7/26/2018 0 Comments
By Mark Kidger (@MarkFromMadrid)
Only three games were left to be completed last night. All three produced positive results, the most significant of which was Somerset’s win against Worcestershire, although at one point it seemed really to be in danger. Somerset hang on to Surrey’s coattails and will remember fondly that the penultimate round of fixtures will see Surrey visit Taunton. In Division 2, there were wins for Gloucestershire and Derbyshire in games where the advantage ebbed and flowed constantly through the day in five hours of dramatic action.
Yes, the game that no one watches and no one is interested in, produced three epic finishes, each played out in front of an appreciative crowd. It might only by Division Two and two modest sides, but the game at Cheltenham was played in front of crowds of around 3000 every day.
Worcestershire v Somerset
Somerset did, finally, obtain their win and kept up the pressure on Surrey at the top of the table, but briefly and horribly, it looked as if Worcestershire might even threaten to win. When Luke Wood and Dillon Pennington both fell to Jack Leach in the space of three balls, the Pears were 165-9 and appeared to be out of the contest. These, though, are strange days. Alex Milton, playing just his fourth First Class game and Steve Magoffin, batted for almost 40 overs in a tenth wicket partnership of 136. Initially, the partnership was an annoyance, then it became a major irritation and, finally, horrible imaginings started to emerge and, when the target got within 150, there were even thoughts that Worcestershire could even win. All it takes is one magic ball, one error, one loss of concentration and, realistically, there was never any real chance that the home side could win, but you try explaining that to the suffering bowlers who wonder if they are about to make history of the wrong kind. If the truth be told, the attack did not react well to frustration and lost its discipline badly, making the Worcestershire task so much easier.
During the morning session it all looked so simple. Worcestershire started the day 50-2, needing two big innings from somewhere. What they got instead was a rapid and horrific collapse. It started in just the third over of the morning after a misleading blizzard of early runs. Josh Davey, who ended with 3-43 from 19 miserly overs, bowled Joe Clarke. Four balls later Jamie Overton removed the dangerous Travis Head to a catch behind and, next ball, Ed Barnard, edged to Marcus Trescothick at slip. Alex Milton survived the hat-trick ball, but Worcestershire were 65-5. Brett D’Oliviera then gave Davey his third wicket: 71-6 after just five overs of the morning. If, at that point in play, you had taken a bet that Worcestershire would still be batting after Tea, you could have earned a fair sum. Whiteley and Milton delayed the inevitable with the sort of partnership that their side had needed a few wickets earlier but, after seeing out 21 overs and exactly doubling the score, the fall of Whiteley, caught behind off Jamie Overton for 39 precipitated another collapse from the relative riches of 142-6 to 165-9.
Magoffin accompanied Milton to a magnificent century. Somerset tried Trego. They tried Azhar Ali, but nothing worked and Jack Leach was not getting the same, lethal turn that Moeen had the previous day. The new ball came, but still nothing shifted the batsmen. Magoffin, who has six First Class fifties, was nearing a seventh when, finally, Craig Overton got him to play a false shot and Josh Davey held the catch. The tenth wicket partnership had lasted 39.2 overs and added 136 runs.
Somerset are 34 points behind Surrey with six to play and are the only realistic challengers to Surrey. Nottinghamshire, in third, are 43 points behind, with a game fewer to play and Essex, in fourth, are 61 points down: for either to challenge for the title, the two sides can afford no more than one draw in what is left of the season and must win the rest of their games with good hauls of bonus points.
The concertina effect has continued at the top. Middlesex, in fifth, definitely feel that they are back in the promotion race, although they would need a spectacular run of form to be promoted. Derbyshire are now just a point back from them, in sixth and, by the same logic, must also be in the promotion race. Gloucestershire, in seventh, will reflect how fine is the dividing line between success and failure: twice this season a potential win against Sussex disappeared, once to a rain-sodden draw, the other time to a narrow loss; had those results fallen Gloucestershire’s way, they would have been on 101 points and in fourth place, just ahead of Sussex (given some of the awful cricket played by Gloucestershire this season another matter would be whether or not they deserved to have been luckier).
Gloucestershire v Durham
The equation at the start was simple. Durham needed to chase 340 to win and required 305 from 96 overs, with ten wickets in hand. Through the day, the advantage ebbed and flowed. Early in the afternoon a Durham win looked to be the most likely result but, after Tea, after a period when the odds on Gloucestershire winning had shortened spectacularly, the draw started to become a distinct possibility and, at a late stage, Durham even started to block out deliberately, looking to play out the last hour.
Yes, it was a roller-coaster day in front of another bumper crowd.
