Posted by: tootingtrumpet | January 27, 2016

South Africa vs England Test Series – England Report Card

Ben Stokes embraces his  South African side

Ben Stokes embraces his South African side

Alastair Cook (184 runs at 23) – Has another overseas Test series under his belt and the scalp of a South African captain in a pleasing, if not wholly unexpected, reversal of the Graeme Smith Effect. Showed signs of maturity in his captaincy, with attacking fields and innovation, such as James Taylor’s (Not So) Short Leg and a willingness to give batsmen their head to play as they see fit and bowlers the opportunity to keep going if it’s coming out right.  He was paid back regularly, most often Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad. That said, this set of figures will give him pause for concern: 3; 13; 55; 17; 22; 71; 177; and 8 – they are England’s scores when Cook’s wicket fell. With the identity of his long term opening partner no more clear now than when Andrew Strauss was in whites and not a suit, the captain needs to get his side through to triple figures more regularly if Test matches are to be won consistently.

Alex Hales (136 runs at 17) – For an imposing physical presence with a reputation for dominating bowlers in white ball cricket, he cut a vulnerable figure at the top of the order with his mind addled by thoughts of attack and defence, playing and leaving, blocking and biffing – by the end of the series, he looked shot to pieces and one can’t help wondering what Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander would have done. Now dons the pyjamas for some white ball stand and deliver stuff with few slips to worry about and confidence to rebuild. If he feels the ball on the middle of the bat again regularly, there’s a case for retaining him for the early season Sri Lanka Tests, but if not, it might be time for the selectors to twist again. Hales, just turned 27, would have plenty of time to come back if that’s the way it goes.

Nick Compton (245 runs at 31) – One can almost feel fans (and perhaps Trevor Bayliss) bristling with frustration as another half volley is blocked back to the bowler, but Compton may be one of those cricketers (like Ben Stokes) for whom the question is not so much how nor even how many, but when. In the critical opening Test of the series, he got England’s first innings from 3-1 up to 247-5 before he was out and in the second, he watched the board tick over from 13-1 to 118-2 before he lost his wicket. Take those knocks away, and the series may well have turned out very differently – he was my (and many others) Man of the Match in Durban.

Joe Root (386 runs at 55, 0 wicket for 77) – Comes in and immediately gets on with it, nudging good balls for singles and hitting bad balls to the boundary – has an English batsmen (okay, betting without KP) ever been so ruthless in dealing with four balls? Just the one century, albeit a critical one in the series sealing win at Johannesburg, and his tendency to toss away good starts is developing into a bad habit (the game won’t always be as easy as it looks now Joe), but they are the only blemishes in another successful series with the bat.

James Taylor (186 runs at 27) – Snared two astonishing catches at shortish leg to see off Hashim Amla and Dane Vilas in Johannesburg making a crucial position his own at a time when England’s fielding can turn shoddy very rapidly. At the crease, he looks to have plenty of shots and, like many a batsman short of stature, can reduce the bowler’s margin for error by hooking and pulling balls just short of a length and driving those a little fuller. He needs to relax into his game though. Ironically, he could do with importing the stillness and ball watching so evident in his fielding into his primary skill – his batting.

Ben Stokes (411 runs at 59, 12 wickets at 29) – Cape Town’s pitch turned into a batsman’s paradise, but nobody knew that when Ben Stokes walked to the crease with England 167-4 to face Kagiso Rabada on a hat-trick. Cue bold batting to get through to the close of Day One on 74… then mayhem on a Sunday morning he, Jonny Bairstow and everyone at Newlands or watching on television or following on radio will never forget. Records were as scattered as the fielders, as Stokes hit orthodox cricket shots right out of the sweetest of sweet spots again and again and again to provoke comparisons with Adam Gilchrist at his destructive best. Add in a momentum shifting 58 in the Third Test and his consistent threat with the ball through vicious swing at handy pace, and England may just have the most exciting Test cricketer in the world right now. There will be days when he’ll top edge one early and the ball will swing straight on to the middle of the bat at half volley length, but that’s a price worth paying for a talent like this.

Jonny Bairstow (359 runs at 72, 19 catches, 1 stumping) – Rode to an emotional maiden Test century on the back of Ben Stokes’ pyrotechnics at the other end, but made decent runs while the series was alive, looking much more comfortable at 7 than he did at 5. With the gloves, he took plenty of catches and showed real athleticism on pitches that were never straightforward for keeping, but he could be untidy at times – this failing showing up more when his colleagues in the cordon are dropping catches or leaving them to fly by. It’s still a tight call between Yorkshire’s and Lancashire’s keeper for the England slot, but perhaps the solution is to try Jos Buttler at 5, especially if his confidence really is restored by the white ball game.

Moeen Ali (116 runs at 29, 10 wkts at 49) – As usual with England’s uncomplaining all-rounder, the figures don’t seem to reflect the performance, which was good enough to shade the Man of the Match award in the First Test, where he picked up 7 of his 10 wickets in the series. Both batting and bowling seem to oscillate between extremes, often in the same over – jaffas and long hops with the ball and silky smooth drives and airy-fairy wafts with the bat. Moeen is probably fortunate to playing with Ben Stokes the other all-rounder in the XI and without another spinner knocking on the door – and luck matters in cricket, as it does in life.

Stuart Broad (51 runs at 13, 18 wickets at 21) – Bowled beautifully throughout the series, sometimes without luck, but elevated his level in the Third Test to run through the South African batting to secure an unassailable 2-0 series lead for England. Regularly found a lovely rhythm with a drive through the crease that allowed him to bowl a length that pulled the batsman forward, then left him groping for the ball as it seamed a little out or a little in at an uncomfortable pace. Glenn McGrath would have looked on approvingly – yes, he was that good.

Steven Finn (12 runs at 6, 11 wickets at 26) – Recovered from injury sufficiently to play the three live Tests and was at the batsman throughout, jarring hands with balls that would climb from a length. Looked back to his best, before run up worries and injuries seemed to knock his confidence and rein in his pace when he dropped back into England’s squad of seamers. Despite Mark Wood’s impressive summer in 2015, a fit Finn looks a notch above his rivals and is likely to be selected as the regular third seamer, if he can maintain this form.

James Anderson (5 runs at 5, 7 wickets at 43) – Frustrated again in South Africa which just doesn’t seem to suit his work – despite the new ball swinging conventionally and the old ball reversing, he’s paying 40 runs per wicket over 8 Tests. Of course, he’s cultivated his grumpy persona for a while now (and he’s only going to get grumpier) which is fine when he’s taking wickets, but can irritate fans and team-mates when he isn’t. With three early season Tests coming up against shivering Sri Lankans, he’ll expect to be mixing a few smiles with the scowls soon.

