Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 15, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ball Two – Parkinson deserves England recognition

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

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

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

Ball Three – Strong Surrey flex their muscles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ball Five – Batsman of the Week

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

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

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

Ball Six – Bowler of the Week

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

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 14, 2021

England vs New Zealand – The Report Cards

Joe Root and Chris Silverwood en route to Edgbaston.

England

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

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

Rory Burns (238 runs at 60; one catch)

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

Dom Sibley (103 runs at 34; one catch)

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

Zak Crawley (21 runs at five; three catches)

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

Ollie Pope (84 runs at 28; one catch)

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

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

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

James Bracey (8 runs at three; six catches)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Zealand

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

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

Tom Latham (88 runs at 29; two catches)

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

Devon Conway (306 runs at 77)

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

Will Young (90 runs at 45)

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

Ross Taylor (127 runs at 42; one catch)

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

Henry Nicholls (105 runs at 45; one catch)

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

Tom Blundell (34 runs at 34; eight catches)

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

BJ Watling (16 runs at 16; three catches)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 7, 2021

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

Ball One – Transferring the pressure

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

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

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

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

Ball Two – Bedingham fully bedded in

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

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

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

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

Ball Three – Plenty of chat about Parkinsons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ball Five – Red Rose wilts at last

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

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

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

Ball Six – Bess keeps his best for last

The Sussex dressing room

The Sussex dressing room at Headingley

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 31, 2021

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 31 May 2021

Cricket’s best friend

Ball One – Here Comes The Sun

There may more amenable times of the year to play the county championship, there may be better players currently unavailable for selection and there may be attractions reopening and clamouring for our attention, but all first class cricket really needs is a bit of sunshine. Having hidden through most of May, the sun blazed a farewell to a soggy month and cricket put on a show with a tremendous round of matches.

Essex, whose recent wobble is already receding in the rear view mirror, narrowly lead Group One after pasting Durham, who sink to fifth but, with a game in hand on the leaders and three to play, are not out of it. The home batsmen will be eyeing the next Chester-le-Street pitch with some wariness though, as none could make a half-century on the strip served up for this match, despite Simon Harmer going wicketless, Sam Cook, Jamie Porter and Peter Siddle sharing 19 wickets. Tom Westley must find captaincy a breeze with such riches on hand.

Low scoring matches often turn on a batsman digging in for a bloodyminded knock (Alastair Cook knows a thing or two about that) or counter-attacking with a blitz of boundaries when it’s “their day” (Ryan ten Doeschate would be your man for that approach). Few would have expected the crucial innings to come from wicketkeeper-batsman, Michael Pepper, in for England-bound Dan Lawrence after a decent set of scores in the IIs and playing just his third championship fixture. He was one of 19 LBWs in the match, but not before he had made 92, well worth the accolades usually awarded for a century given that the opposition mustered only 99 and 189 between them.

A winning mentality is as contagious as… well, I think we’ve all had enough of such similes, so let’s leave it there.

Ball Two – Briggs brings Warwickshire safely into port

Just a couple of points separate Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire in second and third after the home team halted Nottinghamshire’s run of three victories with a win secured in the last hour of a match that, like a couple of others in this round, suggested that the additional points available for a draw this year is having its desired effect.

It was a fine team effort from Will Rhodes’ men, with Danny Briggs and Michael Burgess at the heart of it. They came together with six down in the second innings and the lead 178 to put on 103, tilting the match’s balance their way. Back in the day job, Briggs took three of the last four wickets to fall, the spinner delivering the job description in squeaky bum time.

Still only 30 – those England games seem a very long time ago – the slow (well, slowish) left-armer is quietly having a fine red ball season in Birmingham, his third county seeing him as more than a white ball specialist. An ever-present, his 18 wickets at 24 are backed up by 263 runs at 29, the kind of return that makes his three year deal look like very good business for both parties.

And, speaking of very good business, in his day job, Burgess did this.

Ball Three – Too much spin about opportunities for spinners?

Gloucestershire stay top of Group Two despite a bit of a shellacking at the hands of Surrey in sunny South London. Hashim Amla, captaining the side with Rory Burns bubbled up for England, did what he does at The Oval and just batted on and on, his 173 occupying over eight hours, wearing down bowlers with silky shots and an imperturbable temperament that’s seen it all. That Surrey can be without Burns, Jordan Clark, Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Ollie Pope and Jason Roy, yet still have Rikki Clarke batting at nine, seems unfair – and shows that, even with just two matches left to play, they could still make the cut for the second half of the season.

Especially if Amar Virdi and Dan Moriarty – the spin twins nobody is (yet) calling the new Edmonds and Emburey – can retain their form, the right and left arm combo returning match figures of 108 – 21 – 284 – 15. With much gnashing of teeth about the barriers placed in front of English spinners developing their skills on Spring and Autumn pitches, perhaps we should look at the success of this pair of 22 year-old local lads (and they’re not the only spinners catching the eye this season) and talk less about pitches and more about talent.

Ball Four – A tale of two Aussies

Leicestershire and Middlesex may be anchored to the bottom of Group Two, but nobody told them that they had little to play for, the two sides fighting hard for four days in a match that Middlesex will feel that they had the upper hand for all but the last few hours.

After conceding a first innings deficit of 159 runs, the old warhorse, Chris Wright, hauled Leicestershire back into the match with six second innings wickets, no Middlesex batsman able to post a half-century yet again. But Middlesex were still favourites as the home side viewed a distant target of 378 for the win or batting out four sessions for the draw.

Sam Evans fell early on the fourth day, but that brought Colin Ackermann to the crease joining opener Marcus Harris, who was eyeing a big one. In a season such as this, Middlesex’s hearts must have sank as the overseas pair, exactly the sort of “not quite good enough for international cricket” batsmen who can thrive at this level, got together and lifted the score from 83-2 to 326-2, before the Australian departed for 185. Ackermann, playing a captain’s knock, was undefeated on 126, sweeping the winning runs himself.

