Posted by: tootingtrumpet | October 4, 2021

The five county cricketers of the year 2021

A player may only be named as a County Cricketer of the Year once. Here are the previous winners: 202020192018 and 2017

Rob Yates (Warwickshire) – The aura breaker

Strange to relate about a young opener who scored four centuries in the Championship and added another in the Bob Willis Trophy Final, but Warwickshire’s Rob Yates spent much of the season under the radar. Now he has two trophies under his arm.

Yates turned 22 a fortnight ago and 2021 has been his breakout season, making scores against the new ball that allow others to come in and play around him. That’s not a gig that guarantees big numbers – and his season’s 38 and career 32 averages at strike rates well below 50 will have the stats badgers chuntering – but centuries like his 132 not out that set up the pennant securing win over Somerset or his early season 120 not out to hunt down 256 and defeat Essex, are much more than mere padding. That chase shattered the reigning champion’s aura (they had enjoyed a 21 match undefeated run until then), something they never recovered with Warwickshire the ultimate beneficiaries.

Yates is enrolling for his final year of his BA in English Language at Birmingham University about now, but he may need to request a suspension of studies if England come calling. He’s well on the way to mastering the syntax of batting; he might soon be writing stories on the Test stage.  

Tom Haines (Sussex) – The boy on the burning deck

Another 22 year-old opening batsman, but one whose team endured the opposite season to Yates’, finishing their Championship campaign in 18th place only because there wasn’t a 19th. There is, of course, significant mitigation, Sussex usually fielding eight or nine teenagers in their XIs, kids who could often compete for sessions, but seldom maintain levels across four long days against seasoned professionals.

It is all the more admirable then, for Haines to top the run-scoring charts, the diminutive opener having scored over 100 more than Jake Libby in second place. Very few indeed of that 1000 plus runs harvest were scored without scoreboard pressure and, more often than not, accumulated in a match his team were losing. He accepted captaincy duties, showing a willingness to take responsibility and front up to a membership grumbling about decisions taken well above Haines’ pay grade. As an illustration of his dedication to his task, having led in the field as Middlesex piled up 676-5 declared, he batted nearly 6 hours for 156, then over four hours for 87 following on – guts they call it.

In some ways, this recognition for Haines also nods in the direction of his comrades who learned much in a very hard school: Ali Orr, Danial Ibrahim, Jack Carson. Archie Lenham, Jamie Atkins and Henry Crocombe have all demonstrated plenty of what it takes to succeed and, if the nucleus of this team plays Championship cricket through next season too, I doubt they’ll finish bottom again. 

Kiran Carlson (Glamorgan) – The young leader

Another batsman whose cricketing development has been shared with studying, the Glamorgan protégé has grown into a leading light in the only other county to join Warwickshire and Kent in landing a trophy this season.

In the Championship, his output has begun to match his talent with over 900 runs at almost 50, including two centuries in a match against a Sussex attack that included Ollie Robinson and George Garton. But in was in the Royal London One Day Cup Final that Carlson showed what he can become.

Having pulled off a heist in the semi-final against a strong and experienced Essex XI, his 82 off 59 balls showcased the astonishing bat-speed which allowed him to score at a rate none could match on a sluggish pitch. But the 23 year-old then took charge of defending a total shy of 300, a livewire captain who appeared to be all over the field, getting his men in tight on the singles, caging the batsmen and giving the impression, as the best one day captains always do, that he had 13 fielders at his disposal. 

He didn’t hold back in the celebrations either – try telling him and 40 year-old Michael Hogan that it was only a “development” competition. Shame on the ECB for diminishing their oldest one day competition with such a description.    

Matt Critchley (Derbyshire) – The hard worker

The all-rounder played all 14 Championship matches, making 1000 runs at 43, taking 32 wickets at 38. He played all 12 Twenty20 Blast matches, taking 12 wickets at 26 going at just over a run a ball and made over 250 runs at 28 too. He also captained his county in the shortest format when Billy Godleman’s lack of runs led to him losing his place.

It can be a thankless task playing cricket for Derbyshire, but Critchley embraced his opportunities, displaying absolutely no signs of burnout, suggesting that, for some players at least, playing to stay fit and fresh is a better option than resting for weeks at a time.

Like all five cricketers featured in this column, it’ll be a surprise if Critchley plays for England in the immediate future, but the international game is full of unpredictable developments, so who knows. Nevertheless, he’s a fine county player who is already attracting attention from employers with deeper pockets than his current county. Nobody would blame him were he to accept an offer from Glamorgan, for example, but it would be lovely to see him shoulder all this work one more time in 2022 for one of county cricket’s less glamorous clubs.

Luke Fletcher (Nottinghamshire) – The cliché

The clichés can pile up around Luke Fletcher – the forearms looking like they were forged in a smithy, the backside as if built down a mine, the sense of enjoying something that is as much a pastime as a profession radiating from the big man’s face. But you don’t bowl almost 500 overs across three formats without being a dedicated pro.

The cliché does hold up when placing Fletcher in the long line of English seamers who run in hard, present the seam upright to a grassyish surface and get a little movement this way and a little movement that way, the mix leavened with the odd splice slammer to keep the batsman honest. Ironically, the best practitioner of this ancient art was an Australian, Glenn McGrath, with whom the big Notts’ man shares a method.

Fletcher topped the Championship wickets table with 66 victims at less than 15, ahead of three more of his type, Chris Rushworth, Sam Cook and Tim Murtagh. I doubt that franchise cricket will come calling for these bowlers and I suspect England will always have men a little faster, a little younger or a little closer to the template of what an England bowler should look like. Some would suggest that Fletcher and co’s wickets are an indictment of English pitches or the domestic structure or perhaps 21st century batting. Others, present writer included, prefer to salute old-fashioned skills honed to perfection, backed up by nous and the one sledge in cricket worth shouting – “Play that!”  

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 26, 2021

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

Bears’ joy as Red Rose blooms all too briefly – Warwickshire are the County Champions for 2021

Ball One – Bears hibernate for the winter under the County Champions’ pennant

107, 184, 134, 141, 90, 314, 389. Masochistic fans of Lancashire will recognise that sequence of numbers as Somerset’s innings totals in Division One at the point at which they set off in pursuit of 273 to beat Warwickshire, or survive 79 overs for the draw – either would send the pennant to Old Trafford.

So the last number in the sequence is, as all Lanky fans now know, 154 and the flag will fly over Edgbaston, Warwickshire’s two wins in the divisional stage lifting them three and a half points clear of Lancashire and a further half point clear of Nottinghamshire (who had scored three wins… but let’s not go there – everyone knew the rules).

County championships are not easy to win (ask a Somerset or Lancashire fan about that, obviously) so the winners are always worthy for all the stop-start calendar, the international calls and rests, the comings and goings of the overseas players. The second city club finished first – congratulations to them.

Ball Two – Rhodes finds a route to success

For all the memories of Mushy bowling Sussex to titles and Simon Harmer’s mountain of wickets for Essex more recently, teams (perhaps these days, squads) win titles and it was a team performance from Warwickshire that got them over the line on an anything but ‘result’ home pitch.

Rob Yates, Dom Sibley, Will Rhodes, Sam Hain, Matthew Lamb and the reborn Danny Briggs all made significant contributions with the bat; Chris Woakes, Tim Bresnan; Liam Norwell; Craig Miles and Briggs again took wickets, with Michael Burgess holding his catches. To achieve those levels of performance from one to eleven at the end of a long season with the pressure on, speaks much for the leadership of Will Rhodes as captain and Mark Robinson as coach.

Ball Three – Dane Vilas brings it home (for one night only)

Wind the clock back 24 hours and Lancashire were still wishin’ and hopin’ in the autumn field of Liverpool Cricket Club, where happy of championship winning memories still hang in the salty air a decade on.

