Ball One – Compton does what’s required
Usually an innings of 166 at batsmen’s paradise, Taunton, is hardly noteworthy, but when it’s against the name of an England opener who is fighting for his Ashes place – well, it is then. England’s successes over the last ten years or so can be attributed to many factors – central contracts, coaching, cash from Sky – but continuity in selection might be the most important of them all. Nick Compton had a nightmarish series against New Zealand, his own contorted features so often betraying his anguish at the prospect of missing out on a chance in the biggest series of them all, that, as recently as twelve months ago, he never thought would come his way. Sent back west to get runs and under significant personal pressure, he batted seven hours for a daddy hundred. Another factor in England’s success has been to pick on character – Compton has shown that he has it. He’ll walk out with his captain at Trent Bridge next month.
Ball Two – Surrey need their bowlers to fire
Not that his redemptive knock helped Somerset, whose draw with Durham kept them in the relegation slots with hapless Derbyshire. Marcus Trescothick will be aiming to overhaul the only other county without a win in the first half of the season – Surrey – who could not convert a first innings lead of 161 into a win in the rain affected match at Arundel. Of the five international bowlers on the South Londoners’ books, Jade Dernbach has been the best of an ordinary lot this season, taking 22 wickets at 30. There’s plenty of experience too in the back-up bowling in the shape of Tim Linley and Gary Keedy, but they are faring no better. Not for the first time in his tenure, Chris Adams will be facing some difficult questions from a membership who aren’t backward at coming forward – unless he can get some wins in the second half of the season. He’ll need regular batches of 20 wickets for that.
Ball Three – Yorkshire half way to glory
Up top, Yorkshire lead Middlesex by the twenty points that were the difference in their rewards from this week’s match at Lord’s. Andrew Gale continued his form with another ton and found good support from young opener Alex Lees, who batted nearly five hours for a maiden Championship century. The bowlers then got to work, dismissing the home team twice in 127 overs with Adil Rashid continuing his glorious summer with a second innings five-fer. A ten wicket victory over Middlesex is impressive enough – that it was secured in less than three days playing time and in the absence of Joe Root, Tim Bresnan, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance shows the stamp of champions. Whether Andrew Gale’s men will deliver a pennant to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the club’s founding will depend on the second half of the season, but I wouldn’t bet against them.
Ball Four – Ben Stokes has the class to come again
Closest challengers to Andrew Gale’s merry band are fellow Northerners, Durham, who squeezed an 11 run win over reigning champions Warwickshire at Chester-le-Street. England’s forgotten man, Ben Stokes, top scored in Durham’s first dig and had match figures of 7-91, as Warwickshire’s last pair could get only 10 of the 22 runs needed for victory. Stokes is still only just 22 and, though he has done little in his seven England appearances to date, has plenty of time to come again. An 8.5 runs differential between his (Division One) first class batting and bowling averages shows that he is a classy performer on the field – if he can match that classiness off the field, his international ambitions may yet be realised.
Ball Five – Essex blown away
It’s never pleasant to watch an opponent’s last three wickets bat for nearly two sessions compiling 190 runs and nothing begets early wickets like late order stands, but 20 all out? Such was the fate of Essex at the hands of Lancashire, who will be less interested in the statistical quirks than in the 23 points that puts them into Division Two’s second promotion slot with a game in hand. Quite what to make of Essex, whose array of talent looks highly impressive on paper, I can’t say – but the fallout from the actions of wrong un with the wrong un, Danish Kaneria, does not yet appear to have worked its way out of the club’s collective confidence.
Ball Six – Well played Michael Klinger and Jimmy Adams
A recurring gripe of these weekly final overs is the reluctance of captains to use the declaration as a means of setting up a match and chasing the 16 points available for a win. So it’s right and proper for me to tip my hat to the skippers of Hampshire and Gloucestershire, who had lost a day to rain, but still got a match on. Aussie Klinger pulled out with 410-9 on the scoreboard, which, two forfeits later, meant that Jimmy Adams had a target of 411 in just over five sessions for the win. His Hampshire boys fell well short, but his endeavour should be applauded. Captaincy is about finding ways to win cricket matches and sometimes that means risking losing them too.
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