A first win for Leicestershire to go with three draws gives them something to work with in the latter stages of the competition, but Aussie skipper Peter Handscomb, with six defeats on his hands this season, must surely blood some young players, as the combinations tried so far this season simply aren’t working.

Ball Five – Mahmood in the mood

The heavyweight clash at the top of Group Three did not disappoint, even if red largely dominated white in the first Roses match of the season.

Lancashire’s winning margin of an innings and 79 runs looks like a day in the park, but there’s a reason why this was the home side’s first victory over the old enemy in two decades. After centuries from Keaton Jennings and Josh Bohannon and another useful contribution down the order from Danny Lamb had left Yorkshire’s inexperienced side with well over four sessions to bat out the draw, they only went and damn near did it!

Adam Lyth, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Harry Brook, George Hill, Harry Duke and Dom Bess all batted 100 minutes or more, and none of the top nine batsmen gave it away. Bess’s three and half hour knock was particularly worthy of praise, last man out tantalisingly close to securing the draw. Set that against another bowling display that continued his travails from the winter and you have to conclude that the lad has a lot of work to do, but he has the heart to do it.

In the face of such resistance, Dane Vilas was compelled to use all six frontline bowlers at his disposal, the standout of whom was Saqib Mahmood, who swung the old ball both ways at pace to secure his first fivefer in first class cricket. The speedster has seen action for England with white ball in hand, so he’s on the radar, but he doesn’t have the figures that those ahead in the “Who follows Anderson and Broad?” stakes can boast. On this showing (and at other times this season) the priceless ability to bowl good batsmen out with a 50 overs old ball on a flat deck might count for more than stats – first or second change is, after all, just as much a specialist position as first or second drop, though it’s seldom thought of as such.

Ball Six – No plain sailing for Sussex as they run into Berg and co

Experience trumped youth at Hove as Northamptonshire closed to within a couple of points of Yorkshire in Group Three. A comparison of the bowlers’ ages told the story: Ben Sanderson (32); Gareth Berg (40); Tom Taylor (26); Wayne Parnell (31) and Simon Kerrigan (32) vs Henry Crocombe (19); Jamie Atkins (19); George Garton (24); Jack Carson (20) and Delray Rawlins (23).

Another youngster, Tom Haines (22), scored his second century of the season to go fourth on the championship run scoring charts, but that 103 and Ben Brown’s 95 were the only scores above 17 in Sussex’s top eight, Jack Carson’s 52 and 35 making his case for going up the order.

It’s probably fair to say that some of those Sussex youngsters have higher ceilings than their old pro opponents but they also (at this stage in their development) have lower basements too. The conjecture that consistency will, across four days’ play, triumph over potential was proved in this match at least, but Crocombe, Atkins and Carson (especially) will have their day – after all, they’re but half the age of Gareth Berg.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 24, 2021

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 24 May 2021

Ball One – Notts go pop!

Not Luke Fletcher

If you’ve been reading your current edition of Tatler, you will have seen a similar headline heralding the scoop that evaded Ali Martin – “Exclusive: Stuart Broad is bowled over by new fiancée Mollie King in their first ever shoot and interview.” For non-subscribers (and there must be one or two reading this), you can buy a copy and read pages and pages about the ” famously private” pair.

It was less Posh and Becks and more Bosh and Decks in the day job for “Joss Butler’s” teammate, as Nottinghamshire’s roaring back into form continued with a third successive win (innings, innings and 310 runs the margins) – enough to go top of Group One by nine points.

The Bosh was provided by Ben Duckett – unlikely to feature in the pages of the socialites’ bible, but back in the cricket press with 177 not out – and captain, Steve Mullaney’s, 88 off 73 balls, as the charge to maximum batting points concluded successfully.

The Decks was the superb use made of the pitch and atmospherics by Luke Fletcher (the cult hero is more privately famous than famously private), who, like his county, is going through a golden spell in the gloomy weather. 7-37 blew away Worcestershire first innings for 80 and 3-20 second time round gave the old (well, not that old in this week) warhorse a maiden ten-fer in the match.

And Broad? 28.5 – 8 – 59 – 5 – so not just a pretty face?

Ball Two – Siddle in the middle

Essex, having played a game more than Notts, lie second in Group One having squeezed 12 points out of a rain-affected draw with Warwickshire.

Their star man was another veteran who runs in, puts it there or thereabouts and asks questions of batsmen’s techniques and mentality ball after ball after ball. Peter Siddle’s first innings figures of 21 – 5 – 38 – 6 helped secure precious bonus points and underlined just how many ways in which the champions can bowl sides out.

It also raised a hardy perennial – what exactly is the relevance to England’s international ambitions of a retired Australian seamer doing what he’s done for 15 years at a chilly Chelmsford?

I’d suggest two answers for that question. That current England opener, Dom Sibley, returning after a spell out injured, batted over a session in such circumstances augurs well for his return to the Test XI. It also showed two batsmen with England hopes (Rob Yates b Siddle 0 and Sam Hain LBW b Siddle 10) what it takes to make runs when conditions are against you.

My second answer is somewhat briefer. So what?

Ball Three – Abell canes Dent

Just a point separates West Country rivals, Gloucestershire and Somerset, at the top of Group Two (though Chris Dent’s men have a game in hand).

With not much more than the equivalent of a day’s play possible, the draw was always on the cards, but Somerset will be the happier of the sides, taking 13 points back to Taunton, leaving the hosts with 10. Depth of batting was key to that haul, Tom Abell playing a captain’s knock to anchor the innings with a near-seven hour 132* (I wonder if he said, “I am just going outside and may be some time.”) but required to wait until Lewis Gregory joined him to find a reliable partner. His 57 was a fine effort from the all-rounder, who finds himself down at nine these days, if required to bat at all.

Gloucestershire were in trouble at 27-6 with the inevitable Craig Overton claiming four wickets between the showers, but moral victories don’t registered in the points column and Gloucestershire stay top.

Ball Four – Not plain sailing in London

It took plenty of will to play as much cricket as they did at The Oval, with the cold and rain threatening the players’ wellbeing and the winds threatening the groundstaff charged with anchoring covers that turn into sails once caught in the howling gales. But the London rivals got it on and provided plenty of entertainment for anyone brave (I think that’s the right adjective) enough to watch on from the exposed seating.

