Ball One – Toby Roland-Jones sends Middlesex top
Middlesex’s topsy-turvy season continued with a crushing win over rock-bottom Northamptonshire, their fourth to go with two defeats and sufficient to take the Londoners clear at the top of Division One by 19 points, having played a match more than their rivals. Star of the show was Toby Roland-Jones, whose six wickets in each innings (and 60 with the bat) revived my thoughts last year about an international call-up. He’s probably not quite sharp enough for England, what he does, he does well, as a career first class average of under 22 proves. Still only 26, the same kind of thing was said of Ryan Sidebottom a decade or so ago, before his recall to international cricket at the age of 29. This classical English seamer’s time may yet come.
Ball Two – Marcus Trescothick dares to dream
The other match in Division One saw Somerset use a livelier pitch than one has come to expect at Taunton to beat Durham and the weather, to go level with Yorkshire in second, as the season’s nip and tuck jostling for position continued. Set an awkward fourth innings chase of 248, Marcus Trescothick teed off from the start, getting the fourth day target down to 138 runs with all ten wickets in hand. By the time he was dismissed, he had 133 at better than a run a ball and the victory was a formality. With two match-winning centuries under his belt already this season as proof that 2013 was a dip and not a decline, Trescothick couldn’t deliver a first ever pennant to his beloved Somerset could he? There won’t be a dry eye in Taunton – nay, in England – if he does.
Ball Three – Worcestershire’s star players deliver an encouraging win over Essex
Things are rather different in Division Two, where Hampshire and Worcestershire both won to extend their leads to 45 and 33 points over third placed Essex, who were blown away by Saeed Ajmal at New Road. The Pakistani wizard’s career-best return of 13-94 underlined his potency as a match-winner, but his skipper, Darryl Mitchell, again caught the eye with knocks of 97 and 38 in a game in which no other batsman scored a half-century. Worcestershire would like to catch Hampshire, but their season’s objective is promotion, something which looks more likely with every week their doosra man can play.
Ball Four – Coles warming to his game
Hampshire, also unbeaten, added a third win this season, seeing off Leicestershire by the very comfortable margin of 278 runs. Matt Coles, once highly regarded at Kent and only just turned 24, had a handy second half of the match, top-scoring with 83 in Hampshire’s second dig, then whipping out three batsmen as the leaders charged for the line. It was a just reward for skipper Jimmy Adams, who has persisted with Coles as an ever-present in the Championship despite some ordinary contributions – Coles is a player who needs a patient captain. If this does mark a new dawn at a new (permanent) county, the burly all-rounder will be an asset not just in Division Two, but next season in Division One, should Hampshire make it.
Ball Five – Kent caned as fragile batting lets them down
Coles’ ex-employers never recovered from the ignominy of seeing a scoreboard showing 2-4 (and 33-7) as Gloucestershire had far too much with bat and ball for Rob Key’s men in a one-sided mid-table clash. Ben Harmison did bring some respectability to Kent with a second innings century, but if you’re relying on a Number Five with a career average below 30 to deliver the runs, it’s clear where your problems lie.
Ball Six – David Willey back in the groove
David Willey got English cricket fans terribly excited with his (there is no other word) Bothamesque performance on T20 Finals Day 2013, his all-round exuberance recalling the best of Botham and Flintoff, albeit on a domestic stage. He’s been set back by injury this season (which has prevented him from bowling) but he was back to his explosive best in this week’s round of the NatWest T20 Blast, slamming six sixes and eight fours in a 45 ball 95 that reduced a stiff target of 177 in 18 overs to something of a canter. With England’s one day sides looking short of the kind of power-hitters that pack other international teams’ top orders, the Northamptonshire man might yet make a late run for next year’s World Cup.
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