Ball One – Tim Murtagh keeps it simple to send Middlesex top of the table
Contrasting fortunes this week for the London clubs with Middlesex sitting on top of Division One after sweeping aside Somerset, a county whose season just can’t get going. As I identified in the first of these weekly overs, Middlesex have a fine seam attack even without Steven Finn (on England duty) and they simply swept aside their opponent’s highly rated batting unit twice in just 130 overs. Stepping up this week was old pro Tim Murtagh, whose match figures of 33.5 – 13 – 77 – 10 show just how effective he was. Having started across the river at The Oval before moving North, Murtagh seems to have been around forever, running in hard, keeping it there or thereabouts, making batsmen play. There’s not much to go wrong and, with over 450 first class career wickets as proof, there’s plenty to go right.
Ball Two – You’re never too old
Despite the Middlesex man’s brilliant performance, he wasn’t the bowler of the week. That accolade goes to another pro who has been around for years, another who keeps it there or theareabouts, another credit to the game. Worcestershire’s grizzled warhorse Alan Richardson had much too much nous for Kent, as he produced astonishing match figures: 32 – 13 – 63 -12. A Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 2012 and 38 years of age, “Richo” is an indefatigable and much admired presence on the county circuit. Like contemporary Glen Chapple, he is an ornament of the English summer and will be much missed when the boots are finally stowed away.
Ball Three – Surrey have work to do to get their season back on track
If Middlesex’s season is progressing exactly as planned, across the river, Surrey’s brave new dawn of April is already turning into a bleak May. New skipper Graeme Smith is injured and unlikely to be back before September and the two other senior pros in the batting order, Vikram Solanki and Zander de Bruyn are averaging just 34 and 24. Shorn of Andre Adams, Nottinghamshire’s attack will frighten nobody, but they had enough to dismiss Surrey for 207 and 144 with extras (57) Surrey’s joint second top scorer. Chris Adams’ rebuilding plans are stalled, and not for the first time in his five year tenure at The Oval.
Ball Four – Confidence matters
If confidence is lacking in the Surrey dressing room, it’s surging through the veins of one of those who never quite found his feet there. Chris Jordan’s career was grinding to a halt due to injury and lack of form and, at 24, he needed a new start before it was too late. In the less intense atmosphere at Hove, his undoubted potential is, at last, being realised. Consistency with the ball has brought him 21 wickets in just four matches this season at the very handy average of 21. As so often is the case with all-rounders and keepers, performance with one skill is rubbing off on the other, as he hit 92 with the bat in a partnership of 179 with Mike Yardy. Sussex hammered Derbyshire to go fourth in the table with a game in hand. Derbyshire, for whom 2013 may be a long season, stay bottom.
Ball Five – A new role for Adil Rashid
Another man low on confidence at the end of last season and, with highly rated Azeem Rafiq coming through, a possible candidate for a move, was Adil Rashid. He stayed at Yorkshire and has been in the form of his life with the bat, making 110* to drive his season average to a preposterous 200! With Tim Bresnan helping out after his release by England, Yorkshire overwhelmed defending champions Warwickshire to stay hard on the heels of Middlesex at the top of the table. Rashid’s future role at Yorkshire may be as a Number 6 and handy change bowler – and, as I wrote last week, at 25, there’s still time for him to press his case for an England recall.
Ball Six – Four day cricket delivers thrills again
There’s much criticism of the sidelining of Championship cricket into early and late season with the odd match here and there in high summer, but nobody can say that the entertainment provided so far has been anything other than first class. Like Paul Collingwood earlier in the season, James Foster followed a tight defeat one week with a tight win the next, as Essex got over the line against Glamorgan with seven balls to spare. Having had a firm foundation set by the openers, Ravi Bopara, Mark Pettini, Graham Napier, Greg Smith and James Foster himself scored 109 runs in the last 20 overs on a fourth day pitch with no fielding restrictions. That’s positive cricket indeed, with 16 points and second place in Division Two the just reward.
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