Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 9, 2022

The Final Over Of The Week In County Cricket – 9 May 2022

London calling- Surrey and Middlesex top Divisions One and Two

Ben Stokes took individual honours in a round that saw a young captain learn a harsh lesson at Hove 

Ball One – Burns’s team’s hot streak continues

Having played out a draw on the deadest of tracks in the previous round at Bristol, Surrey were back in South London with a greenish strip was served up for play. Looking down, it was so green that Northamptonshire’s captain, Ricardo Vasconcelos discounted the blue he saw looking up and decided to bowl. At 133-4, it didn’t look the worst decision, but Rory Burns had chased a few widish ones and missed (rather than nicked, as he had done so far this season) and was demonstrating again that his temperament can compensate for his shaky technique, if he gets that bit of luck.

Sam Curran, under ECB instruction to limit his bowling, played as a batter and looked two classes above anyone else on show, the ball pinging off his blade with a very satisfactory twang. Without Jamie Smith and Ollie Pope, Surrey’s team looked a bit of a hotchpotch, but given any kind of platform, a late order of Colin de Grandhomme, Gus Atkinson, Jordan Clark and Jamie Overton are not all going to fail, and it was Atkinson and Overton who got in and biffed the home side’s score out to 401.

Northants’ batters were then impaled on their captain’s hubris, scoreboard pressure and a nipping pitch a tough gig. The seamers knew they just needed to keep it there or thereabouts and Rory Burns packed the slips for the inevitable edges. Surrey stay top of the Division One and look ominously well stocked with gamechangers.

Ball Two – Abbas knows taking wickets is the name of the game

Hampshire are tight on the heels of the Londoners after a splendid match of two innings cricket at the Ageas Bowl.

The fourth day dawned with Gloucestershire requiring 257 for victory and Hampshire eight wickets – as ever, the draw also lurked in the shadows. There’s a generation of cricket followers who will look at that target and think that three an over with nine batters to get them, favours the chasers, but that reckons without the second new ball and the relentless probing of Mohammad Abbas. Bowler-unfriendly 2022 ball or not (this column maintains it’s the sunshine that has provoked this glut of early season runs), the Pakistani craftsman took key wickets and the visitors, not without showing a bit of fight, came up 87 runs short.

His nine wickets in the match gave Abbas 22 for the season so far at 18, second on Division One’s wicket-taking ladder behind his fellow countryman, Hasan Ali. Young English bowlers could do a lot worse than to watch these men bowl and listen to what they say, the tradition of Pakistan swing and seam in good hands.   

Ball Three – Salt spices up pedestrian draw

At Old Trafford, past (and maybe future) England openers, Dom Sibley and Keaton Jennings, made centuries as a nailed-on draw (aided a little by the weather) played itself out between Lancashire and Warwickshire. 

Phil Salt and Dane Vilas were the only two batters able to make any kind of score at a strike rate above 50, the scoring rate for the match only a tick above two and a half an over. Whether such a match justifies a 14 vs 13 points haul is moot, the reward for a draw looking as unearned in a match like this as it looks earned in a last over thriller, 10 and 11 at the crease with five to get. 

Ball Four – Haines’ pain is good for the game

Nobody was begrudging Middlesex their points at the conclusion of a chase that had historians citing Patsy Hendren’s double ton of 97 years ago as the only precedent. 

After Ali Orr and Tom Allsop had posted 204 for Sussex’s third wicket, a quartet of half centuries in the middle order retained a foothold in the match for the visitors. Inevitably, Cheteshwar Pujara led the charge to the Sussex declaration with 170 not out and Tom Haines was happy to give the ball to his bowlers half an hour before lunch with 369 in hand. 

Sam Robson (149) and Peter Handscomb (79) added 209 in 48 overs, before Max Holden (80) and Martin Andersson (44) charged for the line, an unbroken stand of 99 in 14 overs, getting their side home at Hove. It was enough to give London teams leadership of both divisions.

Haines is a young man who is in a little trough with the bat and this declaration won’t have helped his confidence. I hope wise counsel are in his ear telling him that he did the right thing, despite the outcome. Setting 350 or so in two sessions (at Hove – a fast-scoring ground) will see Sussex win more than they lose. Moreover, every player will improve for the experience and the spectators will come back next week and next year. Who dares doesn’t always win, but better to dare and lose than never to dare at all.     

Ball Five – Extras! Extras! Read all about ’em

Glamorgan went second in Division Two after a win over Leicestershire that consigned the visitors to bottom place, a not unfamiliar spot in recent years. 

Glamorgan’s first innings was boosted by 19 no balls donated by the Leicestershire attack in a match in which extras accounted for 130 runs, a contribution one might expect from a number 7. Professional cricketers, with the coaching and practice resources available to them, shouldn’t be conceding so many runs for free. 

Ball Six – Stokes stoked, but Pears drop anchor for the draw  

You may already have read about Durham’s draw with Worcestershire in which Ben Stokes got his eye in with 18 sweetly struck sixes, the ball flying around the Midlands as England’s new captain registered the most maximums in a county championship innings.

In his wake, teammate, Matty “Caractacus” Potts, showed plenty of invention to notch his third sixfer in four matches this season. Plenty of Bang Bang from Big Ben of course, but that’s a truly scrumptious run of form from the pacer.

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 2, 2022

The Final Over Of The Week In County Cricket – 2 May 2022

Bad weather and flat pitches mean just one result was possible in Division One, but Nottinghamshire look good in Division Two

Ball One – Smith hammers bowlers and Dent makes his mark

Surrey stay top of Division One after the gods of the earth and the sky conspired to make a draw inevitable at Bristol.

It didn’t look like that when Gloucestershire’s decision to bowl paid dividends, the in-form Ryan Patel and Test batsmen, Rory Burns and Hashim Amla, back in the hutch on the first morning. But the next nine wickets were to realise over 1000 runs and, with the last day washed out, no result was possible.

