4/25/2018 1 Comment
By Mark Kidger (@MarkfromMadrid)
Just two games were left on the last day. Both were so far advanced that there was every possibility that there would be no Division 1 cricket after Lunch. Instead, though, patrons got a pleasant surprise – and it was not that Andrew Strauss has resigned and that the 100-ball competition has been consigned to a dustbin in St. John’s Wood.
Starting in God’s Own Country, also known as the Leeds Lido, Yorkshire duly finished off their hapless opponents within an hour. After the Nottingshire Hari-Kiri the previous evening, this game could easily have been over in two balls. Instead, the ninth wicket pair of Tom Moores and Jake Ball entertained the patrons for around forty minutes, adding 57 runs and taking their stand to 66. Jake Ball must have been entertaining fond thoughts of a maiden First-Class fifty when Ben Coad decided to put an end to the fun by bowling a straight one at him. Two balls later, while Tom Moores watched helplessly at the other end, one short of equalling his career best, Coad got an outside edge from Harry Gurney. Coad finished with 6-81, 10-130 in the match and will be starting to check potential tourist destinations in Sri Lanka for the winter, ready for the days when he isn’t in the England XI.
Moving to South London, we had another game that looked a pretty open and shut case to the judge in the morning and ready for sentencing at Lunch. Hampshire started at 141-4 with their last two specialist bats together. After a little more than an hour, they were 163-6 and Surrey must have been anticipating an early Lunch. What happened was drama to match anything in Division 2 – Nay! That is hyperbole! NOTHING could match the drama in Division 2. However, with the pitch easing and Sam Northeast not inclined to follow the lead of the top order and surrender tamely, the game continued far into the afternoon. Surrey took wickets seven and eight without too much bother, although both Abbott and Wood showed the sort of stubbornness that the top order could have imitated. Where things got seriously weird was thereafter. Brad Wheal has no pretensions as a batsman – a career average of 6 testifies to that – but hung around as Sam Northeast got going. The new ball was seen off. Rikki Clarke bowled his heart out to some seriously funky fields – what do you call having three men just wide of square leg? Three square mid-wickets? It sounds like a serious medical condition! It was one of the oddest fields ever seen but, try as Rikki Clarke might (and he put in so much effort that he could easily have done himself a serious mischief), Wheal saw off everything thrown at him for an hour and a half and accompanied Sam Northeast to his century. There was never a realistic danger that Surrey would not win but, as the partnership ate up the afternoon session, there were not many neutrals around the country who were not rooting for Hampshire. Finally, Jade Dernbach pinned Wheal LBW and Fidel Edwards came in.
Now, the fairest thing that you can say of Fidel Edwards as a batsman is that he comes in after Wheal (career average 6) on merit. He is the sort of #11 who inspires the captain to declare pre-emptively at the fall of the ninth wicket. Even dear old Fidel hung around and the tenth wicket partnership started to prosper too to the delight of thousands following the score – updates were being fed into the commentary in other games as Surrey’s frustration grew. Yes, we all love a hapless tail-ender who somehow survives to the utter disgust of the opposition bowlers. Unfortunately, Matt Dunn is a spoilsport and got Sam Northeast to edge through to Foakes for a magnificent 129. The scorebook will say that Surrey won by 139 runs and they thoroughly deserved the win, but they were made to sweat a bit for it.
Up to the fall of the eighth wicket, the biggest takeaway of the match was the sight of a beturbaned spinner weaving magic. The sight brought back memories of a young Northants bowler nearly fifteen years ago: Monty is now gone, if not completely forgotten, a sad case of what might have been, but to see nineteen-year-old Guramar Singh Virdi, playing just his fourth First Class match, twirling like a demon, was to evoke memories of Bishan Bedi and of Monty Panesar at his very best. Amar Virdi did not get a bowl in the first innings, but he made up for it in the second, bowling 33 overs, taking 4-79 and showing a lot of skill. Of course, young players have shone and faded, but if this lad gets some turning pitches, he will be worth paying the price of entry to the ground to see him. Somerset play Surrey at Taunton on September 18th and, on this showing, Virdi versus Leach and Bess will be a wonderful contest to watch.
