Posted by: tootingtrumpet | April 15, 2019

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 15 April 2019

Ball One – Jacks put the boot in for Somerset

Jack Leach gets all those wickets because he plays at “Ciderabad” doesn’t he? And it’s April, so why play a spinner at all? The Somerset man showed he had plenty about him playing for England in Sri Lanka, the kind of sangfroid to deal with the bad days and the ruthlessness to capitalise on the good ones (and the nous to know that each can transform into the other in the blinking of an eye). The slow left-armer’s 6-36 (supported by Jack Brooks’s 4-22) saw Nottinghamshire collapse to an ignominious innings defeat, sending the visitors to the top of the table with the division’s only 100% record. Earlier, Lewis Gregory backed up last week’s fine bowling with 6-68 in the first innings, and two products of the academy (captain, Tom Abell and George Bartlett) had cashed in with centuries. It’s a little early to be talking about whether this could, at last, be the season for Somerset… isn’t it?

Ball Two – Gary Ballance scales the heights for Yorkshire, if not for England

Another innings away win sent Yorkshire back up North nestled in second place after Hampshire were despatched at the Rose Bowl. Gary Ballance, a man seemingly destined to live in “Hick’sville”, that space reserved for players not quite good enough for international cricket, but very good indeed in the domestic game, top scored for the White Rose with a seven-hour 148, but there was a 90-odd from Joe Root and solid contributions down the order too. Liam Dawson (pitching his tent on the town limits of Hick’sville) bowled 60 overs and made 57 and 92 for the hosts but Tykes’ captain, Steve Patterson, led his bowling unit well and the wickets were shared round.

Heino enforces the follow-on

Ball Three – Heino gets a tune out of his bowlers – eventually

The perils of enforcing the follow-on were underlined again at Edgbaston, where Kent had made the most of electing to bat on a very good pitch, piling up 500+ with centuries for Zak Crawley and Ollie Robinson (whose aggregated ages don’t sum to that of team mate Darren Stevens). But Heino Kuhn’s men had over 100 overs in their legs when he asked them to go again and, despite Warwickshire being five down for less than a hundred, resistance usually comes at some point –  and it did. Tim Ambrose and paceman Henry Brookes came together when the bowlers had racked up 164 overs in their legs and they stayed for another 45. Kent’s bowlers examined their blisters somewhat ruefully while the batsmen trashed the 123 runs required for the win.

Ball Four – DW Lawrence fired up after a season wrestling with poor form

Each of Surrey’s top five contributed at least 73 runs to the cause at The Oval, but Rory Burns’ four international bowlers couldn’t get past a combination of Essex resistance and poor weather knocking overs out of the match. Though skipper Ryan ten Doeschate’s century was critical in Essex overhauling Surrey’s 395, Dan Lawrence’s 93 was important too, both for his team and himself. It’s easy to think of Lawrence as yesterday’s man, the Next Big Thing that stayed small, but he’s still only 21! If this is a sign that he is putting his miserable 2018 behind him, Essex, and maybe England, will be very happy indeed.

Ball Five – Game of Moans – from bowlers anyway

Worcestershire – Daryl Mitchell 114, Hamish Rutherford 123, Ben Cox 100*. Derbyshire – Wayne Madsen 204*, Alex Hughes 104*. Sussex – Stiaan van Zyl 101*. Glamorgan – Marnus Labuschagne 121, Billy Root 126, Kiran Carlson 111; Northamptonshire – Ricardo Vasconcelos 184, Rob Newton 105, Rob Keogh 150. Lancashire – Haseeb Hameed 117, Rob Jones 122. Can’t we just leave these pitches until Patrick Cummins and co turn up breathing fire in August?

Ball Six – England watch

If Kent’s Ollie Robinson caught the eye with the bat, Sussex’s Ollie Robinson is catching the eye with the ball (this stuff reminds me of the 80s when there seemed to be a David Smith playing for every Midlands county). England need a squad of pace bowlers ready for Test cricket in different conditions to cope with form and injuries, so any bowler who is taking wickets should not be beyond consideration. Robinson has made a strong start to 2019 with five wickets in the match against Durham, all bowled or LBW, backing up his six in the season opener against Leicestershire. In 2018, he took 74 wickets at 19 in the Champo, so he knows how to get batsmen out. At 25, he has time on his side.

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Posted by: tootingtrumpet | April 9, 2019

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 9 April 2019

Ball One – To d or not to d, that is the question

There’s always a bit more than the points at stake when Yorkshire visit Trent Bridge, but, at risk of resurrecting the ghosts of long gone (but not forgotten) industrial disputes, stubbornness can be a foe as well as a friend. When Nottinghamshire’s captain, Steve Mullaney, was dismissed, he already enjoyed a lead of nearly 400 and could have unleashed Stuart Broad and Jake Ball for five or six overs before the close. Instead, he gave Joe Clarke a shot at back-to-back centuries (he had to be satisfied with 97*) and set Yorkshire an impossible 447 on the final day, one batted out by Joe Root and Gary Ballance. With just one club to be relegated this season, why not be a little more aggressive in search of the wins that are the key to a title challenge?

Ball Two – Fidel still a threat

Hampshire swept aside Essex by an innings, James Vince marshalling his phalanx of canny bowlers to overcome the 2017 champions with worrying ease. Bowl at the stumps appeared to be the somewhat simple (if oft neglected) instruction, as 12 of the 18 wickets Hampshire required were gained bowled or LBW. Fidel Edwards, the arm lower than ever now he’s in his late 30s (yes he is!) led the way, his first innings fivefer showing the value of being fast and full. Captains can be a little reluctant to set the 5-4 fields straight bowling demands, but they’re often sanguine about runs through Third Man – so why not risk the odd clip through midwicket?

Ball Three – Gregory infallible, this time with the ball

Kent had to wait out a day before their return to Division One was underway, but things happen pretty quickly at Taunton, and the match proved a rollercoaster ride from Day Two. Defending a fourth innings target of 206, Somerset needed quick wickets if they were to sow the seeds of doubt in the visitors’ minds, and they got them courtesy of a favourite of this column. Lewis Gregory may be more a batsman in the white ball game, but he opened the bowling with red in hand and snared Sean Dickson first ball – always a pleasant fillip. By the time Gregory accepted his sweater, he had 4-13 and Kent were 50-6, the task beyond even Darren Stevens. Gregory is a man who makes things happen.

Ball Four – Taylor suits Leicestershire

In the last game of last season, Tom Taylor took his much delayed bow for Leicestershire after his move from Derbyshire and chipped in with six wickets – few noticed. But the 24 year old pacer started this season with a bang, his ten wickets allowing his side a cruise to a seven wickets win at Hove. There was a time when a Leicestershire away win in the Champo was news of note in and of itself, but if they can keep the always awkward Chris Wright fit, there may be better times ahead with an opening attack that will take wickets. With three promotion slots up for grabs and last year’s sixth place the benchmark, Leicestershire might just prove to be the dark horses of the division.

Meanwhile, in Perth, the new Durham skipper helps out with the washing up

Ball Five – Bancroft scratches from first match

With their new captain, Cameron Bancroft, meeting obligations to have dinner in Australia, Durham went down to Derbyshire, losing their last seven wickets for 58 runs. The Australian was a somewhat surprising pick as captain and Durham were not best pleased when Cricket Australia insisted that he attend the Western Australia Awards ceremony in Perth. Though Bancroft himself is wholly blameless this time (as opposed to being largely blameless), CA should spend less time worrying about their brand and their sponsors’ egos and more time allowing one of their players to re-build his career free of the cling of controversy.

