Ball One – Four T20 wins in a week for Lancashire, as they charged for the qualification line, each success built on the ability to restrict opponents’ scoring (to 105/5 (15 overs), 107/5, 127/4, 124/7). You’ll win a lot more T20 matches than you’ll lose looking at scoreboards like that. Though Junaid Khan’s ability to bowl 90mph yorkers at will has been crucial to the Lanky strategy, at the heart of those bowling performances are the lefty spin-twins, Gary Keedy and Stephen Parry. Going about their business with the very minimum of fuss, they delivered figures of 15-0-84-5 and 15-0-97-3 respectively this week. Their methods are similar – tight lines, nothing too full nor too short, and let the batsmen do the experimenting. If eight of the 20 overs are going at as close to a run-a-ball as makes no difference, the other bowlers can expect big risks to be taken against them – and cash-in accordingly. Your correspondent hopes that the deadly duo will have three more opportunities to display their cool heads this season.
Ball Two – Hampshire’s mixed season continued, finishing the week top of their T20 qualifying group and rock bottom of Division One of the County Championship. Hampshire’s vaulting ambition, driven by media darling Rod Bransgrove, is bringing more international matches to the Rose Bowl and chatter about tie-ins with other franchises in domestic T20 leagues around the world, but, as is often the case in a sports club with a busy boardroom, on the field, the KPIs are proving even trickier to achieve. In a tight match at Hove, they ran into Matt Prior brimming with confidence, as he got Sussex over the line with a fourth innings 97*. But it was another England man’s performance that caught the eye. Monty Panesar, whom I last saw being carted all round Whitgift School, produced match figures of 7-183 – not too remarkable, until you see that he bowled 70 overs, 19 of which were maidens, to take those wickets. With an end more or less tied up and with regular wickets falling there too, life is much easier for the other bowlers. Monty comprehensively outbowled South Africa’s Imran Tahir – but so did the increasingly impressive 20 year-old Danny Briggs, who looks like he’ll be developing further in Division Two next year – which is a shame really, though it hasn’t harmed Steven Finn.
Ball Three – Yorkshire won their match against fellow strugglers Worcestershire, eventually by a comfortable six wickets, but it didn’t always look that way. Six down and still behind on first innings, Andrew Gale must have been comforted to see Tim Bresnan walking past him at Number Eight and even more comforted to see Adil Rashid still padded up in the pavilion. They did their bit, but it was Ajmal Shahzad’s biffing and Ryan Sidebottom’s canniness that produced a tenth wicket partnership of over 100 runs and swung the match Yorkshire’s way – especially, as so often happens after tail-end hitting, four quick wickets went down when the frustrated fielders eventually got bats in their hands. With England’s selectors contemplating the implications of a tail comprising Swann, Anderson, Tremlett and Finn, it was a timely reminder of the benefit of late order runs.
Ball Four – Kent’s gallant chase of a fourth innings target of 322 at The Oval fell just short, giving Surrey a winning margin of 21 runs – or half the extras Kent gifted them in just 83 first innings overs. Rob Key had the right to expect better than that from his bowlers, but he’ll believe that the match was lost because no team-mate could score more than 35 in support of his 162 second innings runs. With finances the way they are at Canterbury, it was always going to be a difficult season, but Key must have expected more than second bottom in Division Two just one season after playing Division One cricket
Ball Five – With ten Derbyshire batsmen “boasting” career averages between 19 and 39, they can probably play a complex knockout tournament of rock, scissors, paper to decide the batting order and be no worse off. Whether Glamorgan knew that when they reduced them to 130-7 early on the first afternoon having invited them to bat I doubt, but they’ll know it now after Jon Clare took them for 130 at almost a run-a-ball. Hiding talent like that down at Nine in a less than stellar batting order seems a bit unfair. (And, as was the case for Ball Three, the batsmen who had chased leather for three hours longer than expected, were soon able to rest more than they wished as Glamorgan lost five wickets for 69 runs before their own lower order got to work).
Ball Six – The journeyman pro is a much-derided figure on the county circuit with little apparent benefit to the all-important Team England. But for the fan of the domestic game (and there are rather more than just that one man and his dog in that category), they give great service. So it wasn’t without a wry smile playing about my lips that I noted the World’s Number One team, India, on the wrong end of three men who pretty much define the journeyman pro. In the warm-up match still underway as I write, batsmen Arul Suppiah (average 35) and Nick Compton (average 37) and bowler Charl Willoughby (average 26) proved more than Sachin, Zaheer and co could handle. They’ll have been quietly toasted by a few old pros, and a few old fans too.
The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket will also appear at Spin Cricket through the season.