Ball One – The Yorkshire squad win the Pennant with a match to spare
The County Championship may not be the marathon it once was, but 16 matches is plenty enough to prove the identity of the best team in the country – so congratulations Yorkshire, Champions with a match to spare. The win that got them over the line (over closest rivals, Nottinghamshire) followed the template for so many this season. Big runs up top for Adam Lyth and Alex Lees with good contributions from the middle order (90s for England men present and past, Gary Ballance and Tim Bresnan) backed up by wickets shared by a bowling unit who deliver more wicket-taking deliveries than most, veteran Ryan Sidebottom leading the way with nine in this match. Yorkshire have nine batsmen who have played at least five matches and average more than 40 and the top wicket-taker in Division One in the unsung Jack Brooks. Remarkably, with a qualification of five wickets and 100 runs, Yorkshire have five players whose averages are “the right way round” led by Adil Rashid (566 runs at 44 and 40 wickets at 26) and a wicketkeeper (Jonny Bairstow) who averages almost 50 at a strike rate of over 60. The impressive Jason Gillespie has done what so few coaches manage – he has made sure that every player contributes over a full season – and his reward is a first title since another impressive Aussie was the driving force – Darren Lehmann. I wonder where he is these days?
Ball Two – Jonathan Trott – back in the groove
Warwickshire leapfrogged Nottinghamshire into second place, inflicting another crushing defeat on Northamptonshire, for whom young Ben Duckett impressed again with a pair of fifties in a hopeless cause. While another teenager, Sam Hain, caught the eye again with a double century, at the other end, Jonathan Trott compiled 164 in over seven hours as young and old put on 360 for the fourth wicket. Trott, despite only playing seven Championship matches in his rehabilitation season, has over 500 runs at 43. At 33 years of age, it’s hard to see a route back into the England set-up, but he might have five more years at least in the domestic game – and plenty of well-wishers on every county ground.
Ball Three – Dubliner, Ed Joyce, blooms late in his career
At the other end of the table, Lancashire twice crossed 300 at Hove, but ran into Sussex skipper Ed Joyce, who backed up his first innings 137 with a run a ball 79, as his team got up with 12 overs to spare. Joyce is having a magnificent season, despite turning 36 later this month – but he’s destined to be one of those unfortunate players (many of whom are Australian) who never quite built a convincing case for Test selection, though certainly far too good to be deemed a mere county journeyman (team-mate Luke Wright may prove another). Of course, had Ireland been granted Test status, things may have been different for the Dubliner. Meanwhile, a fairly ordinary West Indies team are hammering Bangladesh in the Caribbean Tests. And Lancashire need snookers to survive.
Ball Four – Borthwick completes his transition from bowler to batsman
Another Ireland player, Tim Murtagh, took ten wickets for Middlesex, but Durham had plenty in hand as they secured Division One status for next season with a comfortable win. Scott Borthwick anchored the first innings, seeing the score advance by 366 runs while he was at the crease for 100 overs making 176 runs. Borthwick is just 19 runs shy of a thousand in the Championship with two matches still to play, but, perhaps understandably, his bowling has collapsed, with just 13 wickets at well over 50. Unlike Joyce and Murtagh, Borthwick is a Test cricketer, getting his cap at Sydney in the last knockings of the disastrous Ashes Tour last winter. At 24, he has plenty of time to come again, but if selected, it will be as a middle-order batsman and not as, just eight months ago, a specialist spinner.
Ball Five – It’s a funny old game, though Surrey aren’t laughing
After more than 30 long, long years, have England finally found the next Ian Botham? Well, sort of. Surrey, gunning for Worcestershire’s long held promotion slot, had their opponents under the pump, restricting their lead to just 37 with seven second innings wickets down and Jack Shantry walking to the crease to join fellow journeyman seamer, Joe Leach. Both had got a few in the first dig and Shantry had picked up a six wicket bag with the ball too, but the odds of a home win must have been edging towards 500-1. Like Botham and Dilley at Headingley in ’81, they prodded around a bit before opening up and, and, and… Two hours later, Shantry had a maiden first class century and Surrey had a distinctly awkward looking last day target of 217. By now everyone knew the script of course and, despite a valiant near five hour 64 from Zafar Ansari, when he was last man out, Worcestershire had the win and the place in Division One. Shantry, with four second innings wickets, became the first man ever to score a century from 9 or lower and take ten wickets in a match. The “New Botham” had his place in history and a slot in many an end of season cricket club quiz of the future. (Paul Edwards’ reports on each day’s play make for a superb read – click here and enjoy Shantry’s Match).
Ball Six – Alex Gidman signs off with a record
In a week in which the solid county pro has shone, Gloucestershire’s Alex Gidman hit the highest score of the season (264) against hapless Leicestershire. It’s a fine leaving present for the county, as Gidman is making the short journey to Worcestershire for Division One cricket in 2015. Though he and fellow centurion Gareth Roderick will remember the match, not least because their stand of 392 was a record for the county removing another of Wally Hammond’s from the history books, few others will. That, of course, is not the point. The point is that county cricket was played – maybe not by the very best cricketers in the world – but played and enjoyed by the hundreds of thousands who follow the game and who, when a future Gloucestershire pair raise 393, will look on a database and wonder who Roderick and Gidman were so long ago. County cricket is what happens in England during the summer – not inconsequential, but not overly important either. And what’s life for if not for such things?