Ball Six – England watch

Dare we dream? Dare we? Pros bullying students seldom attract my attention, but there he was – Haseeb Hamid – not just in double figures (a rare sight over the last couple of years), but triple figures and beyond! His 218 against Loughborough MCCU might just be the boost his confidence needs (along with Lancashire’s continuing faith) and, obviously, the knock required some knowledge of the location of his off stump. Down the pecking order, he has a big case to make and even a double century is merely a clearing of the throat, but he has time to build his argument. And he wouldn’t be the first young Test player to take a little time to find their feet after a setback. He could ask the guy who opened the bowling in this match about that – one James Anderson.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 21, 2018

Three memories of cricket in 2018

A personal reflection on three moments that illuminated cricket in 2018.

Virat Kohli and Sam Curran

“KohliCam” is almost a thing these days – the camera zooming in on that most expressive of faces, channeling that firecracker of energy, that bountiful source of clicks. He knows it, we know it, his sponsors know it. But, sometimes, true authenticity peeks out from beneath the glamorous veneer.

India’s captain had spent the second day of the first Test at Edgbaston compiling a brilliant 149, an innings full of skill and heart, leavened by luck – but the great players always seem to get plenty of that. He was the only reason India were in the match at all (the next best score was Shikhar Dhawan’s 26) and didn’t we all know it. Sam Curran, in his second Test, had had a good day too, with four wickets to his name – but his third day would be better.

England were 87-7, the lead a precarious 100, when Curran took charge, riding his luck, but playing sumptuous strokes between the plays and misses, as the initiative was wrested away from the visitors, Kohli’s hitherto irresistible bowlers seen off on a wave of youthful exuberance.

The innings closed with Curran’s dismissal for 63, the lead an ultimately winning one of 193 runs. The boy led the men from the field, but, from the vantage point of Edgbaston’s beautifully appointed media centre high above the players, I was watching Kohli. He paused in front of his men to let Curran have his moment, but there was a shout, brief eye contact and the most perfunctory of nods for the Englishman – both had much work still to be done after all.

Blink and you would have missed it, but it wasn’t meant for us. It was a connection between the leading player in the world and a tyro who had proved himself a worthy opponent. Both men – and the game – were the better for it.

 

Will Jacks breaks Lancashire’s hearts

I should have been there really. My “real” team, in the middle of a disastrous season, up against my adopted team in the middle of their best for a generation, The Oval but half an hour away. But I had things to do, Lanky needed 94 but had only five wickets in hand, and these day-nighters feel a bit strange anyway.

25 years ago, I might have had a little music in the background while Ceefax p345 clicked over as the runs were accumulated. In 2018, I had the commentary – over the wireless (how that word has changed its meaning) – with the indefatigable Mark Church and friends describing every ball for what was a growing audience. Twitter too, sparked into life, as Lanky’s two wonderful bowlers, Graham Onions and Tom Bailey, turned batsmen to get the Red Rose past 250 and in with a shout. Every ball was tense, every ball an event, every ball greeted by the crowd which had plenty of Northern voices to offset the Londoners’ shouts of “C’mon the ‘Rey”.

Matt Parkinson, no mug, but in at 11, was facing Surrey’s champion South African, Morne Morkel, with just six to get. By this time I had the live feed from Surrey’s website open, the work long forgotten, the tension unbearable. Young Parky gets one on his pads, it’s an unlikely gimee from the experienced quick, and then… this

Just about all of it was impossible 25 years ago, maybe even 10 years ago. The internet commentary, the live pictures, the real-time connection to a community of like-minded fans, and the athleticism and anticipation of Will Jacks’ catch. The ECB seem hellbent on changing our game (not theirs) via revolution not evolution, but it’s probably changing quickly enough – for those with eyes to see.

 

Alastair Cook bids farewell

A fortnight or so later, I’m actually at The Oval, sitting with friends in the pavilion, a gin and tonic in hand, England’s lead on the way from handy to safe, en route to commanding.

But nobody’s really looking at that line on the scoreboard. It’s the one below – “Cook 96” – that’s drawing all the attention. Ravi Jadeja bowls and Alastair Cook squirts it backward of point, where Jasprit Bumrah fields – three more to get. But I see it early (maybe provoked by guilt at having written Cook off long ago, my assertion that his eyes had gone being thrust back down my throat) and I’m on my feet first as the ball flies over the bowler’s head and towards the boundary to my left.

Everyone in the ground is applauding, the Indian players joining in, perhaps the umpires too – who knows? Our hero had acknowledged the praise, the respect, even, let’s face it, the love of the public in that understated way of his and was now trying to shush us, as he would soon do for his third baby – with about as much success.

I wasn’t looking there though. I was surveying the grand old ground, tarted up in recent years, but still South London urban, without an egg and tomato tie and blazer combo nor a pair of raspberry slacks in sight. The country, divided so horribly for over a year, were as one in admiration for a man whom few of us knew in even the sense that one “knows” celebrities these days (“Where’s your Instagram feed Chef? Get with the programme!”) Some of us might not agree with aspects of his rural lifestyle, nor hold his captaincy in the very highest regard, but that was forgotten. This was his moment and we were blessed to share it.

The man had earned that respect bleeding into love for his decency, his achievements and, most of all, for his dignity in an age in which the word has become almost obsolete, every gesture, every muttering, every thought even, tried in the court of a febrile media feeding on and fed by the shrill tweets of those who would never say such things to people’s faces.

Of course, there was poignancy as well as celebration in that applause, perhaps its elegiac undertone not just present for its subject but also for the calmer, more considered world of cricket – hell, of the world full stop – that Alastair Cook had joined a generation earlier and to which he had cleaved through it all.

Vale Sir Alastair.

 

 

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | November 27, 2018

England Player Ratings for Sri Lanka Test series

Yeah. 48 wickets between them in three Tests.

Keaton Jennings (233 runs at 47, 8 catches)

His outstanding 146* set up the crucial series opening win in Galle, though he struggled thereafter. Won the dubious award of fielding at short leg for his career after a run of sensational catches off the spinners. Grade B

Rory Burns (155 runs at 26, 1 catch)

A start. The debutant did not really fail, but he did not really succeed either. The Surrey captain showed plenty of nous in adapting his game to an alien environment, but has an important series coming up in the West Indies. Grade C+

Jonny Bairstow (125 runs at 63)

Handed the poison chalice of number three rather than his preferred gloves, but threw down the gauntlet to the pretenders with a brilliant century. With Ben Foakes’s form irresistible, he might not always get what he wants, but he just might find, he gets what the team needs. Grade A

Joe Root (229 runs at 38, 1 wicket at 46, 2 catches)

The first England captain to whitewash opponents overseas since 1962/63, his gospel of aggression with the bat was called into question at Galle when England were 103-5 on the first morning, but wholly vindicated by his series shaping 124 at Pallekele. In contrast, he was often defensive in his field setting, particularly to new batsmen, but played the tricky hand of three spinners perfectly and got a tune out of Ben Stokes when required. Winning three out of three tosses was handy too. Grade B+

Ben Stokes (187 runs at 31, 5 wickets at 20, 9 catches)

