Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 30, 2017

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 30 September 2017

Ball One – Andrew Gale blasts Yorkshire, but Essex cruise home

At 80-5 having been invited to bat, Yorkshire’s bowlers must have felt that they had caught the champions on an off day at last. If so, it was not a feeling that lasted. By the midpoint of the match, Essex led by 250 with eight second innings wickets in hand and were en route to a tenth win (to go with four draws) in a season for the ages. They topped the table by 72 points, with the gap between second and the first relegation slot only 30. Yorkshire were dismissed for just 74 runs in their last innings of 2017 and senior players attracted some blunt words from coach Andrew Gale, who might want to look in the dressing room mirror too as he casts an eye over his underperforming charges.

Ball Two – Somerset’s Tom Abell rings time on Middlesex’s Division One status

The showdown in Somerset went the home side’s way as the 2016 champions were relegated in 2017. The writing was on the wall for Adam Voges’ men after Ravi Patel and Paul Stirling shared nine wickets as the home side cobbled together 236, with the top five all contributing at least 25, but nobody getting more than Ed Byrom’s 56. Jack Leach opened the bowling on a pitch that offered extravagant sideways movement sufficient to catch the attention of the ECB’s man, but not the up and down bounce that can lead to a points deduction. Leach delivered two fivefers to his young captain, Tom Abell, and, with James Hildreth making a century in the second dig, there was no way back for Middlesex, who go down by one point… or do they? An ECB hearing has been requested to review the decision to dock them two points for a slow over rate in the infamous “crossbow match” at The Oval, the early and unexpected abandonment thwarting Middlesex’s opportunity to rattle through some meaningless overs sufficiently swiftly to turn their over rate from red to green. This column believes they have a case to get their points back – or rather that they had one. The time to challenge the decision has probably gone.

Ball Three – Ice cool Gareth Berg steers Hampshire to safety

The jeopardy on the season’s last day was all at Edgbaston where Warwickshire, long gone, were seeking to win the match and relegate Hampshire (for the second year in succession in what would have been a quiz question double for years to come). Needing to bat out the day, Liam Dawson went into full Faf fashion, defending grimly to make nine in nearly two hours, but when he went and James Vince (30 in over two and a half hours) followed, the inexperienced Ian Holland was joined by the rather more seasoned Gareth Berg and the two all-rounders held on. Hampshire fans celebrated another year in the top flight secured, while Durham fans (and most neutrals I suspect) wore rueful smiles.

Ball Four – Liam Livingstone explores new territory with a career-best 6-52

Lancashire’s draw with Surrey at Old Trafford secured a fine second place for the Red Rose, taking them 13 points clear of their opponents for whom third can be considered a good, if not quite very good, finish. Whilst most of the attention (rightly) was centred on Kumar Sangakkara’s farewell first class match (undefeated in his final innings – natch), Liam Livingstone underlined his potential with 6-52 in Surrey’s second innings (four of whom were international players and another in the Ashes party). Livingstone finished the season with over 800 runs at 47.2 and, while his leg-breaks aren’t reliable enough to give him all-rounder status, they’re a handy second string, probably about as developed as Moeen Ali’s tweakers were at the same age. Perhaps Livingstone’s best quality is not revealed in the stats though – it’s that imperceptible and crucial ability to make something happen in a cricket match. Now who is the man who does that job for England?

CR7 – the humble one.

Ball Five – Chris Read writes his own script

You would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by Chris Read’s final match of a career lasting two decades, unfulfilled at international level, but wonderfully successful in the the domestic game. Things were not looking good when Sussex piled up 565, the last five wickets adding a soul-destroying, concentration-sapping 458 runs, the effect of which was to knock the top off the Nottinghamshire batting, suddenly 65-5 with the long expected promotion in danger of fizzling out. But, in his last visit to the crease, the captain played a captain’s innings to secure the points needed, the skipper going up with the ship. Credit too to Billy Root, whose maiden championship century repaid the faith shown in him by the county. 2017’s two trophies and second place in Division Two will always be on Read’s mantelpiece, but I suspect the respect, even love, shown to him by fellow players and fans of more than just his own county, will mean even more as the retirement years roll by.

Ball Six – A salute to The Guardian’s county cricket readers and contributors

Last week’s shout out was directed towards the fine writers who keep the county cricket flame alive – so this week’s goes to those who write below the line here and do so much to make the County Cricket Live blog such a big part of the summer. You are fine examples not only of the many erudite and polite voices that can be drowned out in the stream of bile that characterises too much social media, but also of the fans’ perception of and love for the greatest of games. The County Championship may not hold the place in British life that it once did when Compton and Edrich were brightening the bleak bomb sites on a country still on the ration, but it still matters to many decent, generous, civilised souls. When the grim reaper comes for me, I rather hope I’ll be at a cricket ground, glass in hand, praising a Number Eight batting on 35, while pointing out (a little too loudly) the absence of a leg slip for the off spinner – and amongst friends. But you knew that.

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Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 29, 2017

Five County Cricketers of the Year – 2017

In what will become an annual award, 99.94 recognises five county cricketers of the year – in the style of a publication that has done something similar for 120 years longer.

Kumar Sangakkara (Surrey) – Thank you Sir.

It was said that Barry Richards, his career coinciding with South Africa’s isolation, became bored with batting that notch below international as it came so easily to him. Well, it can’t have come much more easily to the South African champion than it came to Kumar Sangakkara, an all-time great of the game, whose powers, at almost 40 and in his last season of first class cricket, seem not so much undiminished, as enhanced.

Playing home matches at The Oval, a ground steeped in history for a history-maker, the Lankan lefty cut and pulled if the ball was short, drove with elegance and timing if the ball was up and if it was on a length? Well he hit some of those to the fence too, because, well, because he could. You didn’t need to look to see if the shots were his or his partner’s – the ball made a special sound off his bat, more like the crack of a whip in the desert air than the sound of leather on willow on a dank Spring or Autumnal morning. I can’t recall seeing fielders applaud his strokes, but they must surely have had to exercise will to resist the urge.

That was just the aesthetics – the statistics are even more impressive. 1491 runs in Division One at 106.5, the leading scorer by 335; 8 centuries scored against all counties bar Hampshire; and 545 runs at 78 (strike rate 97) in 50 overs cricket and 120 runs at 30 (146) in T20 cricket. All accomplished with the minimum of fuss despite the cross-Atlantic commuting to the Caribbean Premier League (second highest runscorer there too, natch), his play failing to astound but one person – himself..

As some do when the end is in sight, Sangakkara seemed to value his gifts all the more and the stage he had been offered to display them. He said this about the county game –

“The county professional is a very, very special breed of person and I’ve found a completely new respect not just for county cricket but for the game as a whole. To understand that wherever there is first-class cricket, the pride with which they play this sport, the pride in which the club supports the players and the pride with which the fans come and embrace those players, it’s something that suddenly hit me and it hit me once I retired from international cricket. I regret that but I thank Surrey for allowing me to rediscover that immense love and passion that first-class cricket and cricketers have for this game, and what an amazing breeding ground it is for players.”