Two batsmen scored double centuries, but presented very contrasting cases for Test recognition. Jamie Smith is 21, hits the ball very hard indeed with the wicketkeeper-batsman’s freedom (though, interestingly, Ollie Pope deputised for Ben Foakes in this match), and will score plenty of runs in the next ten years – the question is for whom? Chris Dent is ten years his senior, an opening batsman who crossed 10000 first class runs in this match and appears to have been around forever.

Whether England’s new brooms will sweep either into the conversation (or other representatives of the ends of the spectrum they represent) may tell us much about what we probably shouldn’t call a reset.

Ball Two – Southampton squalls means points are shared

Hampshire and Lancashire stay tucked in behind the leaders with Day Four rain guaranteeing a draw at the Ageas Bowl, 24 points splitting evenly.

This was a rare example this season of a pitch that nibbled consistently for the bowlers and demanded batsmen play themselves in carefully (and get a bit of luck) the difficulty factor reducing over time. Nobody did that better than Nick Gubbins, who made twin centuries, the key factor in Hampshire engineering a very decent chance to press for victory that the weather took away.

Lancashire needed late order runs from Phil Salt and Tom Bailey, both dropped early on, whose eighth wicket partnership of 94 brought the visitors close to parity on first innings. Whether Lancashire’s batting is good enough to create sufficient chances to win when Dane Vilas has Jimmy Anderson and Hasan Ali at his disposal, may define Lancashire’s run for the pennant; Hampshire’s may turn on Mason Crane’s return from a loan spell at Sussex, confidence coming with overs bowled.

Ball Three – Headingley gloom lifts Kent’s spirits

Having conceded over 500 runs in an innings for the fourth successive match, Kent showed considerable resilience to get themselves into a position from which Leeds’ grey skies could thwart Yorkshire’s chance to chase 114 in 21 overs.

Inevitably, Ben Compton batted over four hours for his 93 with wicket-keeper, Ollie Robinson, and Aussie all-rounder, Grant Stewart’s stand of 166 for the seventh wicket frustrating the home side, who knew the last session of the day would likely be curtailed.

Earlier, Harry Brook’s 194 added to his run of scores in April (101, 56*, 84 and 77*) – if that’s not good enough to find a slot in England’s most brittle batting order in living memory, I suggest that he sues.

Ball Four – Walter and Wheater halt Northants’ quest for a win

When Essex started day four 48 runs in arrears to Northamptonshire with seven wickets in hand, two all-rounders at the crease and only the inexperienced Feroze Khushi as a specialist batsman to come, the odds were on a second defeat of the season for the home side.

But Paul Walter, who had made 2 in nearly an hour in the first dig as part of a sorry effort that had seen Essex 83-8, made 91 more runs second time round and there were handy contributions from Matt Critchley and Adam Wheater in particular too. Rob Keogh and Saif Zaib took five of the Essex wickets to fall, but the visitors (as is the case for many teams in, yes, April) felt the absence of a specialist spin option keenly.

Ball Five – Abell’s men capable at last

Somerset’s season finally got going with a win after three defeats, as Warwickshire’s defence of the pennant limped on, with, one feels, a crucial match coming up this week at Old Trafford.

Matt Renshaw, surely too classy a batsman to struggle for long, notched a ton at Taunton and the two Jacks, Leach and Brooks, turned up trumps with the kind of last wicket stand that can deflate a side such that early wickets come in the next hour – and they did.

Sam Hain’s 54 was the top score mustered by a visiting batsmen and Tom Abell will have been especially pleased to note that each of his five frontline bowlers took at least three wickets required, wisely leaving one for the skipper.

After a nightmare start and with fewer international calls likely to disrupt their squad than many of their rivals, interest in the red ball summer could yet be saved for some of the Championship’s most passionate fans, though a run for the title seems a little beyond reach.

Ball Six – Barnard not castled, but Notts see clear route to promotion

In Division Two, it looked like Ed Barnard’s career-best 163* had stopped the Nottinghamshire juggernaut in its tracks, but Dane Paterson’s 10 wickets and five each for Stuart Broad and Luke Fletcher (they’re not quite Hadlee and Rice, but as fine a seam attack as any in the country) meant that the home side required an awkward 233 for the win.

Worcestershire’s hopes were raised when they sent back both openers with double figures still on the board, but Ben Duckett at number three is in sparkling form, adding another half century to make it five in a row and, after a little scare, losing their fifth wicket with 51 still to get, the division’s favourites for promotion cruised home.

They go top of the table after second place Derbyshire drew with Glamorgan in the only tight finish of a somewhat underwhelming round of matches.

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | April 25, 2022

The Final Over Of The Week In County Cricket – 25 April 2022

Surrey juggernaut rumbles on, but Lancashire are looming in the rear view mirror

Ball One – Burns’ all-rounders in hot form

One way a captain can get ahead in a game and open up pathways to a victory is to win the toss, bat first and contribute a daddy hundred. With his team’s batting almost comically fragile this season (his own form no small part in that), Tom Abell batted more than 100 overs for his undefeated 150, looked at his four international bowlers plus Jack Brooks (closing in on 500 first class wickets), and must have thought Somerset’s nightmare start to the season was finally to be arrested.

But Rory Burns had routes of his own to the win that would keep his team top of Division One. His lay in a phalanx of ‘bowlers who bat’ and ‘batsmen who bowl’. One of the former, Sam Curran, top scored in the first innings to keep the leaders in the game and one of the latter, Ryan Patel, hit a century in the second to make it two wins out of three for the Londoners.

Bowling options are often cited as essential in white ball cricket, but they can be just as important in the first class game, both in a match and also across a season of varying conditions. Seven Surrey bowlers delivered at least 10 overs in the game and six took wickets – that’s healthy competition for a place in the XI and for the next over from the Pavilion End.