It was a strange match in which longish stands were punctuated by clattering collapses. Were you to be told that Surrey’s opening pair twice built a platform of 135 runs before surrendering a wicket and handing things over to a middle order packed with stroke makers, you might expect to read of a third 550+ score for Rory Burns’ men in 2021. Not so – a tweetworthy collapse from 135-0 to 142-6, as Middlesex’s change bowlers got in amongst ’em, turned thoughts of 500+ into 200-.

Middlesex’s batting, as brittle as a poppadom this season, needed John Simpson’s 68 to hold the first innings deficit at 30 and, after some positive play from the home side, Burns underlining his blossoming form with a century, they set off in pursuit of 290 in what proved to be 56.3 overs. It was on for a while too, as Nick Gubbins batted fluently for 124 and Peter Handscomb, hitherto in shocking form and haircut, found the middle of the bat at last en route to 70.

So all that endeavour, laudable though it was, produced a draw that does neither side any favours. With three matches left, both may have to win them all to progress as they wish, but even that may not be enough.

Ball Five – Rainy Days and Mondays

Lancashire leapfrogged Yorkshire to the top of Group Three with the eight points awarded for a draw after just 34.3 overs were possible at Wantage Road. Northamptonshire, with four matches to play, are not out of it, but will have to play well and add at least a couple more wins to the two they have if they are to split the Roses counties at the end of the stage.

The impact of weather on a ten match group stage is beginning to emerge as a flaw in a format that has (so far at least) been largely welcomed by fans – albeit, fans might have welcomed a five or 105 match format as long as we got some cricket to watch. The all-play-all home and away format is obviously the most fair and that has been the case since the two divisional structure was introduced (even in those slightly bizarre seasons that saw an eight-ten split between them). But, with just ten matches in the group stage, the notorious English spring weather lurks ready to throw a spanner into the wheel and derail the meritocracy.

Though it’s hardly an ideal solution (for such an answer does not exist), nine matches per round with every county getting the same week off, would be more equitable were the three groups to be retained in 2022. Four days per week of county cricket (with time off the field when waiting to bat, during inevitable rain delays and due to early finishes) just doesn’t sound that onerous for professional full-time athletes – especially if they’re not training to within an inch of their capacity on the three days per week without matches. And players are being rotated and rested anyway, so I’m not sure that we would notice a big difference in terms of quality.

Ball Six – No country for young men

Incredibly, Darren Stevens extraordinary innings for Kent against Glamorgan was not even the most remarkable sporting performance by an over-45 year-old last week. That said, even Phil Mickelson would have been impressed by the trajectory of Stevens’ 15 sixes in a knock of 190 that shattered plenty of records – as you would when making 160 out of a stand of 166 for the ninth wicket, Miguel Cummins cast in the Ridley Jacobs role.

Despite admirable declarations by captains Chris Cooke and Sam Billings, the weather bested even the mighty Wisden Cricketer of the Year 2021, a draw winning out as it did in all but one of this round of matches.

As a postscript (and quite a funny one) Stevens wasn’t satisfied with his batting pyrotechnics and, with ball in hand, won an LBW decision against Marnus Labuschagne, much to the Australian’s somewhat justifiable displeasure. Labuschagne is probably the most successful of a growing number of batsmen who have adopted Steven Smith’s technique of shuffling on to and, indeed, past his off stump by the time ball hits bat or pad. Many have wondered about the secret of Smith’s success – perhaps DRS might have something to do with it, as I suspect Labuschagne, with three out of five dismissals this season leg before, is discovering, finger by finger by finger.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 17, 2021

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 17 May 2021

Ball One – How to beat the opposition (players and weather)

Having been uncharacteristically out of sorts for a few weeks, Essex cranked up the mean machine and brushed aside Derbyshire as they leapfrogged to the top of Group 1. Having lost the first day to rain, the plan was to have a look, go hard for the bonus points that come with a total of 400 and then bowl the opposition out twice. Easier said than done of course.

It helps if you have players with the self-belief to execute so bold a plan and the team spirit required to know that it lies within their collective grasp. After Sir Alastair Cook and Nick Browne Esq. had raised three figures at a respectable three or so an over, skipper Tom Westley got together with Dan Lawrence to go at a run a ball as both raised their centuries, Lawrence’s “nearly” set of recent scores ending with the milestone he deserved.

Cue the second part of the plan, as Simon Harmer wheeled away for career-best figures of 9-80 which ensured that Westley had the power to enforce the follow-on and bowlers fresh enough to justify it. Derbyshire’s backbone was stiffened by the indignity and, second time round, they made Essex’s bowlers work harder, but it wasn’t enough. Harmer finished the three days with match figures of 70.5 – 18 – 202 – 12, but I’m not sure he’ll be rested any time soon.

Ball Two – Rushworth’s tears of joy an ornament of the game

Worcestershire have plotted a different route to success, their accumulation of bonus and draw points amounting to just six fewer than Essex’s total to date. But Joe Leach’s strategy did not last into the second half of the group stage, as a defeat now sits alongside their five draws in the table.

After the sides had traded blows over their first innings which left the match well balanced, centuries from Kiwi Will Young and local boy Jack Burnham backed up by a six blitz from the ever-resourceful Ned Eckersley, enabled Durham’s Scott Borthwick to set the visitors a notional 423 for the win or an hour and a day to bat out yet another stalemate. After Daryl Mitchell and Jake Libby put together an opening stand that suggested such a prospect was not fanciful, all ten wickets fell in a clatter for just 85 runs as Durham cruised home.

The match was a personal triumph for one of the most popular men on the county circuit, 34 year-old Chris Rushworth, whose match figures of 9-108 took him past Graham Onions on Durham’s all-time first class wickets list – enough to provoke emotional scenes in the middle. There are some who will tell you that English cricket has too many counties, that it needs to concentrate its talent to ensure a smoother progression from domestic to international matches, that it’s a historical relic no longer fit for purpose. They are saying that the game has no room for the likes of Chris Rushworth.

