9/3/2018 0 Comments
By Mark Kidger (@MarkFromMadrid)
We end this round of the Championship with just the top three sides still able, mathematically, to be crowned Champions. While Surrey duly wrapped up a huge victory against Nottinghamshire early on Day 3 – an innings and 125 is a comprehensive winning margin – Somerset have been trying to overcome an irritatingly tricky opponent in Yorkshire, although Day 3 ended with Somerset, apparently, finally getting on track for victory in that one. Meanwhile, in the basement duel, Lancashire cruised to what should have been a challenging target against Worcestershire and Essex were making a good attempt to flog their rain-affected match against Hampshire into life, trying for a Route One victory: the only real option available to them if they wished to win.
To find out how it all happened and who was successful and who not… read on!
Lancashire v Worcestershire
Probably even the most hardened Lancashire fans gave their side little chance of chasing 314 to win, with most resigned to defeat against a direct rival, but chase it they did, and they pursued it in style. Yet, halfway through the afternoon session, it looked as if it was just a matter of time before a Worcestershire side, on the up, finished-off another hapless opponent. After the early loss of night-watchman opener Tom Lester, who was run-out by Ed Barnard – hardly an auspicious start – Haseeb Hameed and Rob Jones then fell to Barnard in the space of three balls. At 47-3, the writing was on the wall. Although resistance stiffened, wickets continued to fall often enough that the Worcestershire fans were convinced that they would finish the match off some time in the afternoon or evening. What no one anticipated, from 178-6, was Dane Vilas and Josh Bohanon, would come together and put on 139 runs together in 36 overs when their initial target could only be a desperate attempt to survive for a draw.
Vilas – captain, wicket-keeper and, it seems, super-hero – scored a magnificent 107*, while Josh Bohanon, playing just his second First Class match, added to his burgeoning reputation with a career-best 78*, his second fifty in four innings and is yet to be dismissed in single figures in his First Class career. Life will get harder for him, but he may just have helped to ensure his side’s survival in Division 1. However, despite temporarily lifting Lancashire to fourth in the table, before other games had finished, they are only nine points clear of the bottom-placed rivals, but with other teams below them having two games in hand.
What it means: The bottom of the table is so tight that Lancashire’s win has pushed them up to fifth, but only 2 points clear of the relegation places and nine clear of the bottom team. This campaign is beginning to look like the blanket finish in 2017 that sent down Middlesex. Lancashire visit Taunton next and will have no illusions that they will face a result pitch, although Somerset need big batting points too and will bank on getting them batting first. Worcestershire are eight points behind Hampshire and safety and now play Hampshire in another dog-eat-dog encounter. Again, the loser will be in deep trouble with just three games to come.
Yorkshire v Somerset
Late on Day 3, Somerset had managed to regain some control of a situation that was slipping away from them. With their attempt to set a testing target stuttering, in came Lewis Gregory to join his captain, Tom Abell. The resultant bombardment lasted under thirteen overs, as Gregory scored 6x4 and 3x6 in a 41-ball 57. Craig Overton came in to replace him after a partnership of 93 in 76 balls and produced an 18-ball cameo, adding 62 in 40 balls until Tom Abell declared when his partner was run out. Somerset who, two sessions earlier, had been 29-3, had turned the match around and set Yorkshire a daunting 419 to win or, more likely, a day and a handful of overs to survive. The situation had “draw” written all over it if Yorkshire made any kind-of start.
When a team has come in for such a pounding, there is always a danger that its will to resist has been drained. Somerset could hardly believe their luck when Lewis Gregory removed both openers in his first four overs with the new ball. At 4-2, the Tykes were hanging-on with their fingertips. However, in the morning, night-watchman, Josh Shaw, hung on almost until Lunch, making a career-best 42 and, from 8-2 at the start, added 86 more runs, to leave Somerset increasingly desperate, before that man Lewis Gregory trapped him LBW nine minutes before Lunch. After Josh Shaw’s efforts and with Kane Williamson well set, Yorkshire had a solid platform to save the match and Somerset must have been feeling nervous. What the White Rose got, though, was a post-lunch horror show as the Overtons and Gregory scythed through the middle order. As Sir Geoffrey would have said: “94-2, pretty good, 143-8, not so clever”. The pacemen needed a rest, but Jack Leach was getting nothing from the Headingley pitch, and so, unusually, his introduction into the attack produced some relief. Matt Fisher and David Willey batted together for more than an hour increasing the frustrations as Somerset started to get horrible imaginings of an escape for the Tykes. Jamie Overton though could not be denied, and when Fisher fell to him, Jack Brooks followed quickly too. Jamie Overton finished with 4-25, with 4-33 to Lewis Gregory, leading Somerset to a 224 run win that keeps alive, just, their hopes of a first Championship pennant.