He has some T20 business to conclude and then… Well, who knows? But cricket can’t afford to lose a man of such gifts; neither can sport, perhaps not the world as a whole. And if King Kumar does bring his formidable presence to fields beyond mere sport, his Cowdrey Lecture of 2011 gives grounds to believe that he will go into bat for decency and dignity – and boy, does that side need help these days.

Alex Hales (Nottinghamshire) – Hales storms to success in white ball cricket

In the Royal London One Day Cup Final, Surrey had made 297-9, a highly competitive score on a pitch that turned enough to prompt England to start their Test summer with two spinners just a few days later. Surrey’s seamers got plenty of grip too and Nottinghamshire’s batsmen trooped in and out of the Long Room with a regularity that had Surrey supporters happy at Lord’s for once. But Alex Hales was playing a different game – 50 posted from 35 balls; 100 from 83 (with the scoreboard showing 133-4). Surrey knew they had to get him out; Notts knew they needed to find someone to prop up the other end. Chris Read (who else?) did the strike rotation and Hales biffed his way to 187 not out, the champagne and the most obvious Man of the Match Award since Viv Richards made two more at Old Trafford 33 years earlier.

Hales finished with 434 runs in the tournament at 72.3 (strike rate 105.9) but wasn’t satisfied with that – and nor were Notts. They won the Nat West T20 Blast too, Hales making 507 runs at an astonishing strike rate of 204.4. That figure is largely the result of hitting 98 boundaries, his stand up straight and hit anything wide, short or full very hard indeed putting him 12 ahead of James Vince, second amongst the T20 boundary boys.

He played only seven Championship matches in the promotion season, but Notts won five of those, showing how his red ball strike rate of over 80 from his new slot in the middle order could take the game away from tiring bowlers. Hales will play in Division One in 2018 and might have rather more time to expand his four day game than he expected.

Alex Davies pictured last week

Alex Davies (Lancashire) – The boy from Darwen has evolved into a key player for Lancashire

In 2016, Alex Davies’ expected breakthrough season was ruined by injury he played only five Championship matches and no white ball cricket at all. But the diminutive, all-action wicketkeeper-batsman has made up for it in 2017, packing what feels like two seasons worth of cricket into a single summer.

Often keeping for a day or more, he would switch pads and gloves and, ten minutes later, take guard against a paceman charging in with a hard new cherry in hand – an impressive feat physically and mentally and indicative of a superb attitude towards the team, particularly in a season in which he was rehabilitating himself back into top flight cricket and could, with justification, have gone in at seven, amongst Lancashire’s impressive all-rounders.

He started the season with a bang, making 140* against Essex in a draw, an innings and result that looks rather better in the rearview mirror than it did at the time. Later in April, he was a key figure in Lancashire’s first win of an unexpectedly successful season, making 130 in the second innings, as Lanky turned a deficit of 169 into a victory by 164 runs in a match that knocked some of the stuffing out of Somerset.

He finished the season with 916 Division One runs, topping his county’s charts and behind only six batsmen in the top flight. His keeping suffered not a jot under this workload, his tidy fleet-footed work bringing him 42 catches and 6 stumpings, third on the Division One list, despite not keeping in every game.

Of course, Lancashire have England’s Jos Buttler on the books, but he played only four Championship matches for the Red Rose and seems to be, by default or design, mutating into a one day specialist. That might suit Lancashire supporters just fine if it means more of the same from Davies, the local lad from Darwen, who might not have to work quite so hard in 2018 with Keaton Jennings’ arrival at Old Trafford. Not that he’ll complain if he does.

Jamie Porter (Essex) – Pacer carries plenty of threat with the new ball as domestic potential is realised

To win the County Championship, a team need to win cricket matches and to win cricket matches you need to take 20 wickets and to take twenty wickets you need pace to knock over the top order with the new ball and spin to frustrate and winkle out batsmen with the old ball. Essex had the best opening bowler and best spinner on the circuit – and their runaway success in Division One was due primarily to them.

Jamie Porter was good in Division Two last year, but few expected him to fill the boots of the retiring David Masters and Graham Napier, whose canny swing and seam had brought 103 wickets at 22.2 in the promotion season. But Porter was listening, watching and learning and his 2016 haul of 55 wickets at 29 backed up a good 2015 and demonstrated that (at 23) he had the body to stand up to the rigours of bowling through an English summer. That said, nobody expected him to come through so strongly as he did in 2017, a season in which he has risen to the challenge with vim and wit to take five fivefers and a season-leading 75 Division One wickets at 17.

As was said about Toby Roland-Jones and Chris Woakes, I suppose some might claim that Porter lacks that red zone pace that Test cricket can demand, but, like those two (and one might add Ryan Sidebottom and Graham Onions from recent years), Porter’s method of getting good batsmen out at less than searing pace may well work at the highest level, even in his mid to late 20s. He could hardly have made a more convincing case for international recognition than his extraordinary year as a lynchpin in Essex’s extraordinary year.

Simon Harmer (Essex) – County batsmen bruised by Harmer’s aggression and spin

South African cricket tends to produce slow bowlers rather than spin bowlers (think JP Duminy and Paul Harris), but Simon Harmer may be bucking the trend. With Keshav Maharaj showing potential that might keep him in the Test side for a decade or more, Harmer, despite some Test match success against India in 2015 on big turning wickets, signed for Essex as a Kolpak with expectations of success somewhat muted after a 2016 season in which no Essex spinner reached double figures in the wickets column.

Harmer had a steady start to the season, picking up wickets here and there, doing enough to stay in the side without suggesting that he was more than a journeyman overseas pro of the type that can give county cricket a bad name. That impression was demolished in a single match at Chelmsford in which he took 6-92 and 8-36 in direct competition with the (hitherto) best spinner in county cricket, Jeetan Patel, whose 4-138 represented his only chance to bowl on the same strip. That innings win sent Essex 14 points clear at the halfway mark of the season and people started to look back 25 years and speculate on whether it was time for Gooch and co to be joined on the Chelmsford Honours Board.

The Essex, and Harmer, talk became louder still just one week later when the 2016 champions, Middlesex, were swept aside by an innings in the day/nighter, Harmer bagging another 14 wickets haul (5-77 and 9-95). Since then, we’ve talked of little else at the top of the table and Harmer finished with a pennant and 72 scalps at 19, also chipping in with handy runs the way South African slow bowlers do.

At 28, Harmer has just entered the peak years of a spinner’s career, his action grooved, his variations under control, his confidence sky high – no wonder his one year deal has been extended to three already. He bowls and bats with an aggressive attitude and, with shades on, he even looks a bit like Graeme Swann, ripping it to get drift and revs. He might never take 28 wickets in 10 days cricket again, but he’ll take plenty in the seasons to come.

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 24, 2017

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 24 September 2017

Ball One – Essex march on

Whenever the scoreboard ticked over to 76, the late Brian Johnston would announce that it was “Trombone Time”, so how he would have enjoyed Essex’s win over Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl. The hosts’ Aussie captain, George Bailey, unpontingly enforced the follow-on after the wheels had finally come off in the champions-elects’ annus mirabilis, dismissed for 76 in their first dig. Cue 20 year-old Dan Lawrence’s century backed up by the old hands, James Foster and Neil Wagner, who posted 82 for the ninth wicket to set an awkward fourth day target of 185 for a suddenly nervy and much needed win. The victory fanfares were soon blaring again for Essex, as Sam Cook led the attack with 5-18 to despatch Hampshire for (you guessed it), 76 stretching Essex’s lead at the top of the table to 69 points. They’re just trolling their opponents now.