They are wrong.

Ball Three – Barker gets a shout out

After a couple of heavy defeats had punctured the early season optimism at Hampshire, they needed to get back to winning ways. With Middlesex’s four defeats from five, James Vince’s men must have travelled to Lord’s blessing the munificence of the fixtures computer – and so it proved.

With captain, Peter Handscomb, in dismal form, the brittleness of the home side’s batting meant that a couple of decent knocks from the visitors in tricky conditions might prove enough. That one came from Vince himself was no surprise – he often bats in that Gower-like space where everything looks easy until he gets out – but the other came from Keith Barker, whose 84 was comfortably the highest score in the match.

Barker is one of those all-rounders who is easy to leave out of an XI. His bustling left-arm swing doesn’t warrant a slot in the very best bowling units these days and his batting may be a very handy addition, though it’s probably not good enough to secure the number seven slot. But, six down with the first innings deficit 99, is exactly the situation that justifies his place. He did what he has done for years at Warwickshire and now Hampshire – he found a way to contribute. That said, having missed Hampshire’s first four matches of the season, don’t be too surprised if he misses the last four too – such is the lot of third seamer who bats at eight

Ball Four – What’s the points?

Gloucestershire were the main winners as England’s topsy-turvy Spring (with April more like May and May more like April) permitted just 68 overs at Taunton, enough time for Surrey’s international heavy top six to make the kind of “got in and got out” scores the merits of which one can only judge after the opposition has had a bat too.

This year’s additional points for the draw has excited some discussion and it’s certainly helped produce some fine finishes and congested tables, but is it fair? Equally moot is the allocation of bonus points, often said to smooth out the impact of the vagaries of the English weather, especially with the championship played in months even less reliable than high summer. Nine points each to Somerset and Surrey (comprising one bonus point and the eight for the draw) does not feel equitable when neither side had any chance of constructing a win.

Is there a better way to deal with such truncated matches? Perhaps if 150 overs are not bowled in a drawn match, it should be written off and the captains given the option either to take the bonus and draw points or the average haul of their last five championship matches. That would have given Somerset 18 points and Surrey 12 – for all its artifice, that does seem a fairer outcome than nine each in a ten match group stage that does not have all counties playing at the same time.

Ball Five – “Two Ollie Robinsons, there’s only two Ollie Robinsons”

One of those infuriating matches down at Hove saw Day Two finish with Kent two down in their second innings, leading by 27 – where’s your money? But, with only 22 overs possible on Day Three, neither side were going to risk those lovely draw points on a rain-affected Day Four and hands were shaken with Kent on 387-4d. 13 points to Sussex, 11 to Kent, the sides fifth and sixth respectively in their group.

Despite the match’s brevity, the Ollie Robinsons made 4, 25 and 85, took four catches behind the stumps and delivered figures of 3-29 and 1-53 – I hope they found time for a selfie. Expect a whimsical look back on players with the same name playing on opposing sides in next year’s Wisden.

But can he bat?

Ball Six – Pieces falling into place for Carlson

Lancashire caught a break with the weather too (something you usually only read when they relocate to Liverpool for a season) as closest rivals, Glamorgan and Yorkshire, could not wring a result out of the 170 overs possible at Sophia Gardens.

With Marnus Labuschagne (out for 10 and 0) finding conditions less to his liking than in previous visits to Wales, Joe Root and Kiran Carlson offered contrasting approaches to dealing with conditions that spread 24 wickets across nine bowlers.

Root, having struggled for rhythm after an exhausting winter, kept going and gritted out a five hour 99, which owed much to his captain and number ten, Steve Patterson, whose two hours at the crease for his 47 not out allowed Root to make more than half his runs.

Carlson has struggled for nothing in what is looking like a breakthrough season for the local lad. His 88 not out was scored at a strike rate of over 100 on a surface on which few could go at 50, and represented his fourth half century to go with his pair of tons in the home game against Sussex.

When Root turned 23 (as Carlson did yesterday) he had already been a Test match batsman for over a year, but players mature at different times and Carlson’s time may be coming – sure there’s a few ahead of him in the queue just now, but genuine talent usually finds a way.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 10, 2021

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

What ees zis criquette of wheech you speak?

Ball One – From the Left Bank of the Seine to the Right Bank of the Trent

If sport really were drama, chins would be stroked, thoughts would be mused, and, from behind wreaths of Gauloises smoke, the French philosophers of the 1960s would have pronounced upon it. Somewhere, within their trademark obfuscation, sport’s key theme of jeopardy would have emerged, that enemy of big business, that friend of the playwright. The founding and sinking of football’s European Super League showed how much the owners of the clubs feared jeopardy’s uncertainty and how much the fans embraced it.

County cricket, with “big business” still as likely to mean a sponsor with three butchers’ shops and not just the one, still has a Hundred reasons to fear a closed shop (and, some might say, has protected a nice little cartel of 17 or 18 for decades) but it can do jeopardy like few others these days. Essex, the side that could never lose, travelled to Nottinghamshire, the side that could never win, and… lost.

Lost big too, after Luke Fletcher continued his fine form with 6-24, a sweet century from captain, Steve Mullaney, and four wickets from Notts Academy (yes, it does exist) product, Lyndon James. The champions went down by an innings and find themselves fifth in Group 1 at the halfway mark; Nottinghamshire sit pretty, top of the pile.

Ball Two – Yates graduates with flying colours

In the group’s other game, the Bears and the Pears fought each other and the weather and the weather won, a rain-affected draw keeping Warwickshire and Worcestershire a point apart in second and third places.

Rob Yates, Michael Burgess and Jack Haynes are unlikely to feature in franchise cricket (at least not this year), yet each has the kind of story that has intrigued fans of the county game since the days of Grace.