What it means: With four matches left for each, Somerset are thirty-two points behind, meaning that their equation is simple – they need to make up 8 points per game on the Londoners. It is a tough ask, although that Somerset – Surrey game at Taunton still looms in the penultimate round. Somerset will still need to make up significant points different even if they were to beat Surrey by an innings. For Yorkshire, the situation is bleak. The win for Lancashire leaves them bottom but one, albeit only one point behind Hampshire. Yorkshire are one of six sides that can be relegated but are in deep trouble unless they can turn around their recent slump. Such is the log-jam of teams that a win in their next game at Nottinghamshire will give them a real chance of finishing third in the table, but a defeat would be a severe blow to their hopes of survival.
Surrey v Nottinghamshire
Surrey duly completed the last rites of their game against Nottinghamshire. A win by an innings and 125 having scored only 375 is about as one-sided as you can get. Starting the day 83-2, Nottinghamshire should have taken the match at least well into the afternoon but, in the end, could not even survive until Lunch on Day 3. Nottinghamshire went from a comfortable 78-1 in the last hour of Day 2, to a miserable 149ao. The last nine wickets fell for seventy-one, as Nottinghamshire surrendered to Morkel, McKerr and Tom Curran. The manner of their surrender, having been 101ao in the first innings, is particularly alarming now that thoughts of the Championship are turning into a fight for survival. For Surrey, the news that they can demolish a side twice so convincingly even with Amar Virdi taking just a single wicket in the match and with a rookie seamer is an extraordinary guarantee for the last few games of the season. Conor McKerr, in just his seventh First Class match, starred with 4-26, with Morne Morkel taking 3-29.
What it means: Surrey’s demolition of Nottinghamshire has reinforced their claim to the title as Champions-elect and, with Somerset taking the same number of points from this round, their position is significantly reinforced. Depending on results, Surrey could even be crowned Champions before travelling to Taunton. Nottinghamshire are still fourth, but now just twelve points clear of relegation and, like Lancashire, one place below them, have one game fewer to play and are thus now in deep trouble.
Essex v Hampshire
Having lost the whole of the first day, Essex were faced with just one way to win: the Route 1 way of an innings win. For much of the last afternoon, it seemed that Hampshire might just hang on. Starting 17-2, after only three overs they had sunk to an apparently unsalvageable 24-4. However, Hampshire were making things harder than necessary for themselves. Just as Kyle Abbott and Sam Northeast seemed to be adding a little stability, night-watchman, Kyle Abbott, was needlessly run out as he took on the throw from Cover, leaving Hampshire 67-5. Northeast and Tom Alsop were still together at Lunch, 87-5 and held on for nearly twenty overs in all, adding just 28 together, but doing just what Hampshire needed: to use up time; runs were irrelevant. The problem was though that batsmen were getting in and then getting out, as Peter Siddle and Simon Harmer winkled-out batsman after batsman before they could do enough damage to halt the victory charge. With Gareth Berg, no mean batsman, due to come in at ten, Hampshire still had the batting left to salvage the draw, if only someone could play a long innings and give the rest someone to bat around. However, a 41 from Northeast, 51 from Alsop, both dismissed by Harmer just as they threatened to play that long inning, was just not quite enough to stop Essex.