The promotion to number three in Pallekele made sense, but probably won’t happen again, as he looked more comfortable contributing from five, where he rode his luck a little, but fortune so often attaches itself to the big personalities of the game. Ran in very hard to bang an old ball into unresponsive surfaces and rough up Sri Lanka’s batsmen who won’t often have seen that style of bowling in home conditions. Caught very well off the spinners at slip where his mere presence lifts his own team and intimidates opponents. Grade B+   

Jos Buttler (250 runs at 42, 3 catches)

Though his highest score was 64 in Colombo (also his longest innings at 79 balls), in a low scoring series his capacity to wrest the initiative and carry his team into significantly improved positions as much by his aura as by his boundaries (his strike rate was the same as his skipper’s), proved invaluable. Probably gets more praise than his performances warrant (that aura again) but he delivered exactly what Ed Smith wanted when the National Selector reintroduced him to Test cricket last summer. Grade B+   

Moeen Ali (78 runs at 13, 18 wickets at 25, 3 catches)

As ever, do you berate Moeen for his bad balls, or praise him for his good ones? Do you pull your hair out over the runs he doesn’t score or rejoice in those he does? Perhaps pundits and fans need to show the same sang froid that the man himself brings to his cricket. Whether he was first, second or third spinner was moot, but his ability to spin the ball at a pace that zips it passed a defensive bat, particularly round the wicket to left-handers, was a key element in England’s win. And just because you can ask for more (like batting at three in Galle), doesn’t mean that you should. Grade B+

Ben Foakes (277 runs at 69, 8 catches, 2 stumpings)

Introduced to Test cricket on that madcap first morning beneath the Fort at Galle with England 103-5 off 23.3 overs, he set about constructing a beachhead into the match as if to the manner born. He proceeded to spend the next two sessions consistently knocking the ball into gaps for one and hitting the bad ball to the boundary, only opening his shoulders the next morning in the company of the tail. He backed up that wonder debut with the consistency to finish as the leading run scorer in the the series. Of course, he was picked primarily for his wicketkeeping, and that was usually tidy, sometimes more than that, his errors really only coming as fatigue set in a little in Colombo. Having not even been selected for the original party, he can look forward to plenty more winters in the sunshine now. Grade A+

Sam Curran (112 runs at 37, 1 wicket at 50)

Found a little swing with the new ball and would have taken more than his solitary wicket with a bit more luck, but two seamers were plenty on these pitches and he might have been rotated out for Colombo even if fully fit. But Curran is a player who gets into any game anywhere and his batting at Galle (where his partnership with Foakes realised 88 runs) and Pallekele (where his extraordinary shift in gear brought him six sixes and 64 first innings runs in a match won by 57) proved his value down the order. Grade B

Adil Rashid (113 runs at 28, 12 wickets at 28)

He looks happy in his role coming late into the attack and ripping leg-breaks across the middle and lower order with the odd flummoxing googly tossed up to keep them honest. Always has a drag down or two in him, but he had just enough runs on the board to give him the confidence to attack from first to last and, perhaps more importantly, had a team behind him who both knew and accepted the leg spinner’s lot in life. Though he’s a better batsman than his whips and squirts suggests, his runs were very useful too. Grade B+

Jack Leach (25 runs at 5, 18 wickets at 21, 1 catch)

Shane Warne’s jibe about Monty Panesar having played one Test 33 times might well be made in the future about Leach – if so, let it be. The Somerset left-armer kept landing it there or thereabouts, seldom full enough to drive or short enough to cut, sufficient balls spinning and jumping  to ensure the batsmen did not get after the stock deliveries. Turned the Colombo Test with a brilliant pick up and throw to run out Kusal Mendis, who was on 86 and winning the Test for his country. Grade A

Stuart Broad (1 run at 1, 1 catch)

To his credit, he didn’t sulk when left out of the first two Tests and bowled quickly when rotated in for the third, although his batting and fielding are now so bad that if he isn’t taking wickets, he really isn’t doing anything. He might want to work on his cutters for the West Indies, but he might find it tough to get past Curran and even Chris Woakes away from the green, green grass of home. Grade C

Jimmy Anderson (19 runs at 19, 1 wicket at 105, 1 catch)

Bowled well without luck, but this was a spinners’ series. Grade B-

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 30, 2018

Five County Cricketers of the Year – 2018

Following 2017’s inaugural list, 99.94 recognises five county cricketers of the year – in the style of a publication that has done something similar for 120 years longer.

Rory Burns – A man whose five years long hot streak proves he can meet a challenge

Left-handers seem to be given more licence by the gods, their sinister deals unknown to those of us who favour the right hand. Brian Lara and Shiv Chanderpaul had esoteric techniques and that’s before we get to Burns’ recent team-mate at The Oval, Graeme Smith. So maybe we should ditch discussion of the multiple moving parts Burns employs at the crease and watch the bat – and that, in an age when it is almost a sign of unorthodoxy, is straight.

Rory Burns finished the Championship season with 270 more runs than his nearest rival in Division One – James Hildreth, another who deals in that hard currency, rather than potential, style, or the mysterious “michaelvaughaness” that is always cited when a player averaging 33 is called up for the Test XI.

Ed Smith has said that Burns made an unanswerable case for a slot on England’s tour to Sri Lanka and those words are revealing. It was never obvious that Burns had the talent to go on to be a Surrey regular, never mind an England player – he made batting look as difficult as it is, the man at the other end usually looked more “in” and he wasn’t Kumar Sangakkara was he? But there are a few openers who have made a success out of limited resources, as one particular example will tell you whether you want to hear him or not.

When Surrey appointed Burns captain in Championship and 50 overs cricket, there was a sense of a changing of the guard – Burns was a generation younger than his predecessor, Gareth Batty, but a generation (well, a cricketing generation) older than the bright young things coming through from the academy. Few could have predicted just how successful he would be in leading his charges – of course, it’s always a breeze when you’re winning, but there’s a happy confidence evident at The Oval these days, decent blokes playing more than decent cricket.

Opening in the heat and dust of Galle, Kandy and Colombo is one of cricket’s sterner baptisms – and the bloke whose shoes he’s filling is quite an act to follow – but Rory Burns has seldom had things handed to him on a plate. He deserves the chance to take the next step.

So that’s what happened to Jay out of The Inbetweeners.

Olly Stone – Raw pace always gathers bowling laurels

My father told me that if you want to know how fast a bowler is, don’t watch the ball, watch the batsman. I first saw Olly Stone playing white ball cricket for Northamptonshire in a televised match and he didn’t look much at first glance. He didn’t have the heavyweight boxer’s build of his near contemporary, Patrick Cummins; he did not possess the balanced run up of Dale Steyn; nor did he have the innate menace that announced Sylvester Clarke’s threat.

But you looked at the batsmen and they were twitching, half-ducking, half-jumping and nowhere near getting into line – there was a touch of the fear that is evident in those grainy clips of Harold Larwood, another speedster who looked anything but.

This season, Stone has produced Larwoodesque numbers for Warwickshire – in seven matches, he has 43 wickets at an average of 12.2 and strike rate of 22.3. Okay, they are Division Two stats, but batsmen were unable to cope with his pace and – as anyone who watched The Ashes last winter can testify, if you can toss the ball to a bowler who can take wickets with velocity, you’re going to win cricket matches.

Injuries have set back Stone’s development and there’s still plenty to do in terms of grooving the action, making it repeatable leading to greater consistency and improved injury prevention. But it must not be at the expense of his pace – always a precious asset and one increasingly rare amongst Englishmen. Stone is an outlier and management cultures do not always deal well with outliers – Ed Smith knows a thing or two about that stuff and must use the quickest bowler he can pick with due care and attention.

