Ball One – Notts knock off 385 to win with ease
Nottinghamshire went top of the table, as the pack at the head of the LV County Championship was shuffled again in this topsy-turvy season. Nobody saw that coming, least of all pennant-chasing opponents Middlesex, who racked up over 500 in the first innings powered by daddy hundreds from one of the county game’s father figures, skipper Chris Rogers, and England Test reject Eoin Morgan. Middlesex still looked favourites after declaring their second innings, setting Notts a very stiff 385 in 86 overs. But, in the age of heavy bats, pitches that barely deteriorate and ten an over T20 run chases, batsmen are as likely to look at the run rate as the target when contemplating a chase, and, once Alex Hales and Phil Jaques had posted 150 in 30 overs for the first wicket, the game was afoot. When Riki Wessels teed off, as James Taylor complied yet another fifty at the other end, the win points were always going to Chris Read’s men. It was a good week for Riki (son of Kepler), who may well have won the lottery on Saturday night the way things are going for him right now.
Ball Two – Yorkshire go joint top after a draw at Arundel
Nottinghamshire’s sole residency at the summit was short lived, as Yorkshire joined them on 118 points after their match at Arundel fizzled out into a draw. The Tykes’ 470-7dec, built on another big hundred by an England reject – Jonny Bairstow’s 161* – occupied the two middle days of the match and Sussex, led by Luke Wells 81* in 95 overs, easily played out time. Did Yorkshire need to bat on to a lead of 154 on a slow-scoring track? Had they declared when Tim Bresnan was out and the lead was 89, they would have had 26 overs at the Sussex batsmen at the end of Day Three rather than ten. But, as the spat this week between Alastair Cook and Shane Warne shows, the timing of a declaration is a subjective matter, with hindsight a cruel judge.
Ball Three – Things already looking very difficult for Lancashire and Northamptonshire
Durham and Warwickshire gained themselves some very handy breathing space with wins that lifted them well above their opponents, Lancashire and Northants, who are beginning to look doomed. At Chester-le-Street, Durham had 21 year-old debutant Paul Coughlin to thank for wresting the initiative away from Lancashire after Kyle Hogg’s six wickets had left Paul Collingwood’s team struggling at 184-8. Coughlin’s 85 from Number Ten, in partnership with a watchful Phil Mustard, tilted a tight match that stayed just out of Lancashire’s reach, despite Jos Buttler’s fourth day century. Warwickshire’s 602-9dec was plenty enough to knock the stuffing out of Northants who look. like Lancashire, to be returning straight back to Division Two after last year’s promotion.
Ball Four – Hampshire and Worcestershire are cruising into Division One
If Lancs and Northants are odds on to go down, Hampshire and Worcestershire are odds on to replace them. Two more wins sent the pair 41 points clear of a resurgent Surrey, with no sign of their easing off as they storm through the season. Skipper, Darryl Mitchell, made yet another century for Worcestershire, but it was Pakistan’s spin wizard, Saeed Ajmal, who secured the win running through Leicestershire with a spell of 6-19. His imminent return to his country’s colours will test his county’s resources, but they may well be able to coast to promotion in the late summer matches such is their points cushion. Things were even easier for Hampshire, as James Vince’s 240 (including 33 fours – really Essex, one boundary every eight minutes for four hours?) set up the bowlers for a 470 run win over a team boasting five internationals and some highly rated youngsters. That is, as James Foster will know better than anyone, not good enough.
Ball Five – All 18 counties still in the Blast
Things are different in the Natwest t20 Blast, as Essex squeezed a win, eight down with two balls to spare, over Middlesex to sit top of the South Division with six wins from seven matches. It’s even tighter in the North Division, with Lancashire’s and Worcestershire’s wins taking them top of the table, the Lancashire lads in second due to an inferior net run rate. There’s a month left in the group stages of the t20 Blast and no team is yet out of a chance of a quarter-final match and a tilt at a slot in the Finals Day extravaganza.
Ball Six – Riki Wessels is Man of the Week
It was a decent week for Riki (no longer just the son of Kepler) Wessels. On Monday, he completed an innings of 71 that kept Notts in the County Championship match against Middlesex; on Tuesday he made 74 off 48 balls to win it. On Thursday, he pummelled local rivals Leicestershire all round Grace Road making 66 from 31 balls as Notts won easily; then rounded things off on Friday with 95* off 51 balls to deliver another win over local rivals, this time Derbyshire. Those innings comprise 306 runs from 309 balls for twice out. “Seeing it big” are the mots justes.