Ball Two – Hampshire canter home at Canterbury

Hampshire bounced back from last week’s shellacking by the leaders to deal out an innings win of their own, Kent feeling the backlash at Canterbury.

The home side won the toss and elected to bat and their innings followed a similar pattern to Somerset’s 70 miles or so to the west, Daniel Bell-Drummond with the daddy ton at number three. Keith Barker led the attack with six wickets, as the seamers shared the scalps.

But Hampshire are an ageing / experienced XI (delete as preference) and coming in with the new ball blunted, all three of the middle order men with 160+ matches on their records, James Vince, Liam Dawson and Ben Brown, plundered centuries with the hosts looked deflated long before Vince decided he had enough banked, 652-6 on the board at almost four and a half an over.

There were yet more runs from Ben Compton, with Jordan Cox and Darren Stevens chipping in to ensure that the points were not given up lightly, but Hampshire are beginning to justify the pre-season tipsters’ confidence, second in the table after last week’s hiccup, with fewer international call-ups than rivals likely to come later in the season.

Ball Three – Bohannon could be England’s boy

We will know more about Hampshire’s championship credentials after this week’s match against high-flying Lancashire, who eventually overcame a tremendous rearguard from an outclassed Gloucestershire, whose spirit did the grand old Championship proud.

If Hasan Ali and Matt Parkinson are putting together a highly clickable showreel of Wasim and Warne tribute dismissals, the Pakistan quick literally shattering stumps, fewer will be seeking out Josh Bohannon’s innings highlights.

That said, aficionados will do so with delight, particularly after too many years watching England batsmen’s quirky techniques unravel the moment a ball is travelling at over 87mph or spun hard in their direction. Lancashire’s number three was orthodoxy personified, going forward or back as length demanded, head, hands and feet in a vertical line, his compact style making him look smaller than he is – never a bad sign in a batsman. Leg side deliveries were hit to that side of the field, off side deliveries to the other, half volleys were driven, short balls cut or pulled and the good ones were defended back from whence they came.

At 25 earlier this month, Bohannon is building an irrefutable case for Test selection and, if he continues his form in these early rounds of Championship fixtures, it will be contrary if he cannot gain one of the slots either side of Joe Root in the England order to face New Zealand.

Ball Four – Briggs locks up the win as Warwickshire sail home

2021’s County Championship winners comfortably defeated 2020’s Bob Willis Trophy winners at Edgbaston, Michael Burgess adding a 170 to 178 in his previous match, as his run of runs continues. But Essex are nothing if not fighters and their second innings of 323, having conceded a deficit of over 200, was just as expected, if not enough to stretch the home side.

Danny Briggs is ten years on from his England days but, turning 31 later this week, is entering the prime years of a spinner’s life. His five wickets in the match gives him eight in two Division One matches to go with Matt Parkinson’s 11 in two and Zafar Gohar’s 10 in three. One can hardly complain at Surrey leaving out Amar Virdi and Dan Moriarty considering their results, but if a spinner is good enough, they can thrive in April, given the chance.

Ball Five – McManus wrestles a hard-fought draw for Northants

After George Hill’s maiden first class century and more runs for Harry Brook, Yorkshire had almost four sessions to bowl out Northamptonshire and match Lancashire’s two wins from two start to the season.

New Zealand opener, Will Young, batted six hours and found company in his captain, Ricardo Vasconcelos, and middle order men, Rob Keogh and Lewis McManus, as Yorkshire’s lack of threat with the ball was exposed. Dom Bess, with 14 Tests caps, held an end, going at less than two an over, but he took just the single second innings wicket, despite having a mountain of runs behind him. With Jack Leach yet to take a wicket at all this season, England’s two most recent spin selections have work to do to make their cases for 2022.

Ball Six – Notts seal one point gap at the top of Division Two

In Division Two, a very strong Nottinghamshire XI despatched with Durham by an innings and plenty to go top of the table, a point clear of Derbyshire.

While Ben Slater’s 225 caught the eye (how tempted must he have been to run out last man, Dane Paterson, just before the declaration and add a ‘carried his bat’ to reports?) Liam Patterson-White’s seven wickets in the match took him to 18 for the season, leading the standings across the Championship’s two divisions.

Patterson-White is another spinner in form, but he may catch the white ball selectors’ eye before the red ball, as he can bat handily and has seldom been collared in his short career so far. It’s too early to be punting him for honours just yet, but he’s likely to be playing Division One cricket next year if he continues his form and can press for consideration in all formats if so.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | April 18, 2022

The Final Over Of The Week In County Cricket – 18 April 2022

Essex beat Somerset in a thriller as the Easter sun shines on batsmen

Ball One – Overton over 90mph (probably)

Surrey went top of Division One after swatting aside many judges’ pre-season favourites for the title, Hampshire, by an innings. 

On as hot and sunny a day as one could wish for in the middle of April, James Vince did a Tim Paine 2019, saw the green tinge to the pitch and over-thought his election to bowl. Once Ryan Patel played a few shots and Hashim Amla had a bit of luck, one felt the die was cast and so it proved.

For all Ollie Pope’s smooth progress on Thursday (though he was curiously hesitant on Friday) and Will Jacks’ clean hitting – the sound alone was enough to know the ball was over the boundary – maybe the new England regime will be more interested in a familiar name. Or half a familiar name, because Jamie Overton bowled very fast indeed, hurrying up some experienced players with his pace and bounce. With Mark Wood and Jofra Archer being broken on the back of England’s schedules, Overton J, nine years on from his first call-up but still only 28, might just have the X factor that Overton C has failed to display in an England shirt.  

Ball Two – Trauma at Taunton for fragile Somerset 

Craig Overton remains a mighty presence at domestic level, but even his 13 wickets could not prevent Essex from condemning Somerset to Division One’s basement in a thriller at Taunton.