Tom Bailey – Forging a link to the past

There will always be room in the English game for a tall man who hits the seam hard and gets at the batsman. It’s an old adage, but “You miss, I hit” (more prosaically, “You lose concentration, get greedy or give me less than a straight bat, I take your wicket”) is as good a tactic as any. It can take time for a bowler to learn that it really is enough – and that he should not apologise for it.

In a team that was relegated, Tom Bailey delivered on one of cricket’s toughest job descriptions – bowling behind a fragile batting line-up. 158, 144, 130, 109-9, 247, 161, 99 – Lancashire’s first innings scores in half their Championship matches: not much for an opening bowler to work with. His personal figures make for better reading. In Division One, only Simon Harmer bowled more than Bailey’s 440 overs, few bettered his average of 19.7 or his economy rate of 2.9 – and nobody took more than his 64 wickets.

He worked with Graham Onions in 12 matches, the old pro bagging 57 victims of his own at 22 and showing Bailey exactly what was needed to squeeze the maximum advantage from conditions. There will have been a few old stagers at Old Trafford enjoying watching a couple of Northern lads playing cricket in a very Northern style with names like Statham and Higgs coming to mind.

Tom Bailey might never play for England – or, perhaps he’ll get a Bicknellish handful of Tests – and that raises the question of whether it matters? Sure the domestic four day game has a role in producing Test players, but it also has a role in providing entertainment for its fans – of which there are many, if not always in the demographics that excite the boys in the colourful braces with their research and charts. Players like Bailey weave themselves into the culture of English first class cricket and provide links to a past that sits in the institutional memory of the game, even of the nation. Just because such nebulous stuff can’t be monetised or turned into KPIs doesn’t make it any less valuable.

Joe Denly – Completing his long pilgrimage back to international cricket

Amazingly, he is still only 32!

Denly’s England career lies both nine years in the past and possibly, incredibly really, two months in the future after his selection for the tour to Sri Lanka capped an extraordinary renaissance for a player whose youthful bright talent had dimmed to a flickering light as he went from Kent to Middlesex and then back to Kent.

What was it that turned the key in the lock and flared the flame again? I’d venture that his bowling has promoted a freedom in his batting, an example of the two skills not working against each other to exhaust body and mind, but in harmony, the ball complementing the bat. Always useful, but with legspin’s increasing value in white ball cricket where it can flummox even the sweetest timers of a cricket ball, Denly’s wrist spin has become a frontline option for his county – and his figures show just how effective a contributor he has become.

In Kent’s run to the final of the Royal London One Day Cup, Denly made nearly 500 runs at 70 at a tad under a run a ball; he also took 14 wickets, also just under a run a ball. In the Twenty20 Blast, he notched over 400 runs at a strike rate of 145 and took 20 wickets at an economy rate of well under 8 an over. In Kent’s promotion season, he topped the batting charts with 828 runs and chipped in with 23 wickets at 18.5. That’s what you want from an ever-present senior pro across three formats and 38 matches.

Whether he can translate that output into the international game remains to be seen, but we can be sure that he’ll be ready if the nod comes.

Lewis Gregory – Never undersells the fans

Cricket provides its spectators with a range of pleasure: the slow burn of a low-scoring first class match; the hopeless chase suddenly revived by the “big over”; the duel between a skilled bowler going through his variations while a batsman defends knowing his time will come, if only he is still at the crease. Players too can provoke the outpouring of love that saluted Alastair Cook’s last Test innings at The Oval or the visceral thrill of watching Michael Holding at the same ground, 42 years earlier. So… is there a player in county cricket more watchable than Somerset’s Lewis Gregory?

Three matches, one from each competition, illustrate that claim.

In the Royal London One Day Cup match at home to Middlesex, Gregory, captaining the side, came in with the score on 142-5 in the 28th over and left, four sixes later, with it 250-7 with 38 balls still available. Opening the bowling, he then knocked over Nick Gubbins and Eoin Morgan, Somerset running out comfortable winners.

In the T20 Blast (in which he scored over 300 runs at a strike rate of over 200!), his 60 off 24 balls lifted Somerset to 209-5, which proved too much for Nottinghamshire, limited to 190 all out, Gregory again doing a decent job with 2-29 off his full allocation.

In a Division One match against Yorkshire that both sides needed to win, a pair of half-centuries (scored at a strike rate of 140) twice took the game away from the bowling side and, when he had ball in hand, his match figures of 43-16-99-6 ensured that there was no way back for the Tykes.

Gregory is not (at 26) a great player, but he is a player capable of great performances that win cricket matches and empty bars. Picked for the the England Lions white ball squads for the matches against Pakistan A, if full international honours do not arrive, I suspect his brand of all-action cricket will prove very attractive to the franchise leagues around the world.

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 28, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 28 September 2018

Ball One – Surrey, on top, go down fighting

With the last ball of the last day of the last match still standing in 2018, the County Champions could win, tie or lose to their predecessors – and they say this form of the game is outdated? Spoilsport, Ryan ten Doeschate, scored the runs that won a remarkable match, runs that denied Surrey an unbeaten season and a fairytale victory. Bowled out in a blaze of end of term carelessness for 67 in the first dig, Surrey went in to bat for a second time trailing by 410 runs. 143 overs later, Essex were chasing an awkward 132 for a win that had looked nailed on for two days. But you don’t win ten out of 13 matches without spirit as well as skill, and it took a captain’s knock for ten Doeschate to deny the Londoners who would not be bowed without a struggle to the bitter end. Great match, great season, great competition.

Ball Two – Bailey fails to bail out Lancashire

It was too little (but only just), too late for Lancashire, who were relegated to Division Two by one point, Nottinghamshire having squeezed the two they needed out of a rampant Somerset side. That said, Nottinghamshire won four matches to Lancashire’s three, so there can be few complaints from Old Trafford, only a list of what might have been – but cricket, like life, is never short of those once you go looking. This match was another personal triumph for Tom Bailey, whose four wickets in each innings saw him finish the season as the leading wicket-taker in Division One with 64 scalps at 20. Quite what he and Graham Onions (57 wickets at 22 in 12 matches) think of their batsmen might not be printable. It’s amazing to think that they took 121 of 280 available wickets (43%) between them – and their team still went down.

Ball Three – Nottinghamshire suffer twin hat-tricks at the hands of Abell and Overton (and Trescothick)

Nottinghamshire were almost caught wearing their flip-flops prematurely, as Somerset hammered them by an innings and 146 runs in a match that saw two hat-tricks, one for all-rounder (yes, I’m calling it) Tom Abell and one for Craig Overton. Or should that be Marcus Trescothick, who caught Ben Slater, Samit Patel and Riki Wessels at second slip? That’s a fine way to celebrate a one year contract extension that will take him to into Brian Close territory down Taunton way. Somerset finish the season as runners-up – somewhere, I think I’ve read that before.

Ball Four – Brooks’ swansong brooks no argument about Yorkshire’s place in Division One

Speaking of “all-rounders”, Jack Brooks carried his sweaty headband from the Yorkshire dressing room for the last time, signing off with 6-94 in Worcestershire’s first innings and 82 when he got a bat in his hand. With Ben Coad and Gary Ballance also enjoying a fine match, the Tykes’ win took them to fourth place in the table, but everyone knows that the White Rose could easily have suffered the Red Rose’s fate had the dice fallen slightly differently. Worcestershire will play in Division Two in 2019, but that’s been expected for a while now – it usually is when a team perhaps best suited to Division 1 1/2 play in the top flight. Ask Daryl Mitchell – a fine cricketer, but a man with the unenviable (and undeserved) record of five relegations on his CV.

