Ball One – The County Championship structure proves itself again.
With five games to play, Yorkshire sit a fragile five points ahead of Nottinghamshire after bossing a match against Durham that eventually petered out. That was a credit to Paul Collingwood’s men for whom the five points awarded for the draw were welcomed for altogether different reasons, as they seek to avoid the drop. Before the County Championship adopted its two divisions structure in 2000, a county in seventh place following on in a match against a county going for the pennant, might have had their minds on the next one-dayer – not any more.
Ball Two – Chris Rogers plays a cautious hand at Uxbridge
Middlesex and Somerset were nestled just outside the top two at the start of the week and stayed there, a draw helping neither cause. The match was played at Uxbridge, an outground that offers spectators a close-up experience, but one that can offer boundaries once the in-field is beaten. Perhaps that prospect played a little too much on Chris Rogers’ mind, as he delayed the declaration until he could ask Somerset to make 390 in 72 overs. He might have felt he was in with a sniff when Toby Roland-Jones snared a couple of wickets and Somerset were 61-3, but a positive James Hildreth and a solid Nick Compton did enough to prompt early handshakes and shared spoils. Was Rogers too cautious? He could have set Marcus Trescothick’s men 300 in 85 overs – the kind of target worth chasing even when 61-3. If Championships are to be won, brave decisions need to be taken.
Ball Three – Time and runs running out on Northamptonshire
Sussex arrested their slide towards the relegation slots with a overwhelming victory over surely doomed Northants, who are now 78 points adrift from safety having not won all season. After Luke Wright’s 158 had powered the home team to 405, Aussie veteran Steve Magoffin got to work, taking five wickets for just 12 runs to induce the follow-on, then picking up three more in the second innings to complete the win. Northants had ten batsmen with batting averages above 18, but none with an average above 36. If no batsman can make a ton, then you don’t get the runs and it’s hard to win matches.
Ball Four – Ansari might one day be an answer for England
Surrey won again to charge into the second promotion slot (for one day, before Hampshire’s bonus points reclaimed it) after a batting line-up that had sleepwalked through the first half of the season delivered again. Zafar Ansari anchored the innings, batting almost seven hours as the Londoners posted 589-8 declared spoiling Glamorgan’s annual awayday at Colwyn Bay. Ansari has had a disjointed start to his Surrey career, batting up and down the order and bowling his slow left-arm as a useful change option. But, in his first season without the distraction of Cambridge studies, he has played all 12 County Championship matches, amassing 718 runs at 65 at the old-fashioned opener’s strike rate of 36, also chipping in with 20 wickets at 32. Ansari has a long way to go before attracting the attention of the England selectors, but, still just 22, he has time on his side.
Ball Five – Sam Northeast’s knock points to a happier future
Performance of the week in Division Two came from another young player who seems to have been around for a very long time. Sam Northeast made his debut for Kent as a 17 year-old in 2007, but has never quite kicked on as they hoped at Canterbury – the instability at the club in recent years can hardly have helped him. His first century this season – an unbeaten 112 – got Kent up to 306-4, enough to defeat a Leicestershire side whose second innings of 388 had made them favourites for the win. Northeast will hope that will give him a run in four day cricket, Kent having six matches to mount a late, unlikely run for promotion.
Ball Six – Flintoff puts on a show, but he’s more than a mere showman
I met Freddie “Andrew” Flintoff in the departure lounge at McCarron Airport a few years ago (I recognised his voice when he went off for a crafty fag outside). He was still a little merry after a big night in Vegas and was en route to Canada for another stunt for one of his TV vehicles. He couldn’t have been nicer, was great with my kids and charmed my mother like few have over the years – a big, bluff Northern lad. He could play a bit though – and he still can as his three wickets in Lancashire’s NatWest t20 Blast win over Leicestershire showed. Far from the embarrassing gimmick some feared, he is putting bums on seats and delivering for his team. If Lancashire, already in the quarters, make Finals Day, the big man will do something, won’t he?