In a low-scoring thriller, James Vince had done his usual ‘batting on another planet’ show and found a partner in Liam Dawson, the ex-England pair adding 80 vital runs before Matt Parkinson won an LBW decision against Vince and Tom Bailey, en route to a career-best 7-50, bowled Dawson. 196 was the home team’s target, but it would be the highest score of the match and that’s never a gimme.

After Alex Davies biffed 44 on his valedictory championship outing for his county of birth and Luke Wells had continued his fine late-season form, Lancashire needed just 45 runs with six wickets in hand – but we’ve all been there before and so have the players. Sure enough, Mason Crane pinned Steven Croft LBW and suddenly transformed into Shane Warne, as wickets fell, pads and boxes were fished out of bags and panic oozed from crowd to dressing room and back again.

Captain, Dane Vilas, observed it all from the other end and, when last man Parkinson survived the two balls he needed to, the South African whacked the required boundary, embraced the joy and allowed a dream to grow overnight. That it was not to be does not diminish a tremendous game played by two teams who started the match with a shot at the title and still had one when the last ball was bowled – almost as if ‘every ball counts’.

Ball Four – Slater chalks up third place for Nottinghamshire

Nottinghamshire finished a satisfactory season having reconstructed a red ball side that had collapsed, coming within a sniff of the dubious pleasure of playing five days cricket at Lord’s in the watery autumnal sunshine (and that’s if the weather is as good as can be hoped for).

Teenage all-rounder, Joey Evison, backed up his maiden 50 with 4-13 as Yorkshire shambled to 73 all out. It’s never as straightforward second time round and Adam Lyth’s eight hour 153 rescued some Yorkshire pride in a largely disappointing season, ensuring that Notts would chase a banana skinnish 174 for the win. Ben Slater took a leaf from Lyth’s playbook and anchored the home side to a five wickets victory.

Notts won half of their 14 championship matches, an excellent return after so long a period without winning a match at all and something to build on for 2022. Yorkshire have plenty of young talent at their disposal, but that can be a curse as much as a blessing as the right balance for an XI can be hard to strike with the constant temptation to try another youngster when it might be better to pick and stick. 21 players selected in 14 matches feels at least five too many.

Ball Five – Cook slices up Northamptonshire’s batting

Once it was confirmed that Essex were playing in Division Two, the only threat to them winning it was a sulky attitude from players who have won much more prestigious honours in the past (ie honours). That was seldom likely to be allowed to fester in so competitive a dressing room, and it didn’t.

The shortest four day championship match in history was wrapped up in fewer than 100 overs, Northamptonshire capitulating to 81 and a pitiful 45, Sam Cook’s brace of fivefers meaning that Simon Harmer didn’t need to add to his wickets tally at all.

Quite what it means for next season or indeed, this season, is open to question, a flaw in a structure that gave us many fine matches across the Spring and Autumn, but does leave more counties playing for confected prizes in essentially meaningless matches than is the case in the pre-pandemic two divisions all-play-all structure. A return to that format would require 18 four day matches to be played, but if six months is insufficient for that, it’s not the Championship that’s at fault.

Ball Six – Stewart steers Kent home

Kent won all four of their Autumn championship matches to add the err… Division Three title to their T20 Blast Trophy and extend their winning streak from 12 August right through to next season.

A run like that breeds the self-belief required to look at a target of 373 posted on a scoreboard for more than 100 overs and chase it down. When Zak Crawley was dismissed, fourth to go with just 103 on the board, it just looked just a matter of time for Middlesex, but Ollie Robinson (Kent’s Ollie Robinson) notched a century, putting on 172 with Tawanda Muyeye, the refugee from Zimbabwe, whose talent is beginning to outshine his extraordinary backstory.

There was still 63 to get when number nine, Grant Stewart, joined Marcus O’Riordan, but the Australian quick has a first class century to his name and plenty of ticker. He was still there when Matt Milnes hit the winning runs, Middlesex left to rue another defeat in a season that had been improving after a poor start.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 20, 2021

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 20 September 2021

Four counties fight for title as Championship enters last round of matches and Blast glory for Kent

Ball One – Organ gets a tune out of the Rose Bowl pitch

Hampshire’s win over Nottinghamshire ended their opponent’s run of good form and saw James Vince’s men leapfrog their opponents to the top of the table. 

In a week that was all about scraping together the kind of scores that keep a side in the game, Nick Gubbins’ 54 found support in a prial of 30s from James Vince, Liam Dawson and Felix Organ, lifting the home side to 226. The admirable Keith Barker then used his street-smart mix of in-swingers and pushers-across to snare the first seven Notts’ wickets and send stattos to their databases (spoiler alert – he didn’t get any more).

James Vince scored a half-century in Hampshire’s second dig and, while a target of 250 looked eminently gettable, it’s never easy being asked to make the highest total of the match to win it. Notts barely got halfway, the spin of Dawson and Organ, both of whom enjoyed fine matches, seeing the points, and the top spot, go to the home side. 

Ball Two – White Rose wilts as Bears roar

Bowlers were on top at Headingley too (in September – well I never…) but Michael Burgess did the keeper-batsman’s thing and counterattacked the seamers, his 66 the lion’s share of Warwickshire’s 155. That score looked a lot better by the end of the first day, after Chris Woakes, Liam Norwell and Craig Miles had reduced the home side to 95-8, Gary Ballance en route to grinding out a three hour 58.

Jordan Thompson and Steve Patterson knocked the top off the Warwickshire second innings, before Dom Sibley found a partner in Burgess, on his way to scoring over 100 runs in the match. Nous down the order from ex-Tyke, Tim Bresnan, left Yorkshire with 224 runs to get to keep their hopes of the pennant alive. Woakes, Norwell and Miles saw them off for 177, Bresnan picking up one wicket for old times’ sake. 

Warwickshire moved into second, two and a half points behind Hampshire; Yorkshire need snookers to secure a tilt at the Bob Willis Trophy. 

Ball Three – Sun sets on Somerset’s Championship campaign

Lancashire will go to the happy hunting ground of their 2011 Championship, Liverpool, still in with the shout of another pennant. For that, they have to thank Somerset who were left desperately trying to reattach the wheels to their bandwagon before Blast Finals Day, because they’ve well and truly fallen off in the red ball format.

The visitors were always able to arrest a potential first innings collapse with handy scores dotted through the order, Luke Wells notching a ton and Josh Bohannon, Steven Croft and sorta all-rounder, Tom Bailey, adding half-centuries to post a total of 373. Only Azhar Ali offered resistance worthy of the name, as Somerset were then rolled for 90, nine wickets shared by that Dickensian firm of solicitors, Bailey, Balderson and Blatherwick. 

As sides so often do when asked to have another go, the hosts made a better fist of it second time round (except captain, Tom Abell, who completed a miserable pair) Tom Lammonby’s round 100 ensuring a third successive defeat by an innings was averted. He was one of Luke Wells’ three victims, taking his season’s tally to seven, because if it’s your match, it’s your match.

Ball Four – Somerset bounce back

The 19th Twenty20 Finals Day began at 11am with plenty of the ticket holders already in their seats (they may not be fans of the four participants – the day sells out before their identities are known – but they’re fans of cricket) and they were treated with a topsy-turvy match that showed how the pendulum can swing hither and thither over 40 overs.

At 26-3, Somerset were ahead, but Joe Weatherley having already shown he was fully switched on by advising the umpires of a powerplay no ball that they hadn’t spotted (Marchant de Lange, to his credit, sheepishly admitting to not being penned into the circle) batted through knowing that Hampshire would stay in the game because there’s almost always a 20-odd or so at the other end. He was rewarded with 71 runs of his own, so Hampshire’s bowlers had the job of holding the batsmen to 150 or fewer to progress.