Yates is one of those clichés for whom the game finds, space even in 2021 – the student batsman. Some might think of Michael Atherton, fresh-faced with a freshly inscribed FEC on his locker door and some of PBH May, Jardine without the laser-like Larwood. Fellow centurion, Burgess, fetches up at Warwickshire after spells at Surrey, Leicestershire and Sussex, a keeper-batsman who turns 27 in July and might just have played the innings that ensures he’ll be playing county cricket at 28. Haynes fell just short of a maiden century for Worcestershire, but, at 20, has time on his side. Readers may recall his father, Gavin, a handy pro who dismissed a batsman who was a bit more than that, Brian Lara, in the Pears’ 1994 NatWest Trophy Final victory.

You can’t sell many crisps with little stories like that, but you can raise a smile on the face of a county cricket fan who knows that the present has deep roots in the past.

Ball Three – Pain again for Middlesex

Shorn of the IPL, the Sky Cricket channel, to its credit, broadcasted Middlesex’s match with Gloucestershire, sending its first team of commentators to join Middlesex’s own admirable Adam Collins in St John’s Wood, with pictures provided by Middlesex’s standard-setting, streaming service. Voices were more familiar with names like Joe Root and Jimmy Anderson (both of whom were playing county cricket last week) than Robbie White and Ryan Higgins, but they gave a good account of themselves.

Nasser, Athers, Wardy and Keysy weren’t afraid to draw on Collins’ encyclopedic knowledge of Middlesex’s recent travails and they had done their homework too. They kept the banter in check (a good rule for any commentator on any sport in any medium is never to talk about your golf handicap – and they didn’t) and also appreciated the skills on show, with the odd wry observation about the absence of DRS and some reflections on their own careers in the county game, keeping the tone relaxed and amusing. It was good stuff and there may well be more to come.

The ex-captains will have been impressed by England hopeful, James Bracey, at the wicket while 192 runs were added by Gloucestershire (not bad when Middlesex could muster only 210 and 152 in their two digs), but it was the performance of David Payne that really caught the eye. Harking back to days when England would pick a swinging specialist like Richard Ellison or Martin Bicknell or Neil Mallender for conditions, Payne’s left arm fast-mediums were pitched up and swung then seamed to deliver fully merited match figures on 11-87 and the points that sent his team 13 clear at the top of Group 2.

Ball Four – Overton in overdrive

At the halfway point of their season, it’s only Gloucestershire’s sustained form that keeps Somerset from wiping off all the effects of their points penalty carried over from last season. The cidermen recorded a fourth win from five matches, hammering strongly fancied Hampshire by ten wickets.

In a match which featured both Lewis Gregory and Keith Barker at number 10 (surely the most accomplished batsmen ever to have batted in such a lowly slot in the same championship match), Craig Overton was the standout performer.

Since his twin, Jamie, left for Surrey, Craig appears to have taken on the responsibility of scoring his runs and taking his wickets as well as his own, his knock of 74 and old-school second innings figures of 40-17-66-5 crucial in securing the win, as Hampshire resisted hard for the draw (Felix Organ setting records with his 7 off 108 balls). Overton has 32 wickets at 14 from his 207 overs this season, backing those up with 211 runs at 35 – keep the big man fit and out of England bubbles, and Somerset could be in the hunt yet again.

Ball Five – Saif may have made his place safe

Northamptonshire were the big movers in Group 3, closing on the White and Red Roses with a win over Sussex. In a good week for wobbling medium pace, Ben Sanderson and Gareth Berg had the stattos thumbing through Wisdens, as the Northants’ pair looked odds on to take five wickets each in both innings – but Tom Taylor took “Berg’s” wicket to close the books and secure the points.

The match had turned on a 198 runs partnership for Northants’ sixth wicket pair, Saif Zaib and captain, Adam Rossington. Though not yet 23, Zaib has been in and out of the Northamptonshire side seemingly for years, bowling a bit of slow left arm and biffing a few without ever really doing enough to justify selection on the basis of either skill. His crucial 135 in this match was a maiden century in any format of the game and might prove the springboard his career needs. That such hitherto marginal players might enjoy more opportunities when franchise cricket starts up will be an interesting subtext to the season.

Ball Six – Wood brings some Wagnerian thunder

The media were attracted to Old Trafford for the season’s debut of Jimmy Anderson, who started up that Rolls Royce run up and delivery and provided a masterclass in swing bowling in (shall we say) Lancastrian conditions. The snappers were particularly keen to catch the match-up with Glamorgan’s (oh, and Australia’s) Marnus Labuschagne, who has been posting some Steven Smith type numbers as well as Steven Smith type leaves since the 2019 Ashes. Marnus played himself in carefully and then was stitched up like a kipper, as Anderson diddled the young pretender with some classic away swing to take the edge. More please!

Though Anderson was not at full throttle, he was hardly jogging in, which made Saqib Mahmood and Luke Wood all the more impressive. Without the speedgun, it’s not easy to say definitively that they were quicker than England’s finest, but if Anderson was at his usual 85 or so mph, both looked to be touching 88mph at least.

Wood had moments of real hostility, his left arm round and over the wicket stuff flogging bounce out of the pitch and discomfiting batsmen. At times, he had some of the slightly comic menace of New Zealand’s Neil Wagner, who, for all of the raised eyebrows a few years ago when he started to hit the pitch well short of a length at fast-medium, has 219 Test wickets at 26 and has been instrumental in his country’s ascent to the World Test Championship Final. That Marnus is the only batsmen to fully embrace Smith’s ludicrous leaves is understandable, but why Wagner’s methods have few disciples is harder to fathom – Wood may be the first.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 4, 2021

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

Ball One – Fletcher sets Notts’ fans aquiver

In Group One, just five points separate Warwickshire, Durham, Worcestershire, Nottinghamshire and Essex (with Derbyshire not out of the picture either) – whatever the second phase of this strangest of county championships brings us, the first phase has been a success beyond anyone’s expectations. Whether Warwickshire’s two wins and a draw to Worcestershire’s four draws, should produce more than a couple of points advantage is moot, but I suspect everyone is just willing to see how the format plays out for now.

Nottinghamshire and Durham were the group’s big movers, with the long-suffering Steve Mullaney able to celebrate a win for the first time since – well, everyone has pretty much forgotten when Notts last won. Ben Slater and Joe Clarke’s 163 run partnership for the third wicket set the match up and then Derbyshire failed to match that total in either of their innings in what turned into an easy win – for all of the anxiety displayed by Notts’ fans en route.

