’t do news – the brevity required by the breaking news ticker suits neither its skills nor its ethos – but, sometimes, the news can be hard to find, so here goes…

The Royal London One-Day Cup is a 50 overs tournament contested by 18 counties playing in two randomly drawn groups of nine. Each county plays eight matches (four home and four away – sort of) and the two group winners progress to the semi-finals. The quarter-finals are played between the teams finishing second and third, home advantage with the former. The final will be played at Trent Bridge on Thursday 19 August.

We’re at the halfway mark of the group stage and, as is always the case when the sun shines, the cricket has provided thrills and spills and much to enjoy. To embrace this game in England, one needs a contrary nature – who would ever have bought the pitch had the shepherds on Broadhalfpenny Down held a meeting with “executives” in 1750? There’s a feeling abroad that the combination of young thrusters and old heads turning out for “our” teams offers something new to a format that was meandering a little, certainly before England’s World Cup success. Word of mouth can be stronger than shill of commentator.

Ball Two – Experience triumphs at Taunton

Somerset (how often they appear in this column, winning so many cricket matches) top Group One after three wins and a washout.

Derbyshire’s match at Taunton rather illustrated my point in Ball One about team personnel. When the visitors found themselves 36-3, the locals were probably expecting an early finish. But Fynn Hudson-Prentice and Brooke Guest came together to construct a 142 run partnership in 24 overs to get their team back into the match. After useful contributions down the order, and three sixes from Ravi Rampaul (apparently only 36 years of age) Somerset had 50 overs to chase 299.

But Ravi has more than four times as many List A matches under his belt than the rest of the Derbyshire attack put together and Steve Davies and James Hildreth had started their 50 over careers in the season when English cricket’s new competition was Twenty20, so if they got in, they weren’t going to give it away. Get in they did, Davies making 94, Hildreth a century as the points went West.

Ball Three – Ryan on the rampage

Surrey are the other unbeaten side in Group One, with two wins and one no result.

Things had progressed quite well for Nottinghamshire, snaring Hashim Amla and restricting the home side to just a couple of boundaries as they reached 29-1 in the eight overs bowled before the rain came. Eschewing the bright lights of Guildford High Street, the crowd sat out the delay and settled in for another 22 overs batting and a 30 overs chase. Even on as fast a scoring ground as this one, the the Surrey fans’ conversations would have been “200 minimum, but anything above 240 from here will be good.”

Nobody told Ryan Patel. After he and Mark Stoneman spent five overs assessing the changed conditions, he teed off to spectacular effect. His next 43 balls yielded 115 runs, before Jamie Smith decided to up the rate with 54 off 19. Surrey scored 251 runs off 17 overs, including 23 sixes and nine fours. Few of the big hits were slogs, most would have landed in the crowd at The Oval and the Notts attack were no mugs (though they did lose their lengths under the assault – I suspect Warne and McGrath might have done so too in the face of such sustained violence).

The extraordinary display was a vindication of the work that goes into practising range hitting, the confidence marginal players get from knowing that they’re in for the competition and the buzz that an outground crowd can generate. The visitors didn’t buckle, up with the rate for much of their innings, but falling short of their curiously adjusted target of 300 by 34 runs.

Ball Four – Red Rose rising

Lancashire lead Group Two by virtue of holding the only other undefeated record in the country.

Bowlers visiting the Rose Bowl can look around its yawning spaces and wonder how they can stop the threes never mind the twos, but five Lancastrians took wickets, often at a “good time” (there’s never a bad time to send a batsman back, but nipping partnerships in the bud before they can blossom is certainly the best time).

Tom Bailey and Danny Lamb (enjoying a good tournament) added to their fine performances in their previous completed match at Bristol, their combined figures over the two wins coming out at 37.1 – 7 – 119 – 12. You don’t lose many matches in any format of the game with bowling like that.

Ball Five – Haynes rewrites the records manual

Essex and Worcestershire are tucked in a point behind Lanky, but they were not level pegging on the field when they met at Chelmsford.

After Jack Haynes (153) and Brett D’Oliveira (123) had upheld family traditions with a record-breaking opening stand of 243, Worcestershire may have felt a little disappointed to have closed on 338-7 from their 50 overs. But skipper, Joe Leach, got amongst them up top and his three wickets helped reduce the home side to 17-4 and there was no way back from there, another record set with Essex’s 182 runs defeat.

After so much success over the last few years followed by disappointing campaigns so far in 2021, a big couple of weeks loom for Tom Westley’s men.

Ball Six – The national summer game entertains the nation

Though this tournament is as much about discovering new players as it is about reacquainting ourselves with old friends, it’s worth examining some of the names turning out in the soi-disant “development competition”.

Sir Alastair Cook, Marcus Harris, James Hildreth, Travis Head, Steve Davies, Hamish Rutherford, Simon Harmer, Chris Rushworth, Joe Leach, Ryan ten Doeschate, Luke Fletcher, Tom Bailey.

They, and the youngsters and those playing for contracts, have provided much for the cricket fan to enjoy – and will do so somewhere near you, in the sunshine or streamed on Youtube, over the next ten days or so.

Other cricket competitions are available.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 25, 2021

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 26 July 2021

Ball One – Streams from the Lake District

Lancashire took YouTube streaming to a new level with the coverage of their match against Sussex on Friday. Crystal clear pictures, multiple camera positions, a director who understood the game and commentators not only with their own monitors so they could talk about (and not across) replays, but with a dedicated camera so we could see them interacting with each other and with the players.

This column has praised the streams in the past, but also criticised them for their inconsistent quality across the counties. A new standard has been set by Lancashire and the 17 other counties should now follow suit.

Ball Two – A cricket ground of outstanding natural beauty

Of course, it helps if the pictures are as outrageously beautiful as those from a ground that I understand to be on the borders of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cumbria, but seems to exist, like Brigadoon, in a liminal space. Set in the lea of glowering, but benign, fells with dry stone walls for boundary boards, it’s too good to be true surely?

One marvels at the villages and small Italian towns visited so fleetingly by the cyclists of the Giro D’Italia and wonder why England (if not Scotland and maybe not Wales) has nothing to compete with their almost casual photogenic charm. And then Sedbergh comes along and trumps the lot. As for so much else in life, if only one has eyes to see.

Ball Three – Teenage picks, so hard to beat

Sussex fielded nine List A debutants (with the fact that there was no List A domestic cricket last season well down the list of reasons) and one feared for them getting a shellacking from an experienced Lancashire XI in the way university teams would regularly in the old B&H Cup. At 13-2 and 134-5, thoughts turned to the long hot journey up and back from the south coast (and Manchester, to be fair) endured by players and fans for what looked likely to be a truncated match.

Wicketkeeper, Ollie Carter (19) thought otherwise and found a partner in Danial Ibrahim (16), and the pair constructed a partnership of 59 in 11 overs full of good sense, cool-headed shot selection and hard running, Ibrahim going on to post another partnership, 72 in the company of old head Will Beer. What marked the kid’s performance for this viewer was the impression that he was anchoring the late order, probably going at 60 or so – in fact, Ibrahim scored his 46 runs at 82, with barely a shot in anger. That is the mark of a very fine player twice his age.

Ball Four – The kids are all right

With Lancashire 115-7, still 156 runs short, the game was done, Sussex winning something with kids. Joe Sarro (19) had got that half-bat of movement that served Glenn McGrath so well, Henry Crocombe had channelled a bit of Robin Martin-Jenkins’s nagging line and length, Danial Ibrahim had shown he could bowl like a young Stephen Waugh as well bat like him and Archie Lenham, on his 17th birthday, had flighted his leg breaks fearlessly. These four teenage musketeers each had at least one wicket against their names and each deserved the extraordinary win that was coming – surely?