All looked lost for the home side after another two full innings had failed to realise 200 runs, Essex needing just 84 to wrap up the victory. But my phone wasn’t the only one bleeping with insistent WhatsApp notifications, as Overton and Peter Siddle, jagging the ball off a seaming pitch, had Tom Westley’s serial winners 4-4 and game was very much on.

As outstanding teams do in all sports, Essex found an unlikely hero, a man who, until a fortnight ago, was expecting to be keeping and captaining for Northants but was now batting for Essex. Adam Rossington’s ship-steadying 29, the last three balls in the company of Number 11, Aussie, Mark Steketee (undergoing a crash course in what the county championship means to cricket in this country) was enough to get his new county over the line in the outstanding match of an outstanding round of matches. 

Ball Three – Compton and Qadri defiant in defeat 

Lancashire and Yorkshire both enjoyed successful starts to their campaigns, but neither of the northern powerhouses had things all their own way.

Your correspondent had spent some time in the very decent crowd at The Oval watching Surrey and Hampshire, but punting the Red Rose for another pennant 11 years after their last success, partly on the belief that no tail will last very long against Saqib Mahmood and Matt Parkinson. So, cricket being cricket…

Mahmood was absent at the behest of whoever was making the decisions at the ECB, but Parky was in scintillating form building his ever-expanding Shane Warne tribute reel with deliveries employing the flight, dip and rip which really should be the spinner’s stock-in-trade. He even ‘held an end’ (a phrase I never want to hear again under England’s resetted reset), going at barely two per over. 

But Ben Compton was still there, backing up his bat-carrying century in the first dig finding company in Hamidullah Qadri, the Kandahar conjuror, who summoned hitherto unseen skills and concentration in a career-best 77. With last man, Jackson Bird, inspired to bat for an hour, Lancastrians heaved an enormous sigh of relief when Compton was last man out, deep into his 15th hour of batting in the match. Twenty minutes of play later, the win points were heading back to Manchester along with some very tired bodies.    

Ball Four – Brook on stream for England call-up?

It felt like both an utterly unimportant match and an utterly important one for Yorkshire. Unimportant because the grim stories still emerging from Azeem Rafiq’s courageous stand keep coming; important because Darren Gough’s new regime needed to get off to a good start on the field. Yorkshire County Cricket Club is still a cricket club after all.

It was a fine team performance, with five bowlers amongst the wickets with only Test batsmen, Marcus Harris and James Bracey (oh yes he was, and he might be again soon) mustering more than 40. 

But Goughie’s cheeks will be reddening with pleasure most at the contribution of Harry Cherrington Brook, who underlined his potential with 101 in the first innings and an undefeated half-century  to seal the chase of an awkward 211. At 23, Brook is beginning to put together consistent performances and, while he’ll face stronger attacks than Gloucestershire’s in the coming weeks, it’s a good start to what promises to be a crucial season for him.   

Ball Five – Haines has the head and heart for Test cricket

Another 23 year-old in the England conversation is Sussex’s Tom Haines, one of this column’s five county cricketers of the year 2021. 

He had lost the toss, and looked on as Shan Masood helped himself to 239 and Wayne Madsen 111 (bowled Haines), before his own side lost nine wickets for fewer than 100 runs and he was padding up again.

He did not take the pads off for nearly 11 hours, as he made 243 and debutant, Cheteshwar Pujara, 201 to bat out two days and secure the draw. Derbyshire’s attack may not be international class, but Haines is showing the mental fortitude required to lead a struggling team, resist scoreboard pressure and back up a breakthrough season. That’s much of the Test batsman’s person specification right there.  

Ball Six – Australians winning again in England

Glamorgan secured the only win of the round in Division Two, beating Nottinghamshire, the only winners last week.

There’s a strong Australian connection in Wales this season and 18 of the 20 wickets required for the victory were taken by Michael Neser, Michael Hogan, Timm van den Gugten and Marnus Labuschagne (whose friendly bouncers amused his Test captain, Patrick Cummins). Ben Duckett can feel somewhat aggrieved that his 122 and 95 were wasted in a losing cause, but the match really turned on Nottinghamshire’s bowlers letting Glamorgan squirm away from 88 runs in arrears with four first innings wickets left to a 77 run lead. At 40 years old, Hogan knows not to look that gift horse in the mouth, knocked over both openers for ducks and that opened the door to what proved a comfortable seven wickets win and an early season perch on top of Division Two.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | April 11, 2022

The Final Over Of The Week In County Cricket – 11 April 2022

Hampshire and Nottinghamshire steal a march in Divisions One and Two respectively with the only wins of the opening week

Ball One – Testing times for the County Championship

What do the following have in common? Nick Browne, Sir Alastair Cook, Ben Compton, Jordan Cox, Ben Foakes, Sam Hain, Michael Burgess, James Bracey, Rob Keogh, Ryan Higgins, Joe Weatherley, Steven Mullaney, Alex Lees, Brett D’Oliveira, Hassan Azad, Joshua De Caires, Stephen Eskinazi and Robbie White.

And how about these? Sam Cook, Matt Critchley, Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Danny Briggs, Kemar Roach, Reece Topley, Will Jacks, Liam Patterson-White (twice), Delray Rawlins, Josh Baker, Sam Conners, Suranga Lakmal and Alex Thomson.

So….the former group all batted for four hours or more and the latter all bowled 30 overs or more, in a single innings. 

When you hear the usual suspects’ loud voices proclaiming that England’s ‘April Greentops’ make it too difficult to build long innings and too easy to take cheap wickets, you might want to reflect on how much county cricket they actually watch.    

Ball Two – Sunny days for Weatherley

Hampshire were the only winners in Division One, rolling a sorry Somerset by an innings. 

There was nip and nibble for the home bowlers at the Ageas Bowl, Mohammad Abbas leading the equally wise old heads of Keith Barker and Kyle Abbott with only James Hildreth, embarking on his 20th season, providing any meaningful resistance with the bat.