Somerset’s top order have been less reliable than their lower order recently, so 34-5 was not fatal, though Hampshire had a spring in their step for sure. But when Tom Abell was out for a well constructed 50, the ask was 48 runs from 20 balls, with numbers eight and nine in occupation. Ben Green hit one four and three sixes, Craig Overton hit a six and Josh Davey a six and a four and Hampshire walked off shellshocked, Somerset jubilant and contemplating what to do for a few hours before their final. 

Ball Five – Klaassen top of the class

In the second semi-final, Daniel Bell-Drummond played the Weatherley role, hitting his own runs, but waiting for a partner to hit theirs too. At 94-5, he found one in, it will surprise nobody to learn, 45 year-old Darren Stevens, who remained unbeaten having set a stiff target of 169 for Sussex.

Kent restricted the chase using the old-fashioned tactic of continually taking wickets, with Fred Klaassen and Matt Milnes cast as those familiar early Autumn characters, the journeymen bowlers who shine with a one day trophy at stake. Sussex played only one teenager from their youthful Championship side, Archie Lenham – maybe they should have played more – and Kent were in the final.   

Ball Six – Cox the apple of Kent’s eyes

Wicketkeeper batsman, Jordan Cox, found himself not just on the boundary, but over it, but in mid-air – he palmed the ball back into the field of play and into the hands of Matt Milnes, a spectacular catch, if a relatively commonplace skill practised assiduously for just such an occasion. Added to his 58 not out, it assured that he got the headlines in a match that was a little short on stories.

Kent’s 167 was enough for them to apply the same tactic as had worked a few hours earlier and the wickets turned up with the same regularity, Somerset’s tail wagging, but not as much as in their semi-final. Six Kent bowlers took at least one wicket and none conceded ten an over, proving an old adage that applies even more in Autumnal England than anywhere – the team with the better bowlers tends to win cricket matches. 

Finals Day is about more than its sport, it’s about a heaving, roaring carnivalesque slew of humanity, ugly and funny, fraternal and hostile, witty and witless. No committee stocked with marketers and administrators planned what this day has become – it’s more the realisation of an unconscious collective nostalgia for the days when the Assizes would come to town, or hundreds-strong street parties would be held for Royal Jubilees or seaside venues would fill up for knobbly knees competitions. It’s easy to sneer at such things – and they’re not for everyone – but, after the last 18 months, nobody can say they’re not needed every bit as much as the air we breathe.  

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 12, 2021

England vs India – The Report Cards

Jasprit Bumrah’s bowling and Virat Kohli’s leadership prove the difference, as Joe Root batting and Ollie Robinson’s bowling provide the two brightest lights for England

England

Joe Root: 564 runs, average 94; one wicket, average 40; seven catches

He was monumental with the bat, at times carrying his team as Atlas carried the globe, his performances no less remarkable just because they’re expected these days. But his captaincy, in the key moments, was dismal, letting Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah get away from England at Lord’s with a wit that wouldn’t sit well with a schoolboy XI’s skipper. At other times, easy singles to fielders not quite saving one ceded the momentum of the match to India and his reluctance to bowl Craig Overton was inexplicable, preferring to flog his thoroughbred, Jimmy Anderson. He outbatted his opposite number by a distance, but was outcaptained by the same margin. Grade A-

Rory Burns: 183 runs, average 26; two catches

He started the series with a duck (an occupational hazard for openers) but never went on to post a score that defined an innings, which is the job description for an opener who gets in. Still, 29 Tests into his career, too often fails to get his feet and hands into positions from which he can present the full face of the bat to the straight ball. Curiously vulnerable in the cordon. Grade C

Dominic Sibley: 57 runs, average 14; one catch

His technical issues finally overtook his rock solid temperament and he returns to county cricket for an opportunity to find singles and boundaries, both of which eluded him for much of his time at the crease. Grade D

Haseeb Hameed: 140 runs, average 28

The fairytale return for the boy prince of 2016 began with that hideous golden duck, nerves seeming to paralyse feet and hands. Subsequently, he offered a mix of fluency and stasis (almost voluntarily it seemed, as the bowling appeared much the same), provoking some panicky shot selection that got him out at times. His low hands might not suit pitches Down Under, but he’s probably booked his place. Grade B-

Ollie Pope: 83 runs, average 42

The frenetic walking wicket of the series in India was replaced by the busy, punchy, elegant batsman that has drawn parallels with Ian Bell. His 81 was England’s best score of the series not made by Joe Root, a thin compliment indeed, but one that shows that he has taken his chance. Grade B+

Dawid Malan: 106 runs, average 35

He demonstrated that dreaded trait of a batsman, the ability to attract a good ball. At times, his economy of movement allied to powerful cutting and driving remind one of Marcus Trescothick in his prime and, at other times, Graeme Hick in his largely unsuccessful quest to work out a reliable game for the Test arena. a successful, if not wholly impressive, return to the Test arena. Grade B

Chris Woakes: 68 runs, average 34; seven wickets, average 20; one catch

His record suggests that he is just about England’s second best available bowler in home conditions and his technique suggests that he’s just about England’s second best available batsman too. Did all that was asked of him. Grade A

Jonny Bairstow: 184 runs, average 26; nine catches

The destructive batsman of the white ball game disappears when red ball kryptonite is propelled towards him. To be as vulnerable as he is to the straight ball beating the inside edge after 78 Tests suggests that his time is up, for all the eye-catching boundaries that illuminate innings terminated too early and too easily. Grade C-

Sam Curran: 74 runs, average 19; three wickets, average 79; one catch

England’s Player of the Series on India’s last visit looked too meek with the ball and too chancy with the bat. Grade C-

Moeen Ali: 83 runs, average 17; six wickets, average 50; seven catches

He was milked mercilessly with ball in hand and played some extraordinary shots to make runs – and to get out. For all his near 200 Test wickets, one wonders how many of them have seen him bowling when a wicket goes down rather than working through a plan and reaping its reward. If only his play were as strong as his interviews. Grade D+

Zak Crawley: 33 runs, average 17

That 267 feels a very long time ago. Grade D-

Jos Buttler: 72 runs, average 14; 18 catches

Behind the stumps, he took his catches without suggesting he had made the kind of step up that Alec Stewart made at a similar time in his career – moving from competent to outstanding. In front of the stumps, he remains the white ball gamechanger who changes few red ball matches. His 18 ball 0 in the first innings of the series was like watching a man construct a sentence using a foreign language phrasebook. It was not his fault he was picked with so little preparation, but, 53 Tests into his career, England are still looking for a player who probably isn’t there. Grade C

Craig Overton: 43 runs, average 14; eight wickets, average 21; three catches

Hit the deck very hard on a line and length and seldom offered easy runs, but his captain just didn’t fancy him, handing him an ageing ball if handing it to him at all. Disappointing with the bat, but probably the best of a pretty unreliable slip cordon. Grade B+

Dan Lawrence: 25 runs, average 13

Perhaps the victim of cries of “Something must be done!” after the first Test, there’s a air of the stopgap clinging to his Test career – unfairly so, as three half-centuries in eight tough Tests suggests he’s earned some patience. Grade D

Ollie Robinson: 45 runs, average eight; 21 wickets, average 21; one catch

The bowler who has taken wickets for years in county cricket by aiming at the top of off stump with some moving this way a bit in the air and off the pitch and some moving the other, is now taking wickets in Test cricket with the same method. With so little to go wrong, it’s hard to see anything but the brightest of futures – as long as he doesn’t try to add 5mph. There’s nothing wrong with being more Vernon Philander than Dale Steyn. Grade A+

Mark Wood: five runs, average five; five wickets, average 28

The Geordie bowled very fast indeed with his usual heart-on-his-sleeve attitude which lifts the crowd and the team, but he clearly needs a specific schedule for a series, playing only at the venues that best suit his attributes with time in between to allow his body to recover. Grade B+

Stuart Broad: four runs, average two; one wicket, average 88; two catches

Never got going in terms of wickets, but bowled better than his figures suggest. Grade C