Ball Five – Lamb to the slaughter

Danny Lamb, only 25 himself but looking old enough to be the father of most of his opponents, reached into the culture of the league pros who have stalked the northern outposts of the English game since those dry stone walls were laid and dug in. He found a partner in another hard man from Preston, Tom Bailey, and set about stemming the bleeding and then pushing on. Bailey departed for 46, but that only brought another Lancastrian, Liam Hurt (nominative determinism eh?) to the crease for a cameo that got the home side over the line, Lamb 86 not out, the indisputable Man of the Match if for no other reasons than his rivals were but boys.

Tom Haines (22) skippering this greenest of sides, will know that the wheels fell off in the last half hour, Travis Head and Will Beer will have had a few quiet words on the long coach journey back to Hove and a few parents might have received tearful phone calls. The lads will, of course, take the positives away.

The scorebook records two points to Lancashire in the group stage of the Royal London One-Day Cup, not that it seems to matter to many at the ECB or in the media and certainly not at another competition who have just scooped up Lancashire’s winning captain for themselves thank you very much. But the Sussex lads should read this attempt to capture the emotions of watching their match, read Paul Edwards’s lovely report and reflect that though we have over a century of watching cricket between us, I doubt that Paul or I would hesitate in putting this match in the top five we’ve ever seen.

And that’s not because “our” team won, it’s because, when it was needed more than ever, a troupe of teenagers played the game hard and fair, lost with dignity and pride and provided lifelong memories for anyone fortunate enough to see their efforts. They won’t know yet how much that means – but they will learn in the years to come.

Ball Six – Thank you

Call it facile, call me shallow, but I was all set to write one negative ball about this match, five about the other matches and drop a hundred snarks in en route. There’s the venue’s inevitable underlining of the privileges of the public school system, the sepia-tinted celebration of a biscuit tin representation of an England that never really existed, the inconvenience of all that travel and lack of facilities for members surely abused enough this season, the crowd as absent of diversity as any in the 1930s…

But county cricket can overcome the significant challenges that sit beneath those criticisms and the other issues is must face from within and without the game. You see a match like this, especially if you’ve just started a period of self-isolation (as had your correspondent) in these strange days indeed, and it makes you feel immeasurably fortunate to have been bequeathed this gift and immensely grateful to the players who honour it with their skills, their heart and their decency.

It was an afternoon that made me happy.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 19, 2021

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 19 July 2021

Ball One – Rosy week at the Rose Bowl

Rather than an over (so passé after all) this week’s column could become an example of the Queen of Hearts “Six impossible things before breakfast” as county cricket descended down a rabbit hole only partly of its own making into a strange world of comings and goings, and one not-getting-started-again-at-all. Two competitions reached the end of their group stages while another sat looking on, its expensively marketing grin as wide (and perhaps as illusory) as the Cheshire Cat’s.

A very good week indeed for Hampshire started with the kind of match only first class cricket can provide. The last game of the stage proved to be a play-off for Group Two’s second Division One slot (do keep up!) and, needing big performances, they were indebted to two men who started the season with other priorities.

New Zealand’s Colin de Grandhomme finished with match figures of 5-62 in 29 tight overs and loanee, Nick Gubbins, top-scored in Hants’ first innings with 137 not out, perhaps the best innings by a Middlesex batsman this season.

The two men were at the crease to see their team over the line in the match’s final session for the win they needed for qualification to the top division. But spare a thought for their opponents, Gloucestershire, whose five wins were matched only by Yorkshire, but who will play in Division Two when the red ball is back in hand. Finding a way to win a championship match in such a variety of conditions is the great collective challenge of the domestic game – its reward should reflect that outcome.

Ball Two – New Road inundated with runs

Life was tough for the bowlers at Worcester where Warwickshire must have been pleased to see a dead track offered up by Worcestershire for a match that the visitors only needed to draw to progress to Division One.

Pieter Malan certainly wasn’t in a mood to complain after scoring 218 runs for once out, but one wonders if the hosts might have pushed on a little more if they too had the prospect of Division One cricket to play for. 447-9 declared off 174 overs with only centurion, Ed Barnard’s, strike rate above 50 in the top seven (and not by much) feels slow, even if the ball was not coming on to the bat. Worcestershire’s New Road HQ presents unique challenges to groundstaff with its frequent off-season flooding, but one has to think that 21st century knowledge and technology can produce a pitch with a little more in it for seam and spin come mid July.

Ball Three – Northamptonshire display nuanced reaction to players’ grief

Rob Keogh’s innings for Northamptonshire felt more like a story from the 1920s than the 2020s. With his team already two men down after a bereavement to Luke Procter and an injury to Gareth Berg, Keogh retired from the crease to attend his grandmother’s funeral (online), then returned, having donned a black armband, to bat out the draw against Glamorgan.

Grief affects different people differently, so it was good to see Northamptonshire support Luke Procter when he left the same match due to a family bereavement and support Keogh equally when he chose to return to it. Our condolences go to both players and so too our respect for honouring their personal and professional responsibilities as they saw best – knowing when it was right for them to step away and when it was right to step back.

Ball Four – What’s going on?

Did you know that we’re already into the Divisional stage of the County Championship, with Warwickshire and Somerset leading the way on 21 and 18.5 points respectively, Lancashire two points further back in third, then a gap to Hampshire in fourth on eight and a half points, with Nottinghamshire in fifth on five points and Yorkshire propping up the sextet half a point below? It’s all a matter of the carrying over of points won against divisional opponents during the group stage, but it does feel a bit unsatisfactory already.

I’m grateful to Paul Edwards for this information, just about the only detail I could find about the next stage of the Championship, Some five days after the conclusion of the group stage, the ECB’s County Championship page informs me that there are “no fixtures available”.

Thanks for that.

Ball Five – Oh Laws, Glaws!

Gloucestershire’s fans endured the reverse emotions of those of Hampshire’s – squeezed out of the chance to win two competitions in the same week.

It had all looked so good in the Blast at Taunton. Needing a win, they had reduced Somerset to 73-4 half way through the 13th over and must have seen last season’s Taunton wonderkid, Tom Lammonby, as easy meat as he endures the cricketer’s equivalent of “the difficult second album”. The next 46 balls brought 110 runs, as Lammonby, suddenly clicking into form, plundered 90 runs from the 36 deliveries he received, the kind of knock that takes the game away from the opposition as much mentally as it does in the hard currency of runs on the board.

The visitors had the chase manageably in hand, if not under control, deep into its second half, but they couldn’t afford two bad overs and three arrived at once, just 17 runs scored and two wickets conceded just as the need for boundaries became pressing. There was no coming back from that.

Somerset’s fans deserve to have something to look forward to as domestic cricket turns its attention elsewhere for a few weeks, but I won’t be alone in hoping that Gloucestershire have better luck in the Royal London One-Day Cup than they have enjoyed in the Vitality Blast and LV= Insurance County Championship.

Ball Six – Mr D’Arcy the apple of Hampshire eyes

You do have to hand it to Hampshire though, who made the most of knowing what they needed to do / dealt with scoreboard pressure cooly in securing the fourth qualification spot in the South Group.

Glamorgan, powered by Marnus Labuschagne’s 78 off 47 balls, set the home side 185 runs to win the match – but also set them 185 runs in 14.1 overs if their net run rate were to better Surrey’s and the other results fall their way. D’Arcy (Short) and Weatherley (Joe) may sound like rival suitors for a mysterious maiden in a Victorian novel, but they smashed ten fours and nine sixes from the 43 balls they faced and Hampshire were through comfortably in the end.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 12, 2021

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

Ball One – Schadendorf’s schadenfreude re England’s problems

In Group One, the qualifying slots for Division One probably lie between Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire and Durham (with defending champions, Essex, needing snookers).

