Ball One – Should county cricket put all its eggs in one basket?
With a late Easter, county cricket was a family day out option, but the cricket on show was of the four day variety – one of its finest formats, but not one to get the kids pestering the parents for a return visit to their local ground. Whilst the ECB’s desire to give a better shape to the county cricket season is admirable, it seems almost perverse to ignore Good Friday altogether, play four day cricket only on Easter Monday and both May Bank Holidays and play no domestic cricket at all on the August Bank Holiday. So, Ikea anyone?
Ball Two – Ballance tips the scales in Yorkshire’s favour
The only positive result in the County Championship came at Leeds where Yorkshire steamrollered Northants by an innings and plenty. Gary Ballance was at the crease while 341 runs were added, two more than Northants managed in the match – he’s building his case for England’s Number Six position. Twenty-one year old Alex Lees continued where he left off last season, with a fine 90 and must be an outside bet for an England call-up before the season is out. When the Yorkies have Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root available, there’s a case for arguing that it might be easier to get a slot for England than it is for Yorkshire, so strong are the Tykes’ batting options.
Ball Three – Warwickshire may regret a draw in Manchester’s gloom
A perennial gripe of mine is the failure of captains to risk defeat in pursuit of victory. In Peter Moores’ last match as Lancashire coach, Warwickshire’s bowlers had set up a chase of 120 in “29 overs” – but, this is April in the Manchester, so one cannot rely on the weather and only 24.3 were sent down. But to fall short by 25 runs, with only skipper Ian Bell going at more than a run a ball, seems a little careless, even with wickets falling regularly. 11 points is the difference between a win and a draw and with Warwickshire going for the title and Lancashire likely to be hanging on to survive, it was surely worth risking the defeat in a T20 style race against the clock. The Midlanders would probably have given it a go in September – the 11 points count for the same even if they come in April.
Ball Four – Durham stymied by ex-England men
Paul Collingwood had one of those tricky declaration decisions at Chester-le-Street after the third day was lost. Leading by 275 going, he chose to bat on for an hour or so, setting Marcus Trescothick’s men a distant 337 for the victory. Nick Compton – something of an early season specialist – got a round 100 and Craig Kieswetter a hard-hit 78 to secure the draw, but the Durham skipper thought that 73 overs were sufficient to take ten wickets and, since Somerset were 92-4 with over 40 overs still to be bowled, he was probably right. Credit to the batsmen.
Ball Five – Will Gidman makes the most of his opportunity
After failing to make an impression at Durham, Will Gidman dropped a division to play for Gloucestershire where he was guaranteed to get plenty of work with bat and ball. In the rain-affected draw in Cardiff, he had match figures of 40-13-84-9 to lower his first class bowling average to an Ambrosesque 20.96, sitting alongside a batting average of 35. If the mark of an all-rounder is to have those figures “the right way round”, Gidman junior is delivering the brief and then some. At 29, his chances for international honours (or even of playing for a bigger county) have probably gone, but he remains a resourceful county cricketer. And there ain’t nothing wrong with that.
Ball Six – Graeme Smith shows his caring side
Graeme Smith often appears to be hewn of granite: the early responsibility thrust upon him; the batting with a broken hand; those second innings tons. But, at The Oval on Monday, he revealed a side to his character that might be a little unexpected. Four leg byes has seen the ball clatter under the covers at the Vauxhall End and Smith was jogging from slip to retrieve it when he saw Jade Dernbach running round from deep square with the same purpose in mind. Smith told his bowler that he would do the job and did so – an old-fashioned courtesy to a bowler and a nice little vignette of leadership in action.
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