Ball Two – Rikki loses old numbers to post career best bowling

Hampshire had Surrey to thank for avoiding dropping into the second relegation place as Kumar Sangakkara did the Sangakkara thing, shooting an arrow into the heart of the Somerset bowlers after they had reduced the South Londoners to 169-4, still trailing by 100. Even the Lankan batsman can’t do it all on his own, so it was pleasing to see Surrey past and future chip in down the order, 19 years old Ollie Pope and 35 years old (until Friday) Rikki Clarke each posting round 50s. The lanky all-rounder is enjoying his work back the lee of the gasometers, his first innings 18-2-55-7 career-best figures – not bad for Tom Curran’s stand-in! Somerset have to win at home to Middlesex in the last match of the season to bridge the 16 points gap to their opponents, with Hampshire sandwiched in between. Keep calculators (and case precedent re “extraordinary declarations”) close to hand.

Ball Three – Finn in the swim at just the right time

Steven Finn stepped up to replace Toby Roland-Jones (you might want to CTRL-C  that for November – January) as Lancashire collapsed twice at Lord’s on a sporting but far from unplayable pitch, an example of the welcome change this year in the square at HQ. No visiting batsman scored a forty never mind a fifty, something achieved by both Ollie Rayner and T R-J through the simple virtues of watching the ball on to a vertical bat and hitting anything too full or too wide very hard indeed. Finn’s 8-79, his best since April 2010, got the home side over the line by 36 precious runs to set up the Somerset showdown in the slanting autumnal sunshine.

Ball Four – Steve Patterson proves a thorn in Bears’ side

He gets a game, he misses a game (as international calls and pitch conditions dictate) but he never gives less than 100% to the White Rose cause. Steve Patterson was in this week for a Yorkshire side grown used to fighting for the pennant rather than fighting relegation, but he remembers Division Two cricket and was in no mood to see more of it in 2018. After returning almost comically Pattersonesque figures with the ball (15-5-27-1 and 26-7-46-4), he rolled his sleeves up and went out to bat at Number Nine with 79 runs needed. He hit 44 of them himself, the gifted (and still a teenager) Matthew Fisher made 15 at the other end and a flurry of extras did the rest and Warwickshire lost again. This column is written in large part to recognise the likes of Patto and – hands across The Pennines – this Red Rose fan salutes you.

Ball Five – Nottinghamshire have their pants pulled down by Richard Levi and Rory Kleinveldt

No caption required

In my mind’s eye, Nottinghamshire were promoted about the same time Essex “won” Division One, but Northamptonshire have suddenly got a foot in the door and might yet deny them or Worcestershire a promotion slot this week. And where would be more appropriate for Rory Kleinveldt and Richard Levi to play than amongst the big boys? Kleinveldt (who is anything but klein) top scored in Northants’ first innings and then knocked over nine Notts batsmen (perhaps a certain affinity prevented him dismissing Samit Patel) before Richard Levi made light of Ben Duckett’s absence injured with a barnstorming 115, the highest individual score in the match by a margin of 62 runs. Kleinveldt chipped in with another four wickets in the second dig

as Chris Read’s valedictory dream season threatens to turn into a nightmare. Who cares about beep tests?

Ball Six – The County Championship is served very well by the few journalists left writing about it

There are not many places left to learn about the results in the County Championship (on Friday evening, BBC Radio Five Live’s sports bulletin gave us Castleford Tigers 16 Hull FC 48, Huddersfield Giants 12 Leeds Rhinos 36 and Everton Ladies 0 Liverpool Ladies 2, but nothing on cricket other than Toby Roland-Jones’ injury). So what a delight it has been this week (and all season) to read the beautifully crafted, old school match reports (if you can find them) on a cricket specialist website a click or two away from you right now. Backing up the wonderful work done through the day by the extraordinarily indefatiguable Will McPherson here at The Guardian, Tim Wigmore, Paul Edwards, David Hopps and Vithushan Ehantharajah (amongst others) transport us to the yawning green fields and big blue skies with their words day-in, day-out. Thank you gentlemen.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 17, 2017

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 17 September 2017

Naughty, Naughty…

Ball One – Essex win the Championship again – 25 years on

Just before the county championship was suspended in late June, Essex hammered the reigning champions by an innings, scoring 542-3d and then bowling Middlesex out for 246 and 262 – the game is easy if you pile up the runs and then take twenty wickets. 2017’s championship wasn’t quite a done deal (the lead was 29 points), but the other seven counties must have put on their garish gladrags and packed away the whites wondering whether it would be worth retrieving them when the hoopla was over. Turns out that it wasn’t really, as Essex picked up the red ball where they left it, cruising to the title with two matches (14% of the season) still to play. What had seemed highly unlikely six months ago has been inevitable for weeks now, but no less laudable for that. So the pennant will fly over Chelmsford for the first time since 1992 – Graham Gooch, Paul Pritchard, Mark Ilott and Peter Such and co emulated at last. “Es are good” as The Shamen’s Number One at that time (sort of) proclaimed and these 2017 E’s, from the county of John Constable and Reality TV stars, are good again in 2017.

Ball Two – Jamie Porter and Simon Harmer bring the pain to Warwickshire

The Essex boys got the job done with ruthless efficiency against forlorn, relegated Warwickshire at Edgbaston giving them a spare day to ice the champagne. After Jamie Porter and Simon Harmer had done their thing yet again, Varun Chopra punished his erstwhile employers with 98 at the top of the order, not leaving the crease until a first innings lead had been secured – Warwickshire were never coming back from that. It’s surprising to discover that Chopra, who seems to have been around forever, is still only 30, and in the prime of a batsman’s life – ask Ian Bell. He’s an example of the smart recruitment policy adopted by coach, ex-Yorkshire pacer Chris Silverwood, and Cricket Committee Chairman, ex-radio “personality”, Ronnie Irani. They picked out Simon Harmer as the spinner they needed in Division One and brought  in Mohammad Amir exactly when a touch of class was required. Even Neil Wagner, whose figures never reflect the impact his aggression has on a team, can be counted a success. Wealthier counties, like Warwickshire, must look on and wonder.

Ball Three – Jack Leach bleeds Lancashire dry of runs and gives Somerset hope

Lancashire, whose second place in the standings seemed about as unlikely as Essex’s first spot when members were grumbling in April about Ryan McLaren, Dane Vilas and Shiv Chanderpaul, lost a second match of the season, as Somerset continued to pull themselves up by the bootlaces with a win that pulled them level with Middlesex, the champions’ match at Uxbridge (Lord’s otherwise engaged) stymied by a wet outfield. 2016’s breakthrough star, Jack Leach, proved the matchwinner, his figures of 73.3-27-146-9 a testament to his concentration and effectiveness. After his difficult winter spent remodelling his action, Leach now has 42 wickets at 27, economy rate of 2.5, his partnership with the very promising Dom Bess (32 wickets at 21, economy rate 3.1) threatening to revive the days of Phil Edmonds and John Emburey, the left / right combination of spin twins giving no respite to batsmen.

