4/26/2018 0 Comments
By Mark Kidger (@MarkfromMadrid)
'O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.'
No, I cannot imagine David Fletcher of BBC Radio Derby, even inspired by the legendary presence of Kevin Hand at his side, coming out with Hamlet’s declamation. Mind you, around about Tea on the last day of the second round of Division 2 matches, the same phrase would have been equally appropriate for the lyrical tones of the softly spoken, proudly Welsh, Ed Bevan.
While the game at Grace Road was eminently forgettable: let’s face it, it is uncertain that there would have been a result even in six days and the 1101 runs for 21 wickets were scored in 361 overs of tedium, the other two Division 2 games to finish were brilliant entertainment. If Grace Road pitches are going to be like this, Leicestershire can look forward to not losing home games, but visiting sides may be tempted to call the Seventh Doctor’s companion ACE, if she is still in Perivale and ask her to use one of her special Nitro explosive mixes on the pitch. It is the kindest thing that can be done to put players, fans and umpires out of their misery.
So, what were these bad dreams?
Derbyshire had not won a home match since the final round of the 2014 Championship. David Fletcher of BBC Radio Derby even had a note of the exact number of days since their last win. The two overnight batsmen had been removed within five overs in the morning. Middlesex were 95-5 and, let’s face it, they had been truly awful for nine sessions. Injuries to bowlers Toby Roland-Jones and James Harris did not help and a guy in the Car Park had missed a couple of sitters off Ollie Rayner, quite apart from the one dropped by a building worker on the roof of the terrace house down the road from the 3aaa ground, but that did not excuse 157ao and 95-5 by the batsmen.
Fair enough. Paul Srirling, John Simpson and Toby Roland-Jones showed some much-needed resistance with the bat, but: 223-8, nearly 60 overs to go. Come on! What could go wrong? Fletch was purring. Tom Helm at #10 had a career average of 12. Okay, so James Harris, who does have some notion of batting was still there and, in the absence of the Watford Wall (Steve Finn), Middlesex could offer the legendary Lambeth Lara – Tim Murtagh – at #11. Even Kevin Hand at his most optimistic would not have expected to enjoy his co-comm getting increasingly impatient and then watching him starting to have horrible imaginings. It was to be drama of the highest order.
As the ninth wicket stand passed the century, you started to hear David Fletcher say “if they don’t win this, they’ll have some explaining to do”. And he said it several times. And, of course, when you have Kevin Hand alongside, pointing out that “if Middlesex were to bat out time, which they won’t” (even Kevin Hand covers his back sometimes), they would be very close to their target of 442.
Tom Helm reached a first, First Class fifty. James Harris his thirteenth. Surely they could not bring of an escape – and even a chase – of such epic proportions that Derbyshire mums would be frightening their kids with tales of the Middlesex tail for years?
This is the sort of end to a cricket match that T20 can never match. Slowly rising tension. Every over survived increasing the chances that the impossible might happen. And, as one fan wrote in – and not for the first time with his side – “with Middlesex, it’s the hope that kills you”. Poor David Fletcher must have been in real medical danger when the occasional leg spin of Matt Critchley was brought out again to try and buy a wicket. He had already taken Toby Roland-Jones. Critchley tried a straight delivery. Tom Helm just missed it. A huge shout (that was just the local commentator). "Umpire?". The incoherent scream that might have been “he’s got him this time!!” In comes the Lambeth Lara who, in his Surrey days, was actually a decent all-rounder. Tim Murtagh is nothing but a gentleman and knowing that James Harris deserved a red-inker, he did not raise David Fletcher’s blood pressure any more.
That was so ridiculously tense.
Anything you can do, I can do better… at Bristol, the tension even went a step further. Like Middlesex, Gloucestershire had won a low-scoring first game of the season comfortably. Like Middlesex, they had a second game against one of the less-fancied teams in Division 2. And like Middlesex they had been embarrassingly bad for three days.
Gloucestershire had started the day at 133-5 and even that represented a considerable recovery. It is hard to imagine that any Gloucestershire fan expected the match to last the morning session. To have a hope of saving the match you needed you not out batsmen overnight still to be there at Lunch, right? When Ryan Higgins fell after 40 minutes, albeit after another valuable innings (Note to Gus Fraser: why did you let this boy go? In his first two Championship games for Gloucestershire he has taken 9 wickets and scored 107 runs) the last hope was called Kieron Noema-Barnett, who has been described by Gloucestershire commentator, Bob Hunt as “being so laid-back that if he were any more laid-back, he’d be asleep”.
When defeat is inevitable, you can sit back, relax and enjoy it. So, the Gloucestershire tail enjoyed themselves once Noema-Barnett was back relaxing in the rather smart Bristol Pavillion. Dan Worrall batted an hour and a half for fifty – his First Class best. The new ball came and went. Matt Taylor came in. Maybe he could accompany “Bobby” Bracey, to his century? After all, with Liam Norwell unlikely to bat with his hamstring pull, it was all about the personal landmark for James Bracey – who just happens to have come to Gloucestershire from Winterbourne CC (Yes: I grew up in Winterbourne and, emotionally, it is still home to me).