Joe Weatherley made good on years of promise with a career-best 168, matching the visitors’ first innings of 180 with opening partner Ian Holland, as many observers’ favourites for the pennant secured an early lead in the Champo. 

Ball Three – Four good days at the office for van Buuren 

The best match in the top flight came at Wantage Road where two of the less fancied of the division’s ten counties fought out a draw in which all four results were possible deep into the fourth day.

After James Bracey’s century (remember him?) had allowed Gloucestershire to scrape 223 together, Rob Keogh replied in kind for Northamptonshire, aided by a handy knock down the order from the ageless Gareth Berg. At 21-4 second time round, and still in the red, things looked bad for the visitors’ new captain (and new British citizen) Graeme van Buuren, but Ryan Higgins – what a marvellous cricketer he is – batted six hours for a century and the home side were left with 299 runs to win in just shy of a day’s play.

Keogh top-scored again to give Northants a sniff, but Tom Taylor and Nathan Buck were hanging on at the end, eight down and 27 short. There are good draws and bad draws in cricket and this was a good one.  

Ball Four – Essex and Kent fight to a standstill

With Simon Harmer joining another spinner with plenty of county championship experience, Keshav Maharaj, rattling through Bangladesh in South Africa, 500+ played 500+ in a stalemate at Chelmsford.

In the absence of the prolific finger-spinner, Essex’s new signing, Matt Critchley, got through 46 overs of leg breaks, claiming 4-114, earning his money down South. He had also made 132 batting in the all-rounder’s slot at six, a role he’ll have to play when Harmer returns.

Perhaps a more interesting question is whether he could play that role for England, or at least offer variety as part of a five man attack with another ‘bowler who bats’ who can lengthen the order. The 25 year-old from Preston might be vying with Matt Parkinson, the 25 year-old from Bolton, if England do overcome their fear of playing a wrist-spinner and Critchley’s runs might just tip the balance his way.  

Ball Five – Notts tie up easy win at Hove

Promotion favourites, Nottinghamshire, got off to a flyer with the only win in Division Two, doing over a Sussex XI that fielded a little more experience than 2021 but were no match for a rejuvenated Notts, condemned to the lower division by their poor form of 2019. 

With a century from one of the Hove youngsters, Tom Clark and fifties from two more, openers Ali Orr and Tom Haines, the home side’s 375 looked competitive, especially when Notts were 52-4 in reply. 

Steven Mullaney has seen all that before and the captain dropped anchor for seven hours amassing 192, getting splendid support from the lower middle order in which 20 year-old Joey Evison struck a maiden century from number nine.

Another name to watch this season, slow left-armer, Liam Patterson-White, chipped in with handy runs, but delivered match figures of 76.1 – 21 – 139 – 7 in the day job. Who says spinners can’t bowl in April? 

Ball Six – Loving it at Lord’s  

There was a decent crowd in at Lord’s to see the first ball bowled in unrestricted circumstances since 2019. As ever, the ground looked different, more closed in with the new Compton and Edrich stands flanking the Media Centre – windier too walking the perimeter, with winter’s bite not yet banished.

Friends met, some for the first time since the bloody bubbles, and spoke of new family additions, tentative plans for trips to outgrounds and Michael Atherton’s son called up late and batting rather well in the classical style on the flattest of decks. Not many spoke of The Ashes, but a few wondered how many more years we would be granted to meet, to shiver and to hail the likes of Steve Eskinazi returning to form, playing a captain’s knock for Middlesex. 

The go-getters with the financial projection spreadsheets and the talk of diversifying income streams and clean pathways to excellence would have curled the lip, as the match drifted to the draw that seemed odds-on after the first hour, so little movement was there side-to-side or up-and-down. But a few thousand people renewed an ancient pleasure (208 years and counting at this ground) and rather hoped such would be so 208 years from now. Or even 208 days from now, by which time another report will be on desks and the county game facing yet more reform.   

Joe Root: 289 runs, average 48; one wicket, average 69; four catches

By the hideous denouement, the trademark busyness with the bat required an almost visible force of will, while the interviews’ words said one thing and the eyes another. The captain may have been dealt a weak hand by English cricket’s mismanagement, but he both bears some responsibility for those decisions (especially selection) and can be accused (again) of failing to get the most from the resources available to him. With an attack not much inferior to his opposite number’s, it was much harder to discern history’s most experienced England captain’s tactics than it was those of the West Indies’ much less experienced skipper. There’s plenty of mitigation, but there’s plenty of underachievement too. Grade C-

(That was Root’s Ashes report card – so much for the reset)

Zak Crawley: 184 runs, average 31; one catch

An opening bat will get a lot of good balls and get out to some of them – such is forgivable. It’s getting out to nothing balls that pushes an average down into the low 30s, exposes a middle order and lifts an opposition. The talent is there, but can England afford the luxury of waiting for it to flourish? Grade C+

Alex Lees: 126 runs, average 21; one catch

Only Joe Root faced more than his 460 deliveries and he was not dismissed before the 18th over in each of his last four innings. On the one hand, that’s what England’s Crunchie bar brittle batting order needs – on the other, it’s why Dominic Sibley was dropped. Grade B-

Dan Lawrence: 197 runs, average 33; two wickets, average 32; two catches

Like the girl with the curl, when he looks good, he looks very good, but when he looks bad, he looks awful. Another batsman with a technique that going to reward Test match bowlers. Grade C+

Ben Stokes: 194 runs, average 32; seven wickets, average 27

Pressed the turbo button to smash an extraordinary century in the second Test, but it was, as many of his innings seem to be these days, that of a Six or Seven rather than a Five. Understandably so, given his captain’s insistence that he bowl so many overs and his body’s ever more obvious rebellion against so heavy a workload. Grade B

Jonny Bairstow: 226 runs, average 45; two catches

A brilliant century in the fist Test averted England being written off after one day of the series, but, not for the first time, he couldn’t make the most of his form. Being suckered into a flail in his 83rd Test by Joshua Da Silva (playing in his 14th) rather summed up England’s weakness under pressure. Grade B-

