Ball One – Yorkshire cruising towards a second successive title
Yorkshire’s rush for the finishing line continued with their ninth win of the season, sweeping aside relegation threatened Somerset in little more than two days playing time. The seamers did the damage with the ball, Jack Brooks (what a signing he has been) leading the way with match figures of 25-5-84-7, to give him 55 wickets this season at 20. With the bat, it was gratifying to see three England rejects getting on with life at domestic level. Adam Lyth put his disappointing summer behind him with a painstaking 62 before handing over to Gary Ballance and Jonny Bairstow who each delivered patient 91s to set up a big lead. A successful defence of the pennant is not quite confirmed – but it’s only a matter of time.
Ball Two – Jeetan Patel likes English conditions
Rain spoiled a tight match at Edgbaston, with too much time lost on days one and two for a result to be forced. With Jeetan Patel three parts of the way towards a second fivefer of the match, there was no guarantee that Middlesex would have been able to win and apply pressure on the runaway leaders in any case. Patel is been a superb acquisition for Warwickshire, his off breaks peculiarly suited to English pitches. Since 2011, the Kiwi has taken 218 first class wickets in the County Championship at an impressive average of 26, comparing very favourably with his career average which is a whole ten runs higher. He is 35 now, but plays all formats of the game for the Bears, who will hope to get at least three more seasons from him. English batsmen may disagree.
Ball Three – Hampshire’s survival hopes rest on Fidel Edwards and Ryan McLaren
Hampshire lifted themselves off the bottom, if not quite out of the relegation zone, with a vital win over fading Durham. Hampshire’s batting is still very fragile, but the acquisition of Ryan McLaren and the return to first class cricket of Fidel Edwards augurs well, the overseas pacers sharing 14 wickets in the match, their hostility enough to deliver 21 points. Edwards seems to have been around forever and, having made his Test debut in 2003, in cricketing terms he has, but his slingy action still gets the ball to the other end as swiftly as anyone in county cricket. On his day, he’s a handful, but those days don’t come round so often any more, so Hampshire will be hoping for half a dozen in the three matches left in their hitherto miserable season.
Ball Four – Wright is Mr Right for Sussex, and might be for England too
Sussex, without a win since May, were sleepwalking towards Division Two, before waking up to hammer fellow strugglers, Worcestershire, by an innings. Another ex-England man caught the eye, Luke Wright’s 226* occupying 91 overs and including 28 fours and seven sixes muscled to the boundary from that low-handed grip. Wright has over 100 England appearances in white ball cricket, the last of which was 18 months ago, but he’s still only 30 and has plenty of experience around the world in T20 franchise cricket. Don’t be surprised if, two years on from his last cap, he answers the selectors’ call after a finger or two get jammed on bats in World T20 warm-up matches.
Ball Five – James Burke is one for the future
In Division Two, Surrey were the first to secure promotion (with two games in hand) after demolishing a Derbyshire side who have fallen a long way in the last couple of seasons. Though the old warhorse, skipper Gareth Batty, wrote the headlines with his match terminating hat-trick, the other four bowlers in the Surrey attack were all under 25, something of a changing of the guard from the days of England men, Meaker, Dernbach and Tremlett. Much has been said about the sensational breakthrough season of the Curran brothers and of Zafar Ansari’s progress with both bat and ball, but it’s worth mentioning James Burke too. In his seven appearances, the all-rounder has chipped in with 16 wickets at 22, the best average of any of Surrey’s young guns. Of course, this is Division Two cricket, but these four young men have earned the right to play in Division One next season, when we will find out exactly how good they can be.
Ball Six – Lancashire limp to Division One
A day after Surrey confirmed that they will play in Division One next season, Lancashire joined them after struggling to a draw with Kent, perhaps a reaction to their T20 success of the previous weekend. With rain taking time out of the match, Kent batted on to declare at 570-8, then enforcied the follow-on with more than a day still to play. But it’s hard work going straight back out after delivering 88 overs to get ten wickets and Kent’s five man attack ran out of steam a little on the last afternoon, Steven Croft and Alex Davies blocking out the last three hours before hands were shaken. If the circumstances of promotion were underwhelming, none of that will be remembered when the Red Rose takes on the White in the top flight next season – home and away, if you please.