Jimmy Anderson: four runs, average one; 15 wickets, average 25; one catch

One masterclass after another until the workload would catch up with him and he returned to the mortal plain. Afforded enormous respect by the Indian batsmen, who simply opted to play him out more often than not, though that proved beyond many of them. His unique skills and knowledge demand that he be picked whenever possible, but, without Ben Stokes in the side, another has to be able to step in to give him a session off, especially in second innings – a workload of 28, 54.3, 34 and 47 overs in four Tests just isn’t acceptable. Grade A

India

Virat Kohli: 218 runs, average 31; six catches

Almost visibly wrestling with his rhythm bat in hand, he showed only glimpses of his fluency and none of his relentless efficacy – it looks like a dip in form, rather than a more permanent decline, but he’ll need runs soon to stop the drum that always beats around him growing louder. His captaincy, from the tone set with his fast bowlers to his roaring on of Bumrah and Shami from the Lord’s balcony as Root fell into his trap, was brilliantly planned and executed. If not playing R Ashwin was a mistake, he can just point to the scorecards and ask why. Grade A-

Rohit Sharma: 368 runs, average 53; three catches

After the shellacking at Headingley, he walked out to bat in the second innings at The Oval with the series poised at 1-1 and with a deficit of 99 to overturn on a pitch still offering plenty to the bowlers. Having fought very hard indeed, uncharacteristically blocking half volley after half volley, he left the crease almost six hours later, 129 to his name and with 80 more overs in the England bowlers’ legs. That is a series turning innings. Grade A-

KL Rahul: 315 runs, average 39; three catches

Asked to do a job as opener, he simply stroked the ball to the boundary or found singles at will off England’s change bowling before tailing off a little, his concentration sapped by the intensity of back-to-back Tests. Grade B

Shadul Thakur: 117 runs, average 39; seven wickets, average 22

The journeyman bowler who bats transformed himself into Kapil Dev repeatedly delivering a considered counter-attack with bat and ball that permitted not a shred of self-doubt. Though his bowling might be specifically suited to English conditions, he made the absolute most of his talents. Grade A-

Cheteshwar Pujara: 227 runs, average 32

When a billion or so Indians were calling for his head and it looked like he could barely block a straight one, he decided to play a few shots and looked a much better batsman for it. That showed the courage that had made him a hero of India’s series win in Australia, but whether that will be enough to keep him in the XI much longer, remains to be seen. Grade B-

Ravindra Jadeja: 160 runs, average 23; six wickets, average 45; one catch

Not at his sword-swinging best, but a swooping presence anywhere in the field and a purveyor of the two minute maiden that can disrupt a batsman even if he doesn’t get the wicket himself. Proved something that we all know – one of the world’s best number sevens is unlikely to become one of the world’s best number fives. Grade B

Rishabh Pant: 146 runs, average 21; 14 catches

Much improved behind the stumps, especially in his footwork down the legside to the quicks, he also set the tone in the field that Kohli likes, more irritating than truly hostile, with the energy always dialled up to 11. He stopped believing his own publicity after some farcical innings in time to show us how talented a batsman he is with a beautifully constructed 50 at The Oval. Grade B-

Mohammed Shami: 75 runs, average 19; three wickets, average 41

He bowled better than his figures suggest but his main impact on the series came with his extraordinary partnership with Bumrah at Lord’s as England played the man and not the ball and he took the game away from his brainless opponents with an undefeated partnership of 89. Grade B-

Umesh Yadav: 35 runs, average 18; six wickets, average 23

Dropped in to replace the hapless Ishant Sharma, he bowled like he’d never been away, asking questions of the batsman with ball after ball. Grade A-

Jasprit Bumrah : 87 runs, average 17; 18 wickets, average 21

He won a crucial battle with bat in hand at Lord’s and plenty more with ball in hand everywhere else, his fearsome yorkers taking the pitch out of consideration. By varying his attack from over and round the wicket and a threat short, on a length and full while giving little away, he looked as strong a candidate as Patrick Cummins for the the title of the world’s most complete fast bowler. Grade A+

Ajinkya Rahane: 109 runs, average 16; one catch

Aside from a crucial innings when the Lord’s Test was in the balance, he contrived to use up a fair slice of luck in delivering tailender numbers. The glory of his win as stand-in skipper in Australia now looks very distant in the rear view mirror. Grade D

Ishant Sharma: 34 runs, average 11; five wickets, average 35; one catch

Recalled for the second Test, he found the movement and some of the lift that has been his trademark since Ricky Ponting was his bunny all those years ago, but it deserted him completely at Headingley and he was ruthlessly dropped as a result. Grade C-

Mohammed Siraj: 14 runs, average seven; 14 wickets, average 31; two catches

India’s gobby little jack-in-the-box ruffles feathers and makes things happen, rewarding his captain’s faith in his impact with key wickets. As has been the case down the decades for change bowlers, he benefits from coming on after the peerless Bumrah, but his value goes well beyond that of a second fiddle. Grade B

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 10, 2021

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 10 September 2021

No soft cricket as divisional stage hits halfway mark

Nottinghamshire’s late late show sends them top of Division One as Somerset lose touch behind a tightly bunched group of four.

Ball One – Lamb fleeced of the points for the draw

Nottinghamshire soared 10.5 points clear of the chasing pack in Division One after the kind of victory that gives the lie to the easy jibe that county cricket is soft cricket. 

Batting first, Ben Duckett, Sam Northeast and Joe Clarke registered half centuries that looked much better than that when Brett Hutton’s five wickets (well, four plus an LBW decision won against Dane Vilas) established a lead of 104. Lancashire were right in the match when Tom Bailey (having a very decent game) dismissed captain, Steve Mullaney, to leave them 211 in arrears with five wickets to take, albeit on a flat pitch in some of the best weather of the summer. Cue a stand of 176 between Tom Moores and Lyndon James that saw both men into the 90s and a declaration that gave Notts four sessions to take 10 wickets, the target a notional 444. 

But, as intended by the eight points available this year for the draw, the visitors dug in, George Balderson leading the non-charge, batting 80 overs for his 77. The second new ball did its thing to take three wickets in three overs and the game looked up until Tom Bailey played sensibly with Danny Lamb, as useful a Number Nine as you’ll find, and the clock ticked on. And on. Dane Paterson found a beauty for Bailey and, in the last hour of a pulsating last day, Brett Hutton sparked mass celebrations when Saqib Mahmood edged one. What a match!      

Ball Two – Barker gives Bears something to shout about

Were Hampshire all out for 89 on the first morning of their match against Warwickshire because (a) the quality of pitches in domestic cricket is terrible and has led to a terminal decline in English batsmanship; or (b) it’s bloody hard work batting at 10.30am in September? Well, Mohammad Abbas and Keith Barker know where to bowl when there’s a bit in it too and, another ten wickets later, the second day began with the match pretty much a one innings affair.

It was scarcely less tough for Hampshire in the second dig, batsmen grinding out scores (except James Vince, who cruised to 48) but the visitors were probably still second favourites until Keith Barker and Brad Wheal put on 93 runs in 42 overs for the ninth wicket, Barker showing yet again what a resourceful cricketer he is.

296 looked in that “tough but gettable” bracket that freights a fourth innings with possibilities and, when Dom Sibley and Rob Yates had posted 99 without loss in 50 hard fought overs, the home side looked favourites. Liam Dawson may have been the sixth bowler to whom Vince turned, but he’s an international player and he cracked the match open with the wickets of Sibley and Chris Benjamin. Plenty of Bears got in and got out, but the end came quickly with a clatter of four wickets for four runs as 19 points went back to the South Coast, Warwickshire all out 60 runs short.     

Ball Three – Fisher nets nine wickets

At least Yorkshire had a good week on the pitch, as Somerset fell apart and likely out of contention, eight points adrift from the logjam behind Notts. 

