Ball One – Currans star as Surrey make the running in Group A
Having won three games in five days (you are keeping up with this competition aren’t you?) and with a no-result counting one point, Surrey sit at the top of Group A, their season going from strength to strength. The much maligned big spenders of a decade or so ago are putting their faith in young players and (so far) it’s paying off, with runs and wickets for the likes of Zarfar Ansari, James Burke and the two Curran brothers, Tom (20) and Sam (17). Sons of the late Zimbabwean all-rounder, Kevin Curran, (and there’s a third lad ripping his way through schools cricket this summer too), Tom and Sam have inherited their father’s ability to make things happen – useful in red ball cricket, but invaluable in white ball stuff. Both can expect a winter somewhere within the ECB’s development hierarchy – just don’t mention the Waughs.
Ball Tw0 – Paul Collingwood can still turn it on
At the other end of the age scale, could that really be 39 years old Paul Collingwood scoring 132 for Durham as they racked up a match-winning 313 batting first against Northamptonshire? It certainly is, the old stager batting through 35 overs, the fires still burning bright. The senior pro racked up 133 runs in singles, twos and threes (okay, there were a few extras in there too) during his two and a half hours at the crease and a lesser man might have felt a strategic tightening of a hamstring in the innings break and found solace with a cold drink and The Sporting Life on the balcony. Not Colly. By the 14th over of Northants’ reply, he was bowling and in the 19th, he snared dangerman, David Willey, to leave the hosts 84-5 with the points pretty much in the bag. If he didn’t already have one, he’d merit an MBE.
Ball Three – 99 problems and a pitch is one
The picture in Group B is less clear at this early stage, with only Nottinghamshire unbeaten with Glamorgan, whose Sunday match was abandoned as the pitch was deemed unplayable despite 56.4 overs having been bowled – but what else could the umpires do, with batsmen being hit on the head? I have always felt that non-experts (journalists, players, administrators) are too quick to believe that groundsmen make pitches the way contestants on primetime TV shows bake cakes – but it’s not so easy! That said, groundsmen (are there any groundswomen?) could help themselves by developing something akin to golf’s stimpmeter which might help shed a little light on their arcane art.
Ball Four – Joe Leach’s rich vein of form counts for nothing
Whatever its state, the pitch is, in one day cricket at least, the same for both sides, something that Joe Leach will be reflecting on after a remarkable match at New Road, Worcester. The seamer took three wickets with the first three balls of the match – something so rare that he was trending on Twitter, which might have caused a heartbeat or two to skip amongst friends and family. Soon fellow seamer, Jack Shantry, was in on the act and Northants were 19-6 with no sign of Kapil Dev coming to the rescue. But Josh Cobb, who had observed the carnage from the non-striker’s end, found a willing partner in Rory Kleinveldt and they, with Graeme White and Olly Stone putting bat to ball at 9 and 10, got the visitors up to 126. When the bowling hero arrived at the crease with Worcestershire 48-6, he must have had that sinking feeling that many club cricketers have experienced when chasing a low target. A bit of long handle from Leach and keeper Ben Cox added 29, but it wasn’t enough and 126 beat 105 in a game that will feature in a few club night quizzes in years to come.
Ball Five – 300 remains a very good score in domestic 50 overs cricket
With much talk during the World Cup that 350 was the new par score batting first in ODI cricket, there’s little sign of that ambition / recklessness filtering through to the domestic game – probably rightly so in English conditions. Of 24 innings that have gone to 50 overs or thereabouts, only nine have crossed 300, Yorkshire’s 345-6 (fuelled by Glenn Maxwell’s 111 off 76 balls) topping the list. Those nine 300+ scores produced eight wins, so a run a ball for 50 overs is still a very big ask in England, and it does raise a crucial question. If the raison d’etre for the Royal London Cup is to produce World Cup winning cricketers, where is the incentive to develop the weight of stroke and lightning bat-speed that drives scores to 350 and beyond, if 300 is almost always enough? It’s an old one that one, the answer to which remains as elusive as ever. Unless, of course, the 2019 World Cup is played on green seamers whistled up by Andrew Strauss and delivered by deceptively scientific horny handed sons of the English soil. Somehow, I doubt it for the reason given above and 350 others.
Ball Six – The 50 Overs competition needs to make use of all its opportunities
The Royal London Cup needs all the publicity it can get – especially once the football season really gets going this week – so why name the groups “A” and “B”? Surely a couple of superstars of the past could be prevailed upon to lend their names to the groups and do a bit of PR in return for the sponsor’s remuneration. The “Lamby” Group and the “Beefy” Group might sound a bit cheesy, but it would raise the competition’s profile. If that’s a bit too much, how about “Stewart” and “Nixon” groups, the two old keepers usually up for a bit of banter and well versed in the media’s ways?