Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 10, 2021

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 10 May 2021

What ees zis criquette of wheech you speak?

Ball One – From the Left Bank of the Seine to the Right Bank of the Trent

If sport really were drama, chins would be stroked, thoughts would be mused, and, from behind wreaths of Gauloises smoke, the French philosophers of the 1960s would have pronounced upon it. Somewhere, within their trademark obfuscation, sport’s key theme of jeopardy would have emerged, that enemy of big business, that friend of the playwright. The founding and sinking of football’s European Super League showed how much the owners of the clubs feared jeopardy’s uncertainty and how much the fans embraced it.

County cricket, with “big business” still as likely to mean a sponsor with three butchers’ shops and not just the one, still has a Hundred reasons to fear a closed shop (and, some might say, has protected a nice little cartel of 17 or 18 for decades) but it can do jeopardy like few others these days. Essex, the side that could never lose, travelled to Nottinghamshire, the side that could never win, and… lost.

Lost big too, after Luke Fletcher continued his fine form with 6-24, a sweet century from captain, Steve Mullaney, and four wickets from Notts Academy (yes, it does exist) product, Lyndon James. The champions went down by an innings and find themselves fifth in Group 1 at the halfway mark; Nottinghamshire sit pretty, top of the pile.

Ball Two – Yates graduates with flying colours

In the group’s other game, the Bears and the Pears fought each other and the weather and the weather won, a rain-affected draw keeping Warwickshire and Worcestershire a point apart in second and third places.

Rob Yates, Michael Burgess and Jack Haynes are unlikely to feature in franchise cricket (at least not this year), yet each has the kind of story that has intrigued fans of the county game since the days of Grace.

Yates is one of those clichés for whom the game finds, space even in 2021 – the student batsman. Some might think of Michael Atherton, fresh-faced with a freshly inscribed FEC on his locker door and some of PBH May, Jardine without the laser-like Larwood. Fellow centurion, Burgess, fetches up at Warwickshire after spells at Surrey, Leicestershire and Sussex, a keeper-batsman who turns 27 in July and might just have played the innings that ensures he’ll be playing county cricket at 28. Haynes fell just short of a maiden century for Worcestershire, but, at 20, has time on his side. Readers may recall his father, Gavin, a handy pro who dismissed a batsman who was a bit more than that, Brian Lara, in the Pears’ 1994 NatWest Trophy Final victory.

You can’t sell many crisps with little stories like that, but you can raise a smile on the face of a county cricket fan who knows that the present has deep roots in the past.

Ball Three – Pain again for Middlesex

Shorn of the IPL, the Sky Cricket channel, to its credit, broadcasted Middlesex’s match with Gloucestershire, sending its first team of commentators to join Middlesex’s own admirable Adam Collins in St John’s Wood, with pictures provided by Middlesex’s standard-setting, streaming service. Voices were more familiar with names like Joe Root and Jimmy Anderson (both of whom were playing county cricket last week) than Robbie White and Ryan Higgins, but they gave a good account of themselves.

Nasser, Athers, Wardy and Keysy weren’t afraid to draw on Collins’ encyclopedic knowledge of Middlesex’s recent travails and they had done their homework too. They kept the banter in check (a good rule for any commentator on any sport in any medium is never to talk about your golf handicap – and they didn’t) and also appreciated the skills on show, with the odd wry observation about the absence of DRS and some reflections on their own careers in the county game, keeping the tone relaxed and amusing. It was good stuff and there may well be more to come.

The ex-captains will have been impressed by England hopeful, James Bracey, at the wicket while 192 runs were added by Gloucestershire (not bad when Middlesex could muster only 210 and 152 in their two digs), but it was the performance of David Payne that really caught the eye. Harking back to days when England would pick a swinging specialist like Richard Ellison or Martin Bicknell or Neil Mallender for conditions, Payne’s left arm fast-mediums were pitched up and swung then seamed to deliver fully merited match figures on 11-87 and the points that sent his team 13 clear at the top of Group 2.

Ball Four – Overton in overdrive

At the halfway point of their season, it’s only Gloucestershire’s sustained form that keeps Somerset from wiping off all the effects of their points penalty carried over from last season. The cidermen recorded a fourth win from five matches, hammering strongly fancied Hampshire by ten wickets.

In a match which featured both Lewis Gregory and Keith Barker at number 10 (surely the most accomplished batsmen ever to have batted in such a lowly slot in the same championship match), Craig Overton was the standout performer.

Since his twin, Jamie, left for Surrey, Craig appears to have taken on the responsibility of scoring his runs and taking his wickets as well as his own, his knock of 74 and old-school second innings figures of 40-17-66-5 crucial in securing the win, as Hampshire resisted hard for the draw (Felix Organ setting records with his 7 off 108 balls). Overton has 32 wickets at 14 from his 207 overs this season, backing those up with 211 runs at 35 – keep the big man fit and out of England bubbles, and Somerset could be in the hunt yet again.

Ball Five – Saif may have made his place safe

Northamptonshire were the big movers in Group 3, closing on the White and Red Roses with a win over Sussex. In a good week for wobbling medium pace, Ben Sanderson and Gareth Berg had the stattos thumbing through Wisdens, as the Northants’ pair looked odds on to take five wickets each in both innings – but Tom Taylor took “Berg’s” wicket to close the books and secure the points.

The match had turned on a 198 runs partnership for Northants’ sixth wicket pair, Saif Zaib and captain, Adam Rossington. Though not yet 23, Zaib has been in and out of the Northamptonshire side seemingly for years, bowling a bit of slow left arm and biffing a few without ever really doing enough to justify selection on the basis of either skill. His crucial 135 in this match was a maiden century in any format of the game and might prove the springboard his career needs. That such hitherto marginal players might enjoy more opportunities when franchise cricket starts up will be an interesting subtext to the season.

Ball Six – Wood brings some Wagnerian thunder

The media were attracted to Old Trafford for the season’s debut of Jimmy Anderson, who started up that Rolls Royce run up and delivery and provided a masterclass in swing bowling in (shall we say) Lancastrian conditions. The snappers were particularly keen to catch the match-up with Glamorgan’s (oh, and Australia’s) Marnus Labuschagne, who has been posting some Steven Smith type numbers as well as Steven Smith type leaves since the 2019 Ashes. Marnus played himself in carefully and then was stitched up like a kipper, as Anderson diddled the young pretender with some classic away swing to take the edge. More please!

Though Anderson was not at full throttle, he was hardly jogging in, which made Saqib Mahmood and Luke Wood all the more impressive. Without the speedgun, it’s not easy to say definitively that they were quicker than England’s finest, but if Anderson was at his usual 85 or so mph, both looked to be touching 88mph at least.

Wood had moments of real hostility, his left arm round and over the wicket stuff flogging bounce out of the pitch and discomfiting batsmen. At times, he had some of the slightly comic menace of New Zealand’s Neil Wagner, who, for all of the raised eyebrows a few years ago when he started to hit the pitch well short of a length at fast-medium, has 219 Test wickets at 26 and has been instrumental in his country’s ascent to the World Test Championship Final. That Marnus is the only batsmen to fully embrace Smith’s ludicrous leaves is understandable, but why Wagner’s methods have few disciples is harder to fathom – Wood may be the first.


Responses

  1. Great stuff as always. That 9th wicket stand by Hampshire was the highlight for me. Wonderful blog! More please!!!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: