Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 30, 2018

Five County Cricketers of the Year – 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olly Stone – Raw pace always gathers bowling laurels

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

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

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

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

Tom Bailey – Forging a link to the past

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

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

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

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

Joe Denly – Completing his long pilgrimage back to international cricket

Amazingly, he is still only 32!

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

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

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

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

Lewis Gregory – Never undersells the fans

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 28, 2018

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

Ball One – Surrey, on top, go down fighting

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

Ball Two – Bailey fails to bail out Lancashire

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

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

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

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

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

Ball Five – Bears climb to top of the tree

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

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

Ball Six – Paul Collingwood leaves with love

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

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 24, 2018

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

Ball One – Clarke signs on the dotted line

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

Ball Two – Donald doesn’t duck his responsibilities

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

Glamorgan’s motley crew arrive for their match against Kent

Ball Three – Glamorgan can’t cope with Kent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 17, 2018

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

Ball One – Surrey (with a whinge) on top

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ball Five – Finals Day – festivities or foolery?

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

Arthur Scargill – who wrote the Jofra Archer Overture.

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

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

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 12, 2018

England Test Match Report Card – Summer 2018

Impressive figures

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

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

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

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

Mark Stoneman (13 runs at 7). Grade D

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 9, 2018

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

Ball One – A Question of (fair) Sport

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

Ball Two – Who writes Rikki Clarke’s scripts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 3, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 3 September 2018

Ball One – Surrey give the rest of Division One a headache

Surrey continued what is looking more and more like a relentless march to the title by swatting aside Nottinghamshire who, having asked Surrey to bat, barely took the match into a third day. The Forgotten Curran (Tom becoming Mark to Sam’s Steve) showed, on his first Championship match of the season, that he’s also a very handy performer, with a fivefer and useful runs. He was also involved in an incident that highlights an issue that irritates your correspondent (and plenty more I venture). Hit on the helmet, Curran was quite correctly subject to concussion protocols and, once cleared, resumed his innings once a replacement lid was located. My suggestion is that such procedures should be undertaken in the dressing room, with another batsman taking Curran’s place (in this case, Morne Morkel), Curran able to return once passed fit. Cricketers find far too many ways to stop playing cricket and 15 minutes lost from a day with 13 men standing in the middle while two men, padded up and helmets on, survey the form in The Sporting Life (metaphorically, of course) isn’t acceptable.

Ball Two – Somerset and Yorkshire are having very different seasons

Somerset hung on to the Londoners’ coattails with a solid team effort to beat a Yorkshire side that looks more like eleven cricketers and less like a team every week – and I know there’s much mitigation for the stop-start season endured by so many Tykes. James Hildreth and the increasingly impressive Lewis Gregory each notched a couple of half-centuries, while Azhar Ali and Steven Davies bagged a brace of 80s, before captain Tom Abell steered his team to the second innings declaration with an undefeated ton. It was a similarly collective effort from the bowlers, with a first innings fiverfer from Josh Davey catching the eye, but the Overton twins picked up nine wickets and that man Gregory the remaining six. Winning without a victim for last week’s hero, Jack Leach, nor the non-selected Dom Bess, shows the kind of balance and options a captain needs as the leaves fall and the tension rises.

Ball Three – Great Dane hounds Worcestershire to defeat

The railway that runs along the side of Southport’s Haig Avenue ground was reputed to have been constructed for punters to attend The Waterloo Cup, the mercifully discontinued hare coursing event, the harrowing sounds of which would float over the flatlands behind the sand dunes and into the school classrooms of my youth. These days, many Lancashire members are baying for the blood of its management committee, but followers of the Red Rose had a win for the ages to celebrate at Trafalgar Road. Dane Vilas delivered a captain’s knock of 107 and Josh “Hamilton” Bohannon, in only his second first class match made 78, the undefeated stand of 139 enough to secure an unlikely victory and a 15 points swing over fellow relegation candidates, Worcestershire. How much of the stuffing that knocked out of the visitors, who had Lanky 85-5 in the first innings and 63-4 in the second, remains to be seen, but it’s fair to say that news of Moeen Ali’s triumphant recall to the Test side will have been greeted with mixed feelings at New Road.

Ball Four – Dan Lawrence’s form returns after a dry spell to fire up Essex

Champions, Essex, are, somewhat surprisingly, third in the table after a win that saw a welcome return to form for Dan Lawrence, his first century this season paving the way for Peter Siddle and Simon Harmer to rattle through Hampshire’s batting en route to an innings victory. The match marked Lawrence’s 50th first class appearance, but, having only turned 21 in July, he’s still a young player and, despite what some people might say, Division One is a tough school in which to learn one’s craft. Expect him – and Essex – to give their heirs presumptive, Surrey, a real test at Chelmsfort this week.

Ball Five – Kent made to work hard by spirited Derbyshire

In Division Two, Ian Bell clattered the bowling all around Colwyn Bay, providing a platform for Jeetan Patel to run through Glamorgan who can’t have enjoyed their annual trip up north – Warwickshire stay top. Kent occupy the other promotion slot having also posted over 500 away, this time at Derbyshire. After the last three wickets had added soul-destroying 168 runs, it might have been easy for Billy Godleman’s team to fold – with little chance of promotion, pride was their only motivation. But that was enough to drive Derbyshire to 400 runs of their own and, although they eventually lost by six wickets, they took the game deep into the fourth day, ultimately 80 or so runs short of setting a tricky target for a post follow-on fourth innings chase. The home supporters will be disappointed with the result, but not the effort, something David Houghton, back in 2019 as Derbyshire’s Head of Cricket, will also have noted.

Ball Six – I come to praise county cricket, not to bury it

With about a quarter of the fixtures left, all eight teams in the County Championship Division One have the title to play for or relegation to avoid; in Division Two, half the ten teams have a shot at promotion. All that despite the marginalising of the four day format by everyone except the fans and the players – after all, they can’t be trusted to know what’s best for the game can they? Sports leagues around the world must look on in envy at how county cricket manages to promote this level of competition (and a regular turnover of champions) and marvel – they must wonder too about why its administrators treat their glorious charge with such disdainful complacency. Why not fight them at their own game? I propose a management consultancy style report into county cricket that has one chapter missing – the finances. Let’s see what independent disinterested analysts say about the County Championship itself, not as a cash cow, not as a feeder for the Test side (though it’s not doing too badly on that objective just now), but as an er… product in its own right. Sometimes (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Cricket!)

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 28, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 27 August 2018

Ball One – The greatest catch I’ve ever seen

Surrey with a first title in 16 years in sight; Lancashire staring at the trap door. For nearly four days (and evenings), batsmen had gutsed it out, Rory Burns’ 70 the only score to cross 43 for the leaders and Lancashire, for the second time, conjuring runs from a tail that had plenty of spine about it. The champion South African bowler, Morne Morkel, with a fivefer in his bag already, charges in to Lancashire’s Number 11, Matt Parkinson, who stands within a blow of winning the match. Just in picture, Will Jacks crouches, concentrating at short leg. And then… this.

Ball Two – More and more from Moeen

The Red Rose needed the White Rose to wilt a little in the sea air of Scarborough to drag the Tykes back into danger – and wilt it did under an extraordinary assault from Moeen Ali. The England man’s tour-de-force started handily with the wicket of gun Kiwi batsman, Kane Williamson, but got a whole lot better in partnership with “Mr Worcestershire”, Daryl Mitchell, the pair putting on 294 for the second wicket, Mitchell’s share 178. Moeen went on to make 219, before, perhaps more inspired by the unmistakable sound of seagulls than one might expect of a Birmingham boy, he took 6-49 to secure an important win. Yorkshireman Joe Root could be excused mixed feelings as he might fancy a bit of that form in his XI this week.

Ball Three – Leach makes Essex bleed

That said, England’s selectors were given another nudge in a splendid match at Taunton. After Marcus Trescothick had doubled his age with 95 in Somerset’s first innings, Essex, having been behind for pretty much all the match, dragged themselves back into it at 223-3, needing 113 more for the win. Jack Leach was already deep into an epic spell, but his dismissal of Dan Lawrence gave him added vigour and he proceeded to dismantle the visitors’ middle and lower order, Somerset winning by 45 runs to hang on to Surrey’s coattails, 32 points behind in second place. Leach had bowled unchanged on the fourth day, dealing with the pressure of expectation, to finish his second innings work with figures of 48-16-85-8. That’s the kind of physical and mental stamina England will need in Sri Lanka.

Ball Four – Murtagh and Bamber find the right answers for Middlesex

In Division Two, Warwickshire, Sussex and Kent all won to keep things very tight in the promotion race, but, after dishing out a fair bit of criticism to Middlesex, this column must highlight an astonishing win for Dawid Malan’s men. It looked business as usual at Wantage Road, as Northamptonshire’s Ricardo Vasconcelos registered a maiden century, pushing on to 140, James Harris’s 7-83 the only bright sign for the Londoners. Nick Gubbins was soon out twice in a day, as Middlesex reached the midpoint of the match with much to reflect upon, following on 127 runs in arrears. Sam Robson made 72, Max Holden bit the hand that fed him last season with 94 and James Harris, enjoying a good match, chipped in with 79* and Northants had an unexpectedly tricky target of 216 to chase. Well, the wily old fox, Tim Murtagh knows exactly how to play that hand, and his fivefer, with strong support from teenage debutant, Ethan Bamber (3-38), whose batting had been crucial in giving Middlesex something to bowl at, proved enough to secure a win by 31 runs. If, and it’s a big if, Middlesex play to their potential, they could yet rescue the season with promotion.

Blame him

Ball Five – Strictly slow, slow, not very quick, slow

All four Vitality Blast quarter-finals proved to be comfortable wins for the progressing teams, who can now look forward to the Finals Day jamboree on 15th September (if it were scheduled for 8th September, it would have a free run in the domestic sports coverage with no Premier League nor Championship football scheduled, but hey ho). It’s reasonable to expect spin to play a part at Edgbaston when one looks at the figures delivered by frontliners in the quarters. Lancashire’s Matt Parkinson, Zahir Khan and Arron Lilley 10-0-62-4; Sussex’s Danny Briggs and Will Beer 8-0-36-4; Worcestershire’s Moeen Ali and Brett D’Oliveira 6-0-45-4; and Somerset’s Max Waller and Roelof van der Merwe 8-0-70-2. Add in excellent stuff from dibbly-dobblers like Daryl Mitchell (4-0-15-1) and how long will it be before we start to talk about what we can do to bring the 80mph+ men back into T20 cricket?

Ball Six – C’mon Sky – do the right thing.

Finals Day is great fun, brilliantly presented by Sky, who strike a tricky balance between treating the competitive sport with due respect, but not forgetting that it’s cricket’s most entertaining day in its most entertaining format. I’ve long been of the belief that Sky should go free-to-air all day as a loss leader to build their subscriber base for the future (in fact, I think all T20 cricket should be FTA for that reason, but I understand that long journeys begin with small steps). Things will change in 2020, so why not allow as many people as possible to enjoy the last climaxes of a competition that can drag a little through the group stages, but has never failed to produce an engaging finale.

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 19, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 20 August 2018

