Posted by: tootingtrumpet | June 7, 2021

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 7 June 2021

Ball One – Transferring the pressure

Just nine points separates the top four in Group One as Warwickshire took their turn to top a table that has been more like a representation of musical chairs than an old school Champo division.

In a low-scoring match against the group’s basement team, Derbyshire, only Sam Hain and Michael Burgess (his name is cropping up with increasing regularity in this column) crossed fifty in the match, with the home side falling well short of their target of 309, a score that would have seen them register their first win of the campaign.

Warwickshire’s bowling attack showed the value of wise recruitment – no real star names, but solid county pros picked up to do a job and unlikely to be scooped out into bubbles by England selectors. Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Liam Norwell, Craig Miles, Will Rhodes, Tim Bresnan and Danny Briggs may well trace their cricketing roots to Yorkshire, Gloucestershire and Hampshire, but they secured the 20 wickets Warwickshire needed for the win.

The movement of players between counties can be accompanied by fond farewells or a bitter sense of betrayal (and plenty in-between) and there are intermittent calls for a football-style transfer system to compensate for the development of players lost to brighter lights, but maybe, all things considered, cricket’s system works as well as any that might replace it. Players get to negotiate a variety of contracts and play in a variety of formats that suit their skills and their physical and personal preferences, and fans get to see a relatively even spread of talent, with the always pleasing sight of an old warhorse enjoying an Indian summer in pastures new alongside youngsters bursting through.

Ball Two – Bedingham fully bedded in

Durham faced off against draw specialists, Worcestershire, knowing that either they or their hosts would be out of the running for a top two slot were they to lose. It wasn’t quite a do-or-die situation (we’re likely to have more of those after the break for the Twenty20 Blast, though it will be interesting to see if there are any cut and dried win-or-bust fixtures) but the losers would look a long way off a Division One slot for the Autumn rounds.

When Durham went past Worcestershire’s first innings total with just two wickets down, the result felt inevitable and, though Jake Libby made a third century of the season to go second in the run-scoring ladder, the visitors ran out comfortable winners.

Sitting Top of the Pops in that chart after also notching his third century of the season, is Durham’s David Bedingham, like New Zealand’s Devon Conway, a product of Cricket South Africa who has chosen to make their professional life elsewhere. Leaking such talent is obviously a concern for CSA (and the wider international game) but South African players have adorned the county game for decades and Durham should be congratulated for the bold step of converting his Kolpak contract into an overseas contract for 2021.

Rather like the debate about the movement of players between counties, the movement of players into counties from abroad affords few straightforward conclusions to be drawn about the impact on youth academies, less wealthy counties, home boards and players’ representative aspirations. Surely few would argue the narrow point that English domestic cricket is not better off for the presence of the likes of Bedingham and Harmer, as it was back in the day when Garth Le Roux and Ken McEwan thrilled crowds.

Ball Three – Plenty of chat about Parkinsons

Group Two is not quite as tight as Group One, but five of the six counties have a chance of a top two berth with a couple of matches left.

Leicestershire, however strange it feels to write this, are one of the form sides in the country, a second win in a row lifting Colin Ackermann’s men into contention. Key to that rise has been the batting of Australian, Marcus Harris, who backed up last week’s big daddy of 185 with a little daddy of 148 to set up the innings victory.

But 20 wickets still needed taking, so step forward Callum Parkinson, whose two fiverfers gave him a match analysis of 50 – 18 – 108 – 10, the kind of figures you might expect from his twin brother, Matt. While nobody expects Callum to bowl balls of the century – left-arm finger spinners seldom do – he’s becoming a very handy performer who can also score useful runs down the order, even stepping in as captain earlier this season.

The Parkinsons have 50 wickets between them in their 14 matches to date – not bad considering we’re told that spinners really only come into their own in August.

Ball Four – Abell’s tactics not a draw for the spectators

Despite that defeat, Gloucestershire are still handily placed in second behind the group leaders, Somerset, who were denied a win by a combination of obdurate Hampshire batting, fourth day rain and Tom Abell declaring with one and a half eyes on the draw points that lifted his team to the top of the group.

Both first innings had been rescued by late order runs. Somerset had been 113-7 before Lewis Gregory and Roelof van der Merwe (surely one of the most accomplished numbers eight and nine ever to have been named in a county line up) counter-attacked to add 171 in 35 overs. Hampshire weren’t much better off at 148-6 before Lewis McManus marshalled the late order, in which Keith Barker backed up his six wickets with 33 runs, to more than double the score.

Somerset have always played positive cricket, looking for wins (sometimes a little too keenly in the opinion of pitch inspectors) so it was disappointing to see them start the last day with a lead of 372 and then bat for over an hour. The additional points this year are intended to incentivise teams in a weak position to guts it out for a draw not for those in a strong position to settle for one.

Ball Five – Red Rose wilts at last

Lancashire, though still at the summit of Group Three, lost the last undefeated record in the country in a madcap match at Sophia Gardens.

The turning point came during an extraordinary period of six and a half second innings overs during which Lancashire went from 88-2 to 124-8, including Luke Wood being run out without facing a ball and Liam Livingstone caught at Third Man off a leading edge. Well done Glamorgan, but the Lanky’s contributory negligence was shocking to behold from a side so ruthless so often in 2021.

The match also featured some high class, high speed bowling from Michael Neser and Saqib Mahmood, the Australian bagging seven wickets to the Englishman’s three. Both can move the ball in the air, can deliver a Waqaresque toe-crushing yorker and can hit the splice jarringly when dropping it short. Neser is probably more likely to get a go in the Ashes next winter, but Saqib is building a case for inclusion too. There’s a few county stalwarts will face a blitzing or two before then of course.

Ball Six – Bess keeps his best for last

The Sussex dressing room

The Sussex dressing room at Headingley

Yorkshire, benefitting from the advice of fans savouring the opportunity to make their views known at Headingley for the first time in almost 21 months, battled for four days with Sussex’s tyros before extracting the win with a handful of overs to spare. White is now just four points behind Red with Northamptonshire 12 points adrift in third in Group Three.

It was a match that could have provided a final over (and a couple of no balls) in itself and one wonders what 16 year-old Danial Ibrahim made of it all. Two and a half hours in the middle yielded a debut half-century and it wasn’t long before he was celebrating a debut wicket too, Tom Kohler-Cadmore’s poor form continuing. But he was to stay on the field for 127 more overs as Yorkshire piled up 558, enough to secure an innings victory in the slanting sun of the last session of play.

If Ibrahim (wicketless and runless after that spectacular entrance) was learning about the caprice of the cricketing gods, a few of his opponents knew that only too well. As a callow England batting order buckled in the face of New Zealand’s seamers, Dawid Malan (199) and Gary Ballance (77) must wonder if either of them have a route back to national colours – the former more likely than the latter. Come the denouement, the key incisions were made by David Willey and Dom Bess, who also must wonder about England, but also about their places in the Yorkshire side. One can’t help but be pleased for Bess, who has had a trying 2021, but whose 35 – 15 – 51 – 4 may just be enough to keep him in the XI when the Championship returns in July.

A last word for Sussex’s youngsters. The attrition rate for cricketers can be high (injuries, form, talent, just growing up), so it’s unlikely that Ali Orr, Tom Haines, Aaron Thomason, young Ibrahim, Jack Carson, Henry Crocombe and Jamie Atkins will all realise their potential, all nail down a slot in the XI, all achieve the ups (and downs) of their more experienced opponents in this match. But Sussex have given them a chance.

And the very best of luck to them – after all, we’d have given anything to have had one ourselves.

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