Nottinghamshire’s recruitment policy is always going to curl the lip of neutrals, but few will begrudge the rewards that have come this season to Luke Fletcher, the Champo’s leading wicket taker, Haseeb Hameed, working his way back into England reckoning and captain, Steve Mullaney, who has been there through thick and very thin indeed.

He was bowled a wrong ‘un by the ECB when they swooped to pluck Ben Duckett from his XI when covid pinged England’s ODI squad. Duckett was only keeping because Tom Moores was ill, so the call went out to 18 year-old Zimbabwean, Dane Schadendorf, who, with the insouciance of youth, made 24 with the bat and took four catches to secure the win over Derbyshire.

Ball Two – Swindells the real deal

Somerset top Group Two by five points, but they must have expected a larger gap than that after piling up 461-9 against a Leicestershire side struggling to reach the second level when the Champo’s groups are shuffled into divisions later this week.

The hosts had got through half Leicestershire’s batting with the lead still nearly 300, but 22 year-old wicketkeeper, Harry Swindells dug in for a career-best 171 not out (106 overs in front of the stumps after 155 behind them), finding a willing partner in Ed Barnes, a year older, who also notched a career-best with an undefeated 83. Somerset gave eight bowlers at least ten overs (which is probably some sort of record) but still had to settle for the draw.

Ball Three – Amla is there, though mainly playing French cricket

Joe Root believed that the additional points available this season for the draw would challenge batsmen, mentally as much as technically, to play long innings on worn pitches, the hard-fought draw having become a rare but valuable commodity in the Test arena.

To nobody’s surprise, Hashim Amla took a look at a scoreboard that read “Hampshire 488, Surrey 72 and 6-2” at the start of the fourth day and thought, “Yes – a draw”. He broke a few records (and a few Hampshire hearts) en route to 37 off 278 deliveries, but, with Rikki Clarke’s undefeated 36 minute stay the shortest of the day’s partnerships once the nightwatchman had taken his lamp home, the South African had his reward.

Hampshire go into a last round showdown against Gloucestershire trailing their hosts by six points.

Ball Four – Wheel turns for Bess and Kerrigan

With Lancashire and Yorkshire already through to Division One from Group Three, there’ll be nothing to play for in the last fixture of the group stage – the Roses Match? Oh yes there will, and not just satisfaction for ancient enmities, but also the carryover of points from matches against group co-qualifiers, a rule that nobody is absolutely sure about, but everyone knows is “a good thing”. We’ll learn more when the ball in the ECB’s calendar roulette wheel lands in the slot marked County Championship again.

Yorkshire’s low scoring win at Wantage Road was a tale of two spinners, and a heartening one at that. When Dom Bess wasn’t sure where (or even if) the ball would land when bowling for England last winter, nobody wanted to say the words “Simon Kerrigan” out loud, the man whose single infamous match for England sparked a tumble out of the first class game followed by a slow (and admirable) climb back to his rightful place as an excellent domestic bowler. Bess’s return has been more rapid and, like Kerrigan’s, involved a switch of county with Yorkshire showing great faith in him, especially when early season returns were patchy at best.

Bess’s 7-43 and 2-59 were instrumental in securing the visitors the points, but they were made to work hard for them by Kerrigan, whose 2-36 and 5-39 showed the control that he brings to his work these days. I hope the pair found time to reflect together on their experiences and the lot of the spinner, a toiler in a fragile but beautiful trade.

Ball Five – Captain Critchley at a crossroads

Derbyshire kept their faint hopes of qualification for the quarter-finals alive with a last ball win over Durham, Brooke Guest dispatching Ben Raine’s delivery to the boundary with the scores level.

Leaning on his bat at the other end was Matt Critchley, captain, batsman, bowler. He wouldn’t be human were he not to have felt a tinge of disappointment not to get the call for The Ben Stokes Emergency XI, but he probably hasn’t built a case for international cricket yet.

And there hangs the question. The leg-spinning all-rounder would answer a lot of questions for England when the white ball squads are overhauled next year, but will he ever get the exposure at Derbyshire? Is it a myth that England chances are enhanced by playing for certain counties (or in certain matches?) Critchley is 25 in August and, with all due respect to Derbyshire, is at a crossroads in his career. Which way to turn?

Ball Six – For Ravi, there’s no place like Hove

Listening to the radio commentary of Sussex vs Essex, one had to keep recalibrating one’s perception. “Bopara eases that into the offside for a single and Sussex need just six now with two overs still to be bowled by Essex.” Eh?

It’s nice when the romantic narrative of player and club travelling hand-in-hand through the years unfolds in parallel with our own lives as fans (yes, here’s the mention of Jimmy Anderson taking his 1000th first class wicket for his one and only county) but reality usually bites – players are employees and counties employers; one a seller, the other a buyer.

Good luck to Ravi at er… Sussex.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 5, 2021

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 5 July 2021

Ball One – Samit Patel, the old sheriff in town, still doing it for Nottinghamshire

Nottinghamshire, the defending champions, stormed away at the top of the North Group after a couple of wins in which Samit Patel underlined his claim to be Player of the Blast (so far). He may not be the model to inspire sales of replica kits to twentysomethings, but he’ll do for those of us who might not see a pair of skinny jeans in the wardrobe any time soon.

Having backed up the previous day’s 63 not out with a handy 41 in Notts’ 177-9, Samit started the Birmingham Bears’ hokey-cokey in and out of the Edgbaston pavilion with the wicket of opener, Adam Hose, then handed over to ex-England man, Jake Ball and South African born leg-spinner, Calvin Harrison, who socked it to the other batsmen. Things soon turned pretty ugly for the depleted home side, all out 63 in fewer than 14 overs.

No disrespect intended to Harrison, who learned his cricket in Somerset and must now be attracting the attention of franchises around the world, but one wonders why any captain would go into a T20 without a wrist-spinner – or, indeed, two – and why more batsmen don’t do what Joe Denly did ten years or so ago and hone a secondary skill into a useful option, the “natural variation” of a part-timer more a help than a hindrance in the shortest form of the county game.

Ball Two – Lockie Ferguson closes door on Lancashire

With three matches left, seven teams have a realistic chance of making the quarter-finals from the North Group – a bit of luck with the weather, a stellar performance or two, a tight run out could make all the difference. So much sport is driven by data these days, with unseen boffins and coaching gurus becoming as important as the players, that it’s good to have so much jeopardy and chance arise naturally in England’s top white ball competition.

Yorkshire, second, look more likely than Lancashire, sixth and four points in arrears of their Pennines rivals, to have a shot at Finals Day after another tremendous Roses match at Headingley. Harry Brook’s 91 not out took him to the top of the run scoring charts (463 at an average 116 and a strike rate of 156) and set the Red Rose a target of 181. Cue New Zealander, Lockie Ferguson, who took the simplest route to defending 10 off the last three balls of the match – a hat-trick! The last 12 months or so have, in every sense, been a good time to call yourself a Kiwi.

Ball Three – Anything you can do…

They have a taste for finishing matches with a hat-trick, these New Zealand quicks, as Adam Milne administered the same coup de grâce to Surrey to secure top spot in the South Group for Kent.

