Ball One – Lancashire go top with just three matches left after yet another thrilling win, this time at Blackpool. Showing the kind of aggression that Peter Moores has instilled in his team, Glen Chapple went with the extra bowler requiring Tom Smith to bat at four and Farveez Mahroof to come in at six. In another (appropriately given its venue) rollercoaster match, that decision was to prove critical, as Tom Smith ran through the tail on the final morning to secure the 21 points that put Lancashire in the box seats with just three matches to play. As is the case with their progress to the Twenty20 semi-finals, Lancashire’s four day successes have been built on their ability to bowl dry and take wickets – of those with more than 100 LVCC Division One overs, Kyle Hogg tops the averages with 44 at 16, Glen Chapple is fourth with 45 at 20 and Gary Keedy is seventh with 50 at 23. Add in 35 wickets from Saj Mahmood and 20 from Tom Smith, both at less than 30 and it’s no surprise that Lancashire have the most wins this season (8). 77 years of waiting is now compressed into one month of nailbiting cricket.
Ball Two – Second on the Division One win list with seven are Warwickshire, who lurk in fourth place with a game in hand. With rock bottom Hampshire fired out for a pitiful 141 with barely half a day played, the Midlanders must have fancied their chances of bagging a vital win. To their immense credit in a difficult season, Jimmy Adams’ boys fought back, batting around James Vince’s 145 to post Warwickshire a fourth innings target of 308. At 30-6, it was all over and, with four matches still to play, Hampshire have given themselves just a smigeon of hope of playing Division One cricket at the Rose Bowl next year. It’s as exciting at the bottom as it is at the top of the LVCC Division One.
Ball Three – Spare a thought for Chris Woakes. In the Hampshire match, he delivered another huge performance, taking 10-123 and making 87 runs for once out. All my life, never mind his, England have cried out for a genuine Number 8, which is exactly what Woakes is, averaging 49 with the bat and 18 with the ball this season. It’s Woakes’ misfortune that England, having struggled to balance their side since the early 80s (except during those few years when Flintoff was a genuine all rounder) have two Number 8s ahead of him in Broad and Bresnan. That’s Warwickshire’s gain and, with him needing just seven runs and two wickets to achieve the modern double of 500 runs and 50 wickets, the other ten selected need to stand up in the last four matches to make Woakes’ work worthwhile .
Ball Four – Festival cricket at Scarborough produced another fine match in a season of top class entertainment in the top flight. There’s not a cricket fan around who won’t be pleased by Michael Yardy’s two centuries which should signal that his rehabilitation, after coming home early from the World Cup, is progressing as well as can be expected. Sussex must be commended for the way they have supported Yardy and other counties, indeed other sports, should look and learn.
Ball Five – Cricket fans will also be pleased by stand-in skipper Jacques Rudolph’s decision to go for the runs, leading from the front in making 120 from 125 balls as Yorkshire made 312-6 in 54 overs to fall just 32 runs short of the target. They can be a bit, shall I say exacting, in the crowd up there, but none will have left believing that their side gave anything less than their all in pursuit of the win – and that’s how it should be.
Ball Six – In a frankly much less interesting Division Two, six wins have been enough to secure Northamptonshire almost certain promotion in a season that has seen too many draws and some nondescript cricket. Late order batting has been crucial for Northants this season with Andrew Hall and James Middlebrook both averaging more than 50 and the win over Derbyshire was no exception. Over both innings, the last five Northants’ wickets outscored the first five wickets by 385 to 298. Though all runs count equally, that kind of lopsidedness can give great heart to one’s own bowlers and demoralise opposition batsmen waiting to get in and get scoring. Momentum, though a bit of a cliché, matters in cricket.
The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket will also appear at Spin Cricket through the season.