Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 31, 2022

The Final Over Of The Week In County Cricket – 31 August 2022

Lancashire and Kent will play in RLODC Final

Dane Vilas and Darren Stevens showed their experience and class to steer their counties through to Trent Bridge final

Ball One: Hove is where the broken heart is

When Steve Eskinazi invited Sussex to bat at Hove, he knew that a win for either side would be enough to reach the knockout stage, maybe even zoom straight through to a home semi-final. At 160-2 with 18 overs left, he was aware that if he could keep things tight, the pyjamas would not be going back into the wardrobe for their winter hibernation just yet.

When the wheels fall off for the fielding side at Hove, the batters can fly like angry seagulls on the wind and, boy oh boy, did Middlesex get a bombing. Seven sixes and 30 fours swept the visitors’ chances into the English Channel, an absurd 240 runs coming in 18 overs of carnage, Sussex seeing 400 on the scoreboard, Tom Alsop 189 not out and Cheteshwar Pujara (who had hit over half of those fours) out for a dazzling 132.

As Group A winners, it’ll be “Sussex by the Sea” in the first semi-final, while Middlesex lick their wounds without even a shot at redemption through a knockout match against Group B’s runners-up.

Ball Two: Scarborough unfair for callow Tykes

Hampshire cruised past an inexperienced Yorkshire XI (who have done very well to get so close to reaching the knockout stage) at Scarborough, their three point cushion more comfortable than the phrasing suggests.

It was the Tykes’ misfortune to run into Aneurin Donald on one of his disappointingly infrequent hot days after a chilly summer for the 25 year-old who once hit 234 off 136 balls as a teenager for Glamorgan. Some of that muscly muscle-memory returned as he stood on the platform of 150-2 and hit 76 off 31 balls to push the visitors towards the 300+ target they wanted to set.

Yorkshire’s top four, just 54 List A matches between them, could not cope with the new ball movement of Ian Holland and John Turner (on his way to a fivefer) and there was no coming back from 31-4 in the eighth over, despite some doughty middle-order resistance.

Hampshire, the form side in the country, will fancy their chances against whomever emerges from the knockout match as winners of the dubious pleasure of a trip to Southampton.

Ball Three: Lamb a tasty batter late in the order

Quarter-final? Not quite right. Eliminator? Too WWE. Play-off? Let’s go with that.

Nottinghamshire went not to Old Trafford – as so often, unavailable to Lancashire for cricket – but to Blackpool like it was Wakes Week again for a day. But it wasn’t just the kissing and the preparations that were quick, but the scoring too. After Keaton Jennings had invited the visitors to bat, Ben Slater and Sol Budinger rattling along at better than a run a ball.

It was George Balderson (who has come of age in this competition) who got the breakthrough, but Slater went on to post his century, Matthew Montgomery maintained momentum with a quickfire 78 and Lanky, facing a target of 339, were second favourites at the innings break.

Unlike T20, the longer white ball format requires more strategy than simply going hard from the first ball to the last and the home side knew that the powerplay would need to be utilised, then someone needed to bat through, hitting boundaries and rotating the strike. That has been the role of local hero, Steven Croft, for his 20 seasons in the team and he buckled in for the ride.

The final piece of the chasing jigsaw is the late order push to the line. George Lavelle had obliged in the last match at the seaside, but he was sixth man out with 102 still to get. Cue Danny Lamb, the kind of bits and pieces man that is scorned in some parts of the country, but loved by those who grew up watching pros in the leagues. The two all-rounders – almost certainly the kind of cricketers the brave new world dedicated to concentrating talent would squeeze out of the county game – got it done and Lancashire could plan a trip to a very different seaside ground: the Ageas Bowl.

Ball Four: Kent’s batters can

Kent, with plenty of momentum after their late charge to third in their group, blew up the M1 into Grace Road and blew away Leicestershire who never really established a foothold in the match.

Invited to bat first by Wiaan Mulder, seven of Kent’s batters made decent contributions, Darren Stevens starting his latest farewell tour by tonking 41 off 24 balls – the old boy keeps swinging.

With 326 to get, the home side had pretty much the same target as Lancashire 150 miles or so to the North West. But Mulder, attempting to play the Steven Croft role, was out for 81 and the late order could make nothing of Grant Stewart’s pace, Leicestershire well short of the required runs leaving eight overs unbowled too.

Stevens, who first played in this competition (for Leicestershire) when it was the Benson and Hedges Cup (well, maybe the Nat West Trophy – it has two parents) may yet bow out of his Kent career running, okay, maybe walking, round Trent Bridge with a trophy in hand. Stranger things have happened – but not very often.

Ball Five: Red Rose blooms in semi-final at Hove

“Somebody has to make a ton.” That’s what your writer texted as Lancashire had burned through half their side with just 67 on the board. Vultures, rather than seagulls, were circling.

But Dane Vilas has been the visitors’ big beast for a few years now and, back from an injury without which he may have sat on a bench for the last four weeks, the South African brought 17 years of experience to bear, hitting singles and sixes. He was ably supported by fellow wicket-keeper, George Lavelle, who made a composed 50 and Danny Lamb and Tom Bailey, as accomplished a nine and ten as you’ll find in this competition.

Sussex set off in pursuit of 320, about 100 more than they had expected three hours earlier, with Ali Orr again underlining his class with a pugnacious 71. But when Cheteshwar Pujara was pinned LBW by George Balderson, Keaton Jennings’ tactic of backing his bowlers to go straight was already paying off. Six of Sussex’s top eight were clean bowled, at least one each for the other four seamers.

Come mid-September, Lancashire’s fans will go to a one-day final for the first time since 2006 – the dark, cold nights can wait a little longer thank you very much.

Ball Six: Stevens leads streak for the line

“Who writes your scripts?”

That was Graham Gooch to Ian Botham back in the day, but had Joe Denly said the same to Darren Stevens, nobody would have blamed him. Hampshire were 45-1 after 8 overs, with Nick Gubbins and Ben Brown having already notched nine boundaries, when the veteran (a label applied to players ten years his junior) got his hands on the ball. He bowled through his 10 overs conceding 45 runs including just the four boundaries. At the spell’s conclusion, Hants were handily placed at 145-2 with 22 overs left, but Kent were holding their own.

Aneurin Donald got out just as he was set to launch his attack and though Felix Organ and Toby Albert made quick runs, the home side probably felt 310-9 was no more than par, especially after being 106-0 in the 20th over.

Things looked better when the Hampshire seamers sent both Kent openers and the captain back with 68 on the board, but wicket-keeper, Ollie Robinson, in at three, is a resourceful batter and has that 206 not out in the first match of the competition to draw upon for confidence His 95 steadied the ship in partnership with Harry Finch, supporting well with 52.

When he was out, Kent needed 128 runs at 7.5 per over with five wickets in hand – second favourites. But the game’s not over until the fat man swings and Stevens, off the mark to his tenth ball, got 84 of them himself, with 11 fours and three sixes, those runs coming from just 55 more balls.

Kent have chosen not to renew his contract for next year, but he’s got to play in the final hasn’t he? And who would put it past him repeating the trick at Trent Bridge?

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