Another fifty from Jack Leaning and late pyrotechnics from Jordan Cox had set Surrey a stiff target of 192, but Will Jacks teeing off at the top of the order puts any number within reach. When he was out for 87, Surrey needed 57 off 32 balls with eight wickets in hand and the experienced Laurie Evans going well at the other end. But. with boundaries needed in the last over, the Kiwi polished them off.

Ball Four – Hybrid technology driving Essex

Six of the nine teams in the South Group have a shot at a top four slot, with Essex’s two wins out of two last week ensuring that they’re in that sextet for the final selection.

After Somerset had set a chase of 154, Essex ran between the raindrops at Chelmsford to reach their revised target of 148 in 19 overs, all involved showing admirable desire to get as many overs as possible in for the crowd and for the integrity of the competition. The home side’s two wicketkeepers, Adam Wheater and Michael Pepper, kept their eyes on the skies, Duckworth-Lewis-Stern’s calculations and the ball with superb focus.

The match was played on a hybrid pitch, grass held together with synthetic material. I’m crediting the use of 3G pitch technology at development levels with the production of a more technically gifted generation of English footballers than ever I can remember – can enhancing nature do the same for cricket?

Ball Five – Batsman of the Week

When Somerset signed Devon Conway and they probably felt they would need to invest a little time in his effecting the technical, mental and emotional transition from extraordinary Test match feats to solid white ball knocks. With a four ball five in his first innings for his county, that looked like the trajectory.

Last week he made 51 not out, 53, 81 not out and 45 as Somerset climbed to second in the South Group. Any thoughts on Tuesday’s Euromillions numbers Mr Conway?

Ball Six – Bowler of the Week

What were you doing at 16? I was feeling pretty good about myself, playing second XI cricket on some of the most beautiful old grounds in and around Liverpool. Archie Lenham (why do so many kids have names more suited to villainous Victorian mill owners in misguided musical theatre projects these days?) is winning Man of the Match awards for Sussex – presumably because there was no Boy of the Match award available.

The wrist-spinner (yep, another one) shot out a couple of wise old heads in David Lloyd and Glamorgan captain, Chris Cooke, en route to 4-26 and fourth place in the South Group. I hope he was allowed just a swig or two of his champagne.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 28, 2021

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 28 June 2021

Ball One – Thompson sprinkles a little magic

Yorkshire top the North Group after an extraordinary win that was surely worth more than two points in terms of confidence and morale.

After you’ve seen three England men (Adam Lyth, Gary Ballance and Joe Root) return to the hutch with just eight runs between them, seamer, Dillon Pennington, help himself to a triple wicket maiden and a scoreboard glumly reading 50-5 off 10.5 overs, the cliche tells you that there’s nothing to lose. Well, there is something to lose – a cricket match – and Harry Brook and Jordan Thompson said “Nah”.

Cue a blitz of boundaries and a record-breaking stand of 141, not without its luck, but full of belief, and the match, all but lost 30 minutes earlier, was wrenched from Worcestershire’s grasp. An almost inevitable consequence of an unexpected late stand (holding in all forms of the game, even Sunday afternoon club matches) is early wickets in the reply and the visitors lost a couple, momentum doing its job. Despite a handy stand from Riki Wessels and Ben Cox, the target of 192 was always going to prove too much in the circumstances and I suspect the journey home was a quiet one for Ben Cox and co a day after a shocking shellacking by Nottinghamshire. (To their credit, Worcestershire bounced back later in the week).

At 24, Jordan Thompson is becoming a Tim Bresnanish all-rounder for Yorkshire, not showy, but delivering big performances when required and churning out the kind of ‘Moneyball’ stats that coaches, and the Yorkshire public, appreciate. He just needs an update on that sprinkler dance now.

Ball Two – Hales rains boundaries on Lancashire

Nottinghamshire share the group’s top spot with the Tykes when, having tied a match they really should have won the previous day against Derbyshire, they came out and made a statement at home to Lancashire.

Dane Vilas may have one of the more varied attacks in the country to call upon, but there’s a zone that Alex Hales can access, a space available to very few batsmen, in which all bowlers come as one. Wickets fell regularly at the other end, but Hales kept going, constructing a fifth T20 century, setting a target that tantalised, but was never quite within Lancashire’s reach.

There’s much talk about how England have all the bases covered for the upcoming T20 World Cup and, of course, there’s plenty of history between Hales and England’s management, Eoin Morgan particularly. But it’s well over two years since Hales last played for his country and trust can be rebuilt because people change.

Who knows what might happen to England’s white ball batting unit in term of injury, form and even late Coronavirus isolations before October’s tournament in the UAE. All one can say from the outside looking in, is that the downside leading to Hales’ continuing exclusion must be steep indeed because the upside is plain for all to see.

Ball Three – Time to trust Duckworth, Lewis and Stern

An unwelcome record down at Hove, where the world’s longest ever no-result match was concluded between Sussex and Surrey. After the visitors had made 175-7 in their allotted 20, Sussex charged off the line to get above the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern par score and were ahead when Kyle Jamieson hit Luke Wright on the helmet and the umpires decided that that had seen (just about seen) enough taking the players off one ball before the five overs required for a match had been bowled.

Is there any significant difference between 4.5 overs and five overs? Could the umpires have stayed out a ball longer, perhaps requesting that a spinner deliver the sixth ball of Jamieson’s set? Were Sussex, who had done everything asked of them for 29 balls, robbed by not being allowed to face a 30th?

Maybe the answer is simpler. DLS was brought in to decide the winner in rain-affected matches and everybody accepts that it’s as fair as can be in the imperfect world of cricket. Everyone also knows when a early finish is in the air (those weather apps aren’t bad) and can tailor their approach accordingly. I say go with the DLS par score from ball one and make the best of a bad job. There might be the occasional anomaly, but, even after a couple of chasing overs and a terminal downpour, if one side is ahead, give them the win. That, after all, is the whole point of the system.

Ball Three – Kent cane Essex at Chelmsford

Kent are level with Gloucestershire at the top of the South Group, but with a game in hand after our three statistical stooges poked their finger in the eye of the storm and conjured a result from 25 overs of cricket.

After Daniel Bell-Drummond had led from the front again with a 29 ball 50, Simon Harmer gouged out the Kent middle order and Kent’s 167 felt like a score that would need good bowling to defend it. But the donner and blitzen was in the Essex sky rather than the Essex batting and, when lightning and rain drove the players from the ground one ball deeper into the reply than was the case at Hove, the home side were 31-4 and well behind the DLS par score.

Nobody felt it was an injustice, and you would have to have been a bit one-eyed to see it as such at any point in those five overs possible in the chase. Which rather makes my point above.

Ball Five – Batsman of the Week

It was a good week for New Zealanders, even if the likes of Jamieson had to forego a celebratory dinner with Jacinda in order to bat with Gareth Batty.

Glenn Phillips, a pugnacious wicketkeeper-batsman, hasn’t donned the black cap often, but he surely will soon, as he plays the brand of positive cricket that has seen his country crowned World Test Champions. Though not quite as newsworthy as events at the Rose Bowl, Phillips put together scores of 41, 94 and 94 without being dismissed to impress the fans at Bristol and send Gloucestershire to the top of the South Group. He looks a shrewd signing indeed and one wonders how many more Kiwis are lurking under the radar, possessed of the talent, if not yet the name, to play in domestic competitions around the world.

Ball Six – Bowler of the Week

Samit Patel then? We all know what a presence he can be and how he brings so much nous and so much control to any team.

At 36 years of age and not likely to be coming to an advertising campaign for a new format any time soon, against Worcestershire, Samit recorded the kind of figures last seen in the 1970s John Player Sunday League when Mike Hendrick and co bowled short of a length and batsmen let the ball go: 4 – 1 – 4 – 3.