Ben Foakes: 96 runs, average 19; eight catches

Making keeping look easy, even on challenging tracks, is his thing, so it was a surprise that he made it look as difficult as he did. After a promising start with the bat, he could do nothing in the third Test showdown. Grade C-

Chris Woakes: 130 runs, average 43; five wickets, average 46; one catch

It’s so predictable, yet still so inexplicable, that the “top of off stump and just outside” approach that works so well at home (and is often called for by pundits) cannot produce the goods beyond England’s shores. As usual, his batting looked more fluent than most of the seven that went in ahead of him. Grade C-

(This is also Woakes’ Ashes report card)

Craig Overton: 15 runs, average 5; four wickets, average 47; three catches

He looked toothless, finding neither the sideways movement nor splice-jarring bounce from just short of a length that has brought so many domestic wickets. Grade D

Matt Fisher: 0 runs, average N/A; one wicket, average 71; one catch

Did not look out of place on debut (and that’s not intended as a backhanded compliment) and he can count himself unlucky not to retain his place. Will come again. Grade C+

Jack Leach: 50 runs, average 50; 11 wickets, average 31

If you are the only spinner selected, there are few hiding places, especially if, for once, the captain gives you catchers around the bat. At 30 years old and with 22 Tests behind him, he has to present more of a wicket-taking threat, even if the inexplicably popular phrase ‘Holding an end’ is the primary objective. Without a real rip on the ball, he does not find the drift and dip that can defeat a top batsman in the flight, too many deliveries the equivalent of a fast bowler floating the ball up on an unresponsive surface. Great team man and mentally tough as his batting showed, but his career may be holed below the waterline by a lack of jeopardy, especially in first innings. Grade B-

Mark Wood: 1 run, average 1; one wicket, average 45

His wicket was Kraigg Brathwaite, the West Indies’ best batsman and captain, caught in the gully off a 91mph thunderbolt. That is genuine world class bowling, but, as is increasingly clear, not a sustainable brief over a Test series (or even a Test). Grade B

Saqib Mahmood: 52 runs, average 52; six wickets, average 21; one catch

The Lancashire pacer bowled fast and found reverse swing from an action that looked repeatable and less stressful than that of many other young England bowlers. His unexpected cameo with the bat and a quip or two in interviews showed that he might just relish the limelight – something fewer and fewer of his colleagues appear to enjoy. Grade A-   

  

England

Joe Root: 322 runs, average 32; five wickets, average 47; six catches

By the hideous denouement, the trademark busyness with the bat required an almost visible force of will, while the interviews’ words said one thing and the eyes another. The captain may have been dealt a weak hand by English cricket’s mismanagement, but he both bears some responsibility for those decisions (especially selection) and can be accused (again) of failing to get the most from the resources available to him. With an attack not much inferior to his opposite number’s, it was much harder to discern history’s most experienced England captain’s tactics than it was Australia’s least experienced. There’s plenty of mitigation, but there’s plenty of underachievement too. Grade C-      

Rory Burns: 77 runs, average 13; two catches

It’s worth remembering (because the Aussies would have) that he scored a century and two fifties in the 2019 Ashes, but, since then the contortions required by to bring the bat down on to the ball in  a straight line appear to have overwhelmed his fragile technique. Even his usually reliable catching in the cordon deserted him. Grade E+

Haseeb Hameed: 80 runs, average 10; three catches

Probably needed warm-up matches more than any other player as he is only part way back to his best. His trigger movements collapsed downwards and backwards as his timing disintegrated under relentless Australian pressure. Grade E+ 

Zak Crawley: 166 runs, average 28; eight catches

Once his tour got going (can you really sit in judgment on a batsman sent out to open at the MCG without so much as a proper hit in the middle for months), he looked the part – at least when attacking. The decisive transfer of weight into his shots means that he go a little too hard at the ball, but his boldness stands out in a batting unit too often too timid. His introduction to the cordon improved the dismal fielding effort. Grade B- 

Dawid Malan: 244 runs, average 24; two wickets, average 31; two catches

He started well, showing that his reputation as a specialist on the higher bouncing wickets of the Southern Hemisphere was not mere hype, but he can take so long to get his feet moving that he is always a candidate to be pinned on the crease. It didn’t take long for the Australians to exploit that flaw. Grade C 

Ben Stokes: 236 runs, average 24; four wickets, average 72; three catches

He bristled as only he can bristle in this squad and his opponents still valued his wicket, but he was short of a gallop with bat and ball and it showed both in his contributions and his vulnerability to injury. In attempting to replicate Neil Wagner’s bouncer strategy, he merely showed how underrated the Kiwi is in the role and limited his own effectiveness. Grade C- 

Jonny Bairstow: 194 runs, average 49; one catch

After yet another recall, his emotional century in Sydney helped stave off the possibility of a whitewash and (perhaps) the end of his cherished Test career. He also added some much needed energy in the field. Grade B 

Ollie Pope: 67 runs, average 11; four catches

Not for the first time in England colours, the orthodoxy that sees so many runs scored for Surrey was buried by ticks and quirks that spoke of a mind thinking too hard, anxiety swamping talent. Everyone knows that there’s a Test batsman here, but that player is further away now than ever. Grade E 

Jos Buttler: 107 runs, average 15; 12 catches

The player selected as a gamechanger with the bat, changed games with the gloves, his dropping of regulation chances only partially offset by taking some blinders. After 57 Tests, the white ball wizard is surely now a red ball washout. Grade D-   

Sam Billings: 30 runs, average 15; five catches

He brought some much needed reliability behind the stumps, moving like a natural gloveman to the ball with feet as well as hands and looked like it was a privilege to wear the shirt – which really mattered by Hobart. Talks the talk, and showed more promise than most white ball operators that he might walk the walk in Tests too. Grade B-

