Ball One – James Vince and Andrew Gale beat the weather to conjure a result
When there were 30 odd three day matches in the season, captains’ contrivances (and declaration bowling) got a bad press – a case of familiarity breeding contempt. I’ve always rather liked the manufactured “equation” though, because such deals breathe life back into matches strangled by English weather. With teams desperate to avoid the drop and Autumnal weather unreliable, the nod and the wink followed by the closed door, the haggling and the handshake is not just an attractive option – it may be the only one. So well done James Vince and Andrew Gale who, after two declarations and an innings forfeit, set up a fourth day battle for 304 runs or ten wickets. It’s the kind of thing that causes grumbling elsewhere, but surely the objective of playing a match is to win it and one’s efforts should be focused on that objective alone? The Champions needed someone to bat well and, as usual this season, someone did – the skipper’s 125 all but seeing them all the way home. Hampshire’s defeat does not quite despatch them through the trap door with one match still to play, but they need snookers now.
Ball Two – Worcestershire sink into Division Two.
Worcestershire were also in double declaration mood for the same reason, but ran into a Durham side grateful to halt a dreadful run of form with a win over the now relegated Midlanders. With Day Two lost entirely, Daryl Mitchell’s men were always behind the eight ball, but their chances avoiding the drop were very thin, as they’ve been outgunned all season with both bat and ball. As the gulf between the two divisions grows, Worcestershire may well find themselves too good for Division Two but not up to a full season in Division One. However, as Lancashire fans know, yoyo-ing like that can lead to plenty of crucial matches and some exciting cricket.
Ball Three – Marcus Trescothick and Michael Yardy please the romantics
Emotional scenes at Hove as Michael Yardy made a century on his last appearance at his home ground and Marcus Trescothick turned back the clock with a double ton, closing the season in the kind of form that harks back to his glory days. Both men played for England, their international careers truncated (at least partially) due to health issues, but both men continued to give their all on the much maligned domestic stage. Both were suited to the white ball game, but both had a touch of the old-fashioned county pro about them too: Trescothick standing tall and hitting it or leaving it and Yardy bowling his flat left-arm non-spinners to hold up an end and chipping in with 70s and 80s just when his captain needed one.
Ball Four – Will Nick Browne may be England’s next left-handed opener from Essex?
Essex were the only team to beat the weather and force a result in Division Two largely thanks to an impressive 151* from Nick Browne. He has been mentioned in despatches by plenty of judges this season, but, at 24, how long can he wait before playing Division One cricket? While a case can be made for aspirant England bowlers showcasing their skills in Division Two (after all, 90mph is 90mph no matter who is batting at the other end and spinners who rip it not roll it always stand out), can the same be said for batsmen? With England’s Number 2 spot still a cause for concern three years after Andrew Strauss’s retirement, a young opener must look to build his case as persuasively as he can.
Ball Five – Jones the Bat (not the Gloves) bids farewell with a fine knock
Geraint Jones’ last innings in senior cricket was an important 50 as Gloucestershire’s batting collapsed around him. With captain Michael Klinger and the other senior pro, Hamish Marshall, mustering just 18 between them, Jones had to dig in with a view to batting through from the 23rd over to the 50th, an objective he fell just two overs short of achieving. He had done his job, but his team mates were off the pace against a fired-up Surrey attack led by resurgent hat-trick hero, Jade Dernbach, and the wily Azhar Mahmood. In conditions as favourable as one could imagine for batting in mid-September, Gloucestershire’s 220 looked at least 40 runs below par.
Ball Six – Surrey pay the price of impatience
But things did not turn out like that because, wait for it, cricket is a funny old game. 221 in 50 overs on a blameless pitch in glorious early Autumn sunshine, with the experience of Kumar Sangakkara and Azhar Mahmood in the line-up should have been, if not exactly a stroll, then certainly a comfortable chase, with little reason to force the pace. Nothing can be taken for granted these days because batsmen seem to have lost the art of patient batting, with relentless attack (fuelled by unorthodox strokes) the only strategy in town. When the great Sri Lankan and the steady Rory Burns surrendered their wickets in the 35th and 37th overs, sensible batting was still all that was required to score 73 runs in 13.4 overs. Cue a fatal run of five soft dismissals: Gary Wilson clipped a full toss to short midwicket, Mahmood was stumped halfway down the track, Tom Curran out having missed a reverse sweep off his fourth ball, James Burke run out without a dive for home and Sam Curran, having played well, caught at long on. Maybe orthodox strokes that kept the ball on the carpet would have been enough – but who wants to play like that any more?