Ball One – Read constructs a thriller to send Nottinghamshire top
In 2011, Lancashire’s four wins from the six matches held at Aigburth played no small part in delivering the pennant to Old Trafford for the first time in 77 years. The lovely old ground that looks out on the Mersey and beyond to the Wirral Peninsula and on to the mountains of Wales may have hosted another Championship deciding match – the beneficiaries this time being Nottinghamshire, who went top with a nail-biting one wicket win. If Harry Gurney held his nerve to hit his one ball for the one run that got Notts up, skipper Chris Read was the hero. He arrived to join Riki Wessels at 79-5, with 91 still needed and only the tail to come – and he was still there at the end. Read has served his county for over 16 years now and will be 36 next month. Though his international career failed to take off, it’s hard to think of a cricketer who has done more for his county since the turn of the millennium. His club is now 11 points clear at the top on the table – is a third Championship coming his way?
Ball Two – Somerset’s turn to go second as Northamptonshire lose again
The shuffling of the top five places that has characterised the season since April, continued with Somerset eventually overcoming a spirited, but surely relegated, Northamptonshire. When Kyle Coetzer was dismissed (one of Luke Gregory’s 11 victims in the match), it looked another procession for Wantage Road’s visitors, with the home side 211 runs behind with only three wickets in hand. But Northants have batted deep for years, and half-centuries from Adam Rossington, Andrew Hall and David Willey got them within 53 runs of a remarkable win, before Craig Overton ran in to settle Somerset nerves and seal the 23 points haul. Willey had also made a fifty in the first innings, one spot up at 9, but that’s surely too deep for a man of his talents, especially if he’s batting and bowling in Division Two next season.
Ball Three – Talk of Australia and Hong Kong just phooey for England destined Hain
Durham welcomed back Graham Onions for the first time in two months, but were diced and sliced by a Warwickshire side who racked up 472 then dismissed them twice for well under 200. Sam Hain again caught the eye, the batsman enjoying a day off for his 19th birthday as the match was concluded in just three days. Hain is another one of these very 21st century men that can get Aussie journalists hot under the collar – he has roots in Hong Kong and Australia, but is eligible (and committed) to England through both his parents. With two tons and two half centuries in his last four Championship matches, England will be asking him to make that commitment official sooner rather than later.
Ball Four – Saeed Ajmal signs off with another seven wickets and a victory for Worcestershire
Worcestershire bade farewell to Saeed Ajmal with a convincing win over Leicestershire to go 27 points clear of third place Surrey with a game in hand. They might need all of that promotion cushion though, as the doosra delivering Pakistani’s replacement, Kiwi whirlwind Mitchell McClenaghan, is unlikely to take an average of seven wickets every match (though he may register a few retired hurts). Pears skipper, Daryl Mitchell, has enjoyed a tremendous season so far, but his mettle will be tested in the run in, as Worcestershire seek to bring Division One cricket back to New Road.
Ball Five – Mahmood resurrects the good old days at the end of a thriller
Gladiatorial combat – well metaphorically so – at Colchester, as Essex scraped home by two wickets against a Hampshire team now looking over their shoulders at their vanquishers and Surrey both of whom are building a case for the second promotion slot. When the eight wicket fell in the final day chase, Essex were still 25 short with just Monty Panesar left in the pavilion, but with Ravi Bopara still in the middle. It called for an old head, a reliable pro, a man confident in his role in the side – what Essex go was Saj Mahmood. Still only 32, but playing his first match of the season for the Essex First XI after doing nothing to suggest he was ready for top flight cricket in the Seconds, he hadn’t been one of the six bowlers called upon by James Foster in the Hampshire second innings. The ex-England man kept Ravi company to get his side within two blows of the win and then struck successive fours off Liam Dawson to deliver it. It probably won’t matter much to Saj’s future in the game, but one could only smile at a rare moment of glory for the big speedster.
Ball Six – Wright may still be the right man for England.
Michael Carberry has been in and around the England team for four years, but has only been selected 13 times in that period. Luke Wright has been in and out for England for nearly seven years, racking up over 100 appearances in white ball cricket, but always playing for his place – or so it seemed. The rivals for an England opening slot provided fireworks at the Rose Bowl, Carberry smashing 87 off 63 balls, with Wright replying with 116 off 66 – but Sussex’s feeble support meant that his superb effort was in vain. Wright probably has the better case for England selection in the upcoming ODIs and T20Is, his four scores over 50 in 13 T20 matches this season struck at almost 150, showing the kind of firepower England cannot afford to ignore in limited overs cricket.