Matthew Fisher was their destroyer with 5-41 in the first innings and 4-23 in the second. The pacer seems to have been around for ages (to be fair, given the fact that he debuted in 2013, he has) but he’s still only 23 and has plenty of time to realise some, if not quite all of his potential. As a teenager, he looked to have something of Tim Bresnan Deluxe about him, 10mph quicker and more likely to nail down a Number Six slot with the bat. Injuries mean that he might now become more of a Tim Bresnan Not Quite Deluxe, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

A lesson I learned from my father is to look out for batsmen who make big scores when no others do. Harry Brook’s 118 was enough to propel the Tykes to 308 and that was enough to secure the win by an innings. Brook’s is a name that crops up often in reports of all formats of domestic cricket – perhaps he’s outgrowing it?

Somerset have the Blast’s Finals Day to look forward to next weekend and, having not won a match outside the shortest format since 1 August, need to get something out of that to avoid another season fading away in the Autumnal mists.

Ball Four – Chelmsford massive wreaking havoc in Division Two

Essex appear to be taking their Division Two status as a personal affront, sweeping aside Gloucestershire by an innings having meted out the same treatment to Glamorgan last week. Quite what winning Division Two means I suspect few are quite sure, but I suggest that they’re about to find out down Chelmsford way.

Simon Harmer was, inevitably, the main man, taking three wickets for spit in the visitors’ first innings and then applying his tourniquet of turn to staunch any potential rush of runs with 40 overs in the second dig, 4-78 his reward. 

Harmer is 32 now and might have a decade or so left as a player, but surely there’s nothing he doesn’t know about spin bowling, specifically how to make the most of talent a notch or two below genius. Whatever plans he has for the off-season (and let’s not forget that there’s a fair sized chunk of that in the summer too) the ECB should sign him up as a spin consultant with a view to a more permanent role in the future. His immigration status might be problematical, but, surely, there are ways round that if it’ll lead to Moeen Ali and Dom Bess landing a few, Jack Leach getting a game and Matt Parkinson and Jack Carson twitching their fingers, ready for a roll.   

Ball Five – Batsman of the week

Sussex’s blooding of the teenagers sounds more like an episode of Game of Thrones than a Championship selection policy and there have been times when the resultant carnage has resembled the Red Wedding. But they were always going to find a player or two, and they might have found a bit more than that in Tom Haines.

After your team have chased leather for 161 overs as Middlesex piled up 676-5, an innings that really should have attracted the attention of social services, a captain needs to lead. Haines puffed out his chest and batted nearly six hours for 156, had half an hour off and then marked his guard for another four hours following on. At 22 years of age, that’s some serious cojones.

En route, he became the first batsman to pass 1000 runs in the Championship this season, so there’s technique behind the testes. He probably won’t play in The Ashes – well, not this time round anyway.  

Ball Six – Bowler of the week

In the same match, Luke Hollman, in only his fourth Championship match, faced the spinner’s challenge. Tossed the ball with a mountain of runs behind him and the scoreboard reading plenty for one down, the legspinner’s job was not to hold an end or bowl dry (as has become the all too easy job description for England’s twirlers), it was to win a cricket match by taking wickets on a flat track. 

He’ll face more experienced opponents in the future, but 5-65 and 5-90 speaks of a spin bowler who can close out the game, as all the best (and some short of that adjective) should do. Still only 20, he’s learning the hardest art in the game, one very few master (even SK Warne couldn’t cut it in India) so he’ll have some bad days in the future. But, however favourable the circumstances, he can point to this match as evidence that he has what it takes – which is more than many practitioners of his capricious trade can claim. 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 3, 2021

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 3 September 2021

The Championship returns now split into three divisions

After its eight matches in the Spring and its two in high summer, the Championship is back for four more in early Autumn and a showcase final at Lord’s.

Ball One – Bolton’s Bohannon bats and bats

With half the points secured from the two group games against your divisional opponents carried over (remember April?) Warwickshire were happy to bat out the draw against Lancashire that kept them top of Division One, with their opponents four and a half points back in second. 

On a slow, low Old Trafford pitch that was poor for cricket (the Fifth Test will need one with a lot more pace in it) batsmen proved hard to get out once they got in, Chris Benjamin, Sam Hain (twice), Matthew Lamb and Dominic Sibley all playing two hours plus knocks for the visitors, while Luke Wells, Dane Vilas and Josh Bohannon did the same for the hosts. Bohannon occupied the crease for more than seven hours, ninth out for 170, enough to send his average for the season above 66 and for his career to a tick under 49. They are serious numbers. but the Boltonian is seldom mentioned in despatches when England are crying out for a little orthodoxy in the top three. 

I’d suggest three reasons for that. (i) He started life as an all-rounder and hasn’t quite nailed down the specialist batsman tag in public perception. (ii) He scores runs unobtrusively, each shot the right one for the ball, nothing too eye-catching. (iii) He has built his career (he’s 24 but looks and plays older) through Lancashire’s development programme and not England’s.      

Ball Two – Great Dane dogs Somerset

Nottinghamshire demolished Somerset by an innings and plenty to go third in Division One in a match that brought a measure of redemption for one player at least. 

All-rounder, Liam Paterson-White carried last week’s good form in the seconds into the firsts with a maiden century from number 8 and chipped in with a couple of wickets when he got his hands on the ball. Luke Fletcher enjoyed a half-century with the bat, and then continued his magnificent season with match figures of 7-50 as the hosts collapsed twice.

Perhaps the best (or most heart-warming) performance came from Dane Paterson, last seen glassy eyed and all alone as he failed to give the strike back to Matt Carter, last man out in a T20 Blast quarter-final that his team had won, then lost, then won again and eventually lost again. But Paterson is an experienced South African international and showed it with 3-42 and 4-46 when back in the day job, bowling seam up. He might come to symbolise the year of the turnaround at Trent Bridge, after so dismal a couple of seasons in the Championship.   

Ball Three – Crane flying high but Bess bested

After Gary Ballance’s century had set up the declaration, Hampshire were faced with almost four sessions of batting to see out the draw, Yorkshire’s captain, Steve Patterson, leading five frontline bowlers who smelled blood. 

With four of the ten requisite wickets secured with 60 overs still left in the day, he must have been quietly confident, but Patto has seen far too much in 19 seasons to take anything for granted. But I doubt that even Mason Crane himself saw his nightwatchman duties extending to a vigil that lasted over four hours. And it still needed Hampshire’s last pair, Kyle Abbott and Brad Wheal, to bat out the last 46 balls of the match to secure the draw points for which their team had fought so hard. Soft cricket? I think not.

England spinner, Dom Bess, made a fifty (which we know he can do), delivered 25 maidens in the match (which we know he can do) but could only winkle three men from the crease from his 52 overs across both innings. That he failed to secure a single wicket during the last day blockathon will provoke much thought from his county – and his country. 

Ball Four – Browne leaves his mark as Autumn promises more for Essex

Essex gained a measure of revenge for their defeat by Glamorgan in the semi-final of the Royal London One-Day Cup (the last match they played). 

The Welsh county were 57-6 first time round and 29-6 in the second dig and can hardly claim hangovers as an excuse as they lifted the RLODC trophy a fortnight ago – maybe they had forgotten how to play?

Shane Snater and Sam Cook certainly hadn’t, each returning a fivfer, but Nick Browne’s century will have pleased the Chelmsford faithful as much as any innings this season. The stalwart of Championship wins past was, like Alastair Cook and Ryan ten Doeschate, averaging in the 20s as his team’s season continually misfired, but his ton, and a thumping win, might be the springboard to a happier Autumn for Essex than it was a Spring. 

Ball Five – Bowler of the Week

To work in the shadow of a more talented brother must be a thankless task; for that brother to be a twin must make it worse; for your specialism to be the less glamorous version must grate a little too; for your team to be one that has (to some extent) chosen to reside in the shadows of the red ball game, must make it even tougher still. Such is the lot of Leicestershire off-spinner, Callum Parkinson, brother of Lancashire and England leg-spinner, Matt Parkinson.

