Ball One – Durham’s ex-Test Match men show plenty of fight at domestic level
With leaders Middlesex sitting out last week’s round of fixtures, Durham needed a win to leapfrog the early season pacesetters and, captain to the fore, Paul Collingwood’s men duly delivered. It hadn’t looked promising when Graham Onions walked out at Number 11 to join Scott Borthwick with Durham 220 behind, but the first class game can accommodate more unexpected plot twists than a Roald Dahl tale, and so it turned out. The two local lads may have only 10 Tests between them and are unlikely to add any more, but they are fierce competitors at domestic level, with the medals to prove it and they got Colly and co a foothold in the match with a stand of 95 in two hours. The responsibility then passed to the bowlers and another man just short of international class, Aussie John Hastings, whose muscular seam saw off seven Worcestershire batsmen, leaving Durham the stiff target of 318 to win. Cue Colly, who started his innings on his 39th birthday and finished it a day later within sight of a come-from-behind-win and top notch in Division One – a fine present for the skipper from a team as teak tough old Brigadier Block himself.
Ball Two – Yorkshire’s bowlers need more penetration if they are to defend the pennant
There were a remarkable 13 partnerships between 55 and 129 in the match between Somerset and Yorkshire at, you guessed it, Taunton, where the inevitable draw did neither side any favours. Last year’s champions, Yorkshire, are still unbeaten, but their three stalemates have yielded one fewer point than they would have garnered from two defeats and one victory. Their problem this season is that their main pacers, though still taking wickets, do so at relatively high strike rates: Jack Brooks 50; Steve Patterson 58; and Tim Bresnan 59. Leaders Durham have six seamers striking at below 50: Mark Wood; Paul Collingwood; Chris Rushworth; John Hastings; Graham Onions; and Usman Arshad. That’s 100 wickets in six matches for the table-toppers coming at a rate that creates the time needed to force the win.
Ball Three – Chris Jordan finds that Hove is where the heart is
Match of the Week was a three day thriller on a sporting strip at Hove, the wickets coming in waves at the seaside. After wicketkeeper, Ben Brown, had strode in and played a few shots to get the score from a hopeless 45-5 to a hopeful 153-7, it was left to England reject, Chris Jordan, to marshal the tail to get the 37 runs required with just three wickets in hand. Down to Number 11, Matt Hobden for company (no bunny, but down there for a reason ), Jordan went 4 . . 1 6 from the last five balls he faced to return to the county game in some style.
Ball Four – Lilley in clover as the Red Rose blooms at the top of Division Two
There were more fun and frolics on the coast up north, where Lancashire zoomed off into the distance with their fourth win of their Division Two season at Southport’s lovely Trafalgar Road ground. After Ashwell Prince’s magnificent 230, a 13th Championship century that surely puts the veteran South African up with some of Lancashire’s most celebrated imports of the past, the spinners got to work on a worn wicket. That Simon Kerrigan snared four Derbyshire men for 80 runs was no surprise – he’s been doing that for years now – but Arron Lilley, in just his third outing for the first team, caught the eye with what look like figures from another age: 26.1 – 16 – 23 – 5. He also made 63 in Lancashire’s only innings – so he certainly does like to be beside the seaside.
Ball Five – Gayle breezes in as Northeast blows hot in the suburbs
Standby your Instagram accounts – Chris Gayle is back in town and swinging – to the effect of 92 runs off 59 balls, as Somerset to beat Essex off the last ball at Chelmsford. Gayle is, of course, a global gun for hire and good on Somerset for landing their big fish after a few years of effort. And good on the big Jamaican for opening his stance and showing his class with barely time for a net and a selfie before striding to the wicket. Rather lower in profile is Kent T20 captain, Sam Northeast, whose 96 off 47 balls helped Kent set a target at Beckenham that Surrey never really threatened. Gayle may put more bootys on seats, but will Northeast put more runs on the board? T20, with its balance of showbiz razzamatazz and proper competitive cricket (clubs really, really want to be at Finals Day, the biggest jamboree in domestic cricket), shows that there’s plenty of room for both the flamboyant import and the faithful local.
Ball Six – Sterling effort
Performance of the Week in the Blast goes to Paul Stirling, who smashed 90 off 50 balls at Lord’s on Thursday and then 88 off 47 at Hove on Friday, two wins the reward for Middlesex. The Irish international and white ball specialist is in a bit of nick at the moment, compiling 556 runs over the last 12 days in all cricket. He has never quite made it as a regular for Middlesex and, 25 in September, he should be worried about spending too much time playing Second XI cricket. With his positive attitude, destructive strokeplay and handy off-breaks, he might be just what a Division Two outfit needs as captain for the 2016 season. I’d enjoy seeing this most attractive of players doing more in the English game.