Chris Woakes: 146 runs, average 24; six wickets, average 55; no catches

It’s so predictable, yet still so inexplicable, that the “top of off stump and just outside” approach that works so well at home (and is often called for by pundits) cannot produce the goods beyond England’s shores. As usual, his batting looked more fluent than most of the seven that went in ahead of him. Grade C-  

Ollie Robinson: 38 runs, average 5; 11 wickets, average 25; two catches

He took his straightforward approach to pulling the batsmen forward and then hitting the seam to the land of the men who purportedly slaughter his brand of 80mph trundling and succeeded – but not often enough, his conditioning not up to the rigours of the brutal schedule. He is a much better batsman than he showed. Grade B 

Jack Leach: 51 runs, average 13; six wickets, average 54; no catches

Humiliated by selectors ignoring him for so long, by batsmen climbing into him from the get-go and by a captain setting fields for bad bowling, he eventually found some rhythm in Sydney (and batted 15 overs for the draw), only to be dropped for Hobart. If only his talent were as big as his heart, he’d have 800 Test wickets too. Grade C- 

Mark Wood: 86 runs, average 11; 17 wickets, average 27; one catch

He was let down by batsmen who barely gave him a chance to recover between innings, by catchers who couldn’t make good on the chances he created and by some old-fashioned bad luck. But he never stopped trying, seldom dropped his pace and, like the quicks on the other side, showed that you can play aggressive cricket with a smile and not a snarl. He got his just deserts with his last chance. Grade B+

Stuart Broad: 42 runs, average 14; 13 wickets, average 26; two catches

He looked fit and ultra-motivated when confronted by the sight of a green helmet 22 yards away, with the huge advantage of the fact that the Aussies rate him. He moved the Kookaburra ball a little in the air and a little off the seam and gave few free hits – old school virtues that still work. Surely there was a way to get him into more than three matches? Grade B+

James Anderson: 13 runs, average 7; eight wickets, average 23; no catches

The Australians followed the now orthodox approach of blocking the master craftsman while scoring at the other end, so his figures do not reflect his contribution to the team. Bizarrely not picked for Brisbane, where he would surely have exchanged maidens for wickets and rebalanced his strike rate (78) and economy rate (1.8), especially if he had pitched the ball a metre or so further up.  Grade B 

 

Australia 

David Warner: 273 runs, average 34; five catches

He might not have the same ebullience of a decade or so ago, but he made runs when it mattered, not leaving the crease at Brisbane until his team were ahead by 48 runs and quashing any thoughts of pink ball carnage with 95 at the top of the order in Adelaide. Grade B+ 

Marcus Harris: 179 runs, average 30; one catch

Paid with his place at Hobart for early failures, but his willingness to bat time during the hard yards would see him walk into the England team. Grade B-

Usman Khawaja: 255 runs, average 85; two catches

If joining a side that had already secured the Ashes gave him a platform, taking his chance after seeing his immediate rival for a slot play so spectacularly well, showed real heart. He brought 11 on and off years of Test match batting to Sydney and, with his twin centuries, it showed. Grade A- 

Marnus Labuschagne: 335 runs, average 42; no wickets; five catches

Another whose work was done at the sharp end of the series and a rare example of a batsman who has adopted some of Steven Smith’s set up without losing sight of his stumps. Came into the series with a big reputation and delivered. Grade A-

Steven Smith: 244 runs, average 31; one wicket, average 10; 11 catches

A subdued series with the bat and a subdued one match stint as captain, the heartbeat of the side for the last decade or so may be retreating to elder statesman territory. He’s too smart to fail to notice that he left a lot of runs in the middle with some uncharacteristically soft dismissals. Grade B-

Travis Head: 357 runs, average 60; no wickets; three catches

A marginal pick, he embraced the pressure of Ashes cricket and Australian expectation with dazzling displays of counterattacking batting, only Covid pausing his assault on the bowling. His willingness to simplify batting into defending good balls and hitting bad balls very hard indeed, is something England’s batsmen could try. Grade A  

Cameron Green: 228 runs, average 33; 13 wickets, average 16; four catches

His brief with the bat is to turn good positions into match winning opportunities; with the ball, it’s to get set batsmen out; and in the field, it’s to catch at gully. At 22, the big blond lad has already done that across five Tests of an Ashes series. The “New Keith Miller” tag is premature of course, but Australia doesn’t produce many genuine all-rounders, so this may be a rare beast indeed. Grade A-  

Alex Carey: 183 runs, average 20; 23 catches

Given his chance in the aftermath of the Tim Paine (remember him?) debacle, the 30 year-old struggled a little to find his feet on either side of the stumps. But nothing helps a wicketkeeper like pacemen finding edges and the chances were never long in coming, as his 23 catches attest. Grade B-

Michell Starc: 155 runs, average 39; 19 wickets, average 25; one catch

Like his long time teammate, Nathan Lyon, whispers about his place in the side had begun to circulate alongside questions about whether he was really that good after all. He answered them with hostile bowling at the stumps and the body, allied to the physical resilience to keep charging in at full tilt. He went for a few runs, but if you bowl those lines and lengths, you do – it’s part of the strike bowler’s deal. Batted very effectively too. Grade A-

Patrick Cummins: 72 runs, average 14; 21 wickets, average 18; two catches

It shouldn’t matter, but looking like that at the toss must make your teammates feel like they start on 100-0, the Golden Boy who disappeared for so long now very much the Golden Man. Not as quick as in his tearaway youth, he’s a smart bowler who can move the Kookaburra with relentless accuracy and can still jar a splice or hit a helmet when required. To nobody’s surprise, his captaincy showed similar smarts, outskippering his opposite number to an embarrassing degree. Grade A+

Michael Neser: 38 runs, average 19; two wickets, average 31; no catches

The experienced man let nobody down subbing in for the isolating Cummins, but is now behind Scott Boland in the pecking order and might never add to his Adelaide debut. Grade B

