Ball One – Jack Leach leaves Durham’s late order in a bloody mess
Yet another draw at Lord’s kept Middlesex in Division One’s top slot, but wins for Somerset and, especially, defending champions Yorkshire, means that the title race will remain as fascinating in August as it has been since April – it really is a wonderful format and it’s so disappointing that it will change for 2017. Somerset leapfrogged opponents Durham coming out on top in a low-scoring thriller at Taunton, the match decided in a blaze of wickets early on Day Three, which started nicely poised with Durham needing 46 runs and Somerset five wickets. In less than 20 minutes, spinners Jack Leach and Roelof van der Merwe gobbled up the necessary scalps and sent Durham on the long journey home licking their wounds. The spin twins shared 17 wickets in the match and contributed to Somerset’s late order batting rallies which saw the last five wickets in the first innings score 103 of 184 and in the second 159 of 180. Durham drop to fourth, their only consolation that of being involved in another tremendous game of cricket.
Ball Tw0 – Yorkshire get their defence of the pennant back on the road
After a couple of months without a win, Yorkshire had their big wheels back in the side and Jason Gillespie’s juggernaut was soon on the move again, beating a spirited Warwickshire in another low scoring thriller. After putting together a handy last wicket stand of 53, grizzled old pros Steve Patterson and Ryan Sidebottom got amongst the Warwickshire batsmen to help establish a crucial first innings lead of 78. Alex Lees came within one wicket of carrying his bat second time round, but got scant support for his four hour 70 and Warwickshire fancied their chances with 229 to get for the win. With one of the most dangerous lower orders in the county game, Ian Bell’s men were still in with a shout when Rikki Clarke fell with 88 to get and four wickets in hand. But for the second time in the match, Adil Rashid ran through the bowlers who bat and Yorkshire found themselves third, 14 points off the leaders, with a game in hand.
Ball Three – Cricket fails to bloom at the Rose Bowl
In sharp contrast to the low scoring heart-thumpers elsewhere in the Division, the Rose Bowl played host to a dull run-fest as Hampshire drew with Lancashire, a result that helped neither the home team’s relegation scrap nor the visitor’s fast fading Championship hopes. Captain Will Smith batted nine and a half hours for 210, refusing to declare until into the sixth session of the match, a good innings, but dubious tactic. The visitors then had the task of batting 25 overs and two days without losing 20 wickets and did so comfortably, finishing three down following-on. That might have been torture for the spectators and the Hampshire bowlers, but it was heaven for Lancashire’s teenage opener, Haseeb Hameed, who would bat all-day every day given the chance. He spent 505 minutes at the crease accumulating 142 runs for once out and furthering the thought that Geoffrey Boycott may have returned, this time on the west side of the Pennines. As with fellow teen, Sam Curran, the question is not whether he will play Test cricket for England but when. I’ll be disappointed if I’m still asking that question this time next year.
Ball Four – Lord’s pitches are too “good” to produce good cricket
I love Lord’s, its history, its low hum of anticipation on a Test match morning and its unique sloping greensward. But I’m beginning to hate the square that commands our attention when we’re there. As mentioned above, the London derby finished in a draw, but what did you expect? It’s the fifth in five Championship matches this season at HQ and the innings scores make damning reading for those who believe that pitches should balance what they offer to bat and ball: 452 & 304-6 vs 468; 354 vs 203-3; 376 & 202-7 vs 423; 513 vs 419-5; and 415 & 266-7 vs 293 & 278-6.
Ball Five – Kent harvest useful points in August
It’s even tighter in Division Two, where Kent’s win left them one point ahead of long time leaders Essex after their crushing victory over Worcestershire. It was good to see Will Gidman, whose career was drifting at Notts, make a crucial 75* and chip in with three wickets, to justify his decision to move south on loan. He’s in good company at Canterbury as Kent fielded no less than six players who can claim to be at least bowlers who bat or batsmen who bowl (Gidman himself, Joe Denly, Darren Stevens, James Tredwell, Matt Coles and Mitchell Claydon). Moving into that part of the season when finding a way to win matters a lot more than how you actually do it, that’s a handy set of players to call upon.
Ball Six – Graham Napier lights up a match yet again
Essex slipped to second, but that was hardly the fault of one of their oldest stagers and one of this column’s favourite cricketers. I could write about Chris Jordan’s excellent match with seven wickets and a knock of 131, but I’m going to highlight Graham Napier, who took 5-114 in Sussex’s innings and then made 124 off 155 balls when defeat wasn’t quite out of the question. He’s 36 now, but he’s enjoying an Indian summer with 43 wickets at 26 and 251 runs at 28. What a servant to Essex, and the game, he has been and how he’ll be missed when he’s gone.