Ball One – Lord’s flawed by bore draws
Lancashire stayed top of the table in a week in which the weather ensured that there were no positive results – defending champions, Yorkshire, picking a good round to sit out. That said, Lancashire’s match at Lord’s was as close to a nailed on draw as one could imagine notwithstanding the fourth day washout. The visitors had piled up over 500 in the first innings, Alviro Petersen leading the way with 191, before a couple of Middlesex’s bright young things, Nick Gubbins (201*) and Stevie Eskinazi with a maiden century, put on over 200 for the second wicket, the home side marooned on 419-5 when the match was abandoned. The question, not for the first time, must be asked about Lord’s pitches which, since the remarkably effective drainage was laid a few years ago, start greenish but good for batting and then simply get “better and better”. Of course, cricket demands that bowlers work out batsmen, but the balance between bat and ball is beginning to look a bit one-sided at Lord’s, where “good” pitches are not producing enough good matches, with five draws in the five first class matches played at HQ this season making my point.
Ball Two – Is it time, once again, to find reasons why James Hildreth should not be selected for England
There was a draw of altogether different character at The Rose Bowl, where the Overton twins shot out the home side for 219 before handing over to their batsmen who plundered 474-8 dec before the experienced pair of Michael Carberry and Sean Ervine steadied Hampshire’s second dig with a painstaking stand of 52. When the rain washed out the fourth day, Somerset still held an advantage of 82 runs and, with six wickets to take, were only one scalp away from the bowlers. The centrepiece of the visitors’ innings was, once again, a James Hildreth masterclass, adding a 38th first class century to his impressive record, one as yet unmarked by international honours. At 31, he may think his time has passed, but he should not lose heart – his captain is Chris Rogers, who played the second of his 25 Tests aged 35. With England’s absurdly overstuffed itinerary for 2017 now published, selectors may well need to look beyond centrally contracted players to get a fit and firing XI on the field next summer.
Ball Three – Does Sam Northeast have international cricket within his compass?
They got plenty of overs in at Canterbury, but no result – nevertheless, Kent’s ten bonus points were enough to leapfrog long time Division Two leaders, Essex, into the promotion slot, albeit having played a game more. For that, Kent had much to thank their captain, Sam Northeast, whose 191 carried his team from 34-2 all the way to 379 all out, with only Adam Ball’s 66 offering support. Northeast has scored 638 runs in the Championship at 71 this season and, though he seems to have been around forever, is still only 26. While his team-mate, Daniel Bell-Drummond catches more of the limelight, Northeast, playing all three formats of the game day-in, day-out, is quietly putting together a wonderful season.
Ball Four – Chris Dent punching holes in Division Two attacks.
Leicestershire may have an experienced bowling unit, but Chris Dent and Graeme van Buuren pretty much treated them as they pleased in making 165 and 121* respectively, as Gloucestershire racked up 403-2 on the way to yet another draw. Dent is enjoying a fine season with 712 runs in the Championship at 59, but even he can’t match van Buuren’s average of 100 (nor captain, Michael Klinger’s, 148!). Decent players though they are, those kind of numbers are an indication of the lack of depth in the domestic game’s bowling and that surely plays a part in England’s relative paucity of resources at international level. Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad cannot go on forever, but they’re hardly being pressed for their places – nor is there much sign of that happening in the short to medium term.
Ball Five – Azeem Rafiq is back to tweak
With the 50 overs format in a midsummer hiatus, it’s T20 or nothing for fans of white ball cricket and there were plenty of them at Headingley for another Roses showdown. The White defeated the Red, as Yorkshire defended a target of 142 in 18 overs after a wet outfield had delayed a start (though umpires, groundstaff and players showed an admirable urgency to get things going in front of a capacity crowd). It was splendid to see Azeem Rafiq, brought back to the colours after time out of the county game, produce figures of 1-20 in his four overs, backing up last week’s figures of 1-22 in 3.5. Much has happened to the 25 year-old in his short career, but the old cliche about “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” may well be in play for the Barnsley boy – and even this Lancashire fan hopes that will prove the case.
Ball Six – Glee for Gleeson as Northamptonshire march on
Northants top the North Group of the T20 Blast having won two tosses to set up two successful chases in a week, their seamer Richard Gleeson delivering figures of 8-0-32-6 to catch the eye. At 28, Gleeson is a late starter in the professional game, but, in his debut season, he’s going for about five an over in white ball cricket, doing a super job for his captain, Alex Wakely, and his county, suffering as expected in the County Championship, but doing much better in white ball cricket after a stormy winter.