Whilst the recruitment policy at Trent Bridge has done little to endear Nottinghamshire to fans of other counties, few will begrudge Luke Fletcher the opportunity to raise a glass in victory. The burly seamer, who showed great courage and no little humour in recovering from a serious head injury in 2017, struck in his follow-through in an incident that prompted suggestions of bowlers wearing helmets at the time, took 7-60 in the match and is probably still telling people all about it now.

Ball Two – Fielders can keep their hands in their pockets

When Tim Bresnan was eighth man out for Warwickshire on the first morning with just 30 on the tins, Durham were always more likely to be thwarted by the weather than their opponents – and so it proved in a comfortable innings win. Seven of those early wickets required no assistance from the fielders, indeed “bowled” and “LBW” accounted for more than half of the 20 dismissals Durham affected.

Watching some of the live streams (and they vary in quality as much as an over from a 14 year-old leg-spinner) the impression forms that county bowlers are inclined to bowl a little straighter and fuller than we’ve become accustomed to in Test cricket, where the beehive graphic can show a mere handful of deliveries going on to hit the stumps in an entire session. No doubt some of that inaccuracy will be down to the greater pace of the bowlers hitting harder pitches and carrying the ball above stump height, but there’s a suspicion that captains in the county game are far less reluctant to bargain runs on the onside for a shot at hitting middle and off. Bowl county lines and lengths to Test batsmen, and you might see 110-1 at lunch – but you might see 80-4 too.

Ball Three – Lace tightens Gloucestershire grip on Group 2

In Group Two, Gloucestershire and Somerset lead the way with three wins out of four, leaving Hampshire’s international bowlers, the two London counties and poor old Leicestershire, in their wake.

With earlier wins over Hampshire and Somerset, Gloucestershire started as favourites at home to Leicestershire, but looked anything but when conceding a first innings deficit of 146, Sam Evans and Lewis Hill both posting three figures for the visitors. But Chris Dent’s man had already shown their mettle, the last four wickets adding 154 runs to establish that toehold.

After Ryan Higgins (the Darren Stevens of 2040) had bagged a fivefer, the hosts set off in pursuit of 348, a stiff, but gettable target and exactly the kind of denouement that first class cricket offers, perhaps uniquely in sport. Tom Lace and Ian Cockbain (with his grandfather, Bootle CC legend Ronnie, no doubt barking advice from the heavens) put together one of those partnerships that went from “No chance really” to “Let’s just have a look after tea” to “It could be on you know” to “Let’s finish this off” as 224 runs were added before Lace fell three short of a first century for Gloucestershire. But Cockbain was not to be denied and, with a quick 33 from that man Higgins, they were home for a famous win.

Ball Four – Smokin’ Roach

There was the prospect of guaranteed schadenfreude doing the rounds on cricket Twitter when Hampshire took guard at The Oval, both counties seen as big money clubs with big money players – whether that’s fair or not is an argument for another day.

What is beyond dispute is that Ollie Pope, last seen in England colours failing to come to terms with the demands of Indian spin, will learn plenty if he’s in partnership with Hashim Amla for 61 overs, as he was in making 131, with the serene South African cruising to 215 as Surrey piled up a second successive score of 550+ at home.

If that’s one argument for expensive overseas pros, Kemar Roach provided another with a magnificent exhibition of fast swing bowling, for once taking the outside edge rather than regularly beating it, a technician at his peak. His 8-40 gave Roach ten wickets in the match and rescued a Surrey season that was sliding through their fingers – and not for the first time in recent years.

Sussex’s players arrive at Hove

Ball Five – Sussex bowlers at home not at Hove?

Red Rose leads White Rose at the top of Group 3 after a couple of tremendous wins for the rivals (set to meet on 27 May – free on YouTube, but don’t tell the committees).

A quiz question first. What do the following have in common? Jofra Archer, Mitch Claydon, Chris Jordan, Tymal Mills, Ollie Robinson and Will Beer? The answer (apart from, “That’s a damned fine attack”) is that they all appear to be under contract to Sussex in 2021 but none were available for the match against Lancashire. That left the new ball in the hands of teenagers, Henry Crocombe and Jamie Atkins (both of whom gave good accounts of themselves) and spinning duties in the fingers of 20 year-old Irishman, Jack Carson. He has now taken two, three, six and seven wickets in his four matches this season, mixing off breaks with the kind of overspun deliveries that have brought Nathan Lyon and Ravichandran Ashwin over 800 Test scalps between them. This is real promise.

253 is no gimme as a fourth innings chase, but, with the experience gap yawning, Lancashire’s old heads were always likely to best Sussex’s young strivers and so it proved, Keaton Jennings anchoring with an undefeated 91, while Alex Davies blitzed 11 boundaries to, Sehwaggishly, knock the first 100 down and Josh Bohannon biffing a few of his own to supply the other innings such a mid-sized chase requires.

Ball Six – A match for the ages at Headingley

Yorkshire 206 and 247; Northamptonshire 234 and 218: Yorkshire won by one run.

Sometimes you feel you can just leave it there and let the numbers speak for themselves, the kind of scorecard that makes you think of Brian Close and Johnny Wardle, Colin Milburn and Sarfraz Nawaz.

If Yorkshire’s captain, the admirable Steve Patterson, hit the headlines with the wicket that secured the narrowest of wins, spare a thought for his victim, Wayne Parnell, whose two fivefers were responsible for getting his team into the position where he could bat two and a half hours right up until that fateful ball.

David Willey, who. like his father, Peter, represented Northamptonshire with distinction. must also have had an element of mixed feelings. Since his move up the M1, Willey hasn’t always got into the championship side, Yorkshire seemingly unsure of whether to deploy him as a batsman who bowls or a bowler who bats. Against his old county, returns of 12 and 41 not out from number nine and 3-43 and 3-39 may blur that question still further, but, at 31 with only 74 first class matches played, he should have red ball in hand for a few more this summer.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | April 26, 2021

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

Ball One – I don’t like county cricket – I love it.

