Ball One – County cricket’s schedule is not helping the game’s profile
There was always a good chance that either The Ashes or the series would be secured last week, and so it proved. Cricket had earned itself a rare run at being the lead sports story in newspapers, online and in broadcast media. But if the torrent of good publicity that even a low key win over Australia engenders provoked one or two parents to think about taking the kids to a local match to pass another long school holiday afternoon, they had less choice this last week than in almost any other week of the season. Indeed, why not celebrate The Ashes by making entry to cricket free until the end of August? To compound matters, county cricket’s biggest event – Twenty20 Finals Day – was once more scheduled against the opening day of the Premier League season, relegating it to an afterthought in sports’ media, now its darling is back. Two important opportunities missed.
Ball Two – A last hurrah for Simon Jones?
However, there were a few YB40 matches played, as cricket’s low-key tournament limps towards its knockout stages. And limping is a word we associate with one of England’s 2005 Ashes heroes, Simon Jones, but he was fit enough to knock over two international batsmen (Eoin Morgan and Adam Voges) to keep Glamorgan in the hunt for a semi-final berth. The big Welshman will be 35 on Christmas Day, so hasn’t long left in a game that has punished his body. You don’t have to hail from west of Offa’s Dyke to hope that Glamorgan can get to the final and that Jones will be fit enough for one last big day with the ball.
Ball Three – Cameron White is doing a fine job for his county, not his country
In a season still short of the kind of last over finishes that thrill crowds, Northants’ best week for 20 years got off to a good start with a win over Kent that keeps them in with a chance of making it to two finals. Big Australian, Cameron White, played a sensible knock to steer his team’s chase (as he was to do in both Twenty20 Finals Day matches) and the Wantage Road men got up with two balls to spare. Just turned 30, White is surplus to Australia’s requirements in all forms of the game – strange for a man who averages almost 30 in his four Tests and 35 and 28 at very healthy strike rates in ODI and T20I cricket. With thirtysomethings, Chris Rogers and Ryan Harris, being about the only successes for Australia this summer, it’s a surprise that the likes of White haven’t had the nod too.
Ball Four – What is the right spot in the order for a team’s biggest hitter?
“The Napier Problem” sounds like an arcane riddle from the Scottish Enlightenment – and, in some ways, it might as well be for all its susceptibility to solutions. It refers, of course, to where Essex should deploy its (big) hit and miss potential in the batting order. In the first Twenty20 semi-final, Essex lost Ravi Bopara in the 12th over but had Ryan ten Doeschate at the other end, winding up for some slogging – so is it Napier time? James Foster decided he would hold back his inconsistent smiter and walked to the crease himself. Though he’s no slouch with the bat and his figures are not much different to Napier’s, Foster does not strike fear into a bowler, as the all-rounder does once he is on a roll. Maybe if Foster had gambled on Napier, the 12th to 15th overs might have gone for more than 4, 6, 8 and 7 runs and a target closer to 200 been set. As it was, every Northants’ batsman was able to play himself in on a true pitch, knowing that the 169 runs required was never too distant.
Ball Five – Experience counts in Twenty20 cricket
Azhar Mahmood is one of the band of Twenty20 freelancers who follow the sun playing for franchises, as one season seems to roll into the next. He offers little in the field, but with the ball, he knows where the batsmen least want to see it (and has the skills to put it there) and with the bat, he knows how to balance attack and defence. In his 190 Twenty20 matches, he has bowled in all of them and only missed out on an innings in 15 – he’s a key man for all 40 overs. His probing spell of 4 – 1 – 9 – 2 in the second semi-final ensured that when he failed with the bat (as happens), he handed over a gettable target to the cool head of Zafar Ansari, who got Surrey over the line.
Ball Six – Super Willey goes ballistic, Surrey are atrocious
But even the wise old head of the Pakistani pacer could do nothing to stem the flow of boundaries from the bat of Northants’ David Willey. Whether it was spitting with rain, getting started again after a break or trying to channel his antipathy towards Jade Dernbach into boundaries, Willey just did the “See ball. Hit ball’ routine and looked every inch a left-handed Sehwag at the top of the order. Either side of the rain delay, he hit an astonishing 37 runs from 11 balls, seven of which went to the boundary. Like his team-mate Steven Crook in the semi-final, Willey generates tremendous bat-speed – a rare quality in an English batsman used to playing on seaming wickets. It’s no surprise that both men are primarily bowlers – like keepers, it’s easier to take risks when batting is one’s secondary skill. Congratulations to Northants – FL Twenty20 Winners 2013.
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