Off Parky (got to be better than Parky II surely?) is no mean player himself, as this season’s haul of 41 wickets attests (one behind the inevitable leading twirler, Simon Harmer and 10 ahead of his brother). Nine of those wickets came against Kent in their Division Three match, but Leicestershire still went down to their fifth defeat of the season.   

Ball Six – Batsman of the Week

That was in no small part due to the Batsman of the Week – who else but Darren Stevens, who teed off to score 102 of the 120 runs added when he was at the crease, stopping only when, after smashing 13 fours and six sixes, he was left without a partner at the other end. The 45 year-old is now Kent’s leading Championship run scorer this season (566 at 47 with a strike rate of 84) and also leading wicket-taker with 30 at 21. He’s 45 years old.

But don’t take my word for his outlandishly outlier feats, try Daniel Lightman’s meticulously researched article in the latest edition of The Cricket Statistician, The Journal of The Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians where, over eight pages of close argument (supported by Benedict Bermange’s stats tables), he concludes that Stevens has a good case for being the best all-rounder never to have been given the opportunity to experience international cricket.

Well, not yet. 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 28, 2021

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 25 August 2021

Ball One – Rashid Khan is a credit to the game

A brace of 55s from Tom Kohler-Cadmore and Gary Ballance had got Yorkshire up to 177, 17 year-old Archie Lenham again bowling well for Sussex, his three overs going for just 19 runs. But when Rashid Khan came to the crease, Sussex needed 43 runs from 21 balls and were odds-against a trip to Edgbaston next month.

The Afghan wrist-spinner hit 25 off the first seven balls he faced, leaving Chris Jordan to hit the winning run off a by now demoralised Yorkshire team, the match turned in a blizzard of extraordinary shots for which no field could ever be set.

And that wasn’t the 22 year-old Afghan’s best performance of the evening. That came in a post-match interview in which he spoke with great eloquence about his connection to Sussex and how he would be wishing his team-mates well from his Dubai hotel, out there for the IPL. His smile was as genuine as it was broad, but you wonder what must be going on in his life right now. We wish him, and his benighted country, all the very best.

Ball Two – Impressed with Prest

One of many new names to grace the county game is Tom Prest, the 18 year-old Hampshire all-rounder who already has an unbeaten half-century to his name in this year’s Blast. Coming to the crease at 15-1, he swiftly lost his captain, James Vince, and was soon looking at a scoreboard that read 40-5. Just two boundaries had been hit by the five dismissed men (who included a couple more internationals in Liam Dawson and D’Arcy Short) so, whether by design or default, the teenager preferred to rotate the strike with the objective of keeping his side in the game.

He found the sponge (not difficult to do as it was brought in to shorten the boundaries) just four times before he was out for 44 off 34 balls. Sure he top scored and, with the help of James Fuller, he had posted a target of 126, but was it the kind of innings that loses a T20 match? Should he have been more aggressive and risked 100 all out in pursuit of 150?

For all the criticisms that can be levelled at T20 in terms of its predictability, there’s nothing like a tricky pitch to provoke some delicious possibilities at the innings break.

Ball Three – Wheels come off for Notts despite Carter carting sixes

With Nottinghamshire 66-1 in the 8th over and the required rate under five, it looked all over, the home crowd (a decent sized one included plenty of the mathematically challenged demographic of women and children) were bouncing and the short trip east for Finals Day was being planned. Sky’s commentators were telling us that the ball was skidding on under lights at Trent Bridge, so scoring was easier, but it didn’t look like that, Ben Duckett having to hit the ball very hard to reach the fence.

Now maybe this is an example of confirmation bias, but your correspondent looked at that score and started to wonder from where the 60 runs were going to come. James Vince, the situation demanding it, had his field tight on the ones and his bowlers were operating to plans and keeping their heads.

Duckett was out in the eighth over and, in the next nine, Notts scored just two more boundaries in going from 66-1 to 100-8, batsmen perishing as they tried to force the pace. As can happen in T20 matches, the balance had tilted so quickly that the crowd had hardly noticed, but they were quiet now, 26 off three overs looking distant.

Enter Matt Carter, a big ol’ slugger, who muscled three sixes and the crowd were singing and shouting, three off the last over required. But Carter was at the wrong end and Number 11, Dane Paterson, could not get off strike for three balls and edged the fourth to the keeper.

Dawson was named Player of the Match (and what a match it was) for his canny slow bowling, but I suspect wiser judges would go for the lad Prest who played a difficult hand perfectly under relentless pressure.

Ball Four – Tom Tom Club headline Taunton

Sixes sailing over the boundary (even from mishits)? Mr Livingstone I presume. And the biggest breakout star of Summer 2021 had hit three of his first nine balls over the sponge before Roelof van der Merwe, as cool an operator in this format as you’ll find in world cricket, speared one in as usual and Livingstone hit it straight back for a return catch.

Deflated but with a platform on which to build, Lancashire got up to 184-9, but this is Taunton where the runs flow like the cider and the crowd seem capable of keeping the ball in the air until it reaches them solely through the power and passion of their vocal support.

Will Smeed, another star of white ball cricket this season, fell to the first ball of the 11th over for 44 and the home side still needed over 100, but Tom Abell, one of the very best county cricketers around, was starting to motor and Tom Lammonby is discovering last season’s form just at the right time. The two Toms cruised home and the visitors left for the long trip to Manchester.

Lancashire can point to absent players (Matt Parkinson’s self-isolation could not have come at a worse time), some bad luck with decisions and the unique dewy challenge of fielding under lights in late August, but cricket, especially T20, is about what you do with what you have. Nobody does that better than Somerset – as a consequence, they’ll start Finals Day as favourites.

Ball Five – Qais in point

There are many ways to win a T20 match (or, to be more accurate perhaps, there are many ways to lose a T20 match), but Kent’s win over Birmingham in the fourth quarter-final might be the simplest route to success.

Two experienced batsmen made half-centuries, Daniel Ball-Drummond finding the boundary four times in his 53 and Sam Billings hitting eight fours and one six in his 56. There were just two more boundaries from the rest of their team, but 162-7 is enough to bowl at and that’s what you have to do when you’re put in.

The next part of the plan is to have a wrist-spinner in form available to the captain. Qais Ahmad was brought on at the conclusion of an honours-even powerplay, Birmingham 40-2. He bowled his four overs off the reel and, when he was through, the board read 75-6 with the required rate 13, Qais’s contribution 2-13. Billings (as is the way for the top scorer) was named Player of the Match, but this was another Blast knockout game turned by an Afghan leg-spinner.

Ball Six – A load of (20) balls

This column doesn’t really do the administration and governance of cricket – lack of expertise and interest sees to that.

Observing The Hundred and The Blast in swift succession over a few weeks, it’s hard – nay impossible – to discern any substantive difference between the two “products”. Both value the same skills, both invite the same tactics and both create the same “festival” atmosphere through music, fireworks and colour. The extra 20 balls of the older format make for more nuance, more of a sporting challenge as ebbs and flows can come and go, but neither game is really looking for that – it’s looking for the thrills of the big hits and bum-squeakingly tight finishes.

It’s obvious that they cannot co-exist, so surely the format with nationwide reach, an established marquee Finals Day and teams with histories, loyal fanbases and their own grounds, will win out? Perhaps all we need do is pay a few million to the executives in charge of The Blast and we’ll get to the rational answer that is staring us in the face.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 20, 2021

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 20 August 2021

The Royal London One-Day Cup Final produced a romantic first trophy in 17 years for dear old Glammie

Ball One – Cooke and co oust Cook and co

Favourites, Essex, got off to a good start away to Glamorgan, Alastair Cook the unlikely aggressor early on, his first wicket to fall, out for 68 at better than a run a ball, a victim of club call-up, Steve Reingold. With 30 overs gone, the visitors were 151-2 and eyeing a score of at least 300.