I’ve long contended that there are two things wrong with county cricket – the weather and the fact that not enough people know about it. This last round of fixtures has been a case in point, with the sun out and (I’ll say inevitably) great sport for the viewing.

And yet, how many of those stuck at home, unable or reluctant to head out just yet, without access to, or tiring of, Netflix and Amazon Prime, understandably turned off by football’s relentless festival of avarice, know that they can watch live, competitive, unpredictable sport played hard and fair by world class players mixing it with up-and-coming stars of tomorrow, solid pros and a few golden oldies, in picturesque historic venues – all piped in, for free, via Youtube?

Other sports wrestle for years with the problems that county cricket solves effortlessly – but maybe that’s an issue. The authorities simply don’t have enough to worry about, enough to warrant meetings with long agendas and steering groups and working parties and reports and rebrandings and well, all that stuff that business obsesses over when all you actually want from them is what they say they do and to answer the phone if something goes wrong. There are reasons for all this – there are always reasons – but if those with the power to do so sent a simple message to the people of Britain and beyond that county cricket is quite good, played Thursday to Sunday and costs you nothing, what a difference that would make.

Rob Yates pictured yesterday

Ball Two – Student passes examination

The Bears and the Pears lead the way in Group 1, with Warwickshire a handy eight points ahead of Worcestershire after Simon Harmer spun Essex to another victory. Stop. Rewind… after Simon Harmer went wicketless as the home side cruised to their 256 run target at Edgbaston.

Whether it’s this season’s extra points for the draw or pitches that can be trusted, I cannot say, but late order runs are already becoming a motif for 2021. After five of their more favoured batting buddies had seen their furniture rearranged, Olly Stone, Danny Briggs, Craig Miles and even Oliver Hannon-Dalby (a bowler – and batsman – with something of Glenn McGrath about him) added over 100 runs to restrict the deficit to double figures. Ball in hand, the quartet (with the pacers each picking up six wickets in the match) then handed a tough but gettable target to the batsmen to seek redemption.

Someone needed to stand up and beat the champions (and history – it’s been 21 matches since it last happened) and that man was a local boy, a Birmingham University undergraduate (like it’s still 1951 and we’re enjoying our Salad Days). Rob Yates – scores this season 40, 0, 2 and 4 – stared down the 22 yards and saw Jamie Porter and Sam Cook, with Peter Siddle prowling in the outfield and Simon Harmer flexing his fingers. He made almost half the required runs off his own bat and, with fewer than ten overs to spare, he had vanquished those fearsome foes and was receiving the congratulations of Sir Alastair Cook, who knows a bit about five hour centuries when the team needs them.

Ball Three – Goodman a sure thing at the death

Gloucestershire, more a team of solid pros than the starrier Hampshire, hung on to the leaders at the top of Group 2 after a sensational draw (yes, American readers, there are such things) at The Rose Bowl.

James Vince with half an hour and a day left, had a lead of 150 runs, the bare minimum for enforcing the follow-on. His six bowlers had sent down 132 overs, but they had been shared fairly evenly and, with 20 wickets the key to any victory, I’m sure bits were being champed at. In such circumstances, I’d advise a captain to look at his attack and throw the match forward two sessions or so – would he back them to take five wickets from that point?

Kyle Abbott and Mohammad Abbas brought almost 1000 FC wickets to the crease, Brad Wheal kept on turning, and Liam Dawson and Mason Crane tweaking, but no Gloucestershire batsman in the top eight gave it away. Despite that fine example of exactly why Joe Root led the call for additional points for the draw (and I’m being swayed towards its utility), there was still more than an hour to play and an anemic lead of 11 in hand when last pair, Josh Shaw and Dominic Goodman joined forces. Neither had crossed 50 outside club or junior cricket, but guts counts for a lot in such circumstances, and, 73 minutes later, Gloucestershire had their draw.

Ball Four – Lamb not to the slaughter

Bowlers were batting at Canterbury too, but in rather different circumstances.

After a couple of sessions of hard graft on a pitch that offered enough movement to Kent’s seamers, Lancashire were six down and mentally preparing for a possible late dart in day one’s slanting sunlight. Not so – the shadows were beginning to lengthen on day two before they swapped bat for ball as Luke Wood and Danny Lamb, probably only playing because Jimmy Anderson and Saqib Mahmood were rested, wrote themselves into the record books with a stand of 187 for the eighth wicket.

Wood made 119 from Number Eight, but Danny Lamb’s 125 was the highest score from Number Nine in Lancashire’s history, a feat of which I’m sure he’s justifiably proud. He’s too young to know, but some pretty useful batsman have occupied that slot down the years – off the top of my head, I’m thinking Jack Simmons, David Hughes, Glen Chapple, Ian “Bully” Austin, maybe even Wasim Akram.

There’s always someone to intervene at such moments to tell you that it’s a results business (and it is), so it was critical that Lancashire drive home the advantage with a victory. After a pretty poor effort first time round from the hosts, Kent’s captain, Daniel Bell-Drummond and his opening partner, Jordan Cox, led the way resisting for longer than the whole team in the second dig. But 52 – 8 – 126 – 7 is an outstanding return in a second innings – take a bow, and the points to go top of Group 3, Matt Parkinson.

Ball Five – England Watch (Batsman)

It couldn’t be could it? Most young batsmen endure a slump in form and come back stronger, but we forget those who don’t, until you’re thumbing through an old Wisden, find a name you had forgotten and whisper to yourself “Ah, he was a player”. You try not to say “Ah, he could have been a player”, but sometimes, you just can’t help it.

He may not be a baby any longer, but the Boycott tag still fits after he out-Boycotted Sir Geoffrey with a record 635 balls faced in a Championship match, twin centuries in the bag. Sure there’s a few in the queue ahead of him and there’s some with better arguments this year alone, but, five years on, could this be the season?

If Haseeb Hameed walks out to open for England in The Ashes, having fought his way back into the side five years on, well Don Bradman may not have had a tear in his eye at The Oval in 1948, but we sure will.

