Ball One – Durham rock solid at the seaside
When Lancashire faced Durham at Southport (one of many outgrounds favoured by last week’s good weather), the prize was worth fighting for – second spot in Division One, just behind leaders Middlesex. And how they fought! With the home side behind 87 on first innings, they needed someone to step up to the er… crease and Luke Procter, a bit-part player in recent seasons, did so with a fine 122, leaving Durham 247 to win and the fourth day to get them. With Keaton Jennings and Jack Burnham showing the more experienced heads how to do it, the visitors got over the line, eight down, late in the day. It’s more than 40 years since I first watched cricket at Southport and, if Paul Edwards’ evocative reports are anything to go by, little has changed – a pleasing thought in a game, indeed a world, which might benefit by standing still for a moment and valuing what it has.
Ball Two – Marcus Trescothick turns back the clock as he turns up the pressure on Notts
Marcus Trescothick may be 41 come Christmas Day, but mere age didn’t stop him doing what he does for Somerset, spending the entire match on the field having been last man out for 218 and then helping himself to a few more as Nottinghamshire went down by ten wickets to drop into the relegation zone. It’s around this time last year that Peter Moores turned up and rescued Notts’ campaign and something similar is needed now, ten points off safety with five games to play. Not that Somerset, and their opening batsman who was out twice to Phil DeFreitas on debut for 1 and 3 some 23 years ago but hasn’t done too badly since, will care about that.
Ball Three – Gareth Batty – captain, batsman, bowler
In the Curran brothers, Dominic Sibley and Ben Foakes, Surrey have some fine young cricketers, but, as is the way with a developing side, there are times when a wise old head is required and so it was at the Rose Bowl. After skipper Gareth Batty had chosen to bat on all the way up to 637-7 dec, with centuries for Rory Burns and Foakes and one for himself at Number 9, he challenged his bowlers to take 20 wickets in seven sessions. Well not quite, because one of those bowlers was himself of course and he backed up his ton with match figures of 58-25-129-8. If it was Stuart Meaker who blasted out the last two men to secure the win and a vital 23 points, well I reckon he owed his no doubt ruddy-faced captain that one.
Ball Four – Leicestershire win again
Not so long ago, Leicestershire used to go through whole seasons without a county championship win, but their third victory of 2016 lifted them to fourth in Division Two, just 11 points off leaders Essex. It’s a very different Leicestershire this year, a side packed with experience (one might say veterans) and they drew on those years in a tight win over Gloucestershire, the 108 runs partnership between Mark Cosgrove and Paul Horton breaking the back of a 181 runs target. That said, it was 24 year-old Ben Raine, who has seen a few defeats in his short career, who led the way, with seven wickets and a handy 33 not out down the order. Whether Cosgrove’s squad could deal with Division One cricket in 2017 is a question that might soon need to be asked.
Ball Five – Yorkshire’s investment in David Willey begins to pay off
Performance of the Week in the T20 Blast North Group goes to David Willey whose blasting at the top of the order brought two wins for Yorkshire and a chance of qualification for Finals Day. On Wednesday, he made 32 off 14 balls, then backed that up with 74 off 46 on Friday, the kind of innings Yorkshire paid for when tempting him away from his opponents in the latter match, Northamptonshire, last winter. In T20 cricket, openers who can score at a strike rate of pushing 200 need not make really big scores to be effective, as even 30-odd will allow some relatively quiet overs later in the innings, either setting or chasing. And few batting sides don’t need a breather at some point, even in the harum-scarum format.
Ball Six – Middlesex in supreme form and looking good for honours
Performance of the Week in the South Group goes to Middlesex’s batting unit who showed, in front of a record crowd at Lord’s, how to chase down a big target. After Surrey’s eight sixes and 12 fours had carried the visitors to 196, Middlesex managed the reply so expertly that the required run rate never went above 10 and, despite scoring only three sixes, a remarkable 26 fours saw them home comfortably. The next day, a second half century in two matches for George Bailey supported by a fifty for John Simpson, enjoying the form of his life, proved too much for Hampshire, as Middlesex march on in red and white ball cricket.