Chris Woakes (54 runs at 14, 2 wickets at 99) – The speedgun says he’s quick, the naked eye at the ground says he’s quick and his First Class record says he’s quick – but the Warwickshire man looks as threatening as a kitten in a youtube video shared 10m times. Has he a Test career ahead of him, particularly when Jimmy Anderson is no longer available? Or is he a James Faulkner / Irfan Pathan type bits-and-pieces deluxe player best suited to white ball cricket bowling in the middle overs and scoring handy 40s? My heart says the former; my brain says the latter.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | January 2, 2016

Cricket in 2016 – six modest proposals

Cricket needs more gadgets

Cricket needs more gadgets

While Death of a Gentleman and websites ponder The State Of Cricket In 2016 and prescribes medicines for its undoubted ills, 99.94 ponders more modest changes the game might adopt this year.

Pitches need more pace and more consistent bounce if the best batsmen and best bowlers are to thrive and attractive cricket be promoted. To do this, cricket needs a set of reliable metrics, because if you want to change things, you first must measure them. Golf’s stimpmeter offers a low tech solution to assessing the pace of greens and that gadget might be adapted for cricket. For international matches, software that crunches Hawkeye data to produce an easy to understand measure of pace and bounce is surely not beyond the ken of the game that gave us Duckworth-Lewis.

Life is speeding up, so Test cricket needs to follow suit. As in T20, batsmen should be on their way to the crease the moment a dismissal is confirmed – it’s absurd to see the clock tick round waiting for a batsman to rise from his seat and saunter to the middle. There should be no breaks for protective equipment to be ferried to the middle – if a player needs it, he should wear it at the start of the session and throughout it, with helmets placed behind the keeper as usual. Drinks should be brought on to the field after one hour at the batsman’s discretion only. Fielders should get drinks on the boundary (if they want them) with the keeper picking one up at the fall of a wicket; umpires should carry their own.

Tests should be played over four days. Each day should comprise three sessions of 37 overs to be bowled in two and a half hours maximum, with overs not bowled in one session being made up in the next and any overs not so delivered penalised with eight runs (or the session average scoring rate, whichever is the higher) added to extras. This would give a guaranteed maximum of a seven and a half hour, 111 overs day – which should encourage spinners – with 444 overs in a Test (down slightly on 450, as it now stands, but the full complement is very rarely bowled). The additional workload over a day should be viewed alongside the additional rest / practice time available. (First Class cricket can use the same kind of formula to reduce from four days to three).

Bowlers should be allowed to bowl 12 overs in ODI cricket and 5 overs in T20. In practice, captains would still want six or more options, but if a bowler is holding their own with the batsmen, they could keep them going, the cat and mouse battle entertaining the crowd and levelling the resources of the sides in a game already slanted strongly in favour of the team batting.

For ODIs and T20s, grounds should be zoned for the different needs of spectators. Stewarding should enforce family zones, non-alcohol zones, music and cheerleading zones, non-music zones (ie with no speakers pointing at the crowd, fancy dress zones etc. Cricket (even T20 cricket) is a longish day and spectators should have some say over the company they enjoy.

While everyone loves a catch in the crowd, it is clear that very few spectators have the hand-eye coordination to effect them, nor even to protect themselves from the ball. It is my belief that someone will soon be very seriously injured by a six and that this risk can be easily mitigated. Fans should be encouraged to keep their eyes on the ball while it is in play, with no distractions on the big screens during overs other than the score. Stewards should also sit half-facing the play and half-facing the crowd, so they have some chance of taking evasive action should a flat-batted hit come their way.      

What would you do?

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 25, 2015

Christmas on Tour – Hugh Fatt-Barstad

Wally calling a no ball at nets

No ball!

With Wally indisposed with what was officially described as “discomfort”, we needed another Hitler for the traditional Christmas Fancy Dress Party on The Colonel’s 1956-57 Tour. Fortunately, the Daily Mail’s man was able to step in, apparently always travelling with the costume in the suitcase for “special occasions”. I did my usual turn as one of the Black and White Minstrels (which amused the hotel staff whenever they were allowed into the ballroom) and Nurse won the prize (a box of cigars) for her Henry VIII. Since we were playing the Third Test against Jonny Boer starting on Boxing Day, we were under a strict 2am curfew, so we left the Press boys at the bar – well, under it mainly – and went to our beds (not strictly “ours” in some cases, but we were young, free and, for the purposes of the tour, single).

The Colonel had squared things with Johannes van der Sjambocksmasher, the Boks’ skipper, so I was able to get 40 winks after the team photograph was taken with our openers getting through to lunch on 43-0  after 45 eight ball overs. Most of the lads were still a bit queasy to take on much of the elephant steak and boerewors fare on offer and I was struggling with my usual G and T to be honest, but we got through the afternoon session only a couple down with everyone feeling much perkier when the biscuits came round at 4.00pm.

By about five, most of the Press boys had surfaced and I was briefing them on the afternoon’s play so they could meet their deadline, when a couple of wickets went down and I was forced to pad up with the score 120-5. Fortunately Wally, who had retired hurt with uncontrollable itching earlier in the day, got us through to the close, and I had plenty of time to dress for dinner.

The next day was designated one of the two rest days scheduled for each Test, so The Colonel had organised a shooting party for the Gentlemen up on the High Veldt, while the players “wrote” their newspaper columns and did a little painting and decorating around the ground to earn a little cash to pay off gambling debts incurred on the outward voyage.

DR Jardine was working for the Express and was a decent shot, having single-handedly reduced the tiger population of Cawnpore District to fewer than 10 on his 1936-37 tour, so he led the Press and we fell in behind – literally in Wally’s case as, still a little dizzy with the penicillin shots, he slid into a river and was only rescued from going over the falls by a couple of brave native bearers whom, once they had been revived, he had the good grace to reward with a shilling each.

We only bagged a pair of lions and three rhinos, which felt like meagre pickings for a full eight hours trek, but Jardine seemed pleased enough with that haul and only a couple of guides were hit by buckshot and they were expected to recover, so it went down as a successful day.

Wally got a century when the Test resumed and, though The Colonel enforced the follow-on (very much against the team’s wishes), the game fizzled out into a draw, which frankly spoiled our preparations for the New Year celebrations.      