Ball Six – England Watch (Bowler)

Leicestershire may not be the strongest opponents, especially for a big fast bowler who has already played Test cricket, but wickets are wickets and a win is a win. Craig Overton’s match figures of 35.4 – 19 – 64 – 8 delivered the points to Somerset, but also backed up a highly successful 2020 season with another strong performance leading the attack.

Much depends on the balance of England’s XI, the workload of Ben Stokes, the managed swansongs of Anderson and Stuart Broad and the now enhanced position of Chris Silverwood, but Overton has built a case for inclusion in the phalanx of seamers England will surely need to get through the punishing schedule of cricket that the next 12 months will bring.

And I hope it’s not too parochial (pace Ball One) to hope that performances with a red ball, in England, free to view, with three slips and a gully and batsmen looking to defend as well as attack, might just outweigh lucrative, though not particularly relevant, bowling in the IPL, when Test caps are handed out.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | April 19, 2021

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

Ball One – Simon harms yer

When Essex were 96 all out just after lunch on the first afternoon, you wouldn’t have put money on them heading Group One today. When Essex conceded a first innings lead of 163, you wouldn’t have put money on them heading Group One today. When Essex had three wickets in hand and a lead of 45, you wouldn’t have put money on them heading Group One today.

Essex head Group One today after Simon Harmer’s 10 wickets got them over the line against a Durham side that allowed Ben Allison, playing only his third Championship match, to eek out 53 runs for the ninth wicket with Sam Cook, stretched over a couple of hours. Once Cook and Jamie Porter had bagged an opener each for nothing and Harmer had the ball in his hand, the script was written. Somehow we’re still surprised.

Ball Two – Bresnan and Briggs best Broad

Warwickshire share top spot in the group after Notts did a reverse-Essex (yet again) and lost a match from a winning position. With the visitors still 149 short and Dom Sibley hors de combat, Trent Bridge looked likely to see home team celebrations for the first time in years. But Notts did the Notts thing, and lost.

That said, watching the stream of Stuart Broad bowling leg-cutters to an often baffled and grinning Tim Bresnan in the deep slanting sunlight of the fourth evening of the match with only the draw ruled out – well, it was a rare pleasure. When the winning runs were secured via leg byes, the Notts players sank to their knees, while Bresnan and Danny Briggs stood a little sheepishly in the middle. partly because they knew they’d burgled one and partly because they felt the pain of their opponents.

Surely this is a saleable commodity to sponsors because who wouldn’t want to be associated with that wondrous hour of television?

Ball Three – Double Dutchy

Hampshire marmalised Middlesex to lead Group Two after Mohammad Abbas dismissed batsmen seemingly at will, the ball going hither and thither at a pace cruelly calibrated to be just slow enough to kiss the outside edge of the bat or to pass it on the inside en route to the pads. Match figures of 31 – 16 – 39 – 9 did not flatter the Sialkot seamer with the sleight of hand on the kind of pitch on which his own team piled up over 600 runs for the loss of 14 wickets.

It was also a fine match for made In Melbourne USMNT player and British passport holder, Ian Holland, who backed up 64 and 146* opening with three handy wickets having observed Abbas’s methods. Middlesex have contrived to post just nine points, half the next lowest tally in the country and have the London derby up next at Lord’s. They might be glad that the members won’t be lining the walk through the Long Room.

Ball Four – Bracey’s pair of innings deliver the win

Gloucestershire are nicely tucked in a couple of points behind Hampshire after a surprise (is that allowed Glaws fans?) victory over West Country rivals, Somerset.

After three runs separated first innings scores, that most resourceful of cricketers, Ryan Higgins, led the bowling effort with four wickets, but all five in the unit chipped in with an er… out. With only three of the home batsmen posting double figures, a target of 153 looked in the “tricky” category, but James Bracey, making up for lost time spent not playing for England, added 83* to his first innings 118 (from Number 3 after keeping wicket) and the points went to Bristol. With Sibley and Ben Stokes likely to vacate their spots in the England order, they’re timely runs indeed.

Ball Five – Robinson checkmates Carlson

Sussex lead a tight echelon at the top of Group Three after Glamorgan made them fight hard for the win points at Sophia Gardens.

Another one of England’s unused bubble men led the way, Ollie Robinson (Sussex’s Ollie Robinson, not Kent’s Ollie Robinson) made an early pitch for Wisden 2022 inclusion with a second innings haul of 9-78, as the hosts kept the visitors in the field for 128 overs. But Aaron Thomasen steadied the ship with his second half century of the match and Sussex cruised home, with eight wickets in hand.

A couple of years ago, this column identified Glamorgan’s Kiran Carlson as one to watch, his lightning fast hands cracking the ball all round The Oval like the second coming of AB de Villers. Things haven’t gone so well since (they seldom do for young cricketers – unless they’re AB de Villiers) but Carlson, still only 22, made 127* and 132 in the match, batting 137 overs for once out. It could be a big summer for Carlson and, if it is, the Glamorgan highlights page will be notching up the hits.

Matt Parkinson yesterday

Ball Six – A tale of two spinners

Simon Kerrigan had known the best of times and the worst of times as a left arm spinner. A hero of Lancashire’s Championship team in 2011, he was knocked out of the attack in his one Test in 2013 and knocked out of his stride a year or two later. After a bit of coaching and a bit of club cricket as a batsman, a loan to Northamptonshire led to a contract and, last week, a return to Old Trafford – this time not wearing the red rose. He bowled beautifully and gladdened the hearts of men and women from Ormskirk to Oswaldtwistle.

Matt Parkinson, yet another England bubbler, had been inexplicably left out of Lanky’s first match, but wasted no time in drifting, dipping and ripping his leg-breaks, trending on Twitter as far as Australia, where Shane Warne noticed similarities – and he knows about hitting the top of off stump in Manchester. See what you think.

Despite Parky even bamboozling the umpire to snare Saif Zaib, and Saqib Mahmood bowling very fast indeed, Northamptonshire made the home side work long into the last session of the match before they secured the points to send them second in Group Three.

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