But swift, what light through yonder window shines? It was Matt Taylor’s shining First Class best score! Tea came. Tea went. And you could start to see the distant light of the unlikeliest of draws. “If Bracey and Taylor could hold out until 5 pm, Gloucestershire would be about 100 ahead and Glamorgan might well shake on the draw.” Bob Hunt showed that he did not have the exclusive on making mischief with a nervous co-comm! The comment cried out for Jon McEnroe to scream back “you cannot be serious!”
All good things… Matt Taylor was probably becoming embarrassed by the length of his stay in the middle, after an hour and a half batting. He was in good company… on the field at least. In his desperation to make the breakthrough, Michael Hogan had given Matt Taylor the company of the wicket-keeper and no fewer than seven slips: it was the day for the funky fields.
Adam Salter came back for what was probably one, final effort. He was still waiting for his first wicket of the season, having gone wicketless through the game with Cardiff MCCU and in the first innings here. Most likely Michael Hogan thought that he might make the batsman relax and do something stupid. So Taylor edged through to the ‘keeper and the Salter gambit was justified. Surely the Glamorgan bad dreams could be put to bed? In came Liam Norwell with a runner. Here the tension probably got to the batsmen. Norwell, who has a First Class century, can look after himself. If Gloucestershire had scored a quick thirty for the final wicket, with Bracey chancing his arm a bit, the chase would surely have been beyond Glamorgan. Norwell blocked to good effect. Bracey limited himself to a single from the fourth or fifth ball of the over and, although overs were ticked off, the vital number of runs to chase barely increased. The inevitable happened. Norwell, with his limited movement, edged a delighted Hogan to the ‘keeper and the target was a very gettable 83 when it could have been over 100 at a run-a-ball.
The light faded. Gloucestershire wasted time as wilfully as they could get away with. The bowlers bowled as far down leg as they dared. And there were nine men on the boundary. Unfortunately, Worrall’s radar was a bit off and he fed the batsmen runs. Fifty up in the eighth over. Thanks for the game lads. All over! Not quite... Matt Taylor took a wicket. No panic boyo. Shaun Marsh fell to Worrall for a duck. Now I have not been in the ground in its new configuration but, with Matt Taylor bowling genuinely fast in the late evening, sighting the ball must have been a tricky proposition by this point. At 67-4, with Taylor on 3-25, the bad dreams for Glamorgan must have been turning into nightmares. Yes. Now you should consider seriously panicking. The umpires kept the players out, but it was obvious that Glamorgan might only have two, or at most three overs to get the remaining fifteen runs.
In the end, Worrall’s seventh over was hit to all parts of Ashley Down and Glamorgan won what was, according to the scorebook, a comfortable victory. In reality, Gloucestershire should not have lost but, probably deserved to lose for not being ambitious enough at the end of their innings and for blatant time-wasting. Had they drawn, they would have gone second in the table. Small margins.
So, what can we take away from (nearly) two rounds of games in Division 2?
First, despite the sneering that goes on about Division 2, the product is good. Four days of tough cricket at Derby and at Bristol, with incredible tension and a result in the final session.
A good product, that interests no one? One newspaper printed a photograph of a stand at Chester-le-Street that was closed for safety reasons and headlined it with a comment that no one comes to watch the Championship. It is grist to the mill that demands that an unpopular niche competition be further cut. In fact, crowds continue to increase. Several of the games were attended by two thousand or more who paid on the turnstiles, plus an unknown number of members, whose attendance is not counted. Just think what football attendance figures would look like if season ticket holder were not counted. Add to that the fact that Radio London noted that Middlesex, the less supported of the two London sides, had 17000 unique listeners tuned-in to the Internet commentary of their game against Northants and that even Radio Derby had 4000 listeners (their words, not mine) and you see that the “one man and his dog” story is a complete fabrication.
Warwickshire stand proud and clear at the top of Division 2 after two games. They do look a good bet for promotion but let’s wait and see until they have played four or five games and the picture is clearer.
Two points cover Middlesex in second down to Gloucestershire and Sussex in joint sixth. This may not be the royal progress that Middlesex fans were hoping for (some, even genuinely seemed to think that Middlesex could win most, if not all their games this season). Two games are not enough to make judgements, but Middlesex’s win came against Northants, who have been badly beaten in both their games. Are we going to see a repeat of 2007 and the second season of Middlesex underperformance? On Friday, Middlesex host Glamorgan. Without overdramatising, that game already looks like a “must not lose”.
Derbyshire look like a decent side with a four-man attack, but it is hard to tell who might come out of the pack. Sussex are fancied as dark horses by some but have played out two draws on uncharacteristically flat surfaces, on which a result would have been hard to achieve in five days, let alone four. How will they do on more responsive surfaces? Watch this space!to edit.
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