Ball One – Gale blows Notts away
With leaders Durham having a week off, defending champions, Yorkshire, had the opportunity to close the gap on the pace-setters and, despite having first choice players away with England, ee bah gum did the Tykes take it. Jason Gillespie’s side plotted their route to maximum points in the 21st century way – Andrew Gale won the toss and let loose his phalanx of pacers who shot out half the Notts side for less than 100. Gale himself and the prolific Jack Leaning then got a partnership going, eventually adding 255, before handing back to the bowling unit who ran through Notts again to win by an innings. It was a hugely impressive three day win for the champions, but they know that this week’s opponents, Durham, won’t fold like a Scarborough deckchair in the showdown at Chester-le-Street
Ball Two – Franklin scores with the bat but not with his tactics
Middlesex missed their chance to close on Yorkshire when they could only draw at home to lowly Worcestershire in a match that the batsman James Franklin may remember more fondly than the skipper James Franklin. At the crease when Middlesex’s fifth wicket fell with just 102 on the board, the New Zealander dug in to be dismissed off the last ball of the first day for a splendid 135. When Tom Fell played a similar innings for the Pears, Middlesex found themselves 76 behind with a day and a half or so to play. Four more hours at the crease for Middlesex’s stand-in skipper secured the five points that comes for a draw, but his attack had only bowled 128 overs in a match affected only a little by weather (Franklin faced 144 overs himself). Sometimes boldness and imagination are required to give bowlers the time to take twenty wickets – sometimes risk too.
Ball Three – Somerset edge towards mid-table as Hants remain pants
Somerset took the traditional route to victory to jump out of the relegation dogfight with a nine wickets win over Hampshire, now barking and snarling in eighth place. Marcus Trescothick won the toss and got his side off to a positive start with a quickfire fifty before watching his top order post 200 for the loss of only one more wicket. Craig Overton then led the seam attack in shooting out Hampshire twice in not much more than four sessions, allowing the ex-England warhorse to enforce the follow-on and cruise to a win late on Day Three. Hampshire have only two Championship centuries in eight matches and only two bowlers (Fidel Edwards, now back playing T20 cricket in the Caribbean, and stalwart all-rounder Gareth Berg) taking wickets at less than 30. Captain, Jimmy Adams, needs players to find form quickly, starting with himself.
Ball Four – Edgy Essex eventually get over the line
Essex’s top eight bristles with talent but there’s a reason why they are mid-table in Division Two – and they were at it again almost throwing away a match in the last 20 having been ahead for more than 230. After James Foster had enforced the follow-on, Essex needed just 114 to close out the victory, but lost the highly rated Nick Browne, Alastair Cook, Ravi Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate for 26 (and the skipper too with 41 still required and Gloucestershire fans suddenly interested). The reliable Tom Westley and Jesse Ryder (hidden at Number Seven) saw them home to a third win of the season and a platform for a late assault on the second promotion slot.
Ball Five – T20 Blast Group Stage needs simplifying
The T20 Blast continues to gather decent crowds, with Surrey in particular hoping that the midsummer weather holds for its two matches later this week at The Oval. With most fixtures taking place on a Friday evening, marketing the product – yes, I know, urgh – is more straightforward, but another problem has now bubbled to the surface. Can anyone understand the tables? With big variations in the numbers of games played by each club, few fans exactly sure how many matches the league stage of the season comprises and the two groups feeling a bit arbitrary (if convenient for derbies), a narrative (as we enter the tournament’s third month) remains elusive. Might three conferences of six teams and a traditional home and away system work better? Then the top two in each conference progress into the quarter-finals to be joined by the two teams with the best records from those finishing third. Each club would play two fewer matches compared to the current formula, but would that be so bad? Better still, invite Scotland, Ireland and Holland, make three conferences of seven and retain the current guarantee of 14 fixtures!
Ball Six – Turned out all Wright for Sussex
Performance of the Week in the Blast came at Bristol, where Sussex were 27 runs behind Gloucestershire at the 15 overs mark, still needing 82 to win. Cue Luke Wright, then on 44 off 37 having hit just four boundaries, to smile that goofy smile and start smiting. There was even time to push five singles in one of those five overs, but the other four disappeared for 79 runs as Sussex got up with a ball to spare. Wright’s share of the carnage was a De Villiersesque 67 off 19, the opener carrying his bat for 111* in a total of 188-7, the next highest score being 18. A captain’s knock from the Sharks’ skipper.