Ball One – Catches win matches, but so do bowlers
Middlesex sit atop the County Championship with two wins from two after grinding through Derbyshire’s batting first time round, then swatting it aside in the second dig. Angus Fraser’s three frontline seamers returned match figures of 102.5 – 35 – 216 – 17, rounded off with a Toby Roland-Jones hat-trick. Though Steven Finn will soon be claimed by England, James Harris, the most sought after close season signing, will resume new ball duties with crafty Tim Murtagh and more wins can be expected. Whether the Londoners have the spin options for the late Summer matches remains to be seen, but no batsman wants to face that attack in the Spring.
Ball Two – Champions show their teeth
As the IPL grinds on, with its superstars dotted about amongst some local, pretty ordinary, cricketers, reigning champions Warwickshire show the value of performances from 1 to 11. Against a Durham team as tentative at the start of this season as they were in 2012, Warwickshire put together eight partnerships of forty or more in the match, comparing favourably with their opponents’ one. That solidity through the order from the openers down to Chris Woakes and Keith Barker cruelly lurking at 8 and 9, provided the platform for Chris Wright to back up his breakthrough season last year with six second innings wickets. With England likely to come knocking only for Chris Woakes (and even then, only for the one-dayers) Jim Troughton’s resources must be the envy of other skippers around the country.
Ball Three – Press box and pavilion separated by more than the length of the ground at The Oval.
As the first summer’s day for what felt like years bathed a decent crowd in sunshine at an immaculately presented, white picket-fenced Kia Oval, a press box line was of a much changed Surrey side putting a tragic season behind them to rally under new skipper Graeme Smith. In the pavilion, the members understood the need for a cautious start to the campaign, but had a greater interest in the narrative of the match at hand, rather than the season. Why had Graeme Smith ignored what he later described as his “X-Factor cricketer”, paceman Stuart Meaker, in allowing Somerset to progress from 110-4 to 197-5 in 23 afternoon overs, building a lead of 219 to make the game safe? Why did Marcus Trescothick fail to declare, so sending out his Number 10 (George Dockerell) after tea to continue an innings in which he scored 2 in over an hour at the crease? Most of all, why couldn’t two such experienced captains as Smith and Trescothick not contrive a late afternoon showdown with a target of about 240 off 35 overs? Both sides may be happy with the three points for a draw, but the crowd went away wondering if they would have had more fun at the Vauxhall Gardens Festival over the road. And, having spent time in both roles, I was left to reflect again on how differently one sees a match from the point of view of a journalist compared to that of a fan.
Ball Four – Essex need to concentrate on matters on the field
With Danish Kaneria’s appeal against a lifetime ban for spot-fixing set for this week, Essex were understandably distracted in their match at Wantage Road. That takes nothing away from Stephen Peters’ pack of all-rounders, in which David Willey underlined his class again with 76 runs and eight wickets in the match. But James Foster’s blend of experience and potential, especially the pace battery of Reece Topley, Tymal Mills, Maurice Chambers and Graham Napier which looks more fitting for Division One cricket than Division Two, cannot allow these early season game to slip through their fingers. Essex’s next match is at Chelmsford against ambitious Hampshire – the fervent local support must hope that the season starts then.
Ball Five – The County Pro shows his worth
Jim Allenby seems to have been around for years, but it’s actually only the eighth season in county cricket for the Australian. Though he’ll never feature in an international selector’s notes, if you can bat at an average of 39 and take wickets at an average of 26, you’re never going to want for employment in England. He was doing what he does best for Mark Wallace against Worcestershire keeping it tight with the ball (33-13-57-5) and coming in at 114-4 in the first innings, only leaving the crease with the score at 256-8 and the lead 133. There’s plenty who say that 18 counties are too many, pointing at the likes of Allenby as an example of a cricketer who earns a decent living without aspiring to the international game that generates much of the cash to pay his salary. I say that the old pro has always had a place in the English game – at all levels – and summers would be the poorer for their absence. Play on Jim!
Ball Six – An opportunity missed?
With 23 County Championship matches scheduled to finish on the first four Saturdays of the season, might not the counties have clubbed together and agreed to an early season “Free on Saturday” policy for casual fans? Though some matches will inevitably finish early creating a tricky message for the marketing team to get across, social media is a powerful tool and word would quickly spread that a pleasant Saturday afternoon at the cricket is available gratis. The minuscule takings foregone at the gate would probably be recouped in sales at the food concessions and would be more than justified in punting to the captive audiences the roster of money-spinning one-dayers and T20s to come. Actually, why not make all weekend County Championship matches free for the walk up crowd? The numbers would have to be crunched, with some reduction in memberships expected, but my feeling is that the cash position might be about neutral once all income streams are accounted for. And the PR, for a game not visible on free-to-air television, would be invaluable.
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