Ball One – “It’s like a penalty shoot-out that’s lasted for an hour already!” So said the BBC local radio commentator breathlessly relaying the last eighteen overs of Lancashire’s pursuit of the win against a Hampshire side that could have done with a bit of that kind of fight earlier in the season. Just when it appeared that the two left-arm spinners had toiled in vain, inside the last five minutes, Simon Kerrigan induced an edge from the typically obdurate Neil McKenzie to spark jubilant scenes at Aigburth. Lancashire’s junior spinner (he’s 22!) returned innings figures of 37.2-14-51-9 to show not just the skills that catch the selectors’ eyes, but the stamina and heart too. Of bowlers taking 20 or more Division One wickets, Lancashire men occupy first, second, third and eighth slots in the averages – but the team are not top of the tree…
Ball Two – Because Warwickshire are three points ahead of Glen Chapple’s men, having smashed last year’s champions, Nottinghamshire, by an innings and plenty at Edgbaston. Despite Alex Hales’ 178 runs for once out, Warwickshire had much too much for their fellow Midlanders, with tons for Westwood, Troughton and a very relaxed Rikki Clarke, before Chris Wright (what a signing he has been) led the bowling effort with seven wickets. Three points ahead of Lancashire, but with an awkward last fixture away at a Hampshire side who might still escape in the final reel, the eight points deducted for a poor pitch four long months ago may prove crucial in the final reckoning.
Ball Three – Knowing a win probably wouldn’t be enough to keep them up and behind by 70 on first innings, it would have been easy for Yorkshire to roll over at Headingley, but they didn’t. Stand-in skipper, Joe Sayers, rallied his troops to punch out a defiant win that will stand them in good stead come next season’s promotion campaign (which should, mark you, should, be a breeze). The key man for the Tykes was once again Ryan Sidebottom, whose 12 wickets in the match continued a very fine season in which he has 62 wickets at 22 and 389 runs at 20 – a good return for the three year contract that brought him home last winter.
Ball Four – In Division Two, Surrey’s late season form that has carried them to a Lord’s final, has also given them a chance of promotion after a win at Essex, a team whose season has dribbled away alarmingly. The match marked a return to form for Chris Jordan, after a series of debilitating injuries that had stalled a career that many saw leading to international honours. Scores of 71 and 79* and figures of 4-57 are an impressive return for a man still only 22 years of age. Next week is a big one for Surrey, but next season is a big one for Jordan who must deliver those kind of numbers much more consistently.
Ball Five – Gloucestershire cruised to a ten wicket victory over rock-bottom Leicestershire in what might be the most predictable result of the season. The T20 Champions League is unlikely to go away, so maintaining the integrity of late season fixtures for those counties with an eye on a very big pay-off might prove a challenge in the future. Not that there was any suggestion of impropriety on the part of Hoggy’s men – Leicestershire have been dismal in the LVCC from beginning to end.
Ball Six – I’m not slow to criticise the BBC’s approach to sport, whether it be their unwillingness to bid seriously for rights or their talking-points led television coverage, but the online ball-by-ball coverage of county cricket is a magnificent service for the fan of the domestic game. Done on a shoestring, the absence of bells and whistles adds to the drama, giving a close finish the atmosphere of a world heavyweight title fight from the fifties or old-fashioned satellite coverage of Olympic Games, with voices crackling down the line. You wouldn’t want such production values all the time, but it was perfect for the drama-drenched denouement at Aigburth.
The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket will also appear at Spin Cricket through the season.