Ball One – Is the return of the heavy roller to blame for Division One’s heavy scoring?
There were more big totals racked up in Division One of the LV County Championship this week – Middlesex cruising to 514-8 at Lord’s, Yorkshire biffing 505-9 at Headingley and Middlesex (again) making 428-5 declared at Edgbaston. Those run fests came on top of Yorkshire’s 677-7 at Headingley and Sussex 526 at The Oval earlier in the season. In the ten Division One matches completed since April 20, only one match has seen an innings of fewer than 427 (even that one included innings of 275-4 declared and 339-6). If making big scores is as commonplace as this in a chilly, damp early Spring, what can we expect in the dog days of August? The return of the heavy roller after three years of absence was intended to mirror Test match conditions more closely and help the spinners get a bowl ahead of the seamers on the third and fourth days – but perhaps, at the traditional Test venues at least, it’s just making batting too easy.
Ball Two – Rashid isn’t finished with international cricket
One of English cricket’s forgotten men was back in the news this week – Adil Rashid made a career-best 180 as Yorkshire were denied victory over winless Somerset by the rain. Though Rashid last turned out for England in 2009, he is only 25, an age at which Alec Stewart had played exactly none of his 303 matches for England and Graeme Swann was still four years from his Test debut. Rashid will never play for England as a specialist batsman, but if he can get his bowling back to its level of 2008-2010 when he took an average of 50 wickets a season at an average in the low 30s while maintaining his excellent batting form, he’ll build an irresistible case for a recall in at least one of cricket’s three formats.
Ball Three – The thrills of four day cricket
After another week in which all but one YB40 match was very one-sided, the thrills came at Old Trafford, where Lancashire kept going all the way to the penultimate ball of the match before securing the 16 points for a win. Lancashire fans can point to heroes in Karl Brown and Ashwell Prince, whose pair of 80s built the foundation for the chase and Essex fans may point the finger at ex-Lanky misfit Saj Mahmood, who bowled the 44th over that went for 16 runs tilting the match Lancashire’s way and dropped a catch in the last over. Captain James Foster who, like Paul Collingwood a couple of weeks ago, declared and lost, can expect to catch some flak too. But fans of cricket will point to a match in which more than a day’s play was lost, but all four results were possible as the final over began. We should not look to blame one or two players for that – we should look to salute the 22 who were determined to win, come what may.
Ball Four – The next Joe Root?
While Joe Root’s appetite for runs in 2013 continues unabated in the England Lions match, another young man is following the wunderkind’s path through age group cricket to the First Class game. Shiv Thakor is still a teenager, but is beginning to put up numbers that suggest a very bright future. An unbeaten 50 in a rain-affected match at Worcester won’t set the pulses racing, but he’s just 44 runs short of logging 1000 first class runs at an average of 53. Having turned down university education, the young man has backed his talent – that is already looking like the right decision.
Ball Five – The next England Number 4?
While weight of runs is one way to catch the selectors’ eye, it’s well known that Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick were picked for England on the mysterious “something” that some players are deemed to possess. Jos Buttler hasn’t done much in his six ODIs and 21 T20Is and has just 5 centuries in professional cricket, but he gave evidence again of his unique talent in an extraordinary innings of 89 off 51 balls as Somerset hammered Yorkshire in the YB40 competition. No English batsman (and few not called AB De Villiers) can hit the ball to as many parts of the field as Buttler and few hit it as hard. The Champions Trophy will be a big tournament for Buttler, the wicket-keeper-batsman. If he can deliver on the big stage and build innings in the County Championship, he might just drop the keeping and become the long-term replacement for Kevin Pietersen as the grit in the batting order’s oyster.
Ball Six – Division One wide open, but Division Two is already taking shape
With most sides having completed a quarter of their fixtures, the divisions are beginning to take shape. Just six points separate Middlesex, Yorkshire, Durham and Warwickshire in the top flight with only Derbyshire looking short of what’s required for a challenge. Expect a rollercoaster season with the 16 points for a win allowing bold captains to leapfrog over rivals in the battle for the pennant. In Division Two, Northamptonshire’s turbocharged start courtesy of their astonishing output from the all-rounders, makes them favourites to stay in a promotion slot. Ominously, Lancashire’s thrilling win has allowed Glen Chapple’s men to assume second position and I expect the only two unbeaten counties in the Division to be there or thereabouts right through to September.
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