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 21, 2015

Cricket 2015 – Three Favourite Moments

A marketing opportunity missed

A marketing opportunity missed

The grand old men of Pakistan cricket deliver a series win

Perhaps only boxing rivals cricket for the pleasure it affords at a distance. Obviously it’s best to be there to witness the action but, especially these days with all the technology that is brought to bear, watching cricket on a television or computer screen is an experience unrecognisable from my youth, when you would see the action from one fixed camera and catch the score from a five seconds shot of the scoreboard. That said, listening to cricket on the radio or following live text coverage creates its own rhythm to a day’s play, its own specific explanation of the action, its space for thoughts and reflection.

In July, I took a train and then a bus from London to Sheffield for a conference about something already long forgotten and en route I followed the text updates of Pakistan’s chase of 377 required to defeat Sri Lanka and win a Test series away from home – not many sides do that these days.  Both Shan Masood and Younis Khan had started the day in three figures, but Masood soon fell to Tharindu Kaushal which brought the captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, to the crease with 122 runs still to get. And everyone knows how Pakistan can collapse, right?

The two old men (37 and 41) got on with the job, the runs accumulating steadily. Maidens were permitted, but the spinners were never allowed to settle into the rhythm of dot balls that builds the pressure that brings the wickets. In my mind’s eye, I could see Younis and Misbah watching the ball from the hand, judging length early, going forward or back as a result, then hitting the bad ball for runs and occasionally punching the good one into a gap just to keep the scoreboard ticking over. Targeting the inexperienced Kaushal, they exacted a high price for his dismissal of Masood.

I had to stop following the score updates for a while, and when I logged on again, there was the result. Pakistan win the Test by seven wickets, Misbah hitting its last ball for six to finish on 59 with Younis at the other end, 171 not out having batted over seven hours. I sat back and wondered at the extent of his achievement.

Records had tumbled, but I was more interested in placing Younis’s innings in a subjective historical context. He had come to the crease at 13-2 and taken the score to 382-4; he had nursed Masood to a century in only his fifth Test in a huge fourth innings chase away from home; and he had steadied the ship and allowed his captain ease into his innings (at one point Misbah blocked 22 dot balls) without anxiety bubbling up. It was clearly the innings of a master batsman bringing all he had learned over a long career to the crease and executing a game plan perfectly (as they say these days). But where did it fit in cricket’s history? The best innings of the year? Of the decade? Of the century?

As Chairman Mao is purported to have remarked about assessing the impact of the French Revolution, perhaps it is too early to say, but, on seeing that result, I mused again on how cricket, at thousands of miles distance and with barely a few words refreshing on a tiny phone screen, could fill my mind with such thoughts and wonder.        

Shane Watson LBW at Cardiff

England had, of course, been annihilated by a Mitchell Johnson inspired Australia as The Ashes, won somewhat unconvincingly in 2013, had been wrenched back with menaces Down Under a few months later. Back on England’s own patch, things would be different, wouldn’t they? The Aussies hadn’t won here since 2001 after all, and just because they had lifted the World Cup a few weeks earlier… well, that was ODI cricket and this was Test cricket, so that didn’t count, did it?

For those of us who lived through the long years between Stephen Waugh’s 1989 runfest and “Jones… Bowden” in 2005, shaking off the aura that surrounds those Baggy Greens, each, as a friend once remarked, perched atop “six foot of bastard”, wasn’t easy. Sure our boys looked good – well, some did – and there was no McGrath and Warne to frighten your wife and servants, but, you know, Australia!!!

The First Test would be crucial – isn’t it always – but more crucial this time because, depending on how it went, we would be talking about 1989 or 2009; about the return of the strutting supermen with the narrowed eyes or another bunch of flaky fakers who would bully anyone at home, but faded away overseas.     

Joe Root had done his job with a century in the first innings and he had found good support from a hesitant Gary Ballance, a belligerent Ben Stokes and a silky Moeen Ali. The Aussies had replied with an under par score with only Chris Rogers converting a start, as England picked up wickets when they needed them. The hosts’ second dig had relied on a decent stand between Root and Ian Bell with some late order biffing from Mark Wood to get the target above 400 with two full days left.

A sunny Saturday morning dawned and England fans considered the pitch, the innings scores which had descended from 400-odd to 300-odd to 200-odd and contemplated the equation: they needed 412 runs and we needed 10 wickets. And then hope began to buckle a little in the face of doubt. “What if Warner gets going?” “Rogers won’t want to fall five short of a ton this time round.” “Clarke must be thinking about making a statement with a big one and Smith is the best batsman in the world”. “And Haddin, bloody Haddin.” Soon what looked like a routine wrapping up of a perfectly constructed Test Match win yielded to worry. “We’ll have to bowl well and take our catches” was the preferred euphemism to express our jittery nervousness.

The new ball had taken just the one wicket and, as lunch approached, Australia were 97-1, with the session very much theirs, David Warner and Steve Smith comfortable. Then Moeen slid one into Warner’s pads and England had separated Australia’s most dangerous batsmen – lunch suddenly tasted a whole lot better.

Wickets fell regularly in the afternoon, but it was the demise of Shane Watson that proved to us that this was 2009 revisited and not 1989. One of the “Dad’s Army”, he had dug in for well over an hour for his 19 runs sensing (as it proved, correctly) that his Test career was on the line. Then Wood skidded one into that giant front pad and… up went the finger. And then, comedy merging with tragedy, a forlorn Watson reluctantly called for the review, only, inevitably, to be given out again.

It was too good to be true for England fans, who were laughing at the sheer predictability of it all (here is my reaction – warning: includes naughty word). There was still a long way to go before we could be assured of another series like 2009 or 2013, but we all knew that nobody laughed at the 1989 Australians. Smiles of relief all round.    

Jos Buttler rediscovers his mojo

Amidst The Ashes euphoria, Jos Buttler’s form had quietly crumbled and his Test place had been surrendered to Jonny Bairstow, the Yorkie taking the gloves in the UAE to open a place in the batting order. Buttler’s feet were stuck in the crease, his hands groped for the ball and his outrageous talent was lost in the kind of crisis of confidence that leaves a batsman unsure if he will ever middle one again – inevitably, his hitherto improving and tidy keeping was beginning to suffer too. Those, like me, who believed in him, pointed to plenty of other batsmen who shone brightly early in their international careers and then faded, only to return to the colours stronger for the experience – look at Joe Root and Steven Smith after all!

But Jonny B was ahead of Jos on that trajectory – he was back in the side having scored a mountain of runs in the county game – and, if he was now the preferred gloveman, where did that leave Jos? Something needed to be done if the prospect of England’s most naturally gifted batsman since David Gower slipping out of England colours was to be averted.