Ball Five – Bears climb to top of the tree

Warwickshire handed Jonathan Trott the Division Two title as a leaving present after their sorta play-off against Kent turned into a procession. When in-form openers, Will Rhodes and Dom Sibley, took the Bears past Kent’s first innings total of 167, the jig was up for Sam Billings’ men, who can nevertheless look back on a fine season that saw them promoted to Division One and play in a Lord’s final. And, speaking of looking back with pleasure, the same applies to Jonathan Trott, one of many cricketers taking their leave this week with the thanks and genuine affection of their counties’s supporters and cricket fans everywhere.

“Idris Elba for the new James Bond you say? Well…”

Ball Six – Paul Collingwood leaves with love

Which brings us to perhaps the fondest farewell of all. Paul Collingwood OBE (yes, OBE) played his final match for Durham, its most noblest servant bowing out with a defeat at the hands of Middlesex, who shot out the man from Shotley Bridge’s team for 109 when 167 would have been enough for a valedictory victory. So the man whose first innings in Championship cricket was terminated on 91 by the late Kevin Curran (Sam and Tom’s dad) walks away into the weakening North East sun, the strawberry blond hair fading a little to grey, the applause ringing in his ears. Thank you Sir, and thanks to all the cricketers who played Championship, One Day Cup and Twenty20 matches over this long hot summer. See you in 2019.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 24, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 24 September 2018

Ball One – Clarke signs on the dotted line

Worcestershire’s relegation – as much expected as their Twenty20 Cup win last week was unexpected – was sealed with an abject defeat by 2017 Champions, Essex. It was the Jamie Porter / Simon Harmer double act (that did so much in that glorious season) making the difference, as Porter picked up 11 wickets and Harmer five, the Worcestershire batting failing twice, the margin an innings and 129 runs. News that Joe Clarke, top score in both innings in this match, a local(ish) lad and leading run-getter for the club in both the Championship and the Twenty20 Cup, is off to Nottinghamshire for 2019 will hardly help the county’s cause. If the salary cap allows Nottinghamshire to sign all these players (Ben Duckett, Ben Slater and Zak Chappell have also recently gone to Trent Bridge) perhaps its operation needs a review?

Ball Two – Donald doesn’t duck his responsibilities

Yorkshire’s eight points from their game in hand, a draw against Hampshire, sent them 23 points above their Roses rivals, whose last hope to avoid the drop is a highly unlikely 20 points swing against now sixth placed Nottinghamshire – stranger things have happened, but not many. One of the joys of football, back before it all got grimly tribal and the impact of luck was minimised by armies of substitutes, was the chance of seeing an outfield player don an ill-fitting green jersey, oversized gloves and step between the posts, the named goalkeeper having gone off injured. Such was the scene’s comic potential that one didn’t even mind it if it were one’s own team so afflicted. But a substitute wicketkeeper favours tragedy over comedy, and so it proved at Headingley, where Aneurin Donald, the new boy presumably handed the gloves and told to get on with it as the senior pros stared at their feet, had a torrid time after replacing Tom Alsop.

Glamorgan’s motley crew arrive for their match against Kent

Ball Three – Glamorgan can’t cope with Kent

It must have particularly pleasing for Kent, on the brink of promotion, to see the Glamorgan team coach pull into the car park, knowing that the conveyance usually brings plenty of points as well as cricketers.. And so it proved, as the Welshmen were despatched back down the M4 by an innings and 172 runs, with the hosts looking forward to matches against Surrey, Essex and the like in 2019. Only the relatively inexperienced Jack Murphy (102 runs for once out) emerged with any credit from a side that failed to cope with Matt Henry’s pace, Darren Stevens’, well, darrenstevensness and Zak Crawley’s runs. It’ll be different next year, but Kent fans can enjoy a title decider this week knowing that the season’s objective is already in the bag.

Ball Four – Trott off at Edgbaston, so young batsmen must raise a gallop

That de facto play-off comes courtesy of a draw against Sussex at Hove, in which Warwickshire’s top order distinguished themselves with a barrage of runs. closing their second innings on 381-3, having been 421-4 at one point in the first dig. How the Bears will go in Division One in 2019 may well depend on replacing the retiring Jonathan Trott’s reliable runs at Number Three and whether the old guard: Ian Bell (36); Tim Ambrose (35); Chris Wright (33); and Jeetan Patel (38) can support the younger players back in the top flight. It’ll be a big test for the likes of Dominic Sibley, Will Rhodes and Sam Hain, who have a bit to prove if they are to fulfil their considerable potential.

Ball Five – Thank God it wasn’t this week!

The penultimate match of the Durham’s season got off to an unremarkable start. Foregoing the toss, Paul Collingwood invited the home side to bat and Leicestershire compiled 321 all out, the top ten making double figures, but (perhaps ominously) nobody bettering Ateeq Javid’s 58. In less than two sessions’ playing time, the match was done, the visitors dismissed for 61 and 66, both scores lower than their previous worst, that 21 year-old record now expunged from the books. As Mohammad Abbas had shown in the Lord’s Test back in May, if there’s a bit in it, the magic of Pakistani fingers and wrist can find it, 10-52 his reward for his craft. But at least it wasn’t this week, the occasion of the valedictory match for Paul Collingwood, whose 23 seasons at Durham have seen plenty of thick and thin and no little amount of blood. sweat and tears expended in the cause. He deserves the grandest of sendoffs on home territory against Middlesex – so let’s hope his batsmen have got the worst of their form out of their system and use their bats for more than just the thoroughly deserved honour guard Colly will undoubtedly receive.

Ball Six – Having blown away opponents in nine matches, Surrey are blown away in tenth

“Points: Surrey 13, Somerset 6”. Really? Not “Points: Surrey 24, Somerset 0”? Okay, it doesn’t really matter, with Surrey having clinched the Pennant last week, but does that distribution of the spoils strike you as odd? It’s the home club’s obligation to provide a playable surface for the match and, whether it be the visitors who were 174 ahead with seven wickets to take (as was the case at Taunton) or the home team so well placed, surely the match should be forfeited? It has hardly been plain sailing for Somerset’s groundstaff this season and while Chief Executive, Andrew Cornish, may choose to hide behind the phrase “Act of God”, others may prefer to say “Should (indeed must) do better”. Late September storms in the west of England may or may not be conjured by a deity, but they’re reasonably foreseeable and adequate provision should be made.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 17, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 16 September 2018

Ball One – Surrey (with a whinge) on top

As had been clear for some weeks now, the County Champions’ Pennant will fly over The Oval next summer. Some may cry “moneybags” or “Surrey strut”, but neither complaint holds water – the salary cap applies to the South Londoners as much as to anyone else and the conveyor belt of young players has made tired arrogance jibe as outdated as Netscape. Rory Burns, in his first year as captain, has 345 runs more than any other batsman in Division One, with Ollie Pope fifth on the list at an average of 73. Roll in contributions all down the order – Rikki Clarke has well over 400 runs at 35 from 7 or 8 – and the bowlers always had something to work with. And they did – led by Morne Morkel’s 50 wickets at 14, with Clarke in the game again snaring 43 victims at 21, and Pope’s bowling equivalent, spinner Amar Virdi, picking up 35 wickets at 27 having been selected for all 12 matches, half of them played when still a teenager. Though some will point to the off-field income that creates the infrastructure to support such players, the plain fact is that Surrey is the outstanding county in red ball cricket because they bowl, bat and field at a higher level than others team and they are outstandingly led on and off the field.