Where does that leave us after two rounds of games (which are really a bit more than one and a half rounds, but why make it simple for the fans)?
Popular legend has it that the human race split some time back into two species: Yorkshiremen and everyone else. In fact, anthropologists have suggested that there is more in common between your average Lancastrian and his daily routine and a bushman of the Kalahari Desert (I assume that our highly cultured readers need no explanation of where that is) than there is between a Yorkshireman and a Lancastrian (or a Yorkshireman and anyone else for that matter). It is not only in this anthropological sense that Yorkshire and Lancashire are divided: after two games, Yorkshire are top of Division 1, Lancashire are bottom and there is already a significant gap between the bottom two – Worcestershire and Lancashire – and the rest of the table. It is the sort of situation to make Fred Boycott drool with pleasure… which he duly did in a celebratory Twitter post. Despite the opening game wash-out at Headingley, as any Yorkshireman will tell you: the natural order has been restored (Fred Boycott may just have made that point for them) and Yorkshire’s twenty-one points for the crushing victory over Nottinghamshire has trumped Essex’s nineteen for their own narrow win over Lancashire.
While it is not yet time for panic stations either at Old Trafford or at New Road, the bare facts are that six of the eight teams in Division 1 have won a match in the first two rounds, while Worcestershire and Lancashire have lost both. Worcestershire have looked so far off the pace in both games that it comes as a surprise that they are not bottom, thanks to their solitary batting bonus point obtained against Hampshire. Thanks to their near miss against Essex and the frenetic finish against Nottinghamshire, the Lancastrian struggles have passed under the radar, but they have so far managed totals of 158, 73, 144 and 288.
Even with Surrey and Somerset having played just one game, the gap between Yorkshire – top – and Surrey and Somerset in joint fifth, is just six points. It is far too early to draw conclusions apart from the fact that the bottom two are going to have to improve a lot if they are to avoid having a long and very hard season. In contrast, Surrey looked very good in their win against Hants and now play Lancashire (away) and Worcestershire (home): given the struggles so far of their opponents, it might not be a bad moment to invest the few million that you made from Bitcoin, on a Surrey Championship win, before the odds crash. It is not impossible that, if weather and good fortune are fair for the South Londoners, that they could be sitting pretty at the top of the table with three wins from three on the evening of May 8th. Another game to look at that may be a pointer to the title race is Essex v Yorkshire on May 5th. Lest we forget, on May 8th we will have completed more than a quarter of the Championship and the table will, at that stage, start to be highly significant.
Three thoughts to take away from these games:
• Sides will be checking the fixture list eagerly to see when (and where) they play Lancashire and Worcestershire and will go into the games thinking that they are “must win” to keep up with their rivals.
• Ben Coad will, if he stays fit and maintains his form, tour with England this winter (a couple of injuries and he may even debut v India)
• And, long-term, maybe the most important takeaway – Amar Virdi really looks promising and we may even have the luxury of some stiff competition for the England spin spot(s) in a couple of seasons… I hope!
All Alastair Cook Alex Hales BBC Radio Commentary Ben Coad Ben Duckett Birmingham Bears Chris Read County Championship County Cricket Dan Kingdom Darren Sammy David Bowden Day/Night Cricket Derbyshire Durham England Cricket Essex Glamorgan Gloucestershire Hampshire Harry Hill James Anderson James Vince Jamie Ramage Joe Root Jofra Archer Jonny Bairstow Kent Kevin Hand Watch Kevin Hand-Watch Lancashire Leicestershire Mark Kidger Middlesex Natwest Blast Neil Harris Northamptonshire Nottinghamshire Previews Retrospective Reports RLODC Round Ups Round-ups Season Review Somerset Stuart Broad Surrey Sussex T20 Blast Team Of The Week Virdi Vitality Blast Warwickshire Wocestershire Worcestershire Yorkshire