Ball One – Blond legspinner surprises everyone in first bowl at Old Trafford
Almost halfway through the season and five counties are within a win of Lancashire, who sit top of Division One, level on points with Yorkshire after securing a draw in a topsy-turvy clash against Warwickshire. It was a match in which Lancashire’s youngsters stepped up when Warwickshire’s experienced XI threatened to put them out of the game. Lancashire were 91-4 before captain-wicketkeeper-batsman-superman Steven Croft made a crucial century and Liam Livingstone shepherded the tail to post a total over 300. Warwickshire were in trouble too, losing six wickets before posting three figures, but Tim Ambrose dug in and Keith Barker did what he does at Number 8 and it needed blond legspinner, Matt Parkinson (19), to deliver a fivefer on debut to give the home side a lead of 45. Half of Lancashire’s second innings wickets were spent with the lead just 149, when Livingstone (22) joined opener Haseeb Hameed (19) to take their side to safety, Hameed scoring his maiden century in nearly six hours and Livingstone taking half that time to approach 500 runs in his debut season at an average of 98. The match concluded in a draw, but Lancashire will be happy to stay top and with the contribution of the next generation of Red Rose heroes.
Ball Two – Keaton Jennings is building a blockbuster season
In another example of how a draw can produce excellent cricket (and a fine product for spectators too), a depleted Yorkshire attack, led by the estimable Steve Patterson, shot out Durham for 172 and then watched their batsmen build a lead of 151 before they set to work again. Cue an epic undefeated 221 from Keaton Jennings, spread over nearly ten hours, that lifted his team from the peril of four down and still 46 runs behind, to a declaration with a lead of 356. Yorkshire were content to bat out time, with Tim Bresnan, in the runs again, solid in the last hour. Having turned 24 during the match, Jennings is stepping out of the shadow of his father, the teak tough South African wicketkeeper-batsman cum coach Ray Jennings, with a red ball season that has already yielded four centuries and 59 more Division One runs than any other batsman. England’s selectors will be monitoring his progress closely.
Ball Three – Zafar bowling jaffas as he stakes claim to all-rounder’s slot
Surrey’s improving season saw them get off the mark (and the bottom of the table) with an impressive win over a lacklustre Nottinghamshire at The Oval. Steve Davies found some form and a partner in Tom Curran to get past 300 before Gareth Batty continued his Indian summer with four wickets to take Notts from 120-3 to 182 all out. After Arun Harinath had added 83 to his first innings 73, as he quietly and effectively went about his work as usual, the away side never got close to the 386 target, collapsing again from 119-2 to 157 all out in 12 overs. After last week’s praise here for his white ball work, Zafar Ansari was the destroyer with 6-36 from his canny left-arm spin. Ansari, though he seems to have been around forever, is still only 24 and may, after 165 appearances in a brown cap, now be realising his potential. For a long time, he’s been expected to play all formats of the game, bat anywhere in the order from Number 1 to Number 8 and rip the red ball and dart the white. Though a multi-talented academic and musical high achiever, perhaps that was a bit too much versatility to ask of a man making his way in the game. But he has 13 wickets at 25 this season to go with 183 runs at 31 in four Division One matches – that’s all-rounder numbers and maybe it’s time to ask him to concentrate on that role if Surrey are to continue their climb to safety.
Ball Four – Charlie Shreck proves he’s no donkey
In Division Two, Essex held on to their lead despite being beaten by resurgent Leicestershire with just 11 balls left in a match reduced to three days by rain. Captain, Mark Cosgrove, dealt out the er.. heavy blows to get them over the line, but the win was set up by a couple of old warhorses whose combined match figures were an impressive 67.3 – 18 – 176 – 14. Clint McKay has a Baggy Green from his one Test seven years ago, but counts over 500 wickets in professional cricket around the world, working as a kind of Antipodean Angus Fraser, the ball held seam upright, a bit of movement each way at a pace that keeps batsmen honest. At 38, Charlie Shreck has five years on his Australian team mate and a few more wickets too, banging the ball in from a great height for Nottinghamshire, Kent and now Leicestershire. Though some will cite players like these as a fault with the 18 team County Championship, I enjoy the skills and knowhow older players bring to the domestic game – of course, youngsters need to be nurtured, but if they can’t learn from batting against the likes of McKay and Shreck, then they probably can’t learn at all.
Ball Five – Stephen Parry’s thrusts foil Worcestershire
Performance of the Week in the T20 Blast North Group came from Lancashire’s slow left-armer Stephen Parry, whose 5-13 blew away Worcestershire for whom only Brett D’Oliveira reached double figures as they slumped to 53 all out in 14 overs. Parry has five England caps and is a key component of the Red Rose white ball attack, but has still played only nine first class matches in nine years, captaining the Second XI these days. With tweakers Simon Kerrigan, Arron Lilley and (now) Matt Parkinson all ahead of him in four day cricket, should he move to get more game-time? I suspect he wouldn’t be short of suitors and, after all, you’re a long time retired.
Ball Six – Dawid Malan gets another mention in a fine season
In the T20 South Group, Dawid Malan gets my Performance of the Week with a double header that took his team to second in the table behind Glamorgan. On Thursday, the skipper led from the front, balancing the tricky risk and reward relationship in a shortened nine overs per side match at Lord’s. He batted through for 53 off 28 balls, Middlesex’s 92 proving just enough to defeat Somerset. A day later, notwithstanding Brendon McCullum signing off his sojourn in London with a fine 87 not out, Malan took responsibility to score quickly against the hard ball, out for 60 from 100 in the ninth over. Middlesex maintained that scoring rate and their 210 was far too much for Kent. Captaincy seems to agree with the left-hander, who must fancy his chances of picking up some silverware with Middlesex handily placed in all three competitions about halfway through the season.