It comes to something when Sir Robert Hunt gets so excited that his yelp of “he’s out!” scares the wits out of listeners and threatens to break the microphone. It was a day when you were glad that there were just two voices on the commentary (Sir Robert’s cellist scorer, Julian, rarely utters a sound, despite being bombarded with constant questions) and they were two of the best. Bob Hunt and Martin Emmerson live (and die) the success and failure of their respective teams and both ran the whole gamut of emotions as Durham started so well that they seemed certain to pull off what would have been their third largest chase and their first away win against Gloucestershire since 1999. It was good just to have the familiar home and away voice and no pseudo-neutral distractions.
Tom Latham and Cameron Steel batted with great solidity almost until Lunch when, finally, Matt Taylor got Latham to give a catch behind. Their opening partnership of 94 was just the foundation that the Wearsiders needed. At Lunch, Cameron Steel and Will Smith were bedding-in and the match was heading Durham’s way. Approaching mid-afternoon, the score was 168-2 and the situation was getting desperate for the Shire. On commentary, you could see Martin Emmerson’s smile, while Sir Robert was sinking into good-loser mode. What was needed was for one of the Gloucestershire bowlers to put on the Superman cape: astute followers of the Shire will know that there is one man that the captain turns to in such cases. Ryan Higgins bowled a super delivery that Graham Clark could only nick behind. That was the good news. The bad news was that this brought in Ben Stokes, who had had an excellent game with the ball and entered determined to score some runs too. Stokes could have been out half a dozen times as he charged the bowler, but rode his luck for a time. The turning point came when Will Smith and Ben Stokes fell in successive overs: Higgins, inevitably, got Smith and then Matt Taylor compensated for an anaemic first innings display with an, at times, devastating second innings performance, castling Stokes to the explosive joy of Sir Robert. Another jaffa from Taylor re-arranged the stumps of Stuart Poynter as, like various of his colleagues, he played back instead of forwards and, for the first time, Gloucestershire were favourite. 201-6 and that target of 340 was starting to recede into the distance.
Richardson and Wood came together and, again, the match changed direction. Wood has yet another foot injury – he is not so much “injury-prone” as “injury-plagued”, but he batted bravely, clearly seriously hampered. Together, they whittled down the target to 80 and, again, the home side was on the verge of panic. Then came the second turning point of the day. A couple of chances had gone begging in the field but, now, in his first over with the new ball, having just seen Mark Wood take 17 from him in an over, Craig Miles produced a ball that seemed to lift awkwardly from a good length. Richardson played back, the ball thudded into his pads and, despite looking suspiciously high, the umpire drew out his fickle finger of fate, while something suspiciously like dissent, pronounced in broad Geordie tones, went into the microphone in the commentary box. In his next over, Sailisbury played back instead of getting forward and Miles re-arranged his stumps too and you felt that, now, the fat lady was warming up her vocal cords. Wood continued to attack, but lost Harding to a catch by Bracey off Matt Taylor.
As the match entered the last hour, all four results were possible. Durham needed around 50 at just over 3-an-over, but Wood and Rushworth shut up shop, presumably trying to bat out the hour. It was though, only fitting, that Ryan Higgins, who had turned the match on its head earlier in the day, got the last wicket as Rushworth edged a catch behind. Matt Taylor will probably get the headlines for his 4-31, but Ryan Higgins had the splendid match figures of 6-85, taking him to 30 wickets at 19.9.
Gloucestershire will, most certainly, not be promoted, but at least see the threat of the wooden spoon recede and can still hope for the top-six finish that would represent success.
Derbyshire v Northamptonshire
Another game that ebbed and flowed through the day. During the morning it seemed that Northamptonshire were heading to a win that would allow them to dream of being in the promotion shake-up. Instead though, we had yet another epic finish, as Derbyshire held their nerve to close out a narrow win that had seemed unlikely a couple of hours earlier.
The visitors started the day 174-3, with two set batsmen, the chase of 314 seemingly well in hand. Derbyshire needed quick wickets. 140 to get with two set batsmen and seven wickets in hand is usually a position that favours the batting side nine times out of ten. This though, was the tenth time and it turned on two, young spinners. Qadri and Critchley bowled most of the overs in the day and took nine of the ten Northamptonshire wickets. Levi, Crook and Prasanna all got past twenty, but none could make the fifty that would surely have won the match. Once Wakeley fell to the wiles of Qadri for 68, the Northamptonshire slide was as inevitable as someone hanging on to a ledge by their fingertips until, inevitably, losing their grip and falling.
Critchley scythed through the middle order with his leg-spin, taking career best innings and match figures: not bad for a 21-year-old bowler who averages 61 with the ball. At 265-7, with just 49 needed, the odds were stacked heavily in favour of Northamptonshire still. Prasanna was batting well and seemed to be guiding his team to victory, but Critchley got one through him and bowled him. With Prasanna in the hutch, the last two wickets fell quickly: Hutton and Buck lasted just thirteen more balls, as Critchley and Qadri divided them between themselves. The final margin was 39 runs but, as they say, the winner was cricket.
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