Ball Two – Lancashire with a mountain to climb after trans-Pennines defeat

It wasn’t quite a relegation play-off at Headingley, but everyone knew that the losers would have one foot on the snake and victors one foot on the ladder. Both sides had chances to win, but White triumphed over Red because when they needed a player to stand up, one did. In the first innings, Tom Bailey (whose consistency this season hardly deserves his impending relegation) got amongst the top order to reduce the home side to 33-4, but Tom Kohler-Cadmore found a partner in ‘keeper, Jonny Tattersall, who belied his inexperience by adding 105 for the fifth wicket with his senior partner, who ended up with over half his side’s 209 runs. Lancashire’s deficit was but 100 overnight with all ten wickets in hand, but Jack Brooks, leaving at the end of the season, weighed in with a valedictory fivefer and the match looked balanced as Adam Lyth and Jeet Raval looked to set a target. Kohler-Cadmore got going again, and he and Gary Ballance compiled 148 runs for the fourth wicket, eventually leaving Lancashire 230 for the win. Ben Coad and that man Brooks kept taking wickets whenever Lancashire threatened the one big partnership you need with a target like that, and White defeated Red. Both counties have had troubled seasons, but Yorkshire are 14 points clear of their old rivals with a game in hand.

Ball Three – Stevens and Stewart’s stand sends Kent up standings

While Warwickshire were annihilating Leicestershire by an innings and plenty to stay top of Division Two, Kent had the trickier job of taking on a Middlesex side that had shown signs of playing to its potential towards the end of a difficult season.  It was a bowlers’ match at Lord’s, where 19 wickets fell on the first day and another 15 went on the second. In such conditions, the usual cliché can be reversed and you can say that batsmen win matches, the crucial runs often coming from unexpected quarters. With the (nearly) oldest pro in town, Darren Stevens, lurking at 7, you might expect him to hold his hand up, but his partner in a stand of 75 for the ninth wicket, was Grant Stewart, the Australian accounted far from the worst Number 9 you’ll meet, but down there for a reason. That partnership was the best of the match by 16 runs (and comprised its only two half centuries), with Sam Billings seeing his side over the line with three wickets in hand.

Ball Four – Cameron Steel adds steel, as Durham send Sussex’s promotion hopes south

That result may prove critical because, while Kent were eking out the win, promotion-chasing Sussex were feeling a long way from home at Chester-le-Street. All seemed well as Ollie Robinson’s fiverfer shot out Paul Collingwood’s men for 103, but that merely cued Chris Rushworth to roll back the years with 8-51 and the home side were soon ahead with all ten second innings wickets in hand. Cameron Steel proceeded, over six hours at the crease, to knock the stuffing out of Sussex with 160, and the unlikely chase of 322 morphed into an impossible one after three ducks in the first three overs. The 19 points do not make a big difference to Durham’s season, but Sussex’s bag of just three left them 21 adrift of Kent and the second promotion berth. Two do-or-die matches loom.

Ball Five – Finals Day – festivities or foolery?

Finals Day – does that phrase fill you with joy or with a dull ache in the base of the stomach knowing the noise, the fancy dress and the “Hey, look at me!” brigade will be unfettered, even celebrated? Oddly, while so much has happened to Twenty20 since its launch in 2003, Finals Day probably stays closer to the format’s original conception than most other variations around the world. 15 years ago, T20 was carnivalesque, a colourful, rowdy occasion on which David “Bumble” Lloyd would, as Lord of Misrule, preside over TV coverage from a boundary edge pool and players (probably searching for a box) would be interviewed in the dug out by a Jack-the-Laddish, still exiled from England, roving reporter, Graeme Swann. Because the matches were few and far between, the whole shebang had the atmosphere of The Assizes coming to town. And perhaps it would still feel like that if Finals Day were the culmination of a fortnight tournament – but we started 11 weeks ago. Odd to think that we might look back on Twenty20 in 2018 and see it as restrained.

Arthur Scargill – who wrote the Jofra Archer Overture.

Ball Six – Ali, Brown the stars as Worcestershire romp home

After Lancashire and Somerset failed to threaten their targets in the semi-finals, Worcestershire and Sussex faced off for the T20 Trophy. (Shouldn’t it have a name? The Thrashes?) Sussex, batting first, had the six hitters – five men hit nine between them – but 157-6 was well short of the overwhelming 202-8 they had compiled a few hours earlier. Anything under 160 allows a chasing side to keep the run rate below 10 and wait for the one big over that seems, inevitably, to arrive and swing the match their way. That said, few could have predicted quite how that big over turned up for Worcestershire, the crucial 19th starting with 17 still required, IPL star, Jofra Archer with the ball (and the match) in his hands. A single off the first delivery may even have had Sussex edging favouritism, but, alas, Archer proved to be no William Tell, his aim awry as a beamer went for four byes (and two no balls) followed by the free hit’s despatching into the stands. Next up, the entirely predictable bouncer was hammered to the fence by Ben Cox and Worcestershire were the winners. A good week for Moeen Ali, who carried his renewed confidence with bat and ball into the showpiece and, as captain, coaxed figures of 8-0-36-4 from 20 year old seamer, Pat Brown, who won’t forget his day in a hurry.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 12, 2018

England Test Match Report Card – Summer 2018

Impressive figures

Alastair Cook (444 runs at 37; 16 catches). Grade B-

The figures hardly tell the story. After a summer spent missing too many balls when set, tension in the body, fatigue in the mind, suddenly, gloriously, preposterously, it all melted away in the warmth of a crowd, a team, even an opposition who loved him – a glorious sunset at The Oval. That said, the plain fact is that England won the series without much from their senior pro, whose timing of his hand-eye-foot movement was so awry that I felt he was sighting the ball that millisecond later than he did in his pomp. None of that matters now, with a future on the farm, enjoying a growing family, and with a season or two on the county circuit as a symbol of a game run as many of its supporters prefer, all to come . And, if he does want to put his feet up in the village pub when he’s done with all that, he’ll never have to buy a drink for himself. Vale Chef! Thanks for the runs, the Ashes and plenty more series and, most of all, the decency.

Keaton Jennings (192 runs at 19; 0 wickets; 4 catches). Grade D-

There were times when the best place to watch him bat (or field) was from behind the sofa, his hideous form just too much to bear. The yips can affect bowlers and golfers, but can they affect batsmen too? The brain seemed to know what to do (a club cricketer would know what to do) but the hands and feet appeared to rebel, leaving him horribly exposed to almost any delivery. Bizarrely, he seems close to a certainty to go to Sri Lanka – one presumes in the cause of some continuity at the top of the order – but surely there must be better options? I’d prescribe a winter playing grade cricket in Australia or South Africa to get the feel of bat on ball embedded back into the muscle memory, and then extended periods at the crease in the county game.

Mark Stoneman (13 runs at 7). Grade D

Dumped in the old school style, as new National Selector, Ed Smith, flexed his muscles after England’s dismal display against Pakistan at a damp Lord’s. Still rebuilding form and confidence, but doesn’t feature strongly in lists of potential successors to Alastair Cook and, at 31, his time may have passed.

