Ball One – Yorkshire’s bowling gives Andrew Gale plenty of options
Yorkshire powered to a 34 points lead at the top of Division One (with a game in hand) after swatting aside Worcestershire by seven wickets at the evocative North Marine Road, Scarborough. Andrew Gale, having had a good look at the pitch while compiling 164, had no hesitation in enforcing the follow-on, his unorthodox selection doubtless playing a part in his considerations. Yorkshire fielded six frontline bowlers, with Adil Rashid and Tim Bresnan considered all-rounders at Six and Seven supporting the returning Liam Plunkett and the regular seamers Steve Patterson, Ryan Sidebottom and Jack Brooks. Not every county will enjoy such depth of resources, but its benefit was clear. Despite Worcestershire batting 76 and 91 overs in their innings, no bowler’s workload was more than Rashid’s 21 in the Pears’ second dig and all six picked up at least a couple of scalps. Not just the right selection for late July, with six matches still to play that workload management may pay dividends come August and September too.
Ball Two – Tom Abell is able to step up when the call comes
Of the three counties struggling to cling on to the Tykes’ coattails (Warwickshire, Durham and Middlesex) the Bears’ win over an ageing Somerset XI, lifted them to second place in what looks increasingly like a squabble for the place money. With Marcus Trescothick’s men sliding into a relegation dogfight, he will be comforted by the performance of his fellow opener, 21 year-old Tom Abell, who carried his bat for 88 in almost four hours of old-fashioned resistance, seemingly untroubled by this year’s excuse for failure of application, scoreboard pressure. The Somerset captain is 40 in the close season and his days (at least as an opener) must be numbered – sooner or later, Abell, a Taunton boy in every sense, will have to take on additional responsibility. Knocks like this one (against the nous of Jeetan Patel, Rikki Clarke, Chris Woakes and Keith Barker) suggest that he has what it takes.
Ball Three – Read writes his own scripts
Just one month ago, Nottinghamshire were rock bottom of the table wondering where their next win was coming from. Enter Peter Moores in a consultancy role and Chris Read back from the physio’s table – now they are 23 points clear of the drop and playing the best cricket outside the three ridings. The influence of the skipper cannot be overstated – arriving at the crease to replace Samit Patel with the score 186-5, Read added 365 in the company of selector-nudging James Taylor (291) to set up an innings win over a demoralised Sussex, now deep in relegation trouble themselves. And there won’t be a Lancashire fan alive who failed to raise a smile reading of Gary Keedy’s five wickets, the 40 year-old summoned from weekend league cricket to turn the ball as he turned back the clock.
Ball Four – Plain sailing for Prince and Petersen at Colwyn Bay
Lancashire didn’t really need to beat third placed Glamorgan at the traditional match venue, the picturesque Colwyn Bay, but they did, smashing 698-5 at more than five an over and then beating the Welsh county and the Welsh weather by an innings and plenty. Some may point to the monumental stand between the two South Africans, Alviro Petersen and Ashwell Prince, a record wrecking 501, and grumble, but Lancashire fans see Prince as very much one of their own, a successor to the likes of Clive Lloyd, Faroukh Engineer and Wasim Akram. Having made his Red Rose debut in 2009, the 38 year-old is in his sixth season at Old Trafford (having missed 2011) averaging over 50 in first class cricket, 37 in List A and 32 in T20 – that’s over an impressive 153 appearances. In an era of contracted guns for hire, Prince’s contribution to Lancashire is both unusual and deeply appreciated.
Ball Five – T20 Blast finishes with a damp squib of a day
In the T20 Blast, the climax to the group stage was largely washed away in an otherwise decent summer. In the North Group, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Northamptonshire and Lancashire progressed, the latter by run rate (so it does count for something after all). Amongst the bowlers, the outstanding performer was Rikki Clarke, whose bag of tricks brought him a strike rate of 5.19 across 42 overs, outstanding numbers from a cricketer often under-rated in the media, if not on the field. Catching the eye amongst the batsmen, step forward Worcestershire’s journeyman pro Ross Whiteley, whose 27 sixes and just 11 fours marks him as a rare Englishman with the combination of bat speed and power required to clear the boundary consistently when he opens his shoulders. Both Midlands men will be looking to progress to the Finals Day jamboree.
Ball Six – Ravi Bopara still doing a decent job at Essex
In the South Group, Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and Essex go through to the quarter-finals, after Glamorgan lost to Gloucestershire in one of those highly unsatisfactory five overs each way “matches”. Ravi Bopara, perhaps now gone forever from England’s plans, was just about the most valuable bowler in the Group, his skiddy medium pace (still never quite there to hit), bringing him 18 wickets at 15 with an economy rate well below 7. His experience and nous will be valuable in the knockouts to come. James Vince, like the rest of the Hampshire team having a nightmare season in red ball cricket, found salvation in the shortest format, smacking over 500 runs as he led his side to the quarter-finals and a chance to salvage something from a disappointing 2015.