Ball One – Kiwi skipper polishes off Nottinghamshire
Though separated by 70 miles, it felt like Middlesex and Yorkshire were playing each other and not Nottinghamshire and Durham respectively last week, as Division One enters its closing fortnight. It was nip and tuck for much of the match at Trent Bridge, the home side fighting for survival, led by a gutsy Samit Patel, whose round 100 was the largest contribution to a competitive 241. There were early wickets for Notts, a hat-trick for Jake Ball catching the eye, but with opener Nick Gubbins dropping anchor and the hugely experienced captain, James Franklin steadying the ship at Number 8, the visitors eked out a minuscule first innings lead, before Ollie Rayner led the bowling unit in its work that left Middlesex 235 to get to secure 20 points. With solid knockss from Nick Compton, the ever impressive John Simpson and the skipper again, Middlesex ran out comfortable winners to stay top and condemn Notts to Division Two cricket, where newly appointed coach, Peter Moores, will prioritise fitness and commitment after a desperate few months for his charges.
Ball Tw0 – Yorkshire’s seamers steam through Durham
It was nowhere near as tight at Leeds, but the weather’s threat was enough to make the win less than the formality that it appeared after Yorkshire’s batsmen at last brought some consistency to their play. Alex Lees made his top score of the season, 132 getting the home side up to 460 which, after Andrew Gale’s seamers (Jack Brooks, Ryan Sidebottom, Steve Patterson and Tim Bresnan who boast 1882 first class wickets between them) ensured that the Yorkies would only need to bat 50 overs to set a target of 421, That was plenty enough to see off Durham, one of a number of county sides whose performances have fallen off alarmingly in recent weeks, Sidebottom huffing and puffing his way to four cheap wickets, as the seamers again hogged all ten for themselves. Yorkshire are just one point off the leaders, each with two matches to play: Durham are not yet assured of Division One cricket in 2016.
Ball Three – Bucky Rogers cashes in with the right man for Chris Wright
While everyone expects a final round showdown between the top two at Lord’s, Somerset have quietly worked their way into third place after an uncharacteristically low scoring match at Taunton and they might yet gatecrash the party. 21 wickets fell on the first day, as first Somerset were shot out for 95 and then Warwickshire could manage only 123 to finish the day trailing by 13 runs with the prospect of starting in the morning against the most experienced pair in the country, Marcus Trescothick and Chris Rogers. After the Australian had chiselled out a fifty and others had chipped in, Ian Bell’s men were set 184, which looked a long way off after Jack Leach had reduced them to 61-8. But Rikki Clarke found a partner in Chris Wright at Number 10, and they saw Warwickshire through to 131-8 at the end of two breathless days’ cricket. Despite his spinners taking 14 of the 18 wickets to have fallen, Rogers turned to seam after 12 fruitless overs on Day Three and, four balls later, Lewis Gregory snared Wright and Somerset squeeky-bummed home by 31 runs. They’re 22 points off the leaders, but if they can beat Yorkshire at Leeds (that’s as an big if as you can get in the county championship), they’ll fancy their chances at home to relegated Notts in the season finale – and then anything might happen.
Ball Four – Hampshire might still avoid the drop
Hampshire’s batsmen rattled up 582-9d at The Oval, with centuries for Tom Alsop (yet another impressive young English batsman) and two rather more grizzled Africans, Sean Ervine and Ryan McLaren. But it was to no avail, as a bit of weather and a lot of Kumar Sangakkara was enough to see the match drawn and just the 12 (as opposed to 23) points accrue to James Vince’s men. They are five off Lancashire, six off Durham, their opponents in their one remaining match and eight off Warwickshire, so it’s all to play for at the bottom, with Warwickshire’s last round battle with Lancashire at Edgbaston looking like it might be a shootout to rival the one at Lord’s. Quite why Division One should be shrunk to eight teams for next year is something that eludes cricket fans across the country.
Ball Five – Kent can’t be promoted, so Essex go up without bowling a ball
Kent ran into Ben Duckett in blazing form and could only take their second Northamptonshire wicket whilst holding a lead of just two after being bowled out for 230 in their first innings. Flattened by the Northants’ opener’s double century, Kent were soon 22-5 in the second dig and their inevitable defeat promoted Essex with two games still to play. Northants are floating on a sea of optimism after their T20 Blast victory, but will, like Kent, continue to play in Division Two next year. Whether the same can be said for Duckett, whose star is rising ever more rapidly, only time will tell.
Ball Six – Red-faced Leicestershire beaten inside two days as batsmen are cheesed off with tricky pitch
It was more Disgrace Road than Grace Road at Leicester, where Sussex had a look at the pitch and invited the home team to have a bat. Not long after, having shot out Mark Cosgrove and co for 135, Chris Nash was making hay at the top of the innings before four wickets fell in six overs to leave the visitors seven down with a lead of just 21. Cue Ollie Robinson to play with the freedom of a man who knew he would soon be bowling rather than batting on the green 22 yards strip, the pacer biffing 12 boundaries in his 81, his stand of 133 in just 25 overs comfortably the highest of a match that was over before its scheduled halfway mark. Sussex look a good bet for promotion this time next year.