Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 31, 2021

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 31 May 2021

Cricket’s best friend

Ball One – Here Comes The Sun

There may more amenable times of the year to play the county championship, there may be better players currently unavailable for selection and there may be attractions reopening and clamouring for our attention, but all first class cricket really needs is a bit of sunshine. Having hidden through most of May, the sun blazed a farewell to a soggy month and cricket put on a show with a tremendous round of matches.

Essex, whose recent wobble is already receding in the rear view mirror, narrowly lead Group One after pasting Durham, who sink to fifth but, with a game in hand on the leaders and three to play, are not out of it. The home batsmen will be eyeing the next Chester-le-Street pitch with some wariness though, as none could make a half-century on the strip served up for this match, despite Simon Harmer going wicketless, Sam Cook, Jamie Porter and Peter Siddle sharing 19 wickets. Tom Westley must find captaincy a breeze with such riches on hand.

Low scoring matches often turn on a batsman digging in for a bloodyminded knock (Alastair Cook knows a thing or two about that) or counter-attacking with a blitz of boundaries when it’s “their day” (Ryan ten Doeschate would be your man for that approach). Few would have expected the crucial innings to come from wicketkeeper-batsman, Michael Pepper, in for England-bound Dan Lawrence after a decent set of scores in the IIs and playing just his third championship fixture. He was one of 19 LBWs in the match, but not before he had made 92, well worth the accolades usually awarded for a century given that the opposition mustered only 99 and 189 between them.

A winning mentality is as contagious as… well, I think we’ve all had enough of such similes, so let’s leave it there.

Ball Two – Briggs brings Warwickshire safely into port

Just a couple of points separate Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire in second and third after the home team halted Nottinghamshire’s run of three victories with a win secured in the last hour of a match that, like a couple of others in this round, suggested that the additional points available for a draw this year is having its desired effect.

It was a fine team effort from Will Rhodes’ men, with Danny Briggs and Michael Burgess at the heart of it. They came together with six down in the second innings and the lead 178 to put on 103, tilting the match’s balance their way. Back in the day job, Briggs took three of the last four wickets to fall, the spinner delivering the job description in squeaky bum time.

Still only 30 – those England games seem a very long time ago – the slow (well, slowish) left-armer is quietly having a fine red ball season in Birmingham, his third county seeing him as more than a white ball specialist. An ever-present, his 18 wickets at 24 are backed up by 263 runs at 29, the kind of return that makes his three year deal look like very good business for both parties.

And, speaking of very good business, in his day job, Burgess did this.

Ball Three – Too much spin about opportunities for spinners?

Gloucestershire stay top of Group Two despite a bit of a shellacking at the hands of Surrey in sunny South London. Hashim Amla, captaining the side with Rory Burns bubbled up for England, did what he does at The Oval and just batted on and on, his 173 occupying over eight hours, wearing down bowlers with silky shots and an imperturbable temperament that’s seen it all. That Surrey can be without Burns, Jordan Clark, Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Ollie Pope and Jason Roy, yet still have Rikki Clarke batting at nine, seems unfair – and shows that, even with just two matches left to play, they could still make the cut for the second half of the season.

Especially if Amar Virdi and Dan Moriarty – the spin twins nobody is (yet) calling the new Edmonds and Emburey – can retain their form, the right and left arm combo returning match figures of 108 – 21 – 284 – 15. With much gnashing of teeth about the barriers placed in front of English spinners developing their skills on Spring and Autumn pitches, perhaps we should look at the success of this pair of 22 year-old local lads (and they’re not the only spinners catching the eye this season) and talk less about pitches and more about talent.

Ball Four – A tale of two Aussies

Leicestershire and Middlesex may be anchored to the bottom of Group Two, but nobody told them that they had little to play for, the two sides fighting hard for four days in a match that Middlesex will feel that they had the upper hand for all but the last few hours.

After conceding a first innings deficit of 159 runs, the old warhorse, Chris Wright, hauled Leicestershire back into the match with six second innings wickets, no Middlesex batsman able to post a half-century yet again. But Middlesex were still favourites as the home side viewed a distant target of 378 for the win or batting out four sessions for the draw.

Sam Evans fell early on the fourth day, but that brought Colin Ackermann to the crease joining opener Marcus Harris, who was eyeing a big one. In a season such as this, Middlesex’s hearts must have sank as the overseas pair, exactly the sort of “not quite good enough for international cricket” batsmen who can thrive at this level, got together and lifted the score from 83-2 to 326-2, before the Australian departed for 185. Ackermann, playing a captain’s knock, was undefeated on 126, sweeping the winning runs himself.

A first win for Leicestershire to go with three draws gives them something to work with in the latter stages of the competition, but Aussie skipper Peter Handscomb, with six defeats on his hands this season, must surely blood some young players, as the combinations tried so far this season simply aren’t working.

Ball Five – Mahmood in the mood

The heavyweight clash at the top of Group Three did not disappoint, even if red largely dominated white in the first Roses match of the season.

Lancashire’s winning margin of an innings and 79 runs looks like a day in the park, but there’s a reason why this was the home side’s first victory over the old enemy in two decades. After centuries from Keaton Jennings and Josh Bohannon and another useful contribution down the order from Danny Lamb had left Yorkshire’s inexperienced side with well over four sessions to bat out the draw, they only went and damn near did it!

Adam Lyth, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Harry Brook, George Hill, Harry Duke and Dom Bess all batted 100 minutes or more, and none of the top nine batsmen gave it away. Bess’s three and half hour knock was particularly worthy of praise, last man out tantalisingly close to securing the draw. Set that against another bowling display that continued his travails from the winter and you have to conclude that the lad has a lot of work to do, but he has the heart to do it.

In the face of such resistance, Dane Vilas was compelled to use all six frontline bowlers at his disposal, the standout of whom was Saqib Mahmood, who swung the old ball both ways at pace to secure his first fivefer in first class cricket. The speedster has seen action for England with white ball in hand, so he’s on the radar, but he doesn’t have the figures that those ahead in the “Who follows Anderson and Broad?” stakes can boast. On this showing (and at other times this season) the priceless ability to bowl good batsmen out with a 50 overs old ball on a flat deck might count for more than stats – first or second change is, after all, just as much a specialist position as first or second drop, though it’s seldom thought of as such.

Ball Six – No plain sailing for Sussex as they run into Berg and co

Experience trumped youth at Hove as Northamptonshire closed to within a couple of points of Yorkshire in Group Three. A comparison of the bowlers’ ages told the story: Ben Sanderson (32); Gareth Berg (40); Tom Taylor (26); Wayne Parnell (31) and Simon Kerrigan (32) vs Henry Crocombe (19); Jamie Atkins (19); George Garton (24); Jack Carson (20) and Delray Rawlins (23).

Another youngster, Tom Haines (22), scored his second century of the season to go fourth on the championship run scoring charts, but that 103 and Ben Brown’s 95 were the only scores above 17 in Sussex’s top eight, Jack Carson’s 52 and 35 making his case for going up the order.

It’s probably fair to say that some of those Sussex youngsters have higher ceilings than their old pro opponents but they also (at this stage in their development) have lower basements too. The conjecture that consistency will, across four days’ play, triumph over potential was proved in this match at least, but Crocombe, Atkins and Carson (especially) will have their day – after all, they’re but half the age of Gareth Berg.


  1. Some of those Sussex youngsters have the look of the real deal.

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