Ball One – Lyth a Likely Lad for the Tykes and another outside bet for England
Yorkshire walloped poor old Northamptonshire by 271 runs in a match that had looked like an opportunity for Stephen Peters’ team to register their first win of the season. Ahead by 55 runs with three wickets in hand as they started Day Two, optimism rose further with good contributions from the late order, marshalled by the impressive teenage wicketkeeper-batsman, Ben Duckett. Four day cricket can be cruel, and so it proved as all that feelgood factor ebbed away with Yorkshire’s opening stand of 375, the fourth highest for the county – still 180 off the top step famously occupied by Holmes and Sutcliffe, but plenty good enough to set up the seamers for the win. Alex Lees, just 21, can be pleased with his contribution to that stand, but Adam Lyth’s 230 caught the eye, continuing his excellent season after a disappointing 2013. When Alastair Cook was last in a trough of poor form in 2010, no less an observer than George Dobell suggested Lyth as a possible alternative England opener for The Ashes – 766 runs and an Urn later that seemed somewhat ill-judged, but Lyth is still only 26 and has time to come again and prove George right.
Ball Two – Middlesex get off lightly as bonus points keep them top of Division One
When the rain came to wash out Day Four, table-toppers Middlesex, following on, were still 148 runs off Durham’s huge 568-9 dec with eight second innings wickets in hand having been outplayed for three days. I’m loathe to bring up the vagaries of the bonus points system again, somehow that performance warranted just three points fewer than their opponents’ 12 and just ten points fewer than Yorkshire’s 19 for their big win. No doubt there’s plenty of reasons for that allocation, but whatever they are, they’re not adequately reflecting the balance of play. If we have to have such points, surely they should take account of the match as a whole?
Ball Three – What’s more important: the possible or the probable?
Alex Hales’ brutal 167 off 138 balls on a very flat track at Hove reminded us of an old question for English cricket – should the selectors take more notice of what a player can do or what a player has done? This is a problem peculiar to this country because it is only here that a player has the opportunity to build up a record of failures to go with their successes as they slog through so many matches. Hales has only seven county championship centuries in his 101 innings, but they include a bat-carrying 106* out of 222, 115 out of 270 and a career top score of 184 (all in 2011). So, we know that he can score big and he can score quickly in red ball cricket and he already has a ton and a 99 in T20I cricket – all of which points to his game-changing talent and solid temperament on the big stage. But his first class average is not even 35! Runs are the hard currency of a batsman’s trade: but wins are what matter in international cricket – finding a balance of talents suitable for three forms of cricket might require England to take a chance on the potential, if not the record, of batsmen like the big Nottinghamshire smiter.
Ball Four – Well done Michael Klinger and well done Ramnaresh Sarwan too
There was just one, magnificently positive, result in Division Two, as Ramnaresh Sarwan and Michael Klinger cracked open a match that could easily have drifted to a draw having had the whole of Day Three washed out. Leicestershire’s West Indian captain asked Gloucestershire’s Australian skipper to chase 251 in 39 overs – gettable these days, but Ronnie was looking for the win, as a captain should. And, as the chasing captain should too, Klinger led from the front, smashing a magnificent 129* ably supported by Benny Howell’s quickfire 78, to see his side home with 10 balls to spare. The 21 points so earned took Gloucestershire to the top of the Division’s chasing pack – and it restored faith in the willingness of captains to risk defeat in search of victory, a quality that extends the first class game’s potential to intrigue its followers far beyond that of most other sports’ match-ups.
Ball Five – Things have changed in God’s Own County
Adam Lyth had a decent week, rounding it off with an extraordinary leap to catch a skyer on the long-off boundary – then, as his momentum carried him over the sponge, he flung the ball to Aaron Finch, backing his mate up from long-on. Older readers will remember when the athleticism required for such a catch was unheard of amongst cricketers – and, in the case of Yorkshire, the co-operation too. Lancashire fans rather miss those days.
Ball Six – Slow pitches help nobody
Surrey have marketed their Twenty20 matches as aggressively as any county in the country – helped by the arrival of Kevin Pietersen, fresh from his underwhelming IPL campaign, but still the biggest name in English cricket. Members even got an email on Friday afternoon to remind them that it was all happening at The Oval at 6.30pm. So why was the pitch as slow as any I have seen there, making boundary scoring at best tricky, and at worst near impossible as the ball died in the sticky brown strip. Hoist by their own petard, the seven international batsmen who took strike for Surrey managed to hit just five boundaries from the 77 balls they faced and most of the very decent crowd appeared to enjoy the boozing more than the biffing. Surrey will need to do more next Friday to compete against the Test match and the World Cup.