Ball One – Tim Bresnan – valuable for Yorkshire if not for England
After its break, red ball cricket returned with seven positive results from the eight matches played – another little marker of what a magnificent season has been served up to followers of the County Championship. Yorkshire’s win over Sussex kept their noses in front at the top of Division One and, as usual, it was a fine team effort. Unlike the selectors (to whom he seems forgotten) Tim Bresnan caught my eye with one of his trademark unobtrusive but vital contributions. Joining Kane Williamson six down and 76 in arrears, he left the crease with his team 81 to the good, the vital seventh wicket having tilted the balance of the match as it so often does. He then chipped in with three wickets in the crucial third seamer role, as the Yorkies secured the victory. His season averages of 27 with the bat and 30 with the ball are useful rather than outstanding, but with Bresnan it’s always been about the timing of his contributions – as last week showed.
Ball Two – It’s raining runs for England bound Hales
Just six points behind the Tykes, Nottinghamshire are still in with a shout after their win over rock bottom Northamptonshire. Chris Read’s men were made to work hard for the points after 21 year-old wicket-keeper / batsman Adam Rossington top scored in both Northants’ innings, backing up his ton in the first dig with a fighting 80, as James Middlebrook’s batsmen managed to give his bowlers something to bowl at in the fourth innings. Unfortunately, that something turned out to be England’s big new hope at the top of the order – Alex Hales – who signed off before joining the ODI squad with an unbeaten century that proved plenty enough to see Notts over the line.
Ball Three – Kerrigan and Smith hammer out a warning to Durham and Middlesex in the drop zone
The Championship’s two divisions format’s strengths were underlined again in a pulsating match at Old Trafford that had listeners to the BBC’s web coverage and those following scoreboard updates on tenterhooks as Lancashire and Durham fought like two cats in a bag to avoid the second relegation slot. Set just 107 to win after Simon Kerrigan’s second four wicket haul of the match had left Paul Collingwood high and dry on 45, Lancashire were soon in big trouble at 36-5. Stand-in keeper, Alex Davies, got something going with the admirable Tom Smith to lift his team within 30 runs of the victory, before Ben Stokes muscled in to reduce Lancashire to 90-9. Kerrigan, now with bat in hand, joined Smith as the overs ran out and the tension mounted. Somehow they blocked, nudged and nurdled their way to the target over half an hour of the kind of nail-biting cricket that Lancashire seem to specialise in. Tom Smith is having the season of his life and Simon Kerrigan has shown, not for the first time, that he has ticker to spare, despite that nervous Test debut last year. Lancashire, though still favourites for the drop, won’t give up just yet. (As a footnote, a surely disappointed Ben Stokes was nevertheless able to tweet his pleasure at being involved in a great match – well played again Sir).
Ball Four – Hampshire’s bowling unit under pressure to deliver as promotion beckons
Hampshire’s batting consistency (of the 15 times in the match that batsmen surrendered their wickets, ten times they had 30 or more to their names) was enough to see off Kent’s spirited but under-powered challenge and keep them nestled nicely in second place behind long-time leaders Worcestershire who suffered a first defeat of the season at home to Gloucestershire. Hampshire’s batting unit’s engine room, comprising James Vince, Jimmy Adams and Will Smith, have churned out the runs all season long, but come the sharp end, it’s those twenty wickets that turn five point draws into 16 point wins that really count. Time for Matt Coles and Danny Briggs – two cricketers who seem to have been promising for years – to step up and support old pro James Tomlinson.
Ball Five – Monty Panesar aiming to douse rivals’ hopes of promotion
With Surrey unable to break winless Leicestershire’s seventh wicket pair, Essex now look the most likely to challenge Hampshire for promotion after their third win in their last four matches, this time over a Glamorgan side that really only showed stomach for the fight once the game was up. While Saj Mahmood was predictably underused, James Foster gave his other ex-England bowler plenty of work and was rewarded handsomely – Monty Panesar delivering match figures of 78-25-168-11. Though one might argue that Monty, in Division Two, is operating at least one level below that justified by his skills, Essex fans won’t care about that. And it seems from that quantum of work he put in, neither does Monty.
Ball Six – Twenty20 Finals Day another excellent advert for cricket
I love everything about Twenty20 Finals Day: the morning ’til night cricket; the mascot race; even the scrabbling around for copies of the playing conditions once the baleful gaze of Messrs Duckworth and Lewis arrives with the inevitable showers. But, for the second year running, I couldn’t make it to Birmingham and relied on BBC Five Live Sports Extra for commentary. And what a splendid show it was. The standouts in an ensemble cast were: Charlie Dagnall, whose technical knowledge is lightly worn behind a cloak of genuinely winning bonhomie; Ebony Rainford-Brent, who has the voice and sense of humour needed for a long day’s company; Jason Gillespie, as decent a bloke as everyone says and proving to be as good a coach as anyone on the circuit; and, to my surprise, Luke Wright, who had some lovely tales to tell and explained the thinking behind one-day batting as well as anyone. In their differing ways for differing media, Sky and the BBC serve the day perfectly – what a shame more of the public can’t enjoy it too.