Nathan Lyon: 76 runs, average 25; 16 wickets, average 24; four catches

Was he playing for his place after an extended period without a wicket? Australia had bowled 125 overs in Brisbane before the off / top spinner had his first victim, but he got another three on a seamers’ strip and the old confidence was soon flooding through his action. He even slogged a few runs. Grade B+ 

Jhye Richardson: 17 runs, average nine; 5 wickets, average 24; catches

Like Michael Neser, he came in and did a job in the day-nighter and, with time on his side, the lively quick might yet add to his three Test caps. Grade B

Scott Boland: 24 runs, average 12; 18 wickets, average 10; four catches

There was something of a “Who? Me?” look in the 32 year-old’s eyes as he prepared to take his bow in the Test arena. Unlike so many of his opponents, he appeared to have a very clear idea of what he wanted to do – which was to do exactly what he had done to get him his Baggy Green in the first place. He ran in, bowled at the top of off stump with the seam up and sent a procession of English batsmen back to the pavilion. And he kept doing so whenever his captain threw him the ball. Grade A+

Josh Hazlewood: No runs, average 0; three wickets, average 25; two catches.

His metronomic line and length, seasoned with the occasional splice-jarring lifter, were barely missed – which shows how well stocked the Australian pace battery is in home conditions. Grade B 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 19, 2021

Three memories of cricket in 2021

Following on from his reviews of 201420152016201720182019 and 2020, Gary has picked out a few highlights from 2021.

Joe Root punches the ball backward of point for runs

England’s captain started 2021 by making 228 and 186 as England beat Sri Lanka 2-0 in Galle. Root’s brilliance was half the story – the other half was that only Dan Lawrence (remember him?) scored more than 60 in either match for the visitors. It was an indication of how much England would rely on their captain not just for runs, but as a leader on the field and, off it, the acceptable face of cricket under fire. He didn’t always deliver all parts of that brief – no person could, such was that burden – but nobody could accuse him of not trying.

Another double ton would come soon enough in the remarkable win at Chennai and three more centuries would be logged against India in the home series, each characterised by his scurrying singles, his relentless will to take the game to his opponents and, though sometimes rather wan, a smile that reminded us (and him) that it is only a game after all. 

If his selections and field placings often leave much to be desired, there is mitigation when one considers what he must feel, so often walking to the middle with the scoreboard showing 20-odd for 2, knowing that his team’s chances are, once again, resting on his shoulders. More often than not, he’s soon up on his toes, bat ramrod straight in meeting a length ball on a fourth stump line, the ball despatched just backward of point for runs. Like much of his work in 2021, it looks routine or easy, but it’s not – if it were, more would do it too.    

Lancashire beat Sussex at Sedburgh School

Termly fees at Sedburgh School are just shy of £9000 in 2021, with another £3000 on top for boarders. It was founded in 1525 and isn’t even in Lancashire, it’s nestled in the hills of what is now Cumbria. But it might as well be located in Beverley Hills in terms of accessibility to the communities of Burnley and Blackburn, 50 miles and a world away. (I’m sure there’s an impressive outreach and bursary scheme run by the school, but the point will still hold).

Sussex travelled a distance about as great as county cricket offers with a team overloaded with teenagers, many of whom would have recognised the privilege that leaks from every square inch of such schools – the game is, alas, still largely populated by sons and daughters of privilege. Lancashire fielded an XI comprising mainly hardened pros, led by the granite tough Dane Vilas, not one to give an inch. Sussex’s kids didn’t need one.

The match was a thriller (your correspondent dedicated an entire weekly column to it), but it was also an example of a rather unfashionable concept these days, one captured by Orson Wells’ iconic speech in The Third Man. You do not have to be as amoral as Harry Lime to acknowledge how cricket’s heritage shapes the game and to join demands that things change and change now – and, simultaneously, to see the beauty in what that heritage has bequeathed us. 

Glamorgan celebrate with their fans

County cricket clubs are just that – clubs based in their counties. They are not corporate, not owned by an oil state or oligarch and not, when you peel away a bit of conference hosting and a handful of other income streams, run much differently than they were two or three generations ago.

That’s a double-edged sword, as cultures can be embedded, passed down without challenge and complacency about a changing world (sporting and social) can create an inertia that does no good to anyone. In such circumstances, words come easily, actions less so.

But there’s another side to the county cricket club structure, one that was on show in the Royal London One Day Cup Final. The ECB had styled it a ‘development competition’, hid it away at Trent Bridge on a Thursday and treated it like one would an embarrassing uncle at a Christmas lunch.

Nobody told the players and fans of Glamorgan and Durham, who played a fine cricket match, full of skills and emotion and, when Glamorgan secured their first trophy in 17 years, players and fans alike celebrated as if they had won, well, the Gillette Cup in the 70s, this competition’s forebear.

And what a delight it was to see Kiran Carlson, Glamorgan’s young Cardiff-born captain, lead his men to their fans, beer in hand to toast a trophy they had not even received as yet, the sponsors very much second in the players’ priorities. Conversations sparked up and photos were taken, supporters and players looked like what they are – members of the same club.

It was a reminder in a grim year for the county game, its wounds, many, but not all, self-inflicted, still gaping as the calendar turns, that it has a unique quality, a rare and fragile place in English culture, one that is worth preserving as well as reforming.     

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | October 4, 2021

The five county cricketers of the year 2021

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

Rob Yates (Warwickshire) – The aura breaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kiran Carlson (Glamorgan) – The young leader

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

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

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

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

Matt Critchley (Derbyshire) – The hard worker

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

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

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

Luke Fletcher (Nottinghamshire) – The cliché

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

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

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

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 26, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ball Two – Rhodes finds a route to success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ball Four – Slater chalks up third place for Nottinghamshire

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

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

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

Ball Five – Cook slices up Northamptonshire’s batting

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

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

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

Ball Six – Stewart steers Kent home

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

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

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

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