Moeen Ali (119 runs at 30; 12 wickets at 21; 1 catch). Grade B

Recalled where he bowls best (in England, behind a “first spinner”). Perhaps (and I know this is ridiculous) we have to consider him and Joe Root as a combined Number Three and Number Four since, although he looks too loose and not likely to bat beyond a session or so in Jonathan Trott’s old bailiwick, Root’s productivity is so improved as a result that maybe 90 or so runs regularly coming from those two positions, is a sufficient payoff. His bowling has regained its rhythm without sacrificing its priceless ability to provoke errors from batsmen as they seek to attack it, though he deserves more than such faint praise when he rips it out of footholes at a pace that makes it risky for batsmen to prop on to the front foot, pad outside the line. Expectations will be high in Sri Lanka, which will be a stiff examination of his all-rounder credentials.

Joe Root (436 runs at 36; 0 wickets; 6 catches) Grade B-

Always busy at the crease, he toppled into something more akin to anxious freneticism, as he, too often, attempted to work the ball from off stump across his pad into the legside, the head falling over, the precious balance all batsmen need sacrificed in the pursuit of quick runs. With the series won and, for once, able to bat in the slipstream of a colleague, it clicked at The Oval where he looked, once again, the class of the field. Still feels more like a bouncy, positive lieutenant rather than a scheming general, but it’s early days yet as a captain. Spent far too long out of the cordon (replaced by far inferior slippers) and needs to do a lot more homework on reviewing – though when’s he going to have time for that? Got the calls right when Rishabh Pant and KL Rahul were taking the game away from England at The Oval and has the knack of rebuilding Adil Rashid’s confidence when it dips.

Dawid Malan (74 runs at 15; 6 catches). Grade D

Heavy footed at the crease and fallible in the field proved not to be a good look, and he walked on to Ed Smith’s sword after the Edgbaston Test. More comfortable on bouncier pitches with the ball coming on, he seems a very unlikely candidate to tour either Sri Lanka or the West Indies, although a positive start to the 2019 county season and potential havoc from the expected barrage of short stuff from Starc, Cummins, Hazlewood and Stanlake might see him return for The Ashes.

Ollie Pope (54 runs at 18; 2 catches). Grade C

He’ll be back. A little green at 20 for Test cricket, the naivety of his second innings dismissal at Trent Bridge, chasing a very wide one when a backs-to-the-wall, bat-time effort was required, rather sealed his fate. When he does come back, he will not be the first to have a stuttering start to a Test career that subsequently blooms.

Jonny Bairstow (277 runs at 23; 19 catches). Grade C

Injured in the Third Test, he looked off the pace as a specialist batsman at Ageas Bowl and short of form on either side of the stumps at The Oval. Though his 93 was crucial in setting up the crushing win at Lord’s (and the 2-0 scoreline that made an Indian comeback close to impossible), his ever-changing position in the batting order (he batted at 4, 5, 6 and 7 in the seven Tests) and a heavy workload, playing all three formats, is surely taking its toll. Whisper it, but Jos Buttler, no Alan Knott himself, looked tidier with the gloves on in the one Test in which he had them.

Ben Stokes (247 runs at 25; 17 wickets at 28; 2 catches) Grade B-

As ever, the numbers do not tell the whole story about England’s game-changer. Batted with patience and classical technique when others were too keen to present something less than the full face, and bowled with real pace at times, often with a swinging, ageing ball. He did produce the pivotal moment in the summer, dismissing Virat Kohli on the fourth morning at Edgbaston when India were within an hour or so of going one-up in a series that was far tighter than its eventual 4-1 scoreline suggests. His trial for affray and subsequent acquittal appears to have made him less obviously aggressive in the field, the mouthy stuff much less prominent – but let’s see how that goes in the heat of Colombo and in the pressure cooker of the World Cup and Ashes.

Jos Buttler (510 runs at 46; 6 catches). Grade B+

With barely any red ball cricket since, well, forever it seems, he finishes the summer with the most runs on his side with only the peerless Indian captain ahead of him amongst opponents. Had he not perished in a Gilchristian pursuit of selfless runs, those numbers might have been even higher, so his catapulting from the IPL’s showbizzy, slogging and smashing to the somewhat sedate environment of a Lord’s Test against Pakistan, can be counted as something of a masterstroke. For all that, I am sceptical about how he will go when the catches nicked to second and third slip go to hand and the analysts insist that captains post a gully, all day, every day. He doesn’t line the ball up, preferring to reach a little for it, feet largely static, and can come across the ball with a leading edge or get done with an outside edge as a result. That said, he wouldn’t be the first batsman in the game’s history with a non-textbook technique that delivers (at last) consistent first class scores.

Chris Woakes (166 runs at 55; 12 wickets at 20; 1 catch). Grade B

He loves playing at Lord’s, where his record would make Garry Sobers blush: 131 average with the bat; 10 with the ball. Though he did his bit in the other two matches he played, particularly with the ball in the series squaring win against Pakistan, his 137 not out in the second Test, having arrived at the crease with England wobbling on 131-5, was as close as you can get to a match-winning knock in the second innings of three, demoralising India who had fought hard to get a foothold in the series only to see it taken away in a blaze of boundaries, underpinned by good sense. His injury record has not been good in recent years and he now has the new young bowler who bats, Sam Curran, eyeing the Number 8ish slot.

Sam Curran (292 runs at 37; 13 wickets at 23). Grade A-

Hard to recall another England player who made the transition to Test cricket look so mundanely everyday. Having shown that he was no mug with bat and ball on debut against Pakistan, he really arrived as a player to be reckoned with when he shot out India’s top three in a couple of overs of swing and seam at Edgbaston and then got England from 86-6 up to 180 all out to give the bowlers something to work with, his coolness under pressure as impressive as his high elbow in defence and the crisp sound the ball made off his flashing blade. Just to show it was no fluke, he was at it again with 78 and 46 in the 60 runs win at the Ageas Bowl, adding the wicket of Kohli to his scalps. Some say that he lacks the pace you need in Test cricket but, left-arm, he swings the ball in almost all conditions and can work batsmen across the crease before pinning them in front or sliding one across to catch the edge. It’s a formula that has served the player he most reminds me of quite well – Vernon Philander has 205 wickets at under 22 and nearly 1500 runs at 25. There’s your role model Sam.

Dom Bess (111 runs at 37; 3 wickets at 40; 1 catch). Grade C

Another young gun picked by Ed Smith who came good, though not quite as expected, his batting outshining his bowling. What caught the eye most was a fine temperament that stayed on the right side of cocky – which is where a spinner wants to be if they are to succeed.

Adil Rashid (119 runs at 20; 10 wickets at 31; 1 catch). Grade B

Another player whose white ball work got him a gig in the five day format. Rashid is an old school leg spinner – infuriating and captivating, often in the same match, sometimes in the same over. Expecting him to block up an end while the seamers have a breather, ain’t gonna happen – he might go for a run a ball with long hops and full tosses hit anywhere and everywhere, or he might spin the leg break square or the googly through the gate. If the runs after the fall of the sixth wicket have been the key difference in the India series, Rashid did his bit, bamboozling the late order batsmen without the concentration to watch his hand closely, nor the skills to play the revving ball off the pitch. Sides with so many all-rounders can look imbalanced, but it does allow Root to save Rashid for the latter stages of an innings – a luxury, but a price worth paying on the evidence of a 4-1 win over the top ranked team in the world.