Ball Four – Kumar Sangakkara shows no sign of slowing down

Just a point above last year’s champions sit 2015’s champs, Yorkshire, who ran into Kumar Sangakkara, back doing what he does for Surrey, his powers seemingly still growing just a fortnight shy of his retirement from First Class cricket. Some might say it’s not fair to dismiss England’s Mark Stoneman for 131, look up at a scoreboard that shows 233-2 and see the familiar elegant figure of the Lankan all-time great walking with that purposeful stride to the crease. He didn’t leave it until Surrey had posted over 500, his share 164, picking up where he left off before his T20 frolics in the Caribbean. So it’s props to Yorkshire for batting 122 overs in reply, tiring the bowlers sufficiently for a relatively comfortable fourth day as Shaun Marsh and Alex Lees batted out the draw with centuries, the fourth and fifth of the match on an Oval shirtfront, the follow-on an ask too far for the long-suffering home bowlers. More of that Yorkshire (and Australian) grit with the bat, allied to more penetration with the ball will be required against doomed Warwickshire and possibly be-flip-flopped Essex if Division One cricket is to be seen in the Broad Acres come 2018.

Ball Five – Pears to replace Bears in Division One?

With Nottinghamshire enjoying a week off, Worcestershire capitalised on their late burst of form (coinciding with the arrival of Ravichandran Ashwin) to go top of Division Two, albeit having played the extra match. Division Two needs a good advert or two and the Pears back-and-forth struggle with the Foxes provided that, particularly with free entry on Day Four (why not make that the case for all matches?) When Ed Barnard, one of Worcestershire’s fine young bowlers, saw off visiting skipper, Mark Cosgrove for 74, the scoreboard read 172-5, but canny old pro, Neil Dexter made a century and Leicestershire’s last three wickets added 119 runs to get them up above 400. Openers, Daryl Mitchell and Brett D’Oliveira put on a ton stand to secure a foothold for the hosts and the late order proved critical again, adding 113 for wickets eight, nine and ten as the lead was eked out to 89, despite Callum Parkinson’s 8-148. It looked plain sailing with Cosgrove’s men floundering on 59-5, but the tail rallied again and Worcestershire were set an awkward 132 to get – which they did, as Parkinson got the two wickets he needed for a consolation ten-fer. There are worse ways to spend four days than that – as long as you pack some warm clothes and and a hip flask, of course.

Ball Six – Hardus Viljoen has fun at the seaside with a career best 15 wickets

When an overseas pro is engaged by a county, members, fans and team-mates want them to win matches but accept that they can’t always do it off their own bat (or from their own end). They do expect them to put in though and the big South African quick, Hardus Viljoen, did exactly that for Derbyshire – and delivered the win – at Hove. 17.5-2-80-7 and 25-3-90-8 speak for themselves, a considerable feat of stamina for a man who can be described as a big unit. Sussex’s Jofra Archer was a victim of Viljoen’s pace twice in the match – but the highly regarded youngster should have learned much from the older man’s example.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 11, 2017

England’s Test Summer 2017 – Every Player Rated

Alastair Cook (572 runs at 44.0, 12 catches) Grade B-. Looked more comfortable back in the ranks and out of the spotlight and produced another Cook Monument at Edgbaston with a ten hour 243, an innings that gained lustre as the series progressed and the expected walkover failed to materialise. Earlier, against some very classy new ball bowling from Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander, he made a contribution in all four Tests, but faded as the compresses Test summer stretched into September. Caught, but also dropped, plenty at first slip, which suggests that he might not be sighting the ball quite as early as he used to as he approaches his mid-thirties.

Keaton Jennings (127 runs at 15.9, 1 catch) Grade D. Nobody thinks opening in Test cricket is easy, but Jennings made it look very difficult indeed. In 2016, everything clicked for him as he piled up the runs for Durham, but one year on, his timing was just that bit off, enhancing the natural vulnerability of the left-hander to nicking off. Many batsmen need a period out of the Test XI having had some early success, but Jennings looks more likely to join the likes of Adam Lyth as a solid county pro than return to the England fold and thrive as Joe Root did.

Mark Stoneman (120 runs at 30.0) Grade C+. Just the one half century, but has the virtue of improving as he settled into the rhythms of Test cricket. After an inconclusive start to his Test career, he’s stuck in the curious position of not doing enough to nail down an Ashes slot, but delivering sufficiently to make dropping him both harsh and a step back towards the disastrous hokey-cokey selection policy of the pre-Duncan Fletcher days. Might find a slot at three, with Haseeb Hameed’s right-handedness favoured as partner to Alastair Cook.

Gary Ballance (85 runs at 21.3, 2 catches) Grade D-. A rejoinder to the pundits’ cliche that you should “play the game that got you selected” when a batsman steps up from the county game. Ballance had been scoring runs for fun for Yorkshire, but, back in international cricket, he looked wracked with anxiety, the game anything but fun. Cricket has plenty of room for esoteric techniques and Ballance has the tools to make shedloads of runs in the future – not for England though.

Tom Westley (193 runs at 24.1, 0 wickets 1 catch) Grade C-. Another batsman whose technique has yielded runs in the county game but looks ill-suited to deal with bowlers who have the extra nip or movement to beat a bat coming round the front pad as straight balls are worked into the leg-side with a dominant bottom hand. His good start, displaying the kind of temperament England look for in a player, floundered on a series of low scores and he looks more likely to go on a Lions Tour than an Ashes Tour in the winter – because Cummins, Starc and Hazelwood would surely have him on toast.

Joe Root (729 runs at 60.8, 0 wickets, 9 catches) Grade B+. The burden of captaincy affected his game not a jot as he rode his luck to make a series defining 190 at Lord’s in his first innings as leader, a knock that rescued England from 76-4, the kind of score that he sees too often from the vantage point of the middle. He is so busy at the crease and so adept at putting away the four ball that it’s hard not to think that he should make even more runs than he does, but, if he didn’t get out when set, he’d be averaging 99.94 at a strike rate of 99.94. Busy as a captain too, with lots of bowling changes and well stocked slip cordons, but froze a little when Shai Hope played one of the all-time great Test innings at Headingley. His (some might say hubristic) declaration was perfectly acceptable, as that approach will turn far, far more draws into wins than into defeats – but I don’t think he’ll do it again, one up with two to play.

Dawid Malan (189 runs at 23.6, 0 wickets, 0 catches) Grade C+. From the Marcus Trescothick school of batting, a big man who moves his weight over rather than across the crease, and can drive balls only just full of a length. His 61, compiled at Headingley in just under a five hours in which he never looked fluent, took England from a deficit of 75 to a lead of 143 and that is the very acme of toughing it out in the middle order. Play that kind of knock twice Down Under and he’ll justify his selection.

Ben Stokes (527 runs at 43.9, 16 wickets at 31.3, 16 catches) Grade A. England’s gamechanger changed games with both bat and ball and in the field too. Like many a big hitter, his pyrotechnics are launched from a solid base of a straight bat presented with a high elbow, an approach from which his colleagues could learn much. That orthodoxy allows him to make deceptively tough runs on tricky pitches and when matches are in the balance. At times underused by Root, his bowling never takes a backward step, risking the drive for the late movement at pace that dismisses the best batsmen when set. More fallible than has been the case in the field, but doesn’t miss much though he does get carried away when throwing at the stumps. Goes into the Ashes as the lynchpin of the side, but (pending the ODIs and T20Is) just one demerit point away from suspension – so he needs his mouth shut, surely not an impossible ask of a man of 26 years of age.