There had been a hint of returning form in the Third ODI vs Pakistan, as Buttler had steered England to an easy win in the company of James Taylor, but 49 not out isn’t really enough to quell the doubters.

In the Fourth ODI, England sought quick runs in the last 15 overs after Jason Roy’s century had set them up for the kind of score that would have been excellent in 2005, but in the new age of white ball cricket was merely adequate. Buttler was promoted to Number Four with a brief to turn a 300 total into a 330 total. He could not have asked for a job more suited to his skills and his needs – and, boy, did he deliver!

But not immediately. Apart from a loosening of the shoulders to lift Shoaib Malik over cow corner, he was 20 balls into his innings before his wagon wheel burst into life like a Catherine Wheel, the sixes and fours flailed all round the ground. As is often the case with those whose talent appears unrestrained by conventional limits, Buttler looked like he could barely believe it himself, an initially wry smile broadening to a big grin as the scoreboard whirred round and hopes of 330 turned into expectations of 340 and ultimately a total of 355, Buttler’s share 116, the last 99 of which coming from 33 balls.

It was not one of the sixes that projected the white ball high into the Dubai sky that stood out as the moment that I knew Buttler was back, it was one of those shots that perhaps only he and AB de Villiers can play. He had premeditated the ramp shot over his head down to the long leg boundary, but Mohammad Irfan (7ft tall and sharp enough, lest we forget) had read his intention and fired it wide of off stump. Buttler simply, but astonishingly, reversed his shot’s destination from onside to offside and, through a combination of eye and wrist work, ramped the ball over Short Third Man, up inside the circle, and away to boundary for four.

It was a shot born of imagination, skill and confidence given to few in the game’s history and it showed us that this was a talent that wasn’t done yet. Buttler will be back. 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | November 20, 2015

Ian Bell – A Kind Of Appreciation

Now available for 1D

Now available for 1D

If they still held Christmas Day fancy dress parties for the MCC’s touring cricketers, for the first time in eleven years, Ian Bell would not be digging out his Sherminator outfit and wondering how long Shane Warne’s jibe would follow him around. Metaphorically speaking, he’s now shaking his head, his face reddening with anger under his strawberry blonde hair after dismissal not from the crease this time, but from Team England. A recall seems almost as unlikely as it did after his dozy run out at Trent Bridge in 2011, so unless MS Dhoni replaces James Whitaker as England’s Chairman of Selectors, Bell will bat as a Bear from now on.

So where does he sit amongst his contemporaries? I’ve always found that question a tricky one to answer – aside from 2013, when his feats made “Bell’s Ashes” a perfectly reasonable moniker for that strange series. So I’ve gone to the numbers and they reveal some interesting comparisons – or non-comparisons.

Over the span of Bell’s career, only four men scored more runs in Test cricket than his 7,727. That number alone represents a remarkable feat, a testament to his fitness and a rebuttal to those who claim he was flaky more often than fluent – he irrefutably churned out runs alongside those picture-book cover drives and late cuts.

Those who scored more then Bell comprise one all-time great batsman (Kumar Sangakkara), one on the way to all-time greatness (Alastair Cook) and two who might be a mere notch below that exalted plane (Michael Clarke and Kevin Pietersen). But if you had a spare case of Malbec and invited a few friends round to pick the best Test XI of the first 15 years of this century, those four names would crop up before the first glass was drained (as would the next four on the list, AB de Villiers, Younis Khan, Jacques Kallis and Ricky Ponting). What about Belly? Well, one might need something more potent and less legal than a very decent red before his cause would be argued.

Nevertheless, aggregate runs are but one metric to assess a batsman’s career (and, for what it’s worth, the most important in my book) – but what about his average? Here we find the kind of company one might expect Bell to be keeping in that wine-fueled discussion.

His handy, but hardly heroic 42.69, leaves him well short of the class of the field (the wide bats of Sanga, Younis, Shiv Chanderpaul and Kallis all average above 56), with Bell firmly positioned in mid-table – 39th of those with 2000 Test runs. He’s in and around likes of Jonathan Trott (44.08) and Paul Collingwood (41.28) – batsmen who were capable of excellent innings, an occasional outstanding series, but whose gifts lie in other aspects of batting (concentration and bloody-mindedness in their cases) than in the hard currency of runs.

So where can we find Bell’s peer buried, maybe obscured, somewhere in cricket’s oceanic volume of statistics?  Well I’m going for a man who did not score anywhere near Bell’s thousands of Test runs (he didn’t play enough matches, though he might have done for any other side in history), but whose average is just 2.33 runs above the Warwickshire man’s. He also scored his runs in great style, but could find ways of getting out that exasperated fans (and, in his case, selectors). And, if it’s not too pseudish a comment to make, as with Bell on a good day, when he left the crease it felt like a fresco painter’s artistry had gone to be replaced by a plasterer’s bish-bash-bosh.

Ian Bell was England’s Damien Martyn.

 

 

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | November 6, 2015

Pakistan vs England Test Series – Pakistan Report Card

But everyone loves him now!

But everyone loves him now!

Mohammad Hafeez (380 runs at 63) – Got the series off to a fine start for his team with 98 in Abu Dhabi and ensured a good finish too with a second innings 151 in Shajah that ensured that England’s chance of drawing the series was remote. Would have fancied a bowl if not banned, but even that worked in Pakistan’s favour by allowing a route back into the Test team for Shoaib Malik who played one monumental innings and bowled with great wit and craft throughout. For such an experienced player, “The Professor” was always likely to be involved in a run out, the spirit of Inzy not entirely departed from the team with the star on their caps

Shan Masood (58 runs at 15) – Jimmy Anderson sorted him out, a rare failure in Pakistan’s top six.

Azhar Ali (34 runs at 17, 0 wicket for 7 runs) – Brought back in the unfamiliar role of opener to face England’s most effective new ball pairing in history, somewhat undercooked – and it showed. Likely to exact some revenge next summer in England.

Shoaib Malik (292 runs at 49, 11 wickets at 21) – Just batted and batted and batted in Abu Dhabi as he ended a five year exile from the Test XI by carrying forward his white ball form to take his team from 5-1 to 521-7 to put England under pressure that never really abated. If he didn’t get many runs later on, he bowled superbly taking wickets and choking off runs. He surprised everyone by announcing that he has played his last Test, wishing to concentrate on the World Cup 2019 (where he might, of course, be skipper).

Younis Khan (302 runs at 50) – He did not play one of those huge innings that pepper his illustrious career, but did get his customary century and chipped in with handy knocks in all three Tests. Formed a double act with his captain, the two grand old men of Pakistani cricket knowing what to do and when to do it. In at 4, he never left the crease with fewer than 100 posted which, if it doesn’t guarantee a victory, makes it hard for the opposition to forge a win.

