Throughout the season, I shall be writing a Final Over of the Week in County Cricket. I shall not be providing a summary of the last seven day’s action – there are plenty such round-ups elsewhere – but I shall pick six “deliveries” that have caught my eye. There’ll be a jaffa or two amongst them – and a few long hops too, no doubt – but, at my age, it’s about the only over I can bowl!
Ball One – Like many counties, Durham will play five LV= County Championship matches before the middle of May – not a schedule put together by an ex-opening batsman I’ll venture! With the expectation that the first hour of an innings will belong to the bowlers, the middle order is crucial on nippy Spring days. This week, Durham’s comprised an ideal mix of experience and promise with Dale Benkenstein, Ben Stokes, Paul Collingwood and Phil Mustard in the engine room at Four to Seven – just the 675 First Class matches between them. 224 runs were scored when Durham had at least one of those four at the crease – Somerset managed only 318 runs in the match. Durham won.
Ball Two – With new signing James Harris in the ranks alongside the dependable Tim Murtagh and with Steven Finn lurking in the wings, Toby Roland-Jones must have felt a bit of pressure when handed the ball for the 12th over with Nottinghamshire already 45-0. He bowled a maiden, then backed it up with another two dot balls before snaring England men Alex Hales and Michael Lumb with his next two deliveries. Roland-Jones’ 6-63 set up a very handy win for the Londoners at Trent Bridge, underlining their credentials for the Title come September. Though seldom mentioned as an England candidate, the tall seamer pays less than 21 runs for a wicket, at a strike rate of 38, giving away just 3.24 runs per over. They’re figures that demand appreciation, and few will appreciate them more than another tall seamer who just happens to be his boss – Angus Fraser.
Ball Three – With a place back where (they believe) they belong and anniversary celebrations to look forward to, Yorkshire must have relished this season as much as any for a generation. 90 minutes in, they were 18-4 and staring down the barrel of an innings defeat at home to Sussex. Sport doesn’t do sentiment – there’s a reason they’re called fairy tales – and Jason Gillespie has some work to do before his suddenly callow looking batting order go to Chester-le-Street to face the grizzled old pros of Durham a week on Wednesday. By the end of that match, Yorkshire will need no further reminders about the difference between Divisions One and Two.
Ball Four – Another of those differences was on show at Old Trafford, where Lancashire started life at the lower level of the Championship with a score of 448-7, which included all nine batsmen in double figures. After the dismal run of scores last season, Glen Chapple will hope that such consistency is a sign of things to come. Not everything changes though – it finished as a rain-affected draw in Manchester.
Ball Five – Five years ago, a teenage Chris Jordan looked to have it all – very quick and accurate with the ball and a hard-hitting batsmen of considerable promise. Nobody was quite saying the words “The New Ben Hollioake” but hopes were high at The Oval, and there was plenty of chatter about whether England or West Indies would claim his services. Injuries, a loss of form and the curse of hyped expectations meant that he never realised his potential at Surrey. He was picked up by the always shrewd Sussex management this season in the hope that he could fill Robin Martin-Jenkins’ old role as a reliable seamer who could chip in with handy runs. Match figures of 8-90 at Headingley is a decent start. His next match? Why Surrey at The Oval, of course.
Ball Six – One round of matches is hardly a sample large enough to draw conclusions, but all three positive results came in Division One. In 2012, five Division One teams managed five or more wins, a total that was sufficient to see Yorkshire promoted from Division One. With no relegation, is it too easy for Division Two teams to duck the ruthlessness victories require? Might some system of promotion and relegation from the Minor Counties work – at least for First Class cricket, since county’s finances don’t turn on its income generated at the gate by the four day game? Sacrilege maybe – but cricket tinkers with its formats every year, so don’t rule it out.
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