Jonny Bairstow (389 runs at 32.4, 26 catches, 2 stumpings) Grade B. Not quite the output with the bat that has spoiled us over the last couple of years, but his punchy style still made plenty of runs delivering on his “take the game away” brief. His keeping is much improved, particularly his footwork on the legside, where he does enjoy an appeal off the thighpad, though the glovework still can look shoddy at times, especially taking throws from the deep. Retains his boyish joy to be playing for England, with plenty of smiles for teammates and the public earning him a wholly deserved popularity. It’s great to see an good guy doing well.

Moeen Ali (361 runs at 32.8, 30 wickets at 21.3, 4 catches) Grade B+. Though his numbers don’t quite bear it out, he seemed to be everywhere: batting, bowling, fielding and, memorably, celebrating an Oval hat-trick with uninhibited delight, the photograph of the summer. Got a bit of help from the pitches in the South Africa series, but used it beautifully with an attacking line of hard spun off-breaks, the wicket-taking balls more than compensating for the loose ones that still betray his origin as a batsman who bowls. Looks comfortable at Number 8, where his feline grace and Goweresque cover drives can be deployed against tiring bowlers and a second new ball that pings off the blade. Speaks eloquently with candour to the media, a man comfortable in his skin and at ease in the team.

Liam Dawson (18 runs at 6.0, 5 wickets at 33.8, 2 catches) Grade C-. The Lord’s pitch had turned sharply for Samit Patel in the Royal London One Day Cup Final a few days earlier, so it made sense to have a second spin option in the (delayed) First Test of the summer and Dawson justified his place with four wickets, including that of Hashim Amla. It was a curious decision to retain him at Trent Bridge, but he was no more blameworthy than anyone else in a terrible Test for the team as a whole. Dawson is a solid county pro who might offer enough to play some international white ball cricket, but, with Mason Crane identified as the latest Great English Wrist-Spinning Hope, it’s hard to see Dawson getting another Test.

Chris Woakes (84 runs at 84.0, 2 wickets at 61, 0 catches) Grade C. Would he have played his single Test of an injury blighted summer were an Ashes Tour not a few months away? As it was, he looked undercooked with the ball, down on pace, lacking rhythm and in need of a gallop. His batting was as classy as ever, preposterously low at Number 9 armed, as he is, with a much better technique than the Number 3!

Toby Roland-Jones (82 runs at 20.5, 17 wickets at 19.6, 0 catches) Grade B+. Translated his county game into the Test arena seamlessly, running in a long way but with lovely balance, then hitting the pitch hard to extract any seam movement that might be available. He has all the attributes to be a fine addition to England’s seamer squad – and that’s what you need with so many Tests being played with just a few days between them. Showed the kind of positive strokeplay with the bat at Number 9 that characterised Stuart Broad prior to his grilling by Varon Aaron.

Mark Wood (34 runs at 8.5, 1 wicket at 197.0, 1 catch). Grade D-. Charged in with his usual enthusiasm, but just couldn’t get everything lined up and working smoothly after his injuries. Recently got back on his horse for Durham and took a few wickets, but might be destined to go in and out of the side as injuries and rotation permits.

Stuart Broad (129 runs at 16.1, 20 wickets at 33.9, 2 catches) Grade B-. A strangely quiet season for Broad who failed to deliver one of his trademark streaks, possibly because he always seemed to be just that bit too short, his fear of the drive with ball in hand almost as great as his fear of the bouncer with bat in hand. That said, his figures would have been much improved by better catching, a priority for improvement as a team and for Broad himself. His driving, slashing batting won’t deliver the big scores he once looked capable of making from Number 8, but the occasional thirty-odd at 10 is fine given England’s wealth of all-rounders / bowlers who bat.

Jimmy Anderson (27 runs at 9.0, 39 wickets at 14.1, 5 catches) Grade A+. At 35 years of age, his game is pared back to the minimum, the run up defining efficiency, the delivery defining the repeatable action for which pacemen strive, the ball swinging this way and that, the conjuror bamboozling any batsman unwilling or unable to watch the ball every inch of its passage from cocked wrist to straight bat. Had conditions in his favour of course and, if he was occasionally ever so slightly showy going that few feet short to create big booming swingers particularly past left-handers, well, as Root isn’t DG Bradman, Anderson isn’t SF Barnes – not that there’s any shame in that. England’s record-breaker will have a Kookaburra ball in hand soon, as he seeks to catch Courtney Walsh and Glenn McGrath, and the atmospherics and pitches won’t be as amenable to his style either, but he’s equipped to bowl anywhere these days and will eye Australia’s fragile middle order with a gimlet eye. Probably still England’s second best fielder too – a testament to his skills and the work his colleagues need to put in, because dropping Warner or Smith at Brisbane or Adelaide could be as good as dropping The Urn itself.

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 10, 2017

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 10 September 2017

Perhaps the ECB should seek advice from this more enlightened body re rules and discretion

Ball One – HH looking AOK for LCCC and ECB

With less than half the scheduled overs bowled (in Manchester, in September – who’d have thunk it?) the showdown at the top of Division One turned into a damp squib, nine points each and as you were. There was time for Haseeb Hameed to dig in with 88, more than twice the score managed by any other batsman, ground out in five and a half hours on solid defence and occasional attack. Whilst it would be absurd not to take him on an Ashes Tour, whether he makes the starting XI will depend on a few more innings of this kind delivered in the next few months. All talk of scoring rates, positive body language and taking the game to the bowlers (the “Alex Hales” case, one might say) can be shelved, because 30-0 at lunch will be a very good score with Patrick Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood firing on all cylinders. No opening option is better suited to leaving it or blocking it, as the Kookaburra ball fades and softens – the runs can come quickly at 6, 7 and 8.

Ball Two – Tres bien from Tres

The big winners – indeed, the only winners – in Division One, were Somerset winning the battle of the basement with Warwickshire, who look doomed to play Division Two cricket in an echoey Edgbaston next year. After young captain, Tom Abell, found some runs in this challenging first season leading the side, old (some might say very old) captain, Marcus Trescothick, celebrated his recent contract extension with a four hour undefeated century that set Warwickshire far too many, despite some fight being shown as the weather threatened to add a fourth draw to its haul last week. The man still called “Banger” due to his youthful fondness for the foodstuff (which we are advised, as is the case with babies, not to see being made) is nearly 42 now, but has barely aged since he gave up the international game. Unlike actual bangers, lean might the word to describe Banger’s recent returns, but, with three crucial matches to play as Somerset eye survival, form might be turning up to join class just when needed.

Ball Three – Chris Read waves farewell to Trent Bridge

After weeks and weeks of writing about Nottinghamshire winning match after match, Daryl Mitchell stepped in to stop the Midlands juggernaut with a brilliant undefeated century to wrap up a win that took Worcestershire 36 points clear in second, albeit having played a match more than the pursuing pack. Perhaps (shades of Bradman after the three cheers at The Oval in 1948 – though nobody really believes that story surely) too many Nottinghamshire batsmen had a tear pricking the eye at the thought of captain, keeper and record breaker, Chris Read, playing his final match at Trent Bridge. Plenty in the crowd did after all.