Misbah-ul-Haq (352 runs at 59) – As captain was rarely perturbed and never lost his control of the match even when England had a sniff in the gathering gloom on Day Five in Abu Dhabi. That same cold blood allowed him to stick calmly to a policy of blocking the seamers and bamming the spinners, helping him to one of the highest sixes per Test ratios in history – something few would have predicted five years ago. Winning the toss three times was a bonus too. Given what has happened to Pakistan cricket over the last seven years or so, his steering of his country to second place in the ICC rankings is little short of miraculous. And he’s older than Mohammad Yousuf!

Asad Shafiq (326 runs at 59, 0 wicket for 19 runs) – Compact and classy, he seldom catches the eye, but he keeps churning out the runs from Number 6, a more important slot in this team, with its two 10s and two 11s as a tail, than in other Test batting line-ups. Just doesn’t seem to miss out very often with the bat – via the simple expedient of not missing many balls with the bat.

Sarfraz Ahmed (139 runs at 28, 9 catches and 4 stumpings) – Not at his explosive best with bat in hand, his uncharacteristically subdued 27 in the second innings at Abu Dhabi occupied 49 minutes, time that proved vital when the four men below him faced 14 balls between them and England fell just 25 runs (or probably ten minutes) short of going 1-0 up. Looks a manufactured keeper behind the wickets, but serviceable by today’s standards.

Wahab Riaz (30 runs at 8, 8 wickets at 43) – Is that all he did? The numbers don’t tell the full story as his hostility, magnificently maintained, was the catalyst that turned the series Pakistan’s way after England were blown away, losing 7-36 on that horrid third morning in Dubai. The strong lefty loomed as large as Mitchell Johnson in that long spell and, if he didn’t reach those heights again, he had Yasir Shah to do the job for the bowling unit.

Yasir Shah (27 runs at 9, 15 wickets at 22) – A matchwinner. The squat leg-spinner drives through the crease with great energy imparting sufficient revs on the ball to get the in drift before it grips and jumps away from the right-hander’s bat. He possesses a decent googly too and, if not quite in the Shane Warne class, he’s as good as Stuart MacGill with the potential to fill the considerable boots of Abdul Qadir in Pakistan cricket. Like that old magician, he wears his heart on his sleeve – watch the bars empty when he has a ball in his hand come July and August in England.

Zulfiqur Babar (10 runs at 3, 9 wickets at 45)- Another who bowled batter than his figures suggest, looping the ball in from wide round the wicket before turning it for bowled and LBW chances. At 36, he’s yet another player who had to wait his turn behind more celebrated names, but he has the talent and the temperament for Test cricket and might play five years yet.

Rahat Ali (4 runs at 2, 4 wickets at 39) – Bustled in and was never less than a handful with his left-armers that slid mainly away from the bat with the occasional one twisting back in. Not as good as Trent Boult, but a competent performer, who knocked over Joe Root and James Taylor just when England were sensing a big first innings lead in Sharjah.

Imran Khan (o runs at 0, 6 at 25) – Plenty of smarts from the bowler with the famous name, as he wobbled the ball a bit this way and a bit that way to pick up wickets regularly. He might enjoy himself in English conditions in 2016

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | November 5, 2015

Pakistan vs England Test Series – England Report Card

Another weak middle problem

Another weak middle problem

Alastair Cook (450 runs at 90) – The choirboy stood on the burning deck while all around him, his shipmates were swept aside on wave after wave of flight, bite and spiteful spin. For all the records broken and professed admiration for that preternatural concentration and sweat free brow, the captain’s efforts are thrown into sharpest relief when compared to those of his his colleagues. In Abu Dhabi, he was the seventh man out, in Dubai, the third and second and in Sharjah, the second and ninth. Had just one or two teammates stuck with him for a session or so, 2-0 could have been 1-1 or even 1-2. Most unusually for an England captain, he copped some criticism for showing too much faith in his spinners, but he captained his seamers well, setting appropriate fields when the pitches lost pace and carry and refraining from bowling them into the ground in a compressed three Test series. For all the plaudits that rightly have gone Misbah’s way, had Yasir Shah been available to Cook, surely he would have won the series – but that’s what great bowlers do for captains.

Moeen Ali (84 runs at 14, 9 wkts at 49) – It seemed, at least to some, a good idea at the time, but Moeen failed as an opener – where he batted like a Number 8 – and as a frontline spinner – where he bowled like a partnership breaker. He has bags of talent, but 19 Tests into his career, definitive answers to the questions, “Is he one of the best six batsmen?” and “Is he one of the best four bowlers?” seem to be coming down on the negative side. So the question becomes, “Can he do a job as the spinner supporting four seamers – ie is he our Ashley Giles?” Not going at 4 runs per over (admittedly against some very fine players of spin who were out to get him), he can’t. So, come next summer, is he back to Number 8 sharing the fourth bowling slot with Ben Stokes? And, with Stokes possibly out of the reckoning for South Africa, does he go up to Number 6 and allow David Willey to add seam variety at Number 8? Cruelly, and I hate to write this, it may be that Moeen’s best position in the Test team is Number 12.

Ian Bell (158 runs at 32) – Didn’t bat well and didn’t catch well either, a decade long career felt like it was coming to its end. The selectors have been loyal in the past – not least to Bell himself – but with James Taylor impressing as a mini-Joe Root, all busy pushes for one and striking of the bad ball to the boundary, Bell’s time may be up. One simply gets the feeling that Steyn, Morkel and Philander will be squabbling over the ball to have a go at him in South Africa, whether he’s on 4 or 44, and that’s not what your Number 3 should inspire in opposition bowlers.

Joe Root (287 runs at 58, 0 wicket for 39) – Got in and got on with it the way he does in the first two Tests before failing twice in Sharjah. He swapped places with Steve Smith at the top of the world Test batting rankings and it’s easy to see why when he has a tight defensive technique to all but the left-armer angling it across him towards the slips and plenty of attacking options on the front and back foot. Nearly got England over the line in Dubai’s showdown at sundown, but the feeling persists that he plays too many cameos deluxe and not enough match / series defining innings to be in the rarefied atmosphere of the very best in the world. South Africa will give him chances to do so and one feels that he’ll have to take them if England are to get anything out of the best attack in Test cricket.