They had reckoned without the inexperienced all-rounder, Joe Cooke, who got in amongst them with 5-61, restricting the Glammie target to 290.

Essex were still favourites when they had sent five home batsmen back to the hutch with 108 runs still to get and Simon Harmer with four overs up his sleeve. They had reckoned without the inexperienced all-rounder, Joe Cooke, who got in amongst them 66 not out off 56 balls supported by the hard running Tom Cullen with 41 to his name at the other end.

Nobody saw that coming, probably not even Joe Cooke – but that’s the thing about knockout cricket.

Ball Two – Durham book date with destiny

Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick faced off against their former counties for a place in the final and Stoneman won the first round. His century included a partnership of 155 for the fourth wicket with his young captain, Jamie Smith, allowing the visitors to recover from Chris Rushworth’s three early wickets and set Durham 281 for the win.

That probably felt about 20 under par and, when Surrey’s bowlers failed to make inroads into Durham’s strong top order, Borthwick became the third man out with just 59 needed off ten overs. The visitors needed snookers that never came, and Durham went into the final with a top four who had all scored at least 45 and their captain sitting at the top of the tournament’s Most Valuable Player rankings. They would start as firm favourites.

Ball Three – A Final to remember for all the right reasons

Despite the almost cruel scheduling by the ECB, fans of Glamorgan and Durham got to Trent Bridge on a Thursday afternoon and supported their counties without warbling a single stanza of the godawful wail about not taking me home. They were rewarded with a match that ebbed and flowed, comprised much excellent cricket and some brainless stuff, and finished the winning team drinking beers in amongst them before they had even got their hands on the trophy.

Nobody ran on to the field (the players invaded the stands), nobody was obviously hammered in the crowd despite it being a day-nighter and, incredibly, the cameras picked out women and children coping with the mathematical challenge demanded by 100 overs rather than 100 balls.

To their credit, Sky gave it their full production values, barely having time for an advert break as the players coped without drinks every ten minutes, mid over tactical conferences and a regular supply of new equipment. A shadow squad of commentators, led by the knowledgable and enthusiastic Niall O’Brien described and analysed events on the field and refrained (largely) from selling us a game the vast majority of those watching have always loved and will always love.

With the sun setting in a late summer sky, a giant 40 year-old quick was embraced by his diminutive 23 year-old captain, as joy rippled across the playing area and right down the cameras into our homes. Are you going to be the one who tells them it was just a “development competition”?

Ball Four – Carlson makes all the right moves

Unless you’re a England selector, you need only see Kiran Carlson for ten minutes before you discern a touch of genius in his batting. His 82 was unlike any other batsman’s innings in this match (or others) and was clearly the innings of the day despite Sean Dickson’s admirable back-to-the-wall 84 not out.

He hit 10 fours and three sixes to all parts of the ground, his fast hands and wristy play reminiscent of (whisper it now) AB de Villers, his shot selection was admirable and his seizing of the game – striking at nearly 140 on a pitch that always offered a little to the bowlers and was slow for strokemakers – marked him out (again) as a very special talent.

So much, so familiar to readers of this column, but what took the eye later was his captaincy. He kept the field close to save ones, hustled through his overs giving batsmen no time to think properly and always managed to be first to congratulate a successful catcher. Leading many older players, there was never a moment in which he wasn’t obviously in charge – not bad for a bloke who looks like he’s growing a moustache to avoid getting Id-ed in Cardiff pubs.

Ball Five – Raine stops successful play

Durham introduced Matty Potts and Ben Raine back into the team after their sojourn in The Hundred: Glamorgan stuck to their plan from the start of the competition using a depleted squad from first to last. (As an aside, I did not see senior pro David Lloyd nor Head Coach Matthew Maynard in any of the celebrations nor in the congratulations at the end of the match – if they’ve stood back and kept their distance, that’s very decent indeed of them).

Potts and Raine bowled very well, sharing six wickets between them, giving their all for the cause, but one wonders about the effect on the dressing room of a couple of players on bigger contracts sweeping in for the Final. All the right noises will be made by everyone connected with Durham – a crestfallen captain Scott Borthwick spoke well at the presentation ceremony – but the hitherto best team in the competition were well beaten. I wonder if they would have followed Glamorgan’s policy if they had their time again.

Ball Six – Hogan’s a hero

Lukas Carey, James Weighell, Joe Cooke, Steve Reingold and Andrew Salter looked what they are – journeymen who bowled at the competition’s best batting unit without fear and with discipline, supported by smart, aggressive field placings and drawing on a collective energy that would not be depleted even when Australia’s Cameron Bancroft and the experienced Sean Dickson were wresting the initiative away from them. After a fine knock, Salter’s efforts with the ball won him the Man of the Match award, something that nobody can take away from him, no matter how often the cheerleaders of another white ball competition imply that it should have an asterisk next to it.

But the winning wicket was taken by Michael Hogan, a man into his fifth decade with 853 wickets since he started playing professionally at the age of 28 at an average well below 30. Clutching a stump in a slightly bashful post-match interview, he said that he’d get it framed and hang it in his bathroom. Hogan has a benefit next year – as Niall O’Brien pointed out, he’s exactly the sort of cricketer for whom the system was designed – so I’d keep it in the boot of the car for 12 months or so if I were you Mr Hogan.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 16, 2021

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 16 August 2021

Ball One – Kent Dented

Part one of Gloucestershire’s route to the knock out stage was to beat Kent at Beckenham. Their hosts may have been the whipping boys of the group with just the one win, but, with no pressure, they could play with freedom. Kent raised their 100 with just the one wicket down, a platform constructed – Gloucestershire needed to make something happen.

Captain, Chris Dent cycled through seven bowlers (five of whom took wickets) as Kent’s batsmen came and went. Matt Taylor picked up the crucial one, Darren Stevens, halfway through the 44th over with the veteran about to tee off. 

A target of 219 requires a calm head and a couple of batsmen to make scores. Dent batted through for an undefeated ton and Kent’s spirit was broken long before Graeme van Buuren raise his half-century, the visitors cruising to a successful conclusion to part one of their plan.

Ball Two – Harmer hammers Lancashire

Part two required Lancashire to lose at home to Essex, already qualified from the group with Durham, but with plenty to play for, as top spot in the group brings direct progression to the semi-finals. (As an aside, it’s worth giving credit to the ECB for producing a near-perfect template for a short, sharp one day competition for 18 counties, maximising the number of matches with “something to play for”.)

Batting first at Old Trafford, the home team made 250, the kind of score that gives both sides a chance. Alastair Cook, taking a break from his increasingly impressive media career, decided to bat through and almost did, out in the 48th over with 110 to his name. He had needed a couple of partners to make a score alongside him, but Ryan ten Doeschate, with 45, was the only batsman to cross 20. An old-fashioned slow burn of a 50 overs match boiled down to its 100th over – Lancashire needed to restrict Essex to 20 runs to advance.

Skipper Tom Bailey had all his bowlers except Jack Morley from whom to choose – he went for the experience of Steven Croft, who had made 93 batting and conceded just the one boundary in his previous seven overs. Number Ten, Jack Plom, went dot, 1 to get Simon Harmer on strike, who went 6, 6, 6, 2 to tie the match, eliminate Lancashire and progress Gloucestershire – because Simon Harmer wins cricket matches for Essex.   

Ball Three – Ugly sister competition producing beautiful matches

In Group Two, Yorkshire needed to beat Glamorgan at Sophia Gardens to advance and, having cobbled together 230 all out (with extras contributing a handy 25), they looked second favourites. With the board showing Glamorgan on 121-0 in the 28th over, no doubt score predictor algorithms had the visitors’ chances down to single figures. 

But one of the many delights of this Cinderella competition is the way youngsters and bit part players have come to the ball and dazzled fans with their skills, their professionalism and their spirit. The big names with the big hits may be indisposed, but supporters respond to big hearts and they’ve had plenty of those on show.

