Ball One – Extra! Extra! Read all about them
First against second faced off at Hove, as Middlesex consolidated top spot in a low scoring match against Sussex. There are, of course, many ways to win and many ways to lose a cricket match, but an unlikely one suggested itself in this crucial early season shoot-out. Though Middlesex will hardly be happy with the concession of 42 extras in 102 overs, what will Ed Joyce be feeling about his team’s donation of 84 runs in the 134 overs they sent down? Bizarrely, Middlesex’s first innings extras was the “top score” in the match, beating Michael Yardy’s 52 by ten clear runs! Though the fielding side’s culpability for leg-byes is sometimes minimal, that quantity of no balls, wides and byes is surely unacceptable for a professional outfit. And, with the winning margin just 79 runs, Sussex paid a hefty price for such profligacy.
Ball Two – Wood in the groove with bat and ball, but will England go against the grain and gamble on him?
Durham took advantage of Sussex’s sundries problem to leapfrog their south coast rivals with a come-from-behind win over Nottinghamshire. It was a good match in a good week for Mark Wood, newly elevated to the England squad for this week’s decidedly tricky looking Test against New Zealand. In the day job, he took six wickets, including the dangerous Samit Patel in both innings, but, asked to do nightwatchman duties for the second evening in a row, he stuck around on day three contributing 66 vital runs, as Colly’s men made a challenging chase of 261 look easy. The 25 year-old’s fresh confidence may be just what England need after yet another difficult week off the field, so will the Geordie get a game? I fear we can only expect to see him wearing Adil Rashid’s old bib and carrying the drinks.
Ball Three – Adil Rashid shows some cojones with the ball
Speaking of whom… After a couple of draws with many of their first choice players on England duty, the champions roared back into the top three with a crushing 305 runs win over Hampshire. Though centuries from Jonny Bairstow and Che Pujara stood out, and contributions of 82 and 43* from 21 year old Jack Leaning took him to second in the Division One averages at 81.75, I’m going to highlight Adil Rashid. Having been left out yet again on England’s tour of the West Indies (amidst much talk that he’ll never make it as an international bowler), he started his return match with a duck. He must have had plenty on his mind while he waited 29 overs for the captain’s call eventually getting on third change, only to be clipped for four fours by smart old pro Michael Carberry in a disappointing five over spell. Rashid was into his third try and his 11th over before he got his man, Carberry dismissed for 97. That was the signal for the Yorkshireman to mend his figures from 10-0-46-0 to 18-0-70-4, as Hampshire’s last five wickets were seen off for the addition of just 32 runs. The leg-spinner was now up and running and didn’t look back, delivering second innings figures of 26-9-48-4 as Hampshire were rolled for 143. Chapeau Adil, as they say in cycling.
Ball Four – Remarkable runs for Roy and co for the ‘Rey
At the close of an extraordinary first day (397 runs, 12 wickets), I remarked that Surrey’s two overnight batsmen could well get 200 each on Day Two – they didn’t, but their aggregate total of 391 wasn’t far off. As almost everyone reading this will know, Kevin Pietersen’s contribution to that was 355*, with Kumar Sangakkara dismissed early for 36. Fast forward a couple more days and Surrey needed 216 off 24 overs for the win, something that ten years ago might not even have been contemplated. Five years ago, the openers would have started cautiously – “Have a look first lads – don’t want to give them a sniff do we?” – before essaying a few shots. Come 2015, Jason Roy and Steve Davies teed off, had half the target on the board before the end of the eighth over and Surrey cruised over the line. It’ll be a brave man who declares on Batty’s boys this season.
Ball Five – Surrey and Glamorgan go big in T20 Blast Week One
Records tumbled at The Oval on Friday evening, as the T20 Blast got off to an explosive start with a match that featured more sixes than any other T20 played in England (indeed, it’s joint fifth on the all-time list). If the bowling was less than hostile (and too often right in the slot), one had to admire the batsmen’s ability to middle ball after ball, forehand or backhand, straight bat or cross bat. There were a few with eyes like dead fish (see 56th over), but nobody strikes it as cleanly as that without practising. Amidst all the (understandable) concern about the springy power of 21st century mega-bats, the emasculation of bowlers by white ball cricket’s rules and regulations and the preponderance of short boundaries, might we be overlooking an obvious factor in the ever-increasing torrent of sixes flowing through limited overs cricket? The batsmen are better at hitting the ball hard because they practise hitting the ball hard.
Ball Six – All hail Alex Hales!
Standout individual performance of the week goes to Alex Hales who engaged warp drive to go from a rather pedestrian 38* off 31 balls to 74* off 37 balls, Sobersing Notts to their 142 target with five and a half overs to spare. Because England will never produce many cricketers with the bat speed of those growing up on the hard surfaces of the southern hemisphere or the true surfaces of the subcontinent, the selectors can ill-afford to ignore the power-hitters who can consistently clear the front leg and then the fence. Hales’s name must surely be one of the first on the list when England start to rebuild their white ball squad after the World Cup debacle.