There was a time (before conditioning and bespoke rest and rotation policies brought every player to the edge of an injury) when a Samit-like character was a fixture in all winning teams at all levels of the game. They could lower the temperature by going dot, dot, one, dot, two, dot with ball and then go boundary – single – single – boundary in a tight chase with the bat, the situation and not the averages driving the approach. Maybe the very top teams have outgrown such players – but you can bet that there’ll be a few in the T20 World Cup and you can bet they won’t let their captains down.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 21, 2021

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 21 June 2021

Ball One – Stokes fires up Durham

One point separates five teams at the top of the North Group – it’s almost as if the ECB has a popular and ultra-competitive competition on its hands. It even has 2019’s BBC Sports Personality playing in it and Ben Stokes was at the heart of Durham’s win over the Birmingham Bears, two of those five pacesetters.

But cricket matches, even Twenty20 cricket matches, are seldom won by one player and seldom won by one approach. While Stokes muscled five of the 18 balls he faced to the boundary, his captain, Cameron Bancroft (who had a rather different 2019) hit but seven of his 53 to the rope, but his 76 not out was the glue that bonded two more mid-range innings from Graham Clark and Sean Dickson into a competitive target.

The Bears kept losing wickets when they needed to accelerate and fell well short in the end, Stokes getting a wicket and catching his old nemesis Carlos Brathwaite off the bowling of Brydon Carse.

Both teams have nine points, level with group leaders Yorkshire and Stokes has a much needed match under his belt.

Ball Two – Lancashire tie with Notts

It was more “Oh Dear, Lanky Lanky” than “Oh Lanky Lanky” at Old Trafford, as the home side managed to turn a chase they were controlling for almost its entire duration into a tie against Nottinghamshire, a result that kept each a point off the triumvirate leading the group.

With Matt Parkinson having a rare off day, it was surprising that Dane Vilas didn’t turn to Keaton Jennings or Luke Wells for an over or two of part-time stuff, but, after Alex Hales had done his thing in the powerplay, no Notts’ batsman really got away and 172 felt like a par score at best.

Openers, Jennings and Finn Allen, were soon making it look a lot less than that, still together at the halfway mark in the chase, 92 chalked off, 81 to get, but Samit Patel got the squeeze on and, somehow, the home side needed 20 from the last two overs, a situation in which their eight wickets in hand sounds more beneficial than it actually is. The time to “spend” those wickets had gone, as new batsmen no longer had a couple of sighters available to them before boundary hitting (as they would have had in the overs 12-16).

Keaton Jennings six off the penultimate ball left two off one for the win and he was well short seeking that second run off the last ball. Credit to Steven Mullaney’s men though – they conceded just the six boundaries in the second half of the Lancashire innings, a tremendous effort given the wickets in hand. And Samit (4-0-18-1) should have been Man of the Match not Jennings (88 off 61).

Ball Three – Kent leaning upwards as Essex buckle

Kent top the South Group after hammering Essex at Canterbury. After a delayed start due to a wet outfield (just play lads, surely) The home side posted 236-3, their highest ever T20 score, not requiring the outfield at all on 14 occasions.

Daniel Bell-Drummond and Zak Crawley got away after a couple of overs to assess conditions and never stopped in an opening stand of 145 off 11.5 overs including nine fours and eight sixes. Bell-Drummond fell 12 short of his century, but that just brought in Jack Leaning, who can do no wrong at the moment, and he biffed 42 off 17, and a chastened Essex XI set off in pursuit of a mountainous 237.

Once that man Leaning dismissed Ryan ten Doeschate in the eighth over, there was only net run rate to play for (rather a grim phrase) and Essex will need a lot more than that to raise them from second bottom in the group after one win from six. In contrast, Kent have but one defeat from six and are two points clear at the summit.

Ball Four – Cracknell breaks open a tough chase

In a difficult season for Middlesex, a ray of light shone on the backwater of Radlett as an old pro, a young thruster and a canny import came together to chase down Hampshire’s imposing target of 216.

Joe Simpson was the old pro, a wiry six hitter, whose partnership of 122 in ten middle overs with young Joe Cracknell got his team back into yet another match in which they were sliding towards defeat. Cracknell, at 21, showed plenty of game nous in his 77 to anchor the innings, and proved it was no fluke with 67 a couple of days later against Gloucestershire. Cue Aussie T20 specialist, Chris Green, whose 26 not out got his team over the line with a couple of balls to spare. The Londoners are going to need a lot more of that stuff in all formats very soon indeed.

Ball Five – Batsman of the Week

Too often it’s too easy to define Jonny Bairstow by what he’s not doing: not keeping, not opening, not playing, not defending. Sometimes it might be better to heed the two forthright words on Jos Buttler’s bat handle and concentrate on what he is doing.

Against Worcestershire, he was not fit (whoops, there I go again) but he was doing what few English players can do better (in the history of the game) – repeatedly striking and smearing the ball to the boundary in his 112. Though he can show elegance (he has the balance of the gifted multi-sports star he was at school), he often foregoes that grace for power-hitting that can get him out of kilter at times – so, in some ways, his restricted movements due to injury in this innings may have helped to maintain his shape through the shots.

But with Jonny, it’s perhaps better to hear than to see. Has any English batsman ever made that unmistakable sound that makes you, almost involuntarily, inform the person next to you “Well, he’s middled that” more often? There’s AB de Villiers and Adam Gilchrist in the world game – and that’s about it for me.

Ball Six – Bowler of the Week

My son, on catching a little cricket on the television, exclaimed, “Is that the Steven Finn?” – and I explained that it was, and that he was still only 32. To be honest, it could have been me asking the question, because dear old self-effacing, stump-bothering Finny appears to belong to a previous generation, itself on the verge of becoming a previous generation in its own right. That’s a mark of how swiftly the game moves these days and, perhaps, of how many players England chew through with their schedules and range of selection options.

But the Glamorgan match also signified (no, signified is too strong, let’s say illustrated) something about Finn’s career and Middlesex’s season. He comes on, dismisses just about the biggest overseas name in the competition (Marnus Labuschagne), nails the captain, David Lloyd, next ball, finishes with 4-19 from his four overs – and loses the match.

An amusing and perceptive presence behind the mic, with the right ghost, Finn may provide one of the more interesting “My Story” biographies should he choose to do so when the boots are hanged up for the last time. But let’s see plenty more of him doing what he does best before that moment comes.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 15, 2021

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 15 June 2021

Ball One – Barnard castles Nottinghamshire’s chance and secures the tie

Worcestershire sit top of the North Group, courtesy of two wins and a tie at home to Nottinghamshire.

Chasing 153 after Jake Libby continued his fine Championship form with an undefeated half-century and Ross Whiteley did his thing down the order, Joe Clarke and Alex Hales departed the middle leaving Notts’ remaining batsmen to accumulate 72 runs in 13 overs. It should have been a doddle.

Credit to Moeen Ali’s men then, who squeezed three run outs under pressure, including Ed Barnard seeing off Peter Trego looking for two off the last ball. Fielding has obviously improved enormously in the last 20 years or so, but throwing from deep and the gathering of the ball and removal of the bails is often scrappier than in the days when the stumps were not expected to be thrown down often, if at all. It’s noticeable too, that it’s maybe the one set of skills not practised during the expansive warm-ups all teams do prior to a match.

Re the tie, would it hurt so much to give the public a Super Over if the scores are level in the group matches?

Ball Two – Parkinson deserves England recognition

Lancashire join Durham and Birmingham a point behind the pacesetters after comfortable wins over Leicestershire and Derbyshire.