Jonny Bairstow (134 at 22, 7 catches) – Did he really score all those runs in county cricket with that bottom-hand, closed-face technique that seems inevitable once he takes up his baseball stance? Actually, that might work in the home of Graeme Smith, but it didn’t with the ball spinning away from him as his three dismissals to Yasir Shah and two to Zulfiqar Babar attest. Looked better than Jos Buttler behind the stumps, but well short of the standards set by glovemen in the days before Gilchrist.

James Taylor (78 runs at 39) – Like Joe Root, a batsman who looks to be busy at the crease using his feet to make the length of a ball his decision and not the bowler’s and scampering quick singles to rotate the strike. Looks at home in white and red ball cricket for England and surely needs to be given a decent run to see if he can emulate his vice-captain, a man less than 12 months his junior.

Ben Stokes (88 runs at 15, 5 wickets at 40) – Played one good innings before eventually bravely going to the crease twice in Sharjah with a bad shoulder. If he is to bat in the top six for the next eight years, he needs to mix up his batting tempo – too much is either “stand and deliver” thrilling attack or ultra circumspect defence that allows bowlers to get into a rhythm against him. Delivered the occasional spell of impressive reverse swing and often bent his back to touch 90mph, but needs a few more bells and whistles to trouble top class batsmen on flat tracks. Might he benefit from talking to fellow Northerner, Matthew Hoggard, who could deliver cutters at will and cause plenty of problems at a speed that Ben Stokes could probably propel the ball even with a wonky shoulder?

Jos Buttler (34 runs at 9, 5 catches) – His technique has pretty much disintegrated – it does happen to young batsmen – so he needs to get his feet moving and his head over the ball and let that whipcrack sound of bat and ball return (and it surely will). The keeping is a secondary issue, but that needed work too, unsurprisingly with everything feeling foreign as even muscle memory faded away. Whether he can get it back in white ball cricket – he may not get the chance of course – he needs to show that he bat for two sessions against a red ball before being considered again for the Test team. Even Bradman was once dropped though, so he’ll be back.

Samit Patel (42 runs at 21 , 3 wickets at 55) – Looked good against spin once he got in, watching the ball and playing it late in an innings that justified his “horses for courses” selection. Probably as surprised as anyone to find himself bowling on the first morning of a Test three years on from his last appearance, but he gave his captain a bit of control, turning the ball away from the right-handers until tiring a little late in a 23 overs day. Looked a handy sixth bowling option, but made some of us miss Monty even more than we already do. Good to see him smiling so much, determined to enjoy what might be a rare outing in Test cricket.

Adil Rashid (103 runs at 21, 8 wickets at 70) – Burst into life to land a few and dismiss a few as Pakistan collapsed in Abu Dhabi to set up England’s forlorn dash to a target tantalisingly just out of reach. He enjoyed lots of help from the pitches, but little from the opposition, as the old heads of Pakistan clambered into his loose stuff (of which there was plenty) and defended the good stuff. It would be lovely to see a future for Rashid in the Test XI, but he’s bowled over 4000 overs in first class cricket (almost twice as many as Moeen) going at nearer 4 than 3, so are the long hops and full tosses simply part of the deal? If so, these might be the only three Tests he plays, which would be such a shame. Showed plenty of technique and heart with the bat, but one couldn’t help thinking of Michael Atherton’s somewhat damning judgement of an earlier England leg-spinner, Chris Schofield – “He’s a better batsman than bowler”.

Stuart Broad (95 runs at 48, 7 wickets at 27) – The figures belie a display full of invention, control and aggression that had Pakistan’s batsmen happy to play out dot balls and wait to feast on spin after the famine of seam. Bowled conventional swing, cross-seam, cutters and reverse swing to an immaculate line and a length that never allowed the batsmen the easy option of pulling or cutting with impunity. He looked like a bowler with over 300 Test wickets – not a bad progression from his “enforcer” days when he often looked like a bowler with none. Biffed effectively down the order and showed that he has plenty to offer with the bat when the ball isn’t rearing towards his grille.

Mark Wood (34 runs at 11, 6 wickets at 28) – Hit a line and length and stuck to it, skidding the ball with a bit off the seam and in the air and, crucially, not trying to bowl too fast and leaking runs as a result. For all of his light-hearted eccentricity, he clearly thinks hard about his bowling and can deliver to a plan. Probably fair to expect him to rotate in and out of the side with back-to-back Tests challenging many fast bowlers around the world – too many some might say.

James Anderson (7 runs at 7, 13 wickets at 16) – Pretty much a parallel bowling performance to his captain’s batting heroics, the attack leader drew on all his fitness, skills and experience to produce spell after spell of crafty, hostile swing and seam bowling that matched the displays of any of his predecessors up to and including SF Barnes (who took his Test wickets at 16 too). For Cook’s lack of middle order support, read Jimmy’s lack of spin support – but that just goes to show how hard it is to win Tests against a well-led, motivated and skillful outfit playing in familiar conditions. Where once there was Good Jimmy and Bad Jimmy, now there’s Good Jimmy and World Class Jimmy.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 27, 2015

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 27 September 2015

"Surrey promoted eh?"

“Surrey promoted eh?”

Ball One – Yorkshire’s bowlers deliver again

Congratulations to Yorkshire, whose 11th victory of the season (plus four draws and just the one defeat) brought them all kinds of records in the County Championship’s two divisions era. For a while, it didn’t look like the season was going to end in the way that it had proceeded for so many weeks, but, as has been so often the case, Andrew Gale’s bowlers got in amongst the batsmen and shared the wickets between them to run out easy winners in the end. Yorkshire finished the campaign with their four seamers taking 40 wickets or more, with Ryan Sidebottom’s 41 at 18 and Jack Brooks’s 65 at 23 leading the way. Their frontline spinner (a combined Adil Rashid and James Middlebrook) also took 46 wickets at 27. That’s the firepower a captain needs to force wins and that’s exactly what Yorkshire did to retain the pennant so emphatically.

Ball Tw0 – Hampshire survive with a remarkable late season run of form, as Sussex go down

Yorkshire’s win was merely the icing on their 2015 cake, the title long since secured, but it proved disastrous for their opponents Sussex, who, to most observers’ surprise (including mine), fell through the trapdoor to Division Two after winning just one of their last 11 fixtures. It was a shocking set of results that saw them go from being six points off the champions after five matches to finishing 125 points off them after 16. But perhaps the real story was Hampshire’s Lazarus-like revival. Fidel Edwards’ ten wickets brought them a victory over in-form Nottinghamshire to round off their season with three wins in the last five matches, showing the ticker that goes a long way in cricket. They’ll need to strengthen their batting (just five centuries all season) and find more bowling as Edwards and Gareth Berg (both in their mid-30s) will not be able to carry the same burden next season if they are to avoid another flirtation with the drop. Expect plenty of ins and outs in the close season at the Ageas Bowl.

