Ball One – In 2015, Andrew Gale’s team blew its rivals away
Yorkshire finally squared the mathematics with the evidence of our eyes and were hailed County Champions for the second successive year at Lord’s long before their match was completed and the trophy handed to their captain, Andrew Gale. It was a poignant moment for him, having been under suspension and therefore somewhat pettily banned by the ECB from last year’s presentation. Coach Jason Gillespie has assembled a mix of grizzled pros and fine young players, who bat deep with a good balance of attack and defence and then get to work with seam, swing and spin sufficient to take 20 wickets in most conditions. Despite a number of England calls, the squad is deep enough to rest players when necessary and, as results in one day cricket have shown, it’s the County Championship that matters most to the White Rose. Yorkshire are worthy champions in a season that has lacked the drama (at least at the top of the table) that we have grown used to in recent years.
Ball Two – Nick Compton and Toby Roland-Jones deliver rare defeat to Champions
When the fate of the Championship was still (technically) in the balance, Yorkshire made the most of tricky early conditions at Lord’s shooting out Middlesex for 106 and building a big first innings lead. With intensity levels inevitably dropping just a little, Yorkshire then let Middlesex back into the game conceding a huge second innings in an eerie echo of their last Championship defeat, Middlesex’s Chris Rogers inspired huge chase in 2014. Though Toby Roland-Jones, one of this column’s favourite cricketers, caught the eye, biffing a ton from Number 10 and then taking a fivefer to close out Middlesex’s win, Nick Compton’s knock was the gamechanger, taking his side from 106 behind to 187 ahead. Compton has 1100 runs in Division One and knows how to make Test match centuries – England could do a lot worse when options for the likely spare opener’s slot are discussed.
Ball Three – Nottinghamshire and Durham enjoy contrasting fortunes
Another of England’s forgotten men, Samit Patel, made a century as Nottinghamshire continued their fine form, but it was Brett Hutton’s ten wickets that condemned Durham to yet another defeat as their season falls off a cliff. Hutton (who, as you would expect with a surname like that, was born in Yorkshire) is a “bats a bit, bowls a bit” all-rounder of the type usually more suited to white ball cricket, but he seized his chance well as Nottinghamshire notched their fourth win in a row. For Durham, having started the season brightly, it was their fourth loss in consecutive matches.
Ball Four – Hampshire battle with the bat and gain a vital draw
In the relegation 48 pointer (well, sort of) at Taunton, the draw did not really help either side, edging Somerset 11 points ahead of Hampshire with two matches still to play. Hampshire, having been behind in the match after yet another collapse took them from 146-2 to 176-6, then had to endure Somerset’s top three each score centuries as the home side piled up 630-9d. Faced with over five sessions to bat out the draw (and deny their opponents 11 vital points while registering five themselves) it would have been easy for James Vince’s men to fold again, but Hampshire dug in and made 411-4 in 159 overs, with no batsmen scoring at more than 50 runs per 100 balls. The art of batting time is not dead after all – and it still brings rewards.
Ball Five – Essex impress at Derby
At the end of a long season, and with little for Division Two teams to play for with promotion slots decided and no relegation, there’s always a danger that the wheels might come off somewhere – and that’s what happened at Derby. With Paul Grayson gone, Essex’s perennial under-achievers have the incentive of impressing whoever will take his job, and they did so sweeping aside Derbyshire by an innings and 188 runs. There will be change at both counties in the close season, indeed, perhaps only Yorkshire and Surrey will not be looking to set things up too differently come 2016.
Ball Six – Kent clout Glamorgan
It was a similar story at Cardiff where Glamorgan were hammered by Kent, losing by 316 runs having been set a ridiculous 554 to win. It might not be good for the prospects of the England team, but Kent’s success was largely thanks to a couple of grand old stagers, 36 year old Rob Key who made 94 and 158 and 39 year old Darren Stevens who made 64 and delivered match figures of 32-5-101-7. I hope the younger players watched how two of county cricket’s grand old men went about their work and learned from them. And I hope the much maligned fan of county cricket enjoyed watching them too.