Though England stars, Liam Livingstone and Jos Buttler (yes, he’s a Lancashire player), caught the eye with the bat, few Red Rose fans will place their contributions above Matt Parkinson’s, the leg-spinner again demonstrating his consistent ability to take wickets in all formats whenever his captain whistles him up.

For England to rest all of their wrist-spinning on the fragile shoulder of Adil Rashid seems unduly risky, but there’s a wider point that applies to both red ball and white ball cricket in 2021. Parky gets well set batsmen out in conditions that we’re relentlessly told make it difficult for spinners to prosper. It’s beginning to look contrary for England to ignore his claims – that the squad for the Sri Lanka series names 10 bowling options without his involvement just does not stand up to the evidence.

Ball Three – Strong Surrey flex their muscles

Surrey, picking up where they left off after a late charge to the final of 2020’s Blast, top the South Group with three easy wins from three.

Even with Rory Burns and Ollie Pope away on England duty and other star names unavailable, Surrey have options all through the XI, from the destructive powerplay hitting of Jason Roy and Will Jacks, to the experience of Laurie Evans and Gareth Batty, to the Curran brothers and Jamie Overton in all-rounder berths, to the huge promise of young spinner Dan Moriarty.

Of course, it’s the nature of the game that off days will come along or an opposition click, but few counties can call upon that quiver of arrows to fire. Beaten finalists last year, few would bet against them going one better this time round.

Ball Four – Bell-Drummond rings the bowling changes to good effect

Kent might have something to say about that as they are level with the Londoners, also with a 100% record.

After swatting aside Hampshire and Middlesex (Oh Middlesex!) Gloucestershire presented a sterner challenge, Daniel Bell-Drummond rotating through seven bowlers to find the combinations to defend 183.

He must have been very happy with that score having watched three quick wickets fall early on before he found a partner in Jack Leaning. The ex-Tyke has looked at home in the South East since his move last season, and his last two scores of 81 not out and 64 will win far more T20 matches than they lose.

As with their co-leaders, options with bat and ball appear to be the key for Kent, eight bowlers having notched a wicket in the three matches to date backed up by a batting order that boasts Darren Stevens at seven and Australian all-rounder, Grant Stewart at eight. With few of his squad likely to be called up for international duty, Daniel Bell-Drummond will look to win plenty more matches – and he might well just do that.

Ball Five – Batsman of the Week

Joe Clarke’s career was stalled by his being caught in the backwash of the Alex Hepburn case, though he was not accused of anything unlawful. It is not stalled any more, but it is at a crossroads.

Just turned 25, he has experience of the England development system, county cricket at Worcestershire and franchise cricket in Pakistan and Australia. If we needed reminding of the talent that underpins that CV, putting Northamptonshire to the sword with 136 off 65 balls, while his teammates made 67 off 57, was as clear a statement as can be made.

Unless there are residual reasons to ignore his claims (and if there are, they should be made public), England must surely pick him as part of their re-building after the T20 World Cup in the Autumn. More pressingly, should they continue to ignore his Test claims, since he has a first class average of 38, which compares favourably with many current incumbents? And if England do favour lesser talents with lesser baggage, would Clarke be wrong to build his career around international and franchise white ball cricket, essentially pigeonholing himself? It would be disappointing, but entirely understandable, if he did.

Ball Six – Bowler of the Week

In ten overs across three matches, Gareth Batty has been hit to the boundary just once. At 43, he’s still as ruddy faced, aggressive and keen to win as ever, but he has nous to burn, a commodity increasingly rare in English cricket. Eoin Morgan could do a lot worse in the lead up to the T20 World Cup than inviting the Surrey spinner in to explain how he restricts boundaries, something that would benefit all the bowlers and, no doubt, some of the batsmen too.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 14, 2021

England vs New Zealand – The Report Cards

Joe Root and Chris Silverwood en route to Edgbaston.

England

Joe Root (97 runs at 24; one wicket at 99; one catch)

Did anything go right for him? With the “resting” policy yielding a shallow pool of talent and experience from which to pick his XI (and one can only imagine how he felt watching Sam Curran, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali et al hit-and-giggle for their counties), he made things worse with poor selections, schoolboyish field setting and little to suggest that there were plans for bowlers to attack batsmen or batsmen to build innings. That he settled to for a draw in the first Test might be excusable, but he never showed any commitment to engineer a position from which a chase could be launched. His own players, his opponents and England fans drew the obvious conclusion that he didn’t really rate the team he had chosen – perhaps the second Test gave him the bittersweet satisfaction of being proved right. At number four, he batted well below his usual level and couldn’t catch… a cold. The appalling over rate added a minus suffix to his rating. Grade: E-.

Rory Burns (238 runs at 60; one catch)

Anchored both first innings, which is pretty much all you can ask of an opening batsman and he can feel aggrieved that no teammate scored even half of his runs. His method is quirky and might never deliver consistently (though they said that about David Warner and Virender Sehwag) but he plays the swinging and seaming ball well and, in rare moments when he could relax at the crease, demonstrated that he has more shots than Alastair Cook. Grade: A-.

Dom Sibley (103 runs at 34; one catch)

It’s all still so laboured and too reminiscent of watching Graeme Smith’s closed face shovelathons (without the mountains of runs) but he twice batted over two hours and, seen in the rear view mirror, his 60 off 207 balls at Lord’s looks more like it saved a draw rather than stifled a win. Played more offside shots as the series progressed, but is still too easy to tie down. Grade: B.

Zak Crawley (21 runs at five; three catches)

The Golden Boy of 2020 keeps getting out to leaden-footed drives. The talent is obvious, but Test cricket is a cruel game in which smart campaigners can see through it to the weaknesses beneath and dredge them to the surface with malicious glee. He might be getting to that awful stage many young batsmen reach where he’s thinking so hard about the mechanics of his game that he’s forgetting the basics of leave, leave, defend, wait, wait, wait and only then attack. Grade: D.

Ollie Pope (84 runs at 28; one catch)

Who is talking to him? At 23, much of the game has come easy, especially at The Oval where the ball beats a tattoo on the middle of his bat. But someone needs to sit down with him, run the videos, and ask him about his thought processes in building innings in homes not so sweet, analysing why knocks get so far and stop. After 19 Tests, he should look much more comfortable in his own skin. Grade: C-.

Dan Lawrence (81 runs at 41; one wicket at 16)

In a two Tests series, you have to take the chance as it comes and Lawrence did that, constructing a mature 80 not out without a lot of support at the other end dealing with some high class bowling and catching. For some England fans, it was a relief to see a batsman not wrestling with an esoteric technique, a run of poor form, a temperament tilted too far towards attack, a nervousness born of over-promotion. He demonstrated perhaps the single quality most missing from England’s batting – nous. Grade: B.

James Bracey (8 runs at three; six catches)

You feel for the lad. A number three who has only recently taken on glove duties, he was asked to bat seven and keep in conditions that BJ Watling found difficult. But, for all the mitigation, a fair few club cricketers will be saying that they’d have made a better fist of it – and they would have. Grade: D-.

Olly Stone (35 runs at 18; three wickets at 32)

Never quite had the rhythm that repeatedly sends him well over 90mph ball after ball, but was often a handful despite that, getting a bit of movement and a bit of bat-jarring bounce. Probably done enough to hold his place in the fast bowling cadre with Jofra Archer and Mark Wood – the puzzle for selectors is identifying when each is at peak fitness, is running in on rails and has everything pointing the right way at release. Given that all three can look like they’re at any point on those spectrums within a single over, never mind within a match or a series, that won’t be easy. His figures would have been much better if England’s catching were not so weak. Grade: B.