Ball Four – Northamptonshire get wake up call from Sussex late order

Northamptonshire went third with a win over Sussex that illustrates the perils of enforcing the follow-on. After Ben Duckett’s barnstorming 193 and Rory Kleinveldt’s five wickets had secured a first innings lead of 254, the visitors were asked to have another go and, possibly with the freedom of not having much to lose and possibly against bowlers consciously feeling fatigued and subconsciously feeling they had earned a rest thank you very much, they made a much better fist of things. David Wiese joined the gifted Jofra Archer with the Northants’ bowlers having delivered over 130 overs and taken 18 wickets and presumably with half a mind on a massage and a sit down. 127 runs were plundered in the next 25 overs, leaving Northants with a tricky 140 to get  – which, to their credit, they did, four down. Alex Wakeley’s decision was vindicated, but there are easier ways to win a cricket match when you’re so far ahead.

Ball Five – Colly’s not for wobbling

That said, timing a declaration is no easy matter as Joe Root found out at Headingley and Paul Collingwood found out at Chester-le-Street. Perhaps with the West Indies’ chase in mind, Colly held off inviting Kent to have another go until he had 370 runs banked and no chance of defeat. The visitors, unsurprisingly, never got near that target but, despite the efforts of Durham’s newly anointed record wicket-taker, Graham Onions, a previously migraine-stricken Sam Billings and Mitch Claydon (not the worst Number 11) held on for the draw. Got to lose a few you expect to win if you want to avoid turning big leads into draws – not that it matters much in terms of points in Durham’s blighted season.

Ball Six – Man with clipboard and stopwatch steps in

As a student, it takes a little while to grasp the concept of Equity in English Law (some of us probably never did), but its maxims – supplementing Common Law – can be very useful in getting to the right result when the Law is behaving like an ass.  Surely the ECB should have drawn on such discretion in considering Middlesex’s penalty for a slow over rate in the now infamous “crossbow match” at The Oval last month. As the contest drifted to an inevitable draw, Middlesex could have declared and slung down a few meaningless overs but, in so doing, recovered the two overs they failed to bowl in the first innings, restoring their over rate to the prescribed level over the match as a whole. Gaming the system possibly – but everybody does it and, as we see all day every day in Test cricket, over rate regulations treated with something bordering contempt by all parties, until a suspension looms and panic sets in. But no. Middlesex have been docked two points by someone because them’s the rules and there’s no appeal. One place above the drop, they are points the 2016 champions can ill-afford to give up.

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 3, 2017

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 3 September 2017

Ravichandran Ashwin at Worcestershire last week

Ball One – Jamie Porter carries the fight to Somerset as Essex put Somerset to the seax

The biggest surprise in county cricket (bar one – see Ball Four) continues as Essex, winners of Division Two in 2016, consolidated their grip on Division One in 2017, 36 points clear with four rounds of matches to play. Their win over a Somerset side fighting the drop showed all the hallmarks of a team who know how to win cricket matches. Batting first, they were soon in trouble at 39-4, before a few boundaries from skipper, Ryan ten Doeschate raised spirits and a few more from the tail got them up to 159. But Jamie Porter and Mohammad Amir got amongst the fragile Somerset batting and the match turned into a one innings affair. Opener Nick Browne and ten Doeschate were in the runs again, but they got some crucial support from Adam Wheater, whose 88 was the top score in the match and a perfect example of a man coming good for the team in a personally disappointing season. Cue Jamie Porter again, whose pace and accuracy added 7-55 to his first innings 5-40 and blew Somerset away. Porter’s 52 wickets puts him just one behind teammate Simon Harmer in the Division One bowling table. He won’t be needing his hot water bottle this winter.

Ball Two – Matt Parkinson passes his interview for a slot in the Lancashire XI

Essex’s nearest pursuers (some might say only pursuers, with third place Hampshire a yawning 60 points off the leaders) are, almost equally surprisingly, Lancashire, who ended Warwickshire’s resurgence with an easy eight wickets win at Old Trafford. Though Kolpak signings, Ryan McLaren and Kyle Jarvis, shared 15 wickets, a couple of more local lads also stood out. Liam Livingstone’s 224 at Number Three underlined his continuing progress as a game-changing batsmen in all formats of the game. Having just turned 24, he already has a couple of T20 England caps, but his first class average is now over 50 at a strike rate over 60 – if he’s not ready for The Ashes this winter, he might be by 2019. Matt Parkinson is three years younger, but has already forced himself into the Lancashire team in the face of stiff spin competition from the canny Stephen Parry, the experienced Simon Kerrigan and the all-round talents of Arron Lilley. His three second innings wickets don’t look like much, but it repays the faith shown in him by his captain and coach and that can only be good for Lancashire, and perhaps, eventually, England too. Lancashire play a must-win match at home to Essex this week.

Ball Three – Ravichandran Ashwin flies into Worcestershire and destroys Gloucestershire

At the end of Game of Thrones season seven, we saw the devastating effect of the Night King’s acquisition of a dragon on hitherto impregnable defences. There aren’t too many of those in Division Two of the County Championship (impregnable defences I mean and, with the Lord’s gatemen now in Division One, dragons too), but Ravichandran Ashwin promises to wreak havoc on late season pitches for Worcestershire, as their easy win over Gloucestershire sent them 21 points clear of third place Sussex. Ashwin made handy runs in the middle order and took 8-162 from his 63 overs, as he bowled his newly adopted county into the second promotion slot and himself into a bit of English form prior to India’s tour next summer (they are no mugs at the BCCI). Though the media feeding frenzy of the Premier League’s transfer window is an unedifying sight, at least the integrity of a squad game is maintained. Perhaps it’s time to close cricket’s transfer window at (say) the halfway mark of the county championship season.

Ball Four – Everyone safe at The Oval, but now is the time for action

“Match suspended due to crowd trouble” read the Cricinfo commentary as extraordinary events played out at The Oval as Surrey’s local derby with Middlesex drifted to an otherwise wholly unremarkable draw. As one does, I rushed to Twitter, where reports were emerging of an arrow landing on the square, some confusion and then a swift and orderly evacuation of players and subsequently, the relatively small crowd. In more senses than one then, a near-miss and, though I’m not one for banning things, perhaps such weapons should be treated in law as handguns – and not for sale at less that £30 to anyone over the age of 18, the first thing you see when you google “crossbow”.