Ball One – Yorkshire’s T20 hopes unravelled by Notts

Though Warwickshire’s trouncing of Lancashire in their penultimate fixture gave them a chance of qualifying via the last round of matches, Moeen Ali’s century took Worcestershire over 200, which proved too much for their local rivals. So Yorkshire vs Nottinghamshire proved to be a play-off for the North Group’s fourth quarter-final spot. David Willey elected to bat first in order to squeeze the chase as the pressure built, but, despite 44 from Adam Lyth and Kane Williamson and 52 from himself, the home side never got away. At the halfway mark, Yorkshire had but 69 up, despite losing only Tom Kohler-Cadmore very early on. A platform (in 20th century currency), but the loss of Adam Lyth to the first ball of the 13th led to a three over stagnation, just 14 runs accrued – and that’s fatal these days. In contrast, though Notts were ahead by only 14 at the midpoint of their innings, they never let the required run rate rise above 8.5 per over, comfortable these days. Alex Hales, probably needing it after a somewhat fraught week, enjoyed an armchair ride to 71 not out off 56 balls and Tom Moores finished things off with a brace of sixes. Well played Notts and well played the Tykes too in getting so close to the knockout stage, largely without their trump card, Adil Rashid, unexpectedly spirited away by England.

Ball Two – Sussex sex up the Blast

In the South Group, Sussex charged into the quarter-finals with wins over Glamorgan, Gloucestershire and Middlesex, making the Sharks er… dangerous floaters come the knockout matches. Potential opponents (with Durham first up) will note that the extreme pace of Tymal Mills and Jofra Archer is supplemented by the guile and experience of Danny Briggs and the mystery of Rashid Khan. Noting that quartet (with Chris Jordan as first change) is one thing: doing something about them is a different matter! Aside from Aaron Finch and Eoin Morgan (494 T20s between them) no batsman really collared that Sharks attack and it’s asking a lot for four or five men to make 30s and 40s in order to set a decent target or sustain a healthy chase. My tip for the Cup.

Ball Three – Middlesex mayhem

What is going on at Middlesex? A nightmarish T20 season was wrapped up by failing to defend 210 against Essex and then (with some mitigation) failing to chase 216 against Sussex. They finished the campaign with a net run rate of -1.128, worsened only by the Northamptonshire’s somewhat spineless Steelbacks. The problem isn’t hard to discern – no bowler went for fewer than Tom Helm’s 8.8 per over. 8.8! James Fuller was thrown the ball in 13 matches and went at 10.8, but you can take your pick really. That internationals, Steven Finn and Ashton Agar, were each carted at an economy rate of 9.4 from their combined 45 overs seems hard to credit. Individuals can have poor seasons, bowling and fielding units can have off days, but such a collective collapse of confidence feels unprecedented amongst a group comprising many seasoned pros. Coach, Daniel Vettori, bad back and all, should probably have had a go himself. We’ve probably entered SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE DONE territory in North London.

Ball Four – Batsman of the Blast

Lewis Gregory probably doesn’t even count himself as a batsman, but a switch flicked earlier this season and he transformed himself into a very handy customer indeed. Back in June, Gregory had a run-of-the-mill record that many lower middle order batsman sustain throughout their careers: 44 innings, 613 runs off 471 deliveries at a strike rate of 130, hitting just under one in six balls to the boundary. In 2018, he was almost twice as effective: 11 innings, 261 runs at a strike rate of 210, hitting one in three balls to the boundary. It would fascinating to hear what had changed in his game – mindset, technique, role or, most likely, a combination of all three. There might be a few coaches looking down their order to uncover 2019’s Lewis Gregory come next Spring.

Ball Five – Bowler of the Blast

There was a time when when an English wrist-spinner was as rare as a walking Australian, but they’re popping up all over the place these days, like reasons to denounce The Hundred. Lancashire’s Matt Parkinson, were he an indie band from Bolton and not a leg-spinner, would be an “underground hit” – those who know of him believe he is The Future (of Lancashire and maybe England too), but plenty haven’t heard of him at all. His numbers in this year’s T20 would have been seen as some kind of voodoo 20 years ago and had people misty-eyed reminiscing about Robin Hobbs: 20 wickets at an average of 18 and an economy rate of 7.5. England play five ODIs and a T20I in Sri Lanka before the three Tests – there’ll be plenty of chat about Parkinson making the first part of that tour and, with Ed Smith enjoying a radical pick or two, maybe even the second.

Slow one or fast one?

Ball Six – Seen any cricket lately?