Ollie Robinson (42 runs at 42; seven wickets at 14; one catch)

At county level he scores useful runs, gets good batsmen out and seldom goes for very many. Wisely, he brought his county game to his single Test match and achieved similar results. Looks a perfect bowler for English pitches with a hint of nibble and might, like Glenn McGrath, have the discipline and skills to use his height to present problems when the Kookaburra seam nibbles not. A very encouraging debut in every way (except one). Grade: A.

Mark Wood (70 runs at 23; six wickets at 34)

Few will have enjoyed the return of crowds to Tests more and crowds will have enjoyed few players more than the eccentric Geordie whose comic persona should really have worn off by now – but its authenticity has ensured that it hasn’t. At 90mph+, he looks likely to rip the head or stumps off any batsman, but once he dips below, he can look a little straight up and down, though he is clearly developing his use of the crease to create angles and opportunities. As has been the case in many of the 38 Test innings in which he has bowled, you watch the spells and then check the scorecard for his rewards – and they’re not quite there, only three times taking more than three wickets in an innings in his career to date. Batted with some much welcomed élan and no little skill. Grade: B-.

Stuart Broad (11 runs at four; six wickets at 29)

At times bowled deliveries that were too good to take the edge and could easily have had a larger haul of wickets with a little luck here and there. Maintained his late career fuller length and flogged the odd bouncer from the pitch, but could look a little toothless when batsmen set up to keep him out and score at the other end. His batting is now something of a joke, which is a real shame considering what it still could be. He shows a lot of leadership and professionalism with his approach off the pitch – and not much on it. Grade: B-.

James Anderson (12 runs at 12; three wickets at 69; one catch)

His only wickets were an out of touch Kane Williamson, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner, a poor return for 77.3 overs of effort, with choice of ends, new ball in hand etc. No batsman got after him – his status and the roar he provokes from England supporters home and away quash any such thoughts in a player’s mind – but the endgame looked more in sight in this series than previously. Crudely put in the brutal logic of sport, if Anderson isn’t getting top order bats out, what is he doing? That’s a question in theory only – for now. Grade: C.

New Zealand

Kane Williamson (14 runs at seven; no wicket for 12 runs)

They say that the best strategy for successful parenting is to make yourself redundant and Kane Williamson appears to have done so, handing over batting duties to Will Young and captaincy obligations to Tom Latham without his side missing a beat. That Lord’s declaration, at the time appearing bold to the point of recklessness, now has something of Andrea Pirlo’s Euro 2012 Panenka penalty against England about it. His own players must have puffed out their chests and said – “He really does think we’re that good and they’re that bad”. And England fell for the bait by not taking the bait – hook, line and sinker. Grade: B.

Tom Latham (88 runs at 29; two catches)

He got starts without going on, but his main role in the series was to take charge of a much changed team, continue the Kane philosophy and deliver the series win. Barely three days after losing the toss, he did. Mission accomplished. Grade: A.

Devon Conway (306 runs at 77)

We’ve become familiar with the South African’s story of his going all-in with New Zealand as his last chance of making it as a Test batsman and, boy oh boy, did he look like he wanted it. Apart from being hit once or twice by Mark Wood and Ollie Robinson, he looked entirely at ease with his game, leaving, defending and attacking deliveries with uncanny judgement. Set up the Lord’s draw with an epic 200 and set up the series decider with a optimism-crushing 80. Grade: A+.

Will Young (90 runs at 45)

Stepped into Kane Williamson’s batting spikes and cruised through nearly a whole day’s play before getting a good ball that induced a tired shot. He’d done his job though. Grade: A-.

Ross Taylor (127 runs at 42; one catch)

The Grand Old Man of New Zealand cricket had almost the mirror image performance of his English counterpart. Where Jimmy Anderson looked good on the field and ordinary in the scorebook, Taylor looked ordinary on the field and good in the scorebook. He’s often done that in his later years and perhaps his true stature in New Zealand cricket and in the game more generally will only be recognised fully when memories of that bottom hand technique and crouching stance begin to fade. A great of the game will bid farewell to English soil next week – he should have had the chance to play here much more often. Grade: B+.

Henry Nicholls (105 runs at 45; one catch)

Though never at his most fluent, he looked the classy operator he is these days until he got out having worn one on the helmet from Mark Wood at Edgbaston. Grade: B+.

Tom Blundell (34 runs at 34; eight catches)

BJ Watling handed over the gloves temporarily (injury permitting) for one Test before doing so permanently at the end of the World Test Championship Final. Nobody noticed – a testament to both men and their captain. Grade: B+.

BJ Watling (16 runs at 16; three catches)

Possibly hampered by the injury that ruled him out at Edgbaston, he was less than his immaculate best at Lord’s behind the wickets and out of sorts in front of them. Big last hurrah coming up for one the decade’s most underrated players. Grade: C.

Daryl Mitchell (Six runs at six; no wicket for 23 runs; three catches)

Never really got into the one Test he played – probably needed more competitive opponents to shine. Caught very well – as his team do. Grade: C.

Mitchell Santner (No runs at zero; no wicket for 68 runs)

Brought an injured finger into the Lord’s match and could not affect it, which will not have done his chances of selection this week any good at all. Grade: D.

Colin de Grandhomme (Nine runs at nine; no wicket for 36 runs; one catch)

He looks a bit like one of the fancy dress merchants has jumped from the Hollies Stand in full kit and demanded a bowl, but batsman can’t rotate strike from his classic New Zealandish dibbly-dobblers and he gives Neil Wagner a chance to recharge those extraordinary batteries of his. Solved the mystery of the whereabouts of Dennis Lillee’s hair after it went missing fifty years ago. Grade: C+.

Kyle Jamieson (Nine runs at nine; three wickets at 38; one catch)

The big man came with a big reputation and largely confirmed it, swinging and seaming it both ways with a horrible yorker and bat-jarring lifter for variation. He’s not as good as Joel Garner – at least not yet. Grade: B-.

Neil Wagner (35 runs at 18; seven wickets at 28)

What an absolutely terrific guy to have in the side. Though he seldom went to the short stuff that has brought over half his Test wickets, he was still a threat, with just enough curving just far enough into the right-handers to make the one that holds its line a wicket-taker. Worth so much more than his figures suggest, Grade: A-.

Matt Henry (12 runs at 12; six wickets at 19)

No longer the tearaway he once was, the experienced pro was far too clever for England at Edgbaston where five of his six wickets were of top four batsmen. Yet another Kiwi quietly delivering the job description. Grade: A.

Ajaz Patel (20 runs at 20; four wickets at 15)

Championed relentlessly by Simon Doull, Yorkshire fans must have wondered if it were the same player as the one who played with little success for the White Rose. But England’s batsmen have shown that they can be troubled by flight and variations as much as spin, and Patel, with about the least energetic bowling action in Test cricket (or any cricket) lulled them into errors and he got his rewards. Grade: B+.

Tim Southee (Eight runs at eight; seven wickets at 11; one catch)

Everyone knows what’s coming – the ones that offer to go out followed by the one that offers to go in on a length you can’t quite push forward to and a line you can’t quite leave. The old stager (it sounds strange saying that of 32 year-old Southee, but he’s been around so long) took candy from babies as he helped himself to six first innings wickets at Lord’s and contemplated a tougher challenge to come. Grade: A.

Trent Boult (12 runs not out; six wickets at 20)

Bubbles, no warm-ups, quarantine? Boult shrugged off such concerns and got his inswinger going at fullish length and pushed the odd one across and helped himself to six wickets in what often looked a bit of a mismatch. England’s brains trust must have looked on and marvelled that such feats were possible – England’s fans were just aghast. Grade: A.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 7, 2021

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 7 June 2021

Ball One – Transferring the pressure

Just nine points separates the top four in Group One as Warwickshire took their turn to top a table that has been more like a representation of musical chairs than an old school Champo division.

