Ball One – Bresnan, Brooks and back-ups break Nottinghamshire
With leaders Middlesex having a week off, the counties bunched behind them had the opportunity to jostle for position as the run-in begins in earnest – easier said than done of course. At 11.00am on Tuesday, Yorkshire would have felt themselves ideally placed to launch their endgame seeking the Division One hat-trick – North Marine Road as well appointed as ever, their opponents rock-bottom Nottinghamshire, the crowd partisan. Within a couple of hours, the home side were 51-6 and cricket, again, showed that it was not in the mood to be taken for granted. But you don’t win consecutive pennants without knowing how to turn matches round and back-up keeper Andy Hodd and back-up spinner Azeem Rafiq counter-attacked effectively, posting 132 for the seventh wicket. That foothold became a platform when the seamers ran through Notts for 94 and they were at it again in the fourth innings, cleaning up the visitors for 146. Tim Bresnan had match figures of 8-51 (and 45 runs for once out) and Jack Brooks wasn’t far behind with 7-76 (and 48 runs for once out), the two old heads cool under pressure. When the leaves start to fall, “finding a way” becomes the most important skill in cricket – and few find a way as often as Jason Gillespie’s Yorkshire.
Ball Two – Surrey’s lefties deliver domestically with an eye on joining the international brigade
County cricket’s form side met county cricket’s out-of-form side at The Oval – and the expected result duly arrived, as London sweltered. While all the talk pre-match centred on Haseeb Hameed, Lancashire’s teenage opener, his two wasted starts turned the spotlight on the home side’s two left arm seamers: Mark Footitt and Sam Curran. Since his selection for England’s touring party last winter, Footitt seems to have either been injured or easing his way back from injury, but his second innings 7-62 not only sent Surrey third in the table, but also provided a springboard for a late season run to possible selection again, though that seems unlikely given the pitches likely to be encountered in Bangladesh and India. It’s probably too soon for the cherubic Curran jnr, but his hard hit 96 and four first innings wickets lifted his season averages to 40 and 28 respectively – at 18 years of age, in Division One. It’s not “if” for England, it’s “when” for the super-talented manchild.
Ball Three – Hampshire closer to their objective; Somerset further away
Despite Roelof Van der Merwe’s match figures of 63 – 13 – 143 – 5 with the ball and an undefeated century with the bat backed up by Craig Overton’s pyrotechnics in his 138* at better than a run a ball from Number 9, Somerset ran out of time at Taunton, as Sean Ervine and Jimmy Adams made sure Hampshire secured the draw that lifted them 21 points clear of relegation with three games to play. The home side aren’t completely out of the race for the pennant, 22 points off Middlesex with four matches to play, but Somerset have been more handily placed than that over the years and have yet to win a Championship. That said, wouldn’t Marcus Trescothick be a popular winner if the dream does come true?
Ball Four – The only win is Essex at Grace Road
Essex’s second consecutive win lifted them 24 points clear at the top of Division Two with three matches to play. They were still 170 behind with half their first innings wickets gone and Leicestershire no doubt feeling well placed just before lunch on day Two – 140 overs later, the match was over. Dan Lawrence (another impressive English teenager) registered his fourth County Championship century, his 154 at Number 6 backed up by half-centuries from Ryan ten Doeschate at 7 and James Foster at 8 (with Will Rhodes and Graham Napier at 9 and 10!) Jamie Porter bagged a second clutch of four wickets and the visitors travelled south to enjoy a day off and the prospect of Division One cricket in 2017.
Ball Five – DI Stevens solves the case of the missing runs
Kent’s win at Bristol is about the only thing ensuring that the Chelmsford champagne stays on ice, a full 24 points haul keeping them in touch as August turns to September. Kent enjoy a phalanx of all-rounders in the middle order and two came good in a stand of 258 for the fifth wicket. Keeper-batsman, Sam Billings, has already played white ball cricket for England and scores like 171 won’t do his international cause any harm, despite England’s glut of gung ho glovemen. Even he was outscored by the old trouper Darren Stevens, who at 40 years of old, opened the bowling in both innings, took five wickets in his 39 overs and biffed 140 off 161 balls, for a first century of the season. Methinks that the old warhorse isn’t for the knackers yard yet – so give him another contract!
Ball Six – Danny Briggs gets Sussex out of jail with vital win
Sussex won their second consecutive match in a low scoring thriller at Cardiff. After three innings had been concluded between 252 and 283, the visitors needed 233 to gain the 16 points reward for a win they needed to have any chance of an instant return to the top flight. That target looked a long way off when the seventh wicket fell still 77 runs short and the very sharp Timm van der Gugten having already won two LBW decisions and hit the stumps twice, fancied more. In came Danny Briggs, still only 25, but with plenty of experience, some for England, but very much a late order batsman and not even a bowler who bats. The tall spinner got the scoreboard moving, making 36, but leaving the crease with 22 still required. As keeper, Ben Brown, anchored one end, teenager George Garton calmly stroked 18 to get the away side over the line, eight down. Sussex will probably need to win at least three of their four remaining matches to gain promotion, but, as Worcestershire showed in chasing 401 to win after conceding an Adelaidesque 551 runs in the first innings of the match, when the win is all that matters, strange things can happen