Ball One – In England’s Twenty20, it’s the game that counts
If the IPL is driven by marketing big name players making big hits to earn big money, England’s Twenty20 competition is driven by something less manufactured. When the sun shines and there’s some cricket to watch that starts at a convenient time that doesn’t finish too late and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg at the turnstiles – people will come. 28,000 of them did so at Lord’s for the Middlesex vs Surrey match, in which the biggest name was probably Chris Tremlett – but it’s the event that matters, not the players. Long after live cricket disappeared from free-to-view television, the summer game can still attract regular crowds like little else beyond football.
Ball Two – Big over redeemed by big hit
Once the weather is set fine, one day cricket thrives on the adrenaline that flows through the players and the spectators when a close finish hoves into view. But, as in the YB40 competition this season, thrillers have been few and far between in FLT20 fixtures. The Grace Road faithful got one this week when Leicestershire and Lancashire tied at 139-9 each to share the points. Mitchell McClenaghan was villain turned hero for Lancashire, as he conceded 20 runs off the 19th over, the big one Leicestershire needed to set a competitive target. Redemption came with the bat, as the muscular Kiwi pacer walked to the crease with a boundary required to tie the match – one ball, one four and Lancashire stayed in the hunt for a quarter-final berth.
Ball Three – Essex shoot themselves in the foot again
What a curious season it is for Essex – they seem to provide talking points every week, sometimes good, sometimes bad. It was bad Essex again this week, conceding a preposterous 33 extras in their match with Hampshire. That a bowling unit in which only Reece Topley has fewer than seven seasons experience of T20 cricket could fail to bowl their overs in time to avoid a six run penalty for the second time this season, simply beggars belief. As ever in cricket, it pays to get the basics right.
Ball Four – No boring middle overs for Andre Russell
Another club having a season of ups and downs is Somerset, who backed up an easy win over Gloucestershire by building a winning position at Worcester, only to run into West Indian Andre Russell, who was channeling the spirit of Collis King. Somerset’s 188-4 gave little scope for anyone to push the ball around in the middle overs, but few would have expected Russell to hit 32 off ten balls around the halfway mark to tilt the match decisively in Worcestershire’s direction. Daryl Mitchell’s men still needed 8 off the last over, but this was Andre Russell’s day and his two boundaries were enough for Worcestershire to leave Somerset with work to do to qualify for the knockout stage.
Ball Five – Warwickshire the team to watch
Warwickshire are very much county cricket’s form team in July and showed it again as Varun Chopra and Darren Maddy put on 108 for the second wicket, before Rikki Clarke finished off Worcestershire with 15 balls to spare. The Midlanders lost their first three T20 matches of the season, but have won five of the last six to leave them in with a shout of a quarter-final slot.
Ball Six – All to play for in the last round of the last season of the three divisions structure.
Pulling eight teams from three divisions doesn’t sound an easy task, but with the top two in each division progressing with the two best third placed teams, there’s still plenty to be settled in this week’s final round of T20 league matches. But what’s gained in making matches competitive is lost in the complexity of following the tables, especially with updates coming almost every day. Next season, the Twenty20 season will be simpler – two groups of eight play mainly Friday night cricket, home and away, with the top four qualifying for the quarter-finals. However, what’s gained in clarity may be lost in dead rubbers – but predicting cricket is never easy.
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