Ball One – James Franklin gets a game on
Middlesex, needing points in a rain-affected game at Northwood, almost squeezed a win after James Franklin declared and challenged Somerset to score 219 in 40 overs. His bowlers fell three wickets short with Marcus Trescothick’s batsmen still 72 off their target (which they had, unsurprisingly, had a real go at before the wickets / runs equation tilted against them). Middlesex’s veteran stand-in skipper knows a bit about rain having played most of his cricket in New Zealand and England, but his willingness to risk defeat for the chance of victory fashioned a fine finish to a match that had lost 144 overs to the weather. More of this stuff please, as the season reaches the point when the cliche “a must-win game” applies to matches at both ends of the table.
Ball Two – Colly’s Durham wobbles again
There was another excellent advert for the four day game at Chester-le-Street where Durham’s chances of closing on Division One leaders Yorkshire soared and sank with each Warwickshire partnership. Chris Rushworth, Graham Onions and John Hastings (as fine a trio of bowlers as one could want for a job like this) had knocked over half Varun Chopra’s men with the target still in three figures, but they met their match in Bears’ trio of all-rounders, Tim Ambrose, Rikki Clarke and Chris Woakes, who all chipped in with useful knocks. It still took a couple of bowlers who bat, wise old Jeetan Patel and young seamer Tom Milnes, to get the 38 required, but they did it, leaving Paul Collingwood contemplating two home defeats in a row and a 25 points gap to Yorkshire.
Ball Three – Surrey’s young charges charge to victory
In Division Two, Surrey consolidated their position in the second promotion slot with what turned into an easy win over Kent. After so many false dawns since the trophy-laden Hollioake reign, Surrey supporters may have genuine cause to hope for a return to the big time in the shape of the young bowlers who took 16 Kent wickets between them: Tom Curran (20); Sam Curran (17); Zafar Ansari (23); and James Burke (24). Add Matthew Dunn (23) to that list and one can surmise that the days of Chris Tremlett, Stuart Meaker, Tom Linley and Jade Dernbach running in at The Oval must be limited.
Ball Four – Essex canter to victory on the back of Ryder’s ten-fer
The rather older men of Essex may still have a say in Surrey’s promotion chances, James Foster’s team putting together a run of three wins in four, the latest over third placed Glamorgan. For that, much of the thanks goes to gnarly old pro (but, incredibly, still only 30) Jesse Ryder who, ever the contrarian, is making a late-career switch from a batsman who bowls to a bowler who bats. The Kiwi’s canny medium pace brought him 10-100 in this match, his 33 wickets this season coming at an average of less than 22, showing that last season’s 44 at 18 was no flash in the pan. There’s plenty of rough with Ryder, but plenty of smooth too, the huge cricketing talent still shining after all those ups and downs.
Ball Five – T20 Blast Group Stage set for thrilling climax
In the T20 Blast, it’s perm any two from three in the North Group as Lancashire, Northants and Nottinghamshire look to join Warwickshire and Worcestershire in the quarter-finals. Things are less clear in the South Group with Sussex, Essex, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Glamorgan and Surrey jostling to join Kent in the last eight. It’s quite a finish to the group stages but, despite decent crowds when the sun shines, the competition’s presence in mainstream media is minimal. After a largely successful move towards Friday night matches, it’s time for the ECB to look at how its showcase domestic tournament can be make a bigger splash and find at least a corner of the press not crowded out by football transfer “news”.
Ball Six – James Taylor gets it right at the death
Performance of the Week in the Blast goes to James Taylor – who was almost my Villain of the Week. T20 may be derided for its “hit and giggle” simplicity compared to the complexities of Test cricket, but a tight game needs clarity of thought, as the last over of Lancashire’s match against Nottinghamshire showed. Needing seven off four balls, Chris Read went aerial, but could only get it to James Faulkner at deepish mid-off and was caught. Surprisingly, James Taylor had not hurtled down the track to ensure that he crossed to get on strike, so the inexperienced Sam Wood was left with three balls to get the runs required. But when he (predictably) missed with his swing, Lancashire keeper, Alex Davies, was standing back instead of up, so Taylor scrambled the bye to get back on strike. Head now clear, the wee man stroked two boundaries and walked off a hero as Notts got home off the last delivery. As is the case in all cricket, it’s the next ball that counts and Taylor recovered from his error on ball three with three perfect results from balls four, five and six – and bagged the Man of the Match award to prove it.