Ball One – Malan becomes a good ‘un at last
After Yorkshire had wrapped up the points early in the last round of Division One matches, counties clinging on to the hope of challenging the Tykes had to win to keep them in sight. In a tight game at Lord’s, that’s exactly what Middlesex did, 20 runs still in hand when old trouper, Tim Murtagh took the last Sussex wicket. Middlesex owe much to Dawid Malan, whose 93 and 120* (with Sam Robson’s 77) were the only scores above 50 for the home team. Malan has 524 runs this season at over 100 and may just, at nearly 28, be fulfilling his potential. If you had told me that the 20 year-old whom I had just seen hit 103 off the bowling of Andrew Flintoff, Dominic Cork, Glen Chapple and Saj Mahmood (all England players) in the 2008 T20 quarter-final, would still be “just” a county cricketer in 2105, I would never have believed you! It’s not too late for this gifted batsman to find a place in England’s plans, but he’ll need to maintain his sparkling recent form .
Ball Two – Vince convinces to spark Hampshire’s lacklustre batting
Hampshire got a much needed second win of the season which they will hope sparks a late season revival of fortunes to lift them out Division One’s relegation zone. While the still quick Fidel Edwards’ nine wickets were important in overcoming a strong Warwickshire line-up, skipper James Vince’s first Championship ton of the season finally gave his bowlers something to bowl behind, the 444 run target proving much too much for the Midlanders. That was Hampshire’s first century since Adam Wheater’s in early June and only their third all season after Sean Ervine’s knock in April. With a slot at T20 Finals Day confirmed, Vince will be looking to extend the feelgood factor right through to the end of September – he’ll need to.
Ball Three – A step too far for Zafar?
As was the case for their fellow Londoners in Division One, Surrey had to work very hard to consolidate second place in their division with a tight win over Essex at Colchester. Rory Burns caught the eye with knocks of 158 and 71, comfortably outscoring his opening partner, Zafar Ansari, who made 6 and 34. Perhaps that’s understandable – Ansari also returned match figures of 75 – 10 – 236 – 8 with the ball. Some might say that was work enough for one man.
Ball Four – David Willey stands and delivers
That David Willey is an exciting cricketer who relishes the big stage and usually finds a way to get involved in any match, is no surprise – it’s a talent that has already landed him five England caps in white ball formats. His breathtaking assault on the Sussex bowling, raising his 100 off 40 balls to turn a tough looking T20 Blast quarter-final chase into a procession, showed another, perhaps even more valuable gift possessed by the Northants all-rounder: bat-speed. Because, as has been much talked about during The Ashes, batsmen in English conditions can pay a heavy price for throwing their hands through the ball, the bat-speed that is so critical for boundary hitting on slow pitches seldom comes naturally to those who grow up batting in England in April, May and September. But Willey, possibly because he possesses another skill (as a bowler, but often the bat-speed men are also wicketkeepers), has the fearlessness such “see-ball, hit-ball” play requires. With the World T20 coming up in India, Willey may be just the man England need to match the sub-continentals’ boundary counts.
Ball Five – Faulkner drives Lancashire home in a thriller
With all the artifice in white ball cricket, from the restrictions on the number of overs bowled to field placings and free hits and whatever tinkering lies in the ICC’s imagination for the future, all the game really needs to captivate its audience is an old-fashioned seesawing thriller. And that’s exactly what Lancashire and Kent served up to a full house on glorious Saturday afternoon at Canterbury’s grand old St Lawrence Ground. Kent should never have been in it – from 62-5 in the 11th over, it needed smart batting from spinners Fabian Cowdrey and dear old James Tredwell to get them up to 142 all out off the last ball, setting a gettable, but not straightforward target on a sticky, slow pitch. But at the start of the 19th over, Ashwell Prince’s nous had got him 62 runs and Jos Buttler’s power had raised 49 for him: 13 needed off two overs – easy. Three catches in the deep later, the visitors needed four off two balls to win the match on fewer wickets lost and Kent, for the first time all day, were favourites. Cue James Faulkner who somehow scrambled a couple of braces to see Lancashire through to Edgbaston and spark celebrations amongst the very decent contingent of Red Rose fans in the crowd. It was one day cricket at its thrilling, capricious, best
Ball Six – Dim administrators take cricket back to the dark ages
Cricket has done much over recent years to address the issue of “bad” light, helped by floodlights and a greater respect for the paying public. So it was frustrating and farcical to see as crucial a match as a T20 Blast quarter-final truncated, as the players peered into the (obviously unplayable) gloom from lit up dressing rooms in an eerie throwback to the 80s and 90s. It should not have been beyond the ken of administrators to take bad light out of the picture by scheduling two matches on Thursday and Friday evening and two on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the daytime games to be allocated to grounds without floodlights (if necessary). In the unlikely event that the three of the four counties without lights have home matches… well, we can deal with that when (or if) it arises. That Hampshire were well ahead of Worcestershire on Duckworth-Lewis, is hardly relevant given how swiftly T20 games can turn around. Not good enough ECB.