Mark Wood (11 runs at 6; 2 wickets at 41; 1 catch). Grade C-

Looked literally and metaphorically off the pace in his one Test, which is not good news because Wood is an authentic fast bowler – if he’s not beating the batsman for pace, he’s not beating him at all.

Stuart Broad (89 runs at 9; 23 wickets at 27; 3 catches). Grade B

What a difference it makes when Broad runs in hard and bowls at 85mph+! To do so, he has to be fit and finding the rhythm that can promote another of “those” spells, one of which sent India from 35-2 to 61-6 at Lord’s, his victims the experienced quartet of Rahane, Pujara, Kohli and Karthik. His bowling, especially to left-handers round the wicket when he would shape the ball away in the air and off the seam, was often better than his figures suggested, both he and Mohammed Shami beating the bat repeatedly all summer long. Though Jimmy Anderson’s pursuit of Glenn McGrath’s 563 victims was the major bowling subplot of the summer, Broad’s climb into the top 8 on the all-time list (just one behind Kapil Dev) has garnered little attention, but is still an extraordinary achievement, a testament to his consistency and conditioning.

Jimmy Anderson (20 runs at 10; 33 wickets at 18; 1 catch). Grade A

A modern wonder, with an action as grooved as any pacers in history, a bad spell is almost unimaginable, even a bad ball comes as a surprise – and the good ones, inswing, outswing, wobble seam and cutters, keep coming until the batsman succumbs. (All except Kohli of course, their duel a magnificent match within a match that the Indian captain won – but only just and only because he is so brilliant himself, the two champions bringing out the best in each other). Since January 2014, at an age when an opening bowler should be losing his pace and fitness, he has 224 wickets in 52 Tests, at an average of 21 and an economy rate below 2.5. These are the kind of numbers put up (albeit over a career) by the fast bowler whose skills perhaps most closely mirror his own – it sounds like sacrilege, but Anderson may well be England’s Malcolm Marshall.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 9, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 9 September 2018

Ball One – A Question of (fair) Sport

Somerset need one run to keep their title hopes alive; Lancashire need two wickets to help them with their fight against relegation – “Bill Beaumont. What happened next?”. It had been an extraordinary match played on a pitch that attracted some strong words from Paul Allot, Lancashire’s Director of Cricket (not an entirely disinterested party). But what drama for those in attendance at Taunton and plenty more listening to or following the action online. After three innings in which wickets fell like Brexiteers’ promises, the home side were set 78 and had 77 of them in the bank when Keshav Maharaj induced a death or glory charge from Dom Bess (stumped) and, after nine dot balls of ratcheting tension, a death or glory slog from Jack Leach that Tom Bailey, heart pounding, pouched at cow corner. Ties are about as rare in the County Championship as they are at a meeting of the Jeremy Clarkson Appreciation Society, so we should cherish them – whether the ECB feel the same way when they read the pitch inspector’s report remains to be seen. It seems almost perverse to record the rather mundane 11 points each team took away from the clash.

Ball Two – Who writes Rikki Clarke’s scripts?

While all that was going on in the South West of England, in the South East, the reigning champions were playing the champions-elect at Chelmsford. It was business as usual for Rory Burns’s juggernaut, crushing Essex by ten wickets, the only resistance coming from Ravi Bopara with an unbeaten second innings 81. But it was another ghosts of England Past who caught the eye – Rikki Clarke. When the angular all-rounder returned to his first county after a successful sojourn at Warwickshire, I felt he would play white ball cricket mainly, his hitting and canny bowling backed up by fielding that still, at nearly 37, sets standards. But there he is, in the lower middle order, making 56 and then nipping it about to take 4-28 and 4-47, boosting his season’s figures to 392 runs at 33 and 41 wickets at 19. When pennant last flew over the Oval, Clarke was there too – 16 summers ago, when the likes of Sam Curran, Amar Virdi, Ollie Pope and Will Jacks were toddlers. International potential forever unfulfilled, but what way to bookend a career.

Ball Three – Ballance helps steady the ship, as Yorkshire take decent form into Roses clash

If the top two places look settled in Division One, the bottom two places are anything but, with all seven remaining counties nervously eyeing the trap door. Yorkshire couldn’t force a win at Trent Bridge, but they got the next best thing going into a Roses match with stakes even higher than usual. After Kraigg Brathwaite, Ben Slater and Ben Duckett had propelled the home side to 205-2, Yorkshire fought back hard to limit Nottinghamshire to 448 and then secured a handy first innings lead of 50 with centuries from Gary Ballance and Tom Kohler-Cadmore. Though the 12 bonus points may be the concrete return on their efforts, the spirit displayed could proved crucial when White takes on Red at Headingley.

Ball Four – Ed Barnard makes his point amongst the overseas bowlers

Hampshire (19 points) beat Worcesteshire (3 points) in a match that lifted the winners to fifth and pinned the losers to the bottom – had the points gone the other way, Hampshire would be bottom and Worcestershire level with Yorkshire a point behind Lancashire. Like Somerset vs Lancashire above, this was a low scoring game, but it was no thriller, reminding us that cricket never quite reduces to its clichés. It wasn’t a good match with the bat for the Worcestershire all-rounder, Ed Barnard, who bagged a pair, but at least he got amongst the South Africans when it came to bowling honours. His seven wickets (supplemented by Wayne Parnell’s six) were ultimately trumped by Kyle Abbott’s eight and Dale Steyn’s six (Fidel Edwards and Australian, Ian Holland, were Hampshire’s other bowlers). Barnard has 42 wickets this season in a struggling side who don’t always put runs on the board and is still only 22. England are hardly short of bowlers who bat and batsmen who bowl these days, but if a little rotation is required in the West Indies before a huge summer in 2019, he might yet be a fringe contender for the squad.

Ball Five – Matt Henry’s long pilgrimage pays dividends for Kent.

Durham, with little to play for, upheld the integrity of Division Two by fighting hard to get a draw at Edgbaston, opening the door for Kent and Sussex to close the gap on the long time leaders, Warwickshire, the two promotion slots looking likely to be settled between these three. After Kent had been dismissed for 137, captain, Alex Wakely threw the ball to New Zealand speedster, Matt Henry, and braced his fingers for the pounding they would receive behind the stumps. The value of a strike bowler was underlined, as the Kiwi’s seven wickets helped put his openers back in with a lead of 32. Joe Denly got in the game – as he has so often this season – with 81 and Northamptonshire were required to make 320 for an unlikely win. When Henry removed both openers in his first spell, it was only a matter of time. His raw pace has brought him 61 wickets at 15 in his eight matches this season, the man from Canterbury (New Zealand) clearly enjoying life in Canterbury (England).

Ball Six – Players should represent one county only in a Championship season

Yes it was that Ben Duckett playing for Nottinghamshire in Ball Three. Though there have always been a few late season changes to county squads (Lancashire fans will be hoping Maharaj’s late intervention in their season is as successful as Muttiah Muralitharan’s was a decade or so ago), the switching of counties on loan prior to a close season move seems to be a relatively recent thing. Perhaps it’s a matter of taste, but introducing a brand new player to the competition seems permissible in a way that contracting another team’s player is not. Ben Duckett should be a Northamptonshire player in 2018 (as Josh Poysden, on the opposite side, should be a Warwickshire player and not a Yorkshire player for this season). It’s not the biggest issue the County Championship faces, but it’s another little chip at its credibility, another little smack in the face for a competition that can only fight back with the superb quality of its sport and its band of much abused supporters.

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