Last week, 43 summers ago, a 12 year-old boy caught the 61 bus from Seaforth to Aigburth and saw Barry Richards and Clive Lloyd make centuries, but was even more thrilled by Andy Roberts (34.5 – 13 – 77 – 9) in the match that hooked cricket into my DNA for life. I told that story to the very personable Vikram Banerjee, Head of Strategy for the England and Wales Cricket Board, at a panel meeting held at The Barbican (click here for my fuller account of the discussion). I contrasted that opportunity with Lancashire’s fixture list this season (by no means atypical) – seven T20 matches and one County Championship match in the last 51 days, and all at Old Trafford. He took that point, but remarked that the new structure would see cricket at many more outgrounds in 2020. Whether those matches will be as life-changing as the one above remains to be seen.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 16, 2018

The Price of Admission: cricket, music and access

Vikram on his way to 97 FC wickets and a gig at the ECB

On Monday 13 August, 99.94 attended an event that looked at access to cricket (particularly amongst people with South Asian heritage) and compared and contrasted it with access to classical music. Its two speakers were –

Vikram Banerjee

Vikram Banerjee is Head of Strategy for the England and Wales Cricket Board, where he is charged with helping to grow the sport and ensure cricket becomes ‘a game for all’. Having studied at Cambridge and Harvard Business School, Vikram was previously a Strategy Manager at Whitbread, a FTSE100 company with brands including Costa Coffee & Premier Inn. Prior to this, Vikram started his career as a professional cricketer for Gloucestershire County Cricket Club.

Huw Humphreys

Huw Humphreys has been Head of Music at the Barbican since September 2014. This appointment brought him back to the UK after nine years as Director of Artistic Planning of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, a position he held following six years with renowned artist management agency Askonas Holt and four years as General Manager of the European Union Youth Orchestra. Huw holds a Masters in Music from Oxford University, and spends most of his non-music related life religiously following the Welsh rugby and England cricket teams, and improving his golf swing.

Here are some of the key points of the discussion (paraphrased by me) supplemented by thoughts of my own in italics.

Both speakers admitted / claimed / lamented that the subject of their jobs were associated with traditional ideas of privilege and that something needed to be done urgently to break that impression and build audiences and participation for the future.

Cricket’s outreach programme was successful, but not in breaching the gap between inner city manifestation of the sport and the “middle class” game. Cricket was splitting into two parallel worlds, not by format, but by social and ethnic demographics.

Cricket has been seen (outside communities from the South Asian diaspora) as a game for those already privileged perhaps only in the South and Midlands. In the North, especially Lancashire and Yorkshire, cricket has been, and still is, rooted as much in working class communities as in fee-paying schools. It’s fair to say that such communities have come under huge stress since the de-industrialisation of the 1980s and later and that cricket, like so much else, has suffered as a result.

Cricket is seen as a difficult game, but, at its heart, it’s simple – give kids a bat and ball and soon they’ll be playing a rudimentary form of the game. The ECB is looking to strip out cricket’s complications when promoting access.

In music, the issue was less a matter of perceived complexity but more the panoply of infrastructure “required” for its staging – hall, acoustics, orchestras etc. Music didn’t need that – it should go to new venues, to non-traditional spaces, to where people could listen easily.

My introduction to opera was via a very hot room behind a pub in Upper Street. That took me online where there is more music than anyone could listen to in a lifetime all pretty much free to explore. I’ve since seen opera in grand halls at home and abroad and in the cinema, as well as in the base of a tunnel next to the Thames – and in hot rooms behind pubs. Opera came to me – but now I go to it. 

The ECB did lots of research in asking people what they wanted from cricket and have built a plan to allow them to access it. Vikram – a man of South Asian heritage himself and also extremely personable, excusably steeped in the management speak of MBA graduates and palpably passionate about his work – explained how maps had been constructed from the data, not just to target different ethnicities (“South Asian” is almost insultingly broad brush) but also where facilities were available, and where they were needed.

This sounds impressively thorough, but do people always know what they want? As the story goes, if Henry Ford had asked people what they wanted, he’d have bred a horse that lived twice as long and ate half as much. And how’s that referendum “result” implementation plan going?   

