Ball One – Rain thwarts Rayner and co
Four rain affected draws in Division One, which probably only helped Surrey, whose week off fell kindly for the South Londoners, if not their North London rivals. Middlesex declared at tea on Day Three and had sent three Warwickshire batsmen back to the hutch by the start of Day Four, with seven wickets looking a lot more likely than 264 runs if a result were to be squeezed in. But the weather defeated both teams, with Middlesex’s last round showdown at Lord’s with champions and second place team, Yorkshire, looking more vital than ever, just four points the gap with three matches to play. Middlesex will hope that their late season spin specialist, Ollie Rayner, retains his form, his seven wickets this week adding to his nine last time out.
Ball Two – Tykes’ time taken by rain
Yorkshire were in almost the same position in terms of numbers when the rain ended their outing at The Rose Bowl. Having been ahead in the game from the moment Tim Bresnan, not for the first time this season, steadied a wobbling first innings, Andrew Gale’s men were six wickets short of victory while Hampshire – just as desperate for a win to stave off relegation – were 214 short of their very unlikely objective when the match finished a session early. Yorkshire have bowling to burn, especially when they get their England contingent back, but with Jack Brooks averaging more for them this season than Gary Ballance, Andrew Gale, Alex Lees and Adam Lyth, they’ll need big runs from somewhere if they are to give Jason Gillespie a valedictory pennant to take home to Australia.
Ball Three – Nottinghamshire bowlers disappointed to have Onions for lunch
Nottinghamshire entertained hopes of a much needed win over a sinking Durham (second a month ago, seventh now) when they were just 34 behind at the halfway mark with three of the visitors’ wickets already down. While they would have expected Keaton Jennings to be a hard nut to crack in this most productive of seasons for the tall lefty, they surely had reckoned without nightwatchman, Graham Onions, batting into the afternoon for his career best 65. What a servant the local boy has been to Durham cricket and what a shame his international sorties were so often curtailed by injury – this was a man whose run-up was once eulogised by Michael Holding, who knew a bit about how to get from mark to crease. The draw wasn’t much good for Notts and Durham can’t afford to slip further, though they do have a game in hand on their rivals.
Ball Four – Tom Westley sends the ball to all parts of the compass, as Essex hammer Worcestershire
By contrast, Division Two served up three positive results from its complement of four matches, the most important being Essex’s smashing of Worcestershire at Chelmsford. On Thursday evening, with the match only at half distance, I excitedly pointed out to a fellow cricket buff that Tom Westley was on 238* and might have two sessions still to bat – a Hick, if not a Lara, was in sight! But he went early on Day Three, his 254 propelling the home team to a monstrous 601-5 declared, with skipper Ryan ten Doeschate contributing 109* and Ravi Bopara 99, a first class ton still elusive in 2016. After David Masters seven first innings wickets. it was the turn of that other wily old fox, Graham Napier, whose five-fer in the second dig secured a full hand of 24 points for the Division leaders.
Ball Five – Kent can as Sussex suffer
Kent, to their credit, matched Essex blow by blow, also securing a full points bag to hang on, 24 points off the top spot, with two matches to play. Sam Northeast steered his team to a victory that mirrored Essex’s, a big middle innings meaning that his men needed to bat just the once to defeat a deflated Sussex. It was a real team effort too, no bowler taking more wickets in the match than South African speedster Hardus Viljoen’s six and no batsman making a century, though Will Gidman batted nearly six hours at Number 7, only to be left stranded on 99 when Mark Claydon was caught. Kent need snookers, but they have taken 71 of the last 72 points available (alas for them, so have Essex) and they appear to have an entire XI in form – so anything could happen in the race for the one promotion slot this season.
Ball Six – Ke-who? No, Keogh
Performance of the Week in Division Two may lead to one of the harder pub quiz questions of the next decade – “In September 2016, which bowler took 9-52 and 4-73 to earn his team their second win of the season?” You would do well to come up with Northamptonshire batsman and occasional spinner, Rob Keogh, who had a day to remember as he ran through Glamorgan’s first innings, only Graeme White’s snaring of Jacques Rudolph, seventh wicket down, denying him a Laker-like full set. In that future quiz, the question that requires the answer “Ben Duckett” is unlikely to be limited to domestic cricket, after his knocks of 80 and 185, scored at better than a run a ball overall, increased the clamour for England to give yet another masterblaster a crack in national colours.