Ball Three – Surrey hold off Lancashire to win the Division Two crown

In Division Two, draws at The Oval and Chelmsford were enough to hand the title to Surrey with Lancashire settling for the second promotion slot, more than 50 points ahead of Essex in third. Both clubs have called upon international batsmen to steer their way to the top flight, with Ashwell Prince and Alviro Petersen anchoring the Lancashire effort and Kumar Sangakkara and Steven Davies doing a similar job for Surrey. In a year in which the lack of spin options for England has caused much debate, it’s worth noting that each club used spin extensively, Gareth Batty and Zafar Ansari taking 84 wickets between them for Surrey and Simon Kerrigan and  Arron Lilley snaring 67 victims for Lancashire. It’s a different game up in Division One of course, but Ansari and Lilley (two three dimensional cricketers at home in red and white ball formats) will both fancy their chances of continuing their progress in 2016 and, if they do, international recognition will surely follow.

Ball Four – The Final Over’s Young Player of the Season

For all the flash, bang, wallop of the white ball game that puts rather more than half a sixpence in its stars’ pockets, the hardest currency in cricket is still wickets, the key to success in all formats. This column’s Young Player of the Season presented his captain with 105 of them over the season, playing 37 matches, delivering 671 overs to do so. At 20, those numbers, and their importance in lifting Surrey to the top of Division Two, has seen Tom Curran added to England’s Performance Programme where his work will be monitored closely. Like his supremely gifted younger brother, Sam, we will learn more about this nippy seamer who can bat a bit next year, but he will play top flight cricket knowing that he has risen to every challenge put before him so far in his fledgling career.

Ball Five – The Final Over’s Player of the Season

This column, rather like the players I trust, has prioritised the County Championship over white ball cricket and its choice of Player of the Year reflects that emphasis. The honourable mentions include those whose international days are firmly behind them: Chris Read, Luke Wright, and Ryan Sidebottom; those possibly a notch short of international class: Chris Rushworth, James Hildreth and Jack Brooks; and those who still harbour realistic hopes of England recognition: James Taylor, Ben Brown and James Harris. But the award goes to Tim Bresnan, a man who is still only 30 and has series wins over Australia and India, home and away, on his Test record, but who started the season knowing that a recall to his country’s colours was a very long way off. Far from sulking, he got his head down and did what he has done since the age of 16: found ways to contribute to Yorkshire’s cause. With the ball, that brought 45 wickets at a commendable average of 31; with the bat, a superb return of 849 runs at 50; and he also pouched 13 catches as one of only two men who played all 16 matches for the champions. He also contributed to the partnership of the season, joining Jonny Bairstow with the score 191-6, as table-topping Durham scented that their bold insertion would lead to them batting late on the first day. 366 runs later, Andrew Gale declared with Bairstow 219 not out and Bresnan on a career best 169 not out. The subsequent win saw Yorkshire replace Durham as leaders as June turned into July – they never looked back.

Ball Six – A salute to the grand old game

Rather like the stories of PG Wodehouse (whose greatest creation was named after a cricketer), the County Championship, with its rural rhythms and roots in a pre-industrial England all but swept aside by Victorian enterprise, was out of date before it was invented, but, also like Wodehouse, its enthusiasts love it with a passion, albeit often somewhat furtively. We believe that the domestic first class game, like Jeeves, Lord Emsworth and Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps, is an end in itself, an oh so welcome oasis of calm in an ever more turbulent, ever more hurried world. If it doesn’t guarantee an endless conveyor belt of hardened Test players to deliver the national team series win after series win – well, which country’s domestic programme does? And if it’s increasingly ignored by the written press and broadcasters (with the honourable exceptions of the BBC’s internet radio, ESPN Cricinfo and The Guardian’s County Cricket Live Blog), does it matter? We will still find out what’s happening, still track partnerships like the epic Bairstow-Bresnan one above as the records tumble and still dig out the woolly hat, the gloves and the thermos next April. No fan wants to read an abridged Blandings Castle story and no fan wants an abridged 14 match County Championship – let’s hope all play all home and away in 2016.

Thanks to this column’s readers over this season, especially those who have taken the time to comment with a grace and generosity that shines in an increasingly coarse public sphere. I’ll take guard again to bat out the Final Over of the Week again come Spring 2016. ‘Til then – Pip! Pip!

 

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 20, 2015

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 19 September 2015

How about 304 Galey?

How about 304 Galey?

Ball One – James Vince and Andrew Gale beat the weather to conjure a result

When there were 30 odd three day matches in the season, captains’ contrivances (and declaration bowling) got a bad press – a case of familiarity breeding contempt. I’ve always rather liked the manufactured “equation” though, because such deals breathe life back into matches strangled by English weather. With teams desperate to avoid the drop and Autumnal weather unreliable, the nod and the wink followed by the closed door, the haggling and the handshake is not just an attractive option – it may be the only one. So well done James Vince and Andrew Gale who, after two declarations and an innings forfeit, set up a fourth day battle for 304 runs or ten wickets. It’s the kind of thing that causes grumbling elsewhere, but surely the objective of playing a match is to win it and one’s efforts should be focused on that objective alone? The Champions needed someone to bat well and, as usual this season, someone did – the skipper’s 125 all but seeing them all the way home. Hampshire’s defeat does not quite despatch them through the trap door with one match still to play, but they need snookers now.

Ball Two – Worcestershire sink into Division Two.

Worcestershire were also in double declaration mood for the same reason, but ran into a Durham side grateful to halt a dreadful run of form with a win over the now relegated Midlanders. With Day Two lost entirely, Daryl Mitchell’s men were always behind the eight ball, but their chances avoiding the drop were very thin, as they’ve been outgunned all season with both bat and ball. As the gulf between the two divisions grows, Worcestershire may well find themselves too good for Division Two but not up to a full season in Division One. However, as Lancashire fans know, yoyo-ing like that can lead to plenty of crucial matches and some exciting cricket.

Ball Three – Marcus Trescothick and Michael Yardy please the romantics

Emotional scenes at Hove as Michael Yardy made a century on his last appearance at his home ground and Marcus Trescothick turned back the clock with a double ton, closing the season in the kind of form that harks back to his glory days. Both men played for England, their international careers truncated (at least partially) due to health issues, but both men continued to give their all on the much maligned domestic stage. Both were suited to the white ball game, but both had a touch of the old-fashioned county pro about them too: Trescothick standing tall and hitting it or leaving it and Yardy bowling his flat left-arm non-spinners to hold up an end and chipping in with 70s and 80s just when his captain needed one.