The Women’s World Cup Final was an eye-opener, selling out Lord’s, providing an unforgettable experience for everyone involved, but the crowd wanted low margin coffee and ice cream and not high margin beer. The world looked like a very different place and CEOs took note with a wary eye.

In a similar way, women and BAME / state school students were arriving, at long last, in the top echelons of classical music and making a difference.

The ECB Board had been re-formed to get rid of many of its “pale, male and stale” cricket tragics and bring in a dynamic, diverse new team (including a woman who runs a chain of coffee shops worldwide).

Does anyone outside business schools (alumni of which populated Enron and Lehmann Brothers and countless other disastrous companies) believe the “business people know best” rhetoric any more? The ECB Board and internal structure may well have needed modernising, but this reification of “business” seems strangely outdated post 2008. My experience is that the boards that rely on KPIs, high-powered breakfast meetings and legions of special assistants and consultants, need to be reined in rather than let loose. Especially in fields beyond their expertise, in which the inevitable lack of humility that comes with success in one field encourages them to believe they can do it in another. Often they can’t – take education as a case in point.  

Both speakers agreed that music and sport were universal enterprises that had the power to transcend language, culture and religion and break down barriers.

Although well meaning local initiatives were important, cricket needed a plan, a strategy that got to the heart of what young people wanted in order to engage. Would the club stalwart, who put in the voluntary hours year-in, year-out to support the junior section, really know how to keep 20 five-year-olds’ attention on a Sunday morning? How did cricket get round its labelling by kids as being too “Downton Abbey”?

The ECB Diversity Plan is now part of its core business, with support at board level (champion Lord Patel) and the resources to back up its bold ambition. It is detailed and focused (for example on the ten cities where the vast majority of its target communities lived) and gave 11 tightly drafted priorities as metrics to measure its success. One example – the fact that South Asian kids wanted to play indoor cricket 12 months a year and that girls and women in some communities needed privacy to play – was cited to show how the ECB had listened. Financial return would not the only measure of success any longer.

In this way, the South Asian community’s longstanding rejection of the ECB’s approach to engagement, would be turned around and the benefits of sensitive listening and swift, effective implementation of change would bear fruit.

My question to VIkram related to my own story of going to see Lancashire vs Hampshire at Aigburth, Liverpool, this very week, 43 years ago. How could a working class kid (as I was) do that now when, in the last 46 days, counties have played just seven T20 matches at home and nine of them held a single Championship match, almost none of which were at outgrounds? Vikram said that research said that the public wanted the T20 tournament in a block and that outground cricket was coming back in 2020. Not with Barry Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Andy Roberts and Clive Lloyd playing, was my retort.

There are so many reasons to open up cricket and music to everyone who wishes to enjoy what they bring to life – and, even those who don’t like either, surely recognise the importance of sport and culture in education, community cohesion and public life. The challenge was to ensure that evolution – and maybe revolution – does not leave the existing publics behind as the brave new worlds are embraced. Nobody thinks that’s easy – but surely nobody thinks that the status quo is anything other than a recipe for decline, and possibly very swift decline indeed. 

What I heard suggested that the ECB were getting as much right as wrong – not a bad tipping of the scales in the light its record over the last 15 years, some might say. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating – and I suspect I shan’t live long enough to see the full impact of Vikram and his colleagues’ work. But, and this is no exaggeration, there are few things I want more than to shuffle off this mortal coil knowing that the second half of the 21st century will have space for Test cricket largely as it exists today and a County Championship largely as it existed in 2012. If that’s proves too much to ask, I don’t want it to be for the want of cricket’s leaders faith in the game and energy in its management. With Vikram so closely involved, I think we have the right person in post to make the right calls and deliver that energy 

 

The Price of Admission event is part of Real Quick, the Barbican’s new series of talks, performance, and creative experiments tackling current affairs and recent events. The Real Quick program is in turn part of our 2018 season The Art of Change, which explores how the arts respond to, reflect and potentially effect change in the social and political landscape.

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