Ball Five – Steven Mullaney exemplifies Nottinghamshire’s formula for one day success

Nottinghamshire added the Nat West T20 Blast to the Royal London One Day Cup to confirm their domination of white ball cricket in 2017. Their formula for such success is hardly a secret: a balanced squad of players, including a few who are not quite good enough for international call-ups or poaching by foreign franchises, and options with bat and ball to deliver in any match situation. But it was an unsung, some might say, bits-and-pieces man who caught my eye on Finals Day. Steven Mullaney didn’t make it at Lancashire and could easily have drifted off into League cricket as a hard-working pro, but tried his luck at Notts and was in and out of the team for years. Up and down the order in all formats, he has been used mainly as a finisher in T20 in 2017, his strike rate of 159 second only to Alex Hales. But his bowling came to the fore on Finals Day on another pitch largely devoid of the zip that makes for attractive cricket whether the ball is white, red or pink. Though Harry Gurney’s left-arm slower balls bagged him a Finals Day record seven wickets, Mullaney’s canny dibbly-dobblers strangled Hampshire’s semi-final chase of a gettable 170, his figures of 4-0-22-3 including dangermen James Vince and George Bailey. Whether English one day pitches should so often be so perfectly suited to bowlers who operate between 60mph and 80mph is not a question with which Mullaney concerns himself. Maybe it’s just me.

Ball Six – Two cheers for the ECB

A rare plaudit for the ECB, as they scheduled the domestic showpiece event on one of the quietest sports Saturdays of the year, with the leviathan of Premier League football on an international break and other sports in a bit of a betwixt and between lull. Well done. Next they need to get the razzmatazz, the boosterism and the spectacle in front of the next generation of cricket fans (and subscription TV customers) by showing / streaming it free to air – and then do the same with all T20 matches. After all, what’s the point of a shop window if you keep the blinds down?

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 28, 2017

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 28 August 2017

Not David Ward

Ball One – Now That’s What I Call Hitting

In the 70s, in motorway service stations, you could buy Top Of The Pops albums (and even cheaper copies) with their glamour girl covers and their small print (“Re-recorded for your pleasure – not by original artists”). Then. in the mid-80s, came the “Now That’s What I Call Music” series which gave us the actual songs by the actual artists and you didn’t need to record them off the radio and catch a few seconds of Peter Powell or anything! But we got tired of those soon too and wanted to look at them yo-yos play the guitar on the MTV. Watching Shahid Afridi tee off and make a century to smash Derbyshire and catapult (checks who Shahid Afridi is playing for this week) Hampshire into Finals Day, reminded me of that series of albums. All those hits, all that star quality, but I’ve seen it so many times now that I turned right over to the TV page and watched Game of Thrones long before the match slumped to its conclusion.

Ball Two – Glammie slammie Foxes

The second quarter-final was even more of a non-event, Glamorgan deploying a little dibbly from Graham Wagg and a little dobbly from Craig Meschede to strangle Leicestershire, before Jacques Rudolph and Colin Ingram cruised to 126-1 in the 14th over. That’s all I have to say about that.

Ball Three – The treble (well, a treble) is still on for Nottinghamshire

It wasn’t as one-sided at Trent Bridge, but Nottinghamshire are enjoying 2017 as much as they endured 2016 and, like all sides in form, found a way to win. After Somerset’s Steve Davies and Peter Trego rolled back the clock with a partnership of 85 in 10.3 overs to set up a handy target of 152, the home side were in a bit of trouble at 66-4 in the 10th over. But captain Dan Christian knew that he had Samit Patel at the other end – what a fine cricketer he is – and the resourceful Steve Mullaney still in the hutch. Text book finishing from that experienced trio got Notts over the line with nine balls to spare and a second day out at a one day final beckons.

Ball Four – Bears win for grizzly old pro Grant Elliott

Ian Bell bowed to the inevitable and resigned the captaincy of Warwickshire after months of drift and under-achievement, individually and collectively. As is so often the case, fortunes immediately changed the the Birmingham Bears with a win over Surrey to continue a much improved second half of the season. 205 is stiff ask even at the fast scoring Oval, but new captain, Grant Elliott, has steered ships home in stormier seas, and his 59 not out, having come to the crease with 121 needed at that crucial tick under ten an over, proved sufficient. Surrey failed to emulate Notts with a second white ball Finals appearance in 2017 and can concentrate on a pitch for the pennant.

Ball Five – Some decisions should stay downstairs

Controversy at The Oval again in what is one of cricket’s most tedious and, I venture, unnecessary, delays. Technology should be used where it helps – as it does so often (if not quite always) with the edge on to the pads reversing an LBW. But does it ever help to determine if a catch has been held cleanly? So… Rory Burns takes a “catch” in the deep, Grant Elliott stands his ground and umpire, Martin Saggers, takes that fatal look towards Tim Robinson and the whole charade plays out as it does 99% of the time, with the doubt going in the batsman’s favour. Cue the boos and the bad blood bubbling between the players, but we’ve been here so many times before that it’s taking on elements of pantomime. Well over a decade ago, Dermott Reeve (remember him?) showed how television pictures’ flattening of a three dimensional event into a two dimensional representation rendered the third umpire’s job impossible in these circumstances – viz the technology doesn’t help. Tough job though it is, the field umpires should make a decision and stick to it – and the players and fans should accept that they might sometimes err.

Ball Six – “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more’ – but I will, of course

Haseeb Hameed may yet open the batting for England in The Ashes against Patrick Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood – quite an assignment. In the last 50 days, he has played one match of first team cricket. Can’t the boozers, the families and the money men who seem to love T20 cricket give the rest of us just a few more days of – I’ll say it – proper cricket at the time of year best suited to it? Watching the likes of Hameed make a fourth innings 70 off 200 balls on a dry turner in a match that goes 240, 200, 170, 211-8 may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there are hundreds of thousands of us for whom scorecards like that have defined our summers. If the County Championship were a physical construction, it would be protected from predatory development – it’s at least as culturally significant as 95% of listed buildings (you may, like me, up that figure by 5% if you wish), and it’s about time it was treated with a bit of respect.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 21, 2017

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 21 August 2017

Surely that should be a LCCC and not an MCC tie!

Ball One – Foxes hunt down Outlaws

15 of 18 counties eyed scoreboards anxiously on the last day of the T20 Blast group stages, as, after all those weeks of matches, only three (including Durham) had no chance of making the quarter-finals. Is that a testimony to the competitiveness of the format or a condemnation of the foolishness of hijacking high summer for a lot of sound and fury that ultimately signified nothing? Soon we’ll have two chances to consider that conundrum. Leicestershire won’t be too bothered about such musings, as they secured their spot in the last eight with a victory over team of the season (so far) Nottinghamshire, who had already topped the North Group. The most fantastic Mr Foxes proved to be Cameron Delport and Matt Pillans, the former making a century, the latter defending seven off the last over. Both are South African born, somewhat nondescript (for this level) players, whose faces will not be screaming out of the knockout stages marketing posters. Good on them, but also, I’m afraid, as the young people say, meh.

Ball Two – Imran Tahir a ripper of a signing for Derbyshire as they roll into the quarter-finals

Derbyshire and Warwickshire also progressed from the North Group, with the distinctly unmehish South African import Imran Tahir the key man for unfashionable Derbyshire, whose reward is a home tie on a first visit to the quarter-finals since 2005. Chasing 147, Worcestershire were all out for 98, the wily old leg-spinner returning figures of 4 – 0 – 17 – 4 to show the value of experienced bowling yet again. Tahir’s group stage output (17 wickets at 22 and a strike rate a notch above seven) represent fairly predictable numbers for one of the world’s most effective T20 operators, a man who seldom under-performs. Quite why he is not delivering his mix of hard spun leg-breaks, top spinners and googlies for a bigger name, such as Lancashire, Yorkshire, Middlesex, Essex, Sussex or Kent – all of whom failed to make it out of the group stage – is harder to divine.