Ball Four – Will Nick Browne may be England’s next left-handed opener from Essex?

Essex were the only team to beat the weather and force a result in Division Two largely thanks to an impressive 151* from Nick Browne. He has been mentioned in despatches by plenty of judges this season, but, at 24, how long can he wait before playing Division One cricket? While a case can be made for aspirant England bowlers showcasing their skills in Division Two (after all, 90mph is 90mph no matter who is batting at the other end and spinners who rip it not roll it always stand out), can the same be said for batsmen? With England’s Number 2 spot still a cause for concern three years after Andrew Strauss’s retirement, a young opener must look to build his case as persuasively as he can.

Ball Five – Jones the Bat (not the Gloves) bids farewell with a fine knock

Geraint Jones’ last innings in senior cricket was an important 50 as Gloucestershire’s batting collapsed around him. With captain Michael Klinger and the other senior pro, Hamish Marshall, mustering just 18 between them, Jones had to dig in with a view to batting through from the 23rd over to the 50th, an objective he fell just two overs short of achieving. He had done his job, but his team mates were off the pace against a fired-up Surrey attack led by resurgent hat-trick hero, Jade Dernbach, and the wily Azhar Mahmood. In conditions as favourable as one could imagine for batting in mid-September, Gloucestershire’s 220 looked at least 40 runs below par.

Ball Six – Surrey pay the price of impatience

But things did not turn out like that because, wait for it, cricket is a funny old game. 221 in 50 overs on a blameless pitch in glorious early Autumn sunshine, with the experience of Kumar Sangakkara and Azhar Mahmood in the line-up should have been, if not exactly a stroll, then certainly a comfortable chase, with little reason to force the pace. Nothing can be taken for granted these days because batsmen seem to have lost the art of patient batting, with relentless attack (fuelled by unorthodox strokes) the only strategy in town. When the great Sri Lankan and the steady Rory Burns surrendered their wickets in the 35th and 37th overs, sensible batting was still all that was required to score 73 runs in 13.4 overs. Cue a fatal run of five soft dismissals: Gary Wilson clipped a full toss to short midwicket, Mahmood was stumped halfway down the track, Tom Curran out having missed a reverse sweep off his fourth ball, James Burke run out without a dive for home and Sam Curran, having played well, caught at long on. Maybe orthodox strokes that kept the ball on the carpet would have been enough – but who wants to play like that any more?

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 13, 2015

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 13 September 2015

Rob Key and Darren Stevens celebrate Kent's win

Rob Key and Darren Stevens celebrate Kent’s win

Ball One – In 2015, Andrew Gale’s team blew its rivals away

Yorkshire finally squared the mathematics with the evidence of our eyes and were hailed County Champions for the second successive year at Lord’s long before their match was completed and the trophy handed to their captain, Andrew Gale. It was a poignant moment for him, having been under suspension and therefore somewhat pettily banned by the ECB from last year’s presentation. Coach Jason Gillespie has assembled a mix of grizzled pros and fine young players, who bat deep with a good balance of attack and defence and then get to work with seam, swing and spin sufficient to take 20 wickets in most conditions. Despite a number of England calls, the squad is deep enough to rest players when necessary and, as results in one day cricket have shown, it’s the County Championship that matters most to the White Rose. Yorkshire are worthy champions in a season that has lacked the drama (at least at the top of the table) that we have grown used to in recent years.

Ball Two – Nick Compton and Toby Roland-Jones deliver rare defeat to Champions

When the fate of the Championship was still (technically) in the balance, Yorkshire made the most of tricky early conditions at Lord’s shooting out Middlesex for 106 and building a big first innings lead. With intensity levels inevitably dropping just a little, Yorkshire then let Middlesex back into the game conceding a huge second innings in an eerie echo of their last Championship defeat, Middlesex’s Chris Rogers inspired huge chase in 2014. Though Toby Roland-Jones, one of this column’s favourite cricketers, caught the eye, biffing a ton from Number 10 and then taking a fivefer to close out Middlesex’s win, Nick Compton’s knock was the gamechanger, taking his side from 106 behind to 187 ahead. Compton has 1100 runs in Division One and knows how to make Test match centuries – England could do a lot worse when options for the likely spare opener’s slot are discussed.

Ball Three – Nottinghamshire and Durham enjoy contrasting fortunes

Another of England’s forgotten men, Samit Patel, made a century as Nottinghamshire continued their fine form, but it was Brett Hutton’s ten wickets that condemned Durham to yet another defeat as their season falls off a cliff. Hutton (who, as you would expect with a surname like that, was born in Yorkshire) is a “bats a bit, bowls a bit” all-rounder of the type usually more suited to white ball cricket, but he seized his chance well as Nottinghamshire notched their fourth win in a row. For Durham, having started the season brightly, it was their fourth loss in consecutive matches.

Ball Four – Hampshire battle with the bat and gain a vital draw

In the relegation 48 pointer (well, sort of) at Taunton, the draw did not really help either side, edging Somerset 11 points ahead of Hampshire with two matches still to play. Hampshire, having been behind in the match after yet another collapse took them from 146-2 to 176-6, then had to endure Somerset’s top three each score centuries as the home side piled up 630-9d. Faced with over five sessions to bat out the draw (and deny their opponents 11 vital points while registering five themselves) it would have been easy for James Vince’s men to fold again, but Hampshire dug in and made 411-4 in 159 overs, with no batsmen scoring at more than 50 runs per 100 balls. The art of batting time is not dead after all – and it still brings rewards.

Ball Five – Essex impress at Derby

At the end of a long season, and with little for Division Two teams to play for with promotion slots decided and no relegation, there’s always a danger that the wheels might come off somewhere – and that’s what happened at Derby. With Paul Grayson gone, Essex’s perennial under-achievers have the incentive of impressing whoever will take his job, and they did so sweeping aside Derbyshire by an innings and 188 runs. There will be change at both counties in the close season, indeed, perhaps only Yorkshire and Surrey will not be looking to set things up too differently come 2016.

Ball Six – Kent clout Glamorgan

It was a similar story at Cardiff where Glamorgan were hammered by Kent, losing by 316 runs having been set a ridiculous 554 to win. It might not be good for the prospects of the England team, but Kent’s success was largely thanks to a couple of grand old stagers, 36 year old Rob Key who made 94 and 158 and 39 year old Darren Stevens who made 64 and delivered match figures of 32-5-101-7. I hope the younger players watched how two of county cricket’s grand old men went about their work and learned from them. And I hope the much maligned fan of county cricket enjoyed watching them too.

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