Ball One – Yorkshire’s unsung bowling heroes
Yorkshire’s victory over title rivals Durham sent the Tykes 11 points clear at the top of Division One: had the result been reversed exactly, Yorkshire would have trailed Paul Collingwood’s men by 29 – so it was a big win in more ways than one. Ex-England men (for now at least), Jonny Bairstow and Tim Bresnan, even managed to attract the attention of the generalist sports media, so epic was their record obliterating unbroken stand of 366 for the seventh wicket, but such batting feats lead to draws as often as defeats. Not this time. The Yorkshire bowlers (Jack Brooks, Ryan Sidebottom, Steve Patterson, Bresnan and Adil Rashid) got to work and, having seen the follow-on enforced, bowled 156 overs without a break at Durham (eight more than Durham’s exhausted toilers had delivered in Yorkshire’s monument). No surprise then to see coach Jason Gillespie, a bowler himself, ensure that his five man attack shared the overs, and the wickets, pretty evenly, with Brooks the pick of the quintet with six scalps. Even with men on England duty, Yorkshire look very strong from one to eleven – and, as defending champions, they know how to pace their efforts over a season. They’ll take some catching now.
Ball Two – Adams’ batting unit continues grisly form
At Lord’s, Middlesex cruised to a nine wickets win over Hampshire, who remained rock bottom of the table. Jimmy Adams’ team’s highest partnership in the match was just 58, another demonstration of Hampshire’s biggest problem this season. After nine matches (yielding just one win), Hants have put together just three century stands – bizarrely, all for the eighth wicket. Whilst, as Ball One demonstrates, a captain needs bowlers to force wins, as Ball Two shows, he needs batsmen to set them up.
Ball Three – Read books into Nottinghamshire’s middle order after injury spell
Nottinghamshire welcomed the return of captain Chris Read (and heralded the arrival of ex-England coach, Peter Moores) with a much needed win over fellow strugglers Worcestershire. The skipper walked to the crease with half his second innings wickets down and the lead 158 – a position made for the kind of busy, ship-steadying innings his team had missed during his six weeks absence. 44 overs later, he was out for 73, the lead almost 300 and the match tilted, irrevocably, Nottinghamshire’s way. 37 years old next month, Read knows that Notts will be planning for life without him, but for now, they (and we) can relax in the knowledge that one of county cricket’s best servants is fit again and firing.
Ball Four – Whatever the question, Ansari is the answer for Surrey
In Division Two, Surrey lifted themselves 33 points above Glamorgan (albeit having played two more matches) in the race for the second promotion slot with an easy win over a poor Gloucestershire outfit. While 20 year-old Tom Curran caught the eye, hitting the stumps four times in a first innings bowling performance that yielded the remarkable figures of 15 – 7 – 20 – 7, Surrey’s long-suffering followers may have caught a glimpse of yet another new dawn for the Brown Caps in Zafar Ansari’s best bowling figures, his second innings 21.2 – 3 – 30 – 6. Still only 23, Ansari is being asked to drop anchor as an opener in red ball cricket, while batting as a finisher in the white ball game; then, with ball in hand, he’s asked to take wickets in the County Championship and contain in the T20 Blast. Perhaps only of a man who progressed through Surrey’s age group cricket squads as an all-rounder, whilst achieving academic success at school sufficient to take him to Cambridge and also learning to play the piano to a very high standard, could such a various tasks be demanded. Even then, maybe they shouldn’t be.
Ball Five – 17 clubs could still blast their way to the T20 Blast knockout stage
With four or so matches to play in the T20 Blast group stages, only Middlesex (who surrendered the London derby vs Surrey very meekly on Friday) look completely out of contention. In the North Group, Warwickshire (especially with Brendon McCullum on board) look a shoo-in for one of the four places, with neighbours Worcestershire likely to take the second. The other qualifiers look like they’ll come from two of Lancashire, Durham, Northants and Notts (though one should never rule Yorkshire out). In the South Group, all clubs except Middlesex have a shout, with Kent perhaps the favourites to progress, but with all to play for, I won’t be calling it! be prepared for it to go all the way to July 24 before we know the eight quarter-finalists.
Ball Six – Mahmood hits Miles for miles
Performance of the Week in the T20 Blast (well, mine anyway) came at The Oval on Wednesday night when fresh-faced 20 year-old Craig Miles ran in to bowl the last ball of the match to chubby 40 year-old Azhar Mahmood, with a six needed for the win. Incredibly, and apparently following captain Michael Klinger’s orders, Miles did not deliver a widish yorker outside off stump (as I and anyone else who as ever bowled at the death of a match would have done), but served up a short one on Azhar’s body. The Pakistani swung it high and handsomely into the South London night sky, as the full Ramadan moon rose – and I had witnessed my first “six needed and six scored” off the last ball (outside of winter nets anyway).