Ball One – The draw helps neither Middlesex nor Hampshire
Coupled with Durham’s defeat, Middlesex’s draw at the Rose Bowl was enough to extend their lead at the top of Division One to 13 points after five games. With Hampshire still awaiting their first win of the season (and bottom of the table), it was perhaps surprising that an old-fashioned captains’ deal was not made to put a result in sight (it was eschewed in the Division Two game between Surrey and Northamptonshire too). Hampshire started the fourth day with a lead of 55 and all ten wickets in hand – surely a few lollipops and a bit of smiting would have constructed a target of 275 or so in two sessions and made a match of it? Declaration bowling is said to bring the game into disrepute by some, but I prefer it to standing by while a game fizzles out.
Ball Two – Barker bites Durham again
Durham, not for the first time, ran into an in-form Keith Barker as the Midlanders got home comfortably by eight wickets. Barker made a fine, counter-attacking undefeated century from Number Eight and then took nine wickets in what was, with the follow-on enforced, 43 overs without an opportunity to put his feet up. At 28, Barker has played only 63 First Class matches (having spent his teens trying to make it as a footballer) but he has five centuries and ten fivefers already and has a positive all-rounder’s average: 30 with the bat; 26 with the ball. He’s probably too much of a bits and pieces man to get international recognition (for England or West Indies since he qualifies for both) but that doesn’t stop him being a very useful player at domestic level – much like his team mate Rikki Clarke.
Ball Three – Somerset’s first win of the season takes them from ninth to sixth – thanks to their bowlers
Winning first class cricket matches isn’t easy and the reward should be substantial, a statement that will find some agreement in the West Country as Somerset’s 22 points lifted them from bottom of Division One to mid-table. For that they have much to thank their seamers, who defended a fourth innings target of just 248 as Nottinghamshire failed to get their chase going. And it wasn’t just the wickets that will have Marcus Trescothick buying a jug of cider for his seamers – Somerset were 101-5 in the first innings and 45-5 in the second before the bowlers showed the batsmen how to do it.
Ball Four – Lancashire larrup Leicestershire to lead Division Two
Lancashire swept aside poor Leicestershire to extend their lead in Division Two to 24 points, their yoyoing between divisions looking likely to continue in 2015 if form can be maintained. Steven Croft’s declaration set Mark Cosgrove’s men a target of 323 runs in 59 overs – not exactly sporting, but gettable if a couple of batsmen could get in and get on. But all those matches since their last win can weigh on a team and Leicestershire were blasted out for 78 in little more than half the overs available. They’ll celebrate long and hard at Grace Road when the win eventually does come, but the champagne bottles are getting very dusty now – and might get dustier still unless they catch a break soon.
Ball Five – Coles fires for Kent
A couple of years ago, two talented combative young all-rounders were sent home from an England Lions tour to Australia for, well, doing the kinds of things that young men do when away from home. One, Ben Stokes, spent last week at Lord’s playing for England and being hailed as the Future Of English Cricket; the other, Matt Coles, spent last week at Bristol, playing for his beloved Kent in Division Two. That his bustling pace picked up five scalps as Gloucestershire lost by eight wickets was no surprise, but Coles’ performance with the bat showed what one hopes is a growing maturity. With new ball duties his main responsibility, he could easily have come in at Number Nine with the score 98-7 (trailling by 95) and slogged a few and got out. Instead he made 66 putting on 119 with Calum Haggett which gave his team a foothold in the game that they did not relinquish. I hope Coles raised a glass or two – but not too many – in celebration.
Ball Six – Blake blasts off in Blast
Performance of the Week in the T20 Blast goes to Kent’s white ball specialist Alex Blake. In the Friday night televised match, Sky’s WASP (Win And Score Predictor) showed Kent’s chance of winning to be 4% and, at 70-5 halfway through their overs with still 103 to get, I went with the 96% and gave the game up. Not so Blake, nor his captain Sam Northeast who fashioned an undefeated century stand to see off Hampshire’s bowlers (including three internationals) and take two points back to Canterbury. Blake’s contribution was 71* off 30 balls with 6 sixes and 3 fours. “WASP stung” indeed.