Ball One – While the garlands are rightly being placed around the necks of Andies Strauss and Flower for England’s ascent to Test cricket’s number one ranking, perhaps dear old county cricket, well down the news agenda in a week of riots on the front pages and football on the back pages, can shyly shuffle forward to take some of the applause – like Gary Pratt on the open-top bus, if you will. Though every player did their bit, England’s bowlers have come in for particular praise, running in all day, bowling to plans, working as a unit – pretty much exemplifying the approach that the county cricket treadmill was said to knock out of a young player. Here are the numbers of matches played by England’s fab five in front, if the media are right, one man and a dog: James Anderson (Lancashire) 54; Stuart Broad (Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire) 37; Tim Bresnan (Yorkshire) 87; Chris Tremlett (Hampshire, Surrey) 99; Graeme Swann (Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire) 161. That’s plenty of time to ingrain bad (or should I say good) habits.
Ball Two – One of the criticisms levelled at county cricket is the number of declaration matches thrown up by the inevitable rain of an English summer. Many of the abominations (a session of slogging to reach a pre-determined target or, worse still, captains failing to agree a target leading to one side batting out time at two runs per over) have been despatched to history along with three day cricket, but the two division championship also forces captains to concentrate on getting results. In the top vs bottom clash at the Riverside, Jimmy Adams, desperate for a win, used a couple of old school forfeitures to set Durham 276 in 82 overs and was rewarded with 18 points for his positive approach. The stand-in Hampshire captain was indebted to two of England’s (maybe even Hampshire’s) forgotten men: Dmitri Mascarenhas and Kabir Ali, who took nine wickets between them, to show their class in a season ravaged by injury. That both men have over 400 first class wickets at around 28 but are so far down England the pecking order that you would need a telescope to find them, is an indicator of England’s strength in depth and to the commitment to young players, already identified through the Lions, as the future. If the two old hands stay fit, Hampshire might yet scramble to safety.
Ball Three – But they won’t if Worcestershire continue to fight like cornered tigers, as they did in defeating a vastly superior (on paper) Sussex side away at Horsham. Whilst Saeed Ajmal’s marathon second innings spell bowled his side to victory, old warhorse Alan Richardson, 36 now and with plenty of miles on the clock, grabbed six wickets in the match including the key one of Murray Goodwin. That, of course, is what he’s paid for, but the likes of Richo always find another way to contribute too – his jaunty second innings 41 at Number 11 proved vital in a match won by just 34 runs – nous counts.
Ball Four – What can one say about Surrey (without crying or giggling according to taste)? With a Test ground, still big off-field earnings through conferences etc and a coach given security of tenure that others can only dream of, they were bowled out twice for a total of 231 runs, sliding to fifth in the second division, with it all to do if promotion is to be achieved. Perhaps Surrey need a Rob Key figure as the ex-England man played his second monumental innings of the season against the Londoners, carrying his bat for 110 with the next best score a paltry 22. Still only 32 and in his benefit year, perhaps the Rob Key figure Surrey need is Rob Key himself, but it would be a surprise if he were to forsake Kent, but stranger things have happened and, with Ramprakash surely unlikely to play often in his 43rd year (if at all), Key would add some much needed ballast at the Oval come 2012.
Ball Five – Kiwi Martin Guptill is unlikely to provoke a walk-up crowd to queue round the houses, but he’s exactly the sort of smart signing Surrey have failed to make for years. At Derbyshire, he can quietly get on with his work, as he did in racking up over 200 runs for once out in a low scoring match against Gloucestershire. That was enough to secure the win for Luke Sutton’s men who have edged into the promotion race and, with a couple of home matches and a season closer at The Oval where the natives (and the players) might be somewhat restless, still to come, I wouldn’t back against them playing first division cricket in 2012.
Ball Six – In the Twenty20, Lancashire secured their semi-final spot by defending 152 rather easily in the end. Though Junaid Khan’s stump exploding pace caught the eye once more, it was the lefty spin twins, Gary Keedy and Stephen Parry who set up the win yet again. Together they delivered figures of 8-0-45-2, the sort of numbers that win far more games than they lose. With Durham losing in the county championship, Lancashire are in at the business end of the two big domestic competitions with much riding on Keedy continuing his tremendous form. There’s few in the game would begrudge him some glory come season’s end and the Wisden Cricketer of the Year accolade that would surely come with either trophy. The Almanack’s new editor will certainly be lobbied by this correspondent no matter how the season plays out!
The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket will also appear at Spin Cricket through the season.