In a low-scoring match against the group’s basement team, Derbyshire, only Sam Hain and Michael Burgess (his name is cropping up with increasing regularity in this column) crossed fifty in the match, with the home side falling well short of their target of 309, a score that would have seen them register their first win of the campaign.

Warwickshire’s bowling attack showed the value of wise recruitment – no real star names, but solid county pros picked up to do a job and unlikely to be scooped out into bubbles by England selectors. Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Liam Norwell, Craig Miles, Will Rhodes, Tim Bresnan and Danny Briggs may well trace their cricketing roots to Yorkshire, Gloucestershire and Hampshire, but they secured the 20 wickets Warwickshire needed for the win.

The movement of players between counties can be accompanied by fond farewells or a bitter sense of betrayal (and plenty in-between) and there are intermittent calls for a football-style transfer system to compensate for the development of players lost to brighter lights, but maybe, all things considered, cricket’s system works as well as any that might replace it. Players get to negotiate a variety of contracts and play in a variety of formats that suit their skills and their physical and personal preferences, and fans get to see a relatively even spread of talent, with the always pleasing sight of an old warhorse enjoying an Indian summer in pastures new alongside youngsters bursting through.

Ball Two – Bedingham fully bedded in

Durham faced off against draw specialists, Worcestershire, knowing that either they or their hosts would be out of the running for a top two slot were they to lose. It wasn’t quite a do-or-die situation (we’re likely to have more of those after the break for the Twenty20 Blast, though it will be interesting to see if there are any cut and dried win-or-bust fixtures) but the losers would look a long way off a Division One slot for the Autumn rounds.

When Durham went past Worcestershire’s first innings total with just two wickets down, the result felt inevitable and, though Jake Libby made a third century of the season to go second in the run-scoring ladder, the visitors ran out comfortable winners.

Sitting Top of the Pops in that chart after also notching his third century of the season, is Durham’s David Bedingham, like New Zealand’s Devon Conway, a product of Cricket South Africa who has chosen to make their professional life elsewhere. Leaking such talent is obviously a concern for CSA (and the wider international game) but South African players have adorned the county game for decades and Durham should be congratulated for the bold step of converting his Kolpak contract into an overseas contract for 2021.

Rather like the debate about the movement of players between counties, the movement of players into counties from abroad affords few straightforward conclusions to be drawn about the impact on youth academies, less wealthy counties, home boards and players’ representative aspirations. Surely few would argue the narrow point that English domestic cricket is not better off for the presence of the likes of Bedingham and Harmer, as it was back in the day when Garth Le Roux and Ken McEwan thrilled crowds.

Ball Three – Plenty of chat about Parkinsons

Group Two is not quite as tight as Group One, but five of the six counties have a chance of a top two berth with a couple of matches left.

Leicestershire, however strange it feels to write this, are one of the form sides in the country, a second win in a row lifting Colin Ackermann’s men into contention. Key to that rise has been the batting of Australian, Marcus Harris, who backed up last week’s big daddy of 185 with a little daddy of 148 to set up the innings victory.

But 20 wickets still needed taking, so step forward Callum Parkinson, whose two fiverfers gave him a match analysis of 50 – 18 – 108 – 10, the kind of figures you might expect from his twin brother, Matt. While nobody expects Callum to bowl balls of the century – left-arm finger spinners seldom do – he’s becoming a very handy performer who can also score useful runs down the order, even stepping in as captain earlier this season.

The Parkinsons have 50 wickets between them in their 14 matches to date – not bad considering we’re told that spinners really only come into their own in August.

Ball Four – Abell’s tactics not a draw for the spectators

Despite that defeat, Gloucestershire are still handily placed in second behind the group leaders, Somerset, who were denied a win by a combination of obdurate Hampshire batting, fourth day rain and Tom Abell declaring with one and a half eyes on the draw points that lifted his team to the top of the group.

Both first innings had been rescued by late order runs. Somerset had been 113-7 before Lewis Gregory and Roelof van der Merwe (surely one of the most accomplished numbers eight and nine ever to have been named in a county line up) counter-attacked to add 171 in 35 overs. Hampshire weren’t much better off at 148-6 before Lewis McManus marshalled the late order, in which Keith Barker backed up his six wickets with 33 runs, to more than double the score.

Somerset have always played positive cricket, looking for wins (sometimes a little too keenly in the opinion of pitch inspectors) so it was disappointing to see them start the last day with a lead of 372 and then bat for over an hour. The additional points this year are intended to incentivise teams in a weak position to guts it out for a draw not for those in a strong position to settle for one.

Ball Five – Red Rose wilts at last

Lancashire, though still at the summit of Group Three, lost the last undefeated record in the country in a madcap match at Sophia Gardens.

The turning point came during an extraordinary period of six and a half second innings overs during which Lancashire went from 88-2 to 124-8, including Luke Wood being run out without facing a ball and Liam Livingstone caught at Third Man off a leading edge. Well done Glamorgan, but the Lanky’s contributory negligence was shocking to behold from a side so ruthless so often in 2021.

The match also featured some high class, high speed bowling from Michael Neser and Saqib Mahmood, the Australian bagging seven wickets to the Englishman’s three. Both can move the ball in the air, can deliver a Waqaresque toe-crushing yorker and can hit the splice jarringly when dropping it short. Neser is probably more likely to get a go in the Ashes next winter, but Saqib is building a case for inclusion too. There’s a few county stalwarts will face a blitzing or two before then of course.

Ball Six – Bess keeps his best for last

The Sussex dressing room

The Sussex dressing room at Headingley

Yorkshire, benefitting from the advice of fans savouring the opportunity to make their views known at Headingley for the first time in almost 21 months, battled for four days with Sussex’s tyros before extracting the win with a handful of overs to spare. White is now just four points behind Red with Northamptonshire 12 points adrift in third in Group Three.

It was a match that could have provided a final over (and a couple of no balls) in itself and one wonders what 16 year-old Danial Ibrahim made of it all. Two and a half hours in the middle yielded a debut half-century and it wasn’t long before he was celebrating a debut wicket too, Tom Kohler-Cadmore’s poor form continuing. But he was to stay on the field for 127 more overs as Yorkshire piled up 558, enough to secure an innings victory in the slanting sun of the last session of play.

If Ibrahim (wicketless and runless after that spectacular entrance) was learning about the caprice of the cricketing gods, a few of his opponents knew that only too well. As a callow England batting order buckled in the face of New Zealand’s seamers, Dawid Malan (199) and Gary Ballance (77) must wonder if either of them have a route back to national colours – the former more likely than the latter. Come the denouement, the key incisions were made by David Willey and Dom Bess, who also must wonder about England, but also about their places in the Yorkshire side. One can’t help but be pleased for Bess, who has had a trying 2021, but whose 35 – 15 – 51 – 4 may just be enough to keep him in the XI when the Championship returns in July.

A last word for Sussex’s youngsters. The attrition rate for cricketers can be high (injuries, form, talent, just growing up), so it’s unlikely that Ali Orr, Tom Haines, Aaron Thomason, young Ibrahim, Jack Carson, Henry Crocombe and Jamie Atkins will all realise their potential, all nail down a slot in the XI, all achieve the ups (and downs) of their more experienced opponents in this match. But Sussex have given them a chance.

And the very best of luck to them – after all, we’d have given anything to have had one ourselves.

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