Ball One – Alex Hales is one of many hard-hitting young batsmen queuing up to break into the world’s Number One Test team – or, more realistically, the world’s less than Number One ODI team. After a disappointing series of matches for the Lions, he returned to county cricket with the object of helping Nottinghamshire to mid-table respectability after a disappointing defence of their title. Though up against a Durham attack shorn of some of its potency, Trent Bridge is never an easy place to bat, and Hales’ 115 proved crucial in a low-scoring match. Durham’s defeat does not leave the title solely between Lancashire and Warwickshire, but Phil Mustard’s men will need a slip or two from rivals to secure a third Championship in four years.
Ball Two – Yorkshire, despite all the talent at their disposal, are in a relegation slot having lost to the surging Warwickshire. Even without Chris Woakes (on England duty), the Midlanders’ batting was astonishingly deep with Keith Barker at 8 and Neil Carter 9 meaning that any top order bat who gets in will get the support he needs to bat time. And few batsmen in world cricket bat time better than new signing Shiv Chanderpaul, whose 193 built a winning position that wasn’t wasted.
Ball Three – Smart loan signings are also useful at this time of the season as players look to secure contracts for 2012. Warwickshire took on Chris Wright as a Chris Woakes lite, but he came good with match figures of 7-96. Wright’s career suggests that he’s not quite got enough for Division One cricket, but he doesn’t need to perform consistently as a loanee – for Jim Troughton, Wright needed to be good enough in that one match, and he was.
Ball Four – Dead last Leicestershire, saving most of their experienced men for Saturday’s Twenty20 Finals day, capitulated to Surrey who are now charging for promotion. The Londoners’ main man was again Tim “The Viscount” Linley, who has been magnificently reliable in a season in which Tremlett, Dernbach and Meaker have all missed matches due to international call-ups. At 29, Linley is a late-developer who bowls straight and hits the seam – doesn’t sound much, but if it were as easy as that, wouldn’t they all do it?
Ball Five – Fourth day rain spoiled Middlesex’s push for promotion, allowing Northants to get away with a draw despite conceding a first innings lead of over 200. For that strong position, Middlesex had serial under-achievers Scott Newman and Dawid Malan to thank, the two stand and deliver batsmen making 208 runs between them. If Division One cricket returns to Lord’s next season, those men will have to become much more consistent if their team is to survive.
Ball Six – Twenty20 Finals day did not just provide two ultra-close semi-finals and a fairytale finish with Paul “”The Badger” Nixon’s sensational catch sparking a fielding performance that brought the trophy to Leicestershire in the keeper’s last match. For eleven hours play through intermittent showers, the big crowd were never in any doubt that the groundstaff, umpires and players were committed to get the match on as soon as possible, recognising that the public deserve cricket in return for their significant outlay on a ticket. That attitude isn’t always clearly held in the game – but it should be.
The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket will also appear at Spin Cricket through the season.