Ball Three – Adam Lyth lashes out

Though it proved insufficient to ensure progress as results on the last day went against Yorkshire, Adam Lyth (yes, that Adam Lyth) wrote himself into the record books with English T20’s highest score, out for 161 in the last over, as Yorkshire piled up another record 260-4 against Northamptonshire. The hitherto rather sedate left-hander hit over a third of the 73 balls he faced to the boundary (and well done the Tykes who faced the other 50 balls for getting him back on strike) and was instantly interviewed on the boundary live on Sky News, his bald pate shining under the lights, famous not so much “at last” as “again”. Perhaps another ex-England left-handed Test opener looked on and wondered if his fate would mirror Lyth’s. Northants’ Ben Duckett averages less than 30 in white ball cricket this summer and less than 40 in red ball matches and looks a long way off an England recall – but has time to come again.

Ball Four – Glamorgan emerge from the valleys to summit of the South Group

Though Glamorgan have a Test match ground (or, should I say, a ground that hosts Test matches), in many ways their topping of the South Group mirrors Derbyshire’s home tie securing second place in the North Group. In a shortened match at Cardiff, Middlesex’s metropolitan city slickers, boasting six internationals, were restricted to 99-8 with three wickets each for Marchant de Lange and Michael Hogan, the seamers offering plenty of pace and nous. The pair have played 12 matches each and taken 31 wickets at just over 20 and an economy rate of 8.2. That, allied to another moneyball signing, the big hitting Colin Ingram, is a mix that might just go all the way.

Ball Five – Rikki hasn’t lost his numbers – at least with the ball

Surrey and Hampshire squeezed into second and third places in the South Group, the Londoners grateful to an old friend seemingly more at ease with his cricket in familiar surroundings. Rikki Clarke may be 36 next month and 11 years on since his last appearance for England with his return from Warwickshire to The Oval seen as cover for either Curran being poached by England, but his bowling and fielding may well have a say in Surrey’s hopes to go one better in 20 overs cricket than they did in the 50 overs competition. After Jason Roy’s 78 (including 13 of his team’s 16 boundaries) had set a gettable target of 155, Kent looked well set on 99-3 with 56 needed off 39 balls, but Clarke had Joe Denly, who had been anchoring the innings, caught behind and conceded just three runs in the 14th over and, with 15 required, four off the last. Don’t be surprised to see both Currans and Clarke appearing in the same Surrey XI over the next 12 months or so.

Ball Six – Net Run Rate – Not Readily Reckonable

If T20 is the entry level drug leading to the Cat A stuff of Test Match cricket – I’ve been addicted since the mid-70s, so I speak as a survivor – does it help its cause to read that Somerset edged out Sussex for the South Group’s last quarter-final slot by 0.068 on NRR? I know it’s something to do with margins of victory and that those who understand say that it’s the fairest way to separate teams in a league, but can it be made less opaque? On a more general point as a World Test Championship seems as far away as ever and context is sought for bilateral series in all formats, why are cricket match results so hard to aggregate and evaluate in a table? Shouldn’t there be an app for that?

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 14, 2017

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 14 August 2017

The Roses Match last week

Ball One – Mohammad Amir is a prince of bowlers, but Jamie Porter is no mere bag carrier.

The County Championship is back – was back – and is now gone again until the end of the month, like a satellite briefly returning to Earth’s orbit before being slingshot back into outer space (a fate, one can’t help feeling, some administrators would invite for the grand old competition). Not down Essex way though, as the southern softies went into the heartland of tough northern cricket and blew Yorkshire into the North Sea at Scarborough inside two days. With the honourable exceptions of Adam Lyth (last man out in the first innings) and Jack Leaning (last man out in the second), the home side had no answer to Mohammad Amir and Jamie Porter, whose combined figures of 17-157 will win 99.94% of matches. Amir’s class is obvious – what a signing he is – and Porter’s 40 wickets at 22 this season must surely earn him an overseas tour this winter. Essex lead by 46 points with five matches to play.

Ball Two – Matthew Lamb not led to the slaughter

The midsummer interregnum in four day cricket allowed for some soul-searching at Edgbaston and changes in personnel. For the team at the foot of Division One, this round of matches had to produce a win and it did, a late-middle order rally in the third innings proving the difference in a low scoring contest with Middlesex, whose title defence limps on. England man, Chris Woakes, was the catalyst, arriving at the crease with half the second innings wickets gone and the lead just 104. His half century, plus 71 from new face, Matthew Lamb and an unbeaten 62 from the admirable Keith Barker, set a fourth innings target of over 300 which proved far too much for the champions’ depleted batting. Warwickshire are still 31 points off safety, but have hope, though they will likely lose Woakes to England for the run-in.

Ball Three – Chris Read re-writes the record books

Nottinghamshire’s lead in Division Two is almost as forbidding as Essex’s in Division One, as they underlined their superiority, dismantling Derbyshire by an innings. Alex Hales, who must feel like a pro playing league cricket at the moment such is his contempt for the bowling, made a run a ball 218, Brett Hutton bagged five wickets in each innings and Chris Read set a new record for a Nottinghamshire wicketkeeper with his 968th first class dismissal in a one-sided affair. The question is not whether Notts will be promoted in 2017, but how they were ever relegated in 2016.

Ball Four – Dan Christian resurrects the spirit of David Hussey at New Road

Away went the slips and in came the scoops, as the T20 Blast barged back into the schedule with the penultimate week of group stage matches in a competition that seems to have been going on for months already. Notts (them again) became the first club to qualify from the North Group after captain, Dan Christian, inspired his team with bat and ball. Christian isn’t quite the same player as his fellow countryman (and ex- Nottinghamshire player), David Hussey, but he does support an old conjecture of mine – that T20 sides will morph into 10 davidhusseys and a batsman-wicketkeeper. Useful though such 130 strike rate biffers/60mph – 80mph bowlers/gun fielders are in the format, whether fans will tire of watching eight or more in every team day after day is a moot point.

Ball Five – Glamorgan take de Lange way home

That cynicism aside, Glamorgan qualified from the South Group in a thriller at Taunton with a key contribution from a genuine quick. After something of an old school innings in which Glamorgan constructed a platform before a pushing on to a competitive total (127-1 after 14.3 becoming 183-6 after 20), Somerset went into the last three overs needing a highly gettable 22 with experienced old pros, Johann Myburgh and Jim Allenby both well set. Cue South African speedster, Marchant de Lange (still only 26!), who dismissed both Somerset men – and 20 off two overs with new batsmen at the crease proved too much.

Ball Six – Jack Leaning leans back to pluck one out of the sky

Though it grieves a Lanky fan to write it, the T20 highlight of the week was a spectacular catch by Yorkshire’s Jack Leaning to dismiss Lancashire’s Arron Lilley, as white beat red in the Roses match. Not bad in perfect fielding conditions, but all the more laudable on a wet outfield that would have seen play abandoned in seasons past. It’s always been my view that, unless it’s raining or there is standing water on the field, T20 cricket should be played, the players trusted to look after their own welfare underfoot – umpires and players seem to be coming round to that, and about time too.

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