Glamorgan only needed 51 at less than a run a ball with nine wickets in hand, but all-rounder, George Hill, took three wickets with his next six balls, including captain, Kiran Carlson and top scorer Nick Selman and that feeling of “This can’t be happening” went through the home dressing room as players hunted for pads, boxes and gloves, pulses suddenly over 100. Just two boundaries were struck in the panic and Yorkshire got home by four runs.  

 Ball Four – Surrey seconds smashing sixes

Surrey took the other knockout spot with two crushing victories in three days. 

Despite being shorn of a squad’s worth of players by other calls (yes, it’s Surrey, I know – cue the crocodile tears), they smashed 23 sixes in a combined 77 overs to hammer first Warwickshire and then Derbyshire. It makes one speculate on how they practise in South London, because so many batsmen who would not be near a first team slot were it not for those absentees, are so clean in their hitting, the ball cracking off the bat face with that telltale whiplash sound. 

The bowlers are doing their bit, six having taken a wicket at Derby, but they’re very much Andrew Ridgeley to the batting unit’s George Michael at the moment.    

Ball Five – Surrey’s young guns go for it

And Wham! Tim David was at it again in the quarter-final eliminator. 

The big Singapore T20 international with an Australian background is making any total look gettable at the moment. He only got to his second century of the week courtesy of Gloucestershire’s eighth wicket stand of 105, George Scott and Tom Smith each with undefeated half centuries, Dan Moriarty once again the pick of the bowlers with 2-30 from his ten overs.

But there’s no holding David who was joined by his captain, Jamie Smith, in a stand of 102 that broke the back of the chase. He’s averaging 84 at a strike rate of 152 in the RLODC, quite a return on Surrey’s investment and a coup for whoever spotted his potential. He’ll fancy a bit more Go-Go in the semi-finals.

Ball Six – Rymel the reason for Essex’s 

In the other quarter-final, 20 year-old Josh Rymel saw his opening partner, Alastair Cook go early, but decided to do what he would have done and batted into the 47th over for 121. Though only Matt Pillans was collared and the Yorkshire bowlers took wickets regularly, the other eight Essex batsmen who spent time at the crease made double figures, with an inevitable late acceleration taking the target to 318.

But Essex’s spin triplets got amongst the batsmen just when they needed to crack on after a cautious start, Simon Harmer, Aron Nijjar and Tom Westley returning combined figures of 20 – 1 – 84 – 7. 

Just a postscript to thank every supporter who has attended and will attend the knockout matches (especially those travelling) obliged to make plans at very short notice indeed. Remember that when attendance figures are touted for The Hundred.   

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 9, 2021

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 9 August 2021

Going into the last week of the Royal London One-Day Cup group stage, 12 counties have a chance to advance to the knockouts.

Ball One – Glamorgan breathing fire

Weather eh? I guess you don’t cross the Prince of Wales Bridge (all his own work apparently) without at last a frisson of fear about the skies above. Nevertheless, Glamorgan top Group One after a week in which both batting and bowling shone.

First up, Nick Selman led the batting effort right through to the last over, making 140 off 144 balls as Leicestershire were set 278. That became 257 from 43 overs, but just the one was possible before the rain came to Grace Road – yes, it even rains in the east of the country in 2021.

Having champed at the bit in that match, Glamorgan’s bowlers got to it on home soil reducing Nottinghamshire to 31-6 in another rain-affected match. The medium pace of James Weighell and Joe Cooke returning an aggregate 8.2 – 0 – 15 – 5, the kind of figures the late Mike Hendrick once churned out in the John Player League. Selman then picked up where he left off and the home side had the 74 runs they needed for the win and the two points they needed to top the group.

Ball Two – Time to rethink the minimum overs required for a result?

One is loath to criticise Somerset here (or anywhere to be honest) as one of county cricket’s most loyal fanbases can take agin the writer and, to be fair, they have plenty to fuel an incipient persecution complex this season above all others.

At The Oval Surrey’s bowlers, led by the quietly impressive slow left arm of Dan Moriarty, had dismissed the visitors for 220, nine balls short of their full allocation. With weather doing its thing, Surrey’s target became 147 from 25 overs. Openers, Mark Stoneman and Ben Geddes, knew that getting ahead of the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern calculation was the smart move and, at 66-0 from eight overs when play was stopped for the final time, they indisputably were. But 10 overs were required for a result to be declared, so the points were shared.

Three issues arise from that bald statement of the facts.

Firstly, if an innings is reduced in length, should the minimum overs for a result to be called be reduced pro-rata (with a minimum of five say) too?

Secondly, do the 5000 who braved the showers to support county cricket not deserve to see a decisive outcome?

Thirdly (and I do have a bit of a thing about this), some, perhaps one-eyed, witnesses have suggested that Somerset slowed the play down once they knew that their opponents would likely take the points were 10 overs not delivered. All teams would do this – and that’s my point. The penalties in all forms of cricket (except one) for slow play are not commensurate with the advantage accrued.

Ball Three – Luke looks a likely lad

Lancashire picked a bad week to lose two matches in a row, the second of which saw Durham surge to the top of the table.

When Sean Dickson was joined at the crease by teenager, Luke Doneathy, the scoreboard read 171-6 with 17 overs left. Skipper, Tom Bailey, has one of the more experienced XIs in the competition on which to call, so he must have fancied his chances of restricting Lancashire’s target to 250 or fewer. 10 sixes and 156 runs for the seventh wicket later, things had changed.

Dickson’s century might be just what he needs to kickstart his career up North after his move from Kent and Durham may have found another all-rounder in Doneathy, whose 69 not out was his second consecutive half century, which he then backed up with 4-36 to stifle any chance of Lancashire’s late order emulating their opponents.

Lancashire, somewhat suddenly, have a very big match on Thursday against Essex at Old Trafford.

Ball Four – The Hundred Overs is pretty good

Essex may be behind Lancashire on net run rate (and, after Middlesex’s match with Gloucestershire was called off due to Covid, NRR may be the easiest calculation of the week) but Tom Westley’s men have two opportunities to score points this week.

The captain had top scored in the victory over pre-Covid Gloucestershire in the kind of match that only 50 overs cricket can provide. The visitors looked well on top at Bristol, but Jack Taylor and George Scott constructed a 99 run stand for the sixth wicket and 204 all out in the 50th over gave Gloucestershire something to bowl at. Essex were second favourites when Westley was eighth man out with 52 still needed in under seven overs, but Aron Nijjar and Shane Snater sent the points east, Snater hitting a boundary off the last ball for a magnificent win.

Ball Five – Batsman of the Week

Alex Lees seems to have been around for years – because he has – first as a wunderkind at Yorkshire, then as a victim of high expectations and now as a cornerstone of Durham’s batting. He is still only 28, just 18 months or so older than Alec Stewart when he played the first of his 133 Tests.

Lees showed all of that experience in anchoring Durham’s chasing down of 232 in 45 overs. With six Essex bowlers claiming a scalp, wickets fell regularly at the other end, but the opener stood tall, pacing the reply so perfectly that he hit the first ball of the last over to the boundary to seal the victory, his 126 not out 102 runs more than any of his partners mustered.

Ball Six – Bowler of the Week

The USA’s (yes, that USA) Ian Holland is the kind of bits-and-pieces cricketer that can annoy you if they’re playing for the opposition but that you quite like if they’re one of your own (as is the case with small children). However, this column has always provided a safe space for them, especially as ex-pros in high profile media jobs are relentless in talking them down.

At Beckenham – not an easy ground on which to defend – with a wet ball in hand and searching for rhythm in the showers, Holland did what he needed to do to arrest a scoring rate that threatened to get out of hand. Four wickets saw Kent go from 63-1 to 73-5 in four and a half overs. Like a true B&Per, Holland then hit a quickfire 30. Double Dutch, one might say, as Hampshire skipped away with the points.

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