Halfway through the afternoon session, Liam Dawson fell and, with him, the score now 131-8, seemingly went the Hampshire hopes, but there was still a twist to come. An hour and a half later, Tom Alsop was still there and reached his fifty. With Gareth Berg solid at the other end, the pair had added fifty and hope was beginning to grow again in the Hampshire camp. It was a flame that was cruelly extinguished just when panic could have started to set in. Forty minutes remained until the last hour was due to start and, had the pair still been together then; anything could have happened.
Finally, though, Harmer tempted Alsop once too often, Michael Pepper juggled the catch but held on, and Essex were just one wicket short. Still, Hampshire refused to die as Berg and Fidel Edwards hung on, and the game entered its final hour. Essex took the new ball and watched in increasing disbelief as the last pair gallantly saw it off. Finally, it was the return of Harmer that ended the innings, with Berg LBW for 38. Essex had beaten the clock and won by an innings and 52 and enhanced their chances of some useful prize-money at the end of the season.
What it means: Hampshire, in sixth and Worcestershire, bottom, are separated now by just two points. Worcestershire plays host Hampshire in the next round. This game will be another, colossal battle for survival. The Essex win has lifted them to third, twenty-five points clear of relegation but, they will still need to watch their backs in the run-in: thirty-five points behind Somerset, they are far closer to relegation than they are to the runners-up spot.
The Division Two promotion race looked set to receive a big shake-up today, with Sussex already losing to Middlesex, who are putting in a late charge and Leicestershire on the verge of defeat to Gloucestershire. Kent started the day looking set to do no better than a draw, meaning that Warwickshire and Middlesex started the final day of matches looking set to be the big winners from this round of games. However, Kent had, on Day 3, managed to dismiss a stubborn Derbyshire and enforced the follow-on: could a Kent attack that had spent 157 overs in the field already over Days 2 and 3 and that faced another long day in the field, lift itself and apply the coup de grace on the final day and thus keep itself in the promotion hunt?
Middlesex v Sussex
It is a standard claim in the circus for the ringmaster to cry out that the acrobats are going to try, as their next trick, “something still more difficult”. This is the way that Middlesex are making their promotion push. Suddenly, a little spark that has been missing since early last season, has ignited and Middlesex are looking like the team that won the Championship in 2016; the team that was expected to run away with promotion this season. After defending small totals to turn around their last two games, Middlesex have now produced a devastating performance against a side that has been in supreme form recently. You have to be impressed.
What it means: Middlesex are producing a promotion push that is reminiscent of Surrey’s charge up Division 2 in 2011 to go from bottom in July, to snatching the second promotion spot on the last day, ahead of long-time leaders, Northants, who faded in the final few rounds. Surrey won six of their last eight matches that season. Now up to fourth, Middlesex are still thirty-two points behind Kent with just four games left, but look to be real contenders as the sides above them falter in the run-in. Sussex are third, as Kent’s against the odds win has pushed them out of the promotion spot that they occupied at the start of the day and now lie 9 points behind Kent. In the next round, Middlesex travel to Bristol to play a side that has more than once been their bête noire, knowing that they have to keep winning and hope that Kent and Sussex drop a lot of points. Sussex play the faltering Leicestershire at Hove and need a win to keep up the pressure on Kent and hold off the Middlesex charge.
Derbyshire v Kent
At the start of the day, the Kent attack had spent already 157 consecutive overs in the field. One imagined that they would be feeling so weary that the threat, if any, to Derbyshire, would come from the spinners. The hosts were 82-2 at the start of play and with Hughes and Lace at the crease, both apparently batting soundly, there was little hint initially of the drama to come as the Kent chances of forcing a result ebbed and flowed.
Kent’s final target was 110, which they made with some comfort, although pushed deep into the last hour to obtain the win and having got through some nervous moments as their rivals got ahead and built a lead. Derbyshire know that probably, had they held out another twenty minutes, they would have saved the game. There were two keys to the Kent win. First, the collapse from 99-2 to 137-6, as Matt Henry and Adam Riley seemed to have sealed a winning position then, as Derbyshire built a lead, and every run counted double, the sudden collapse of the tail. It had all looked so different not long before Kent set out on their chase, with Harvey Hossain batting for more than three hours, defying the Kent attack. Hardus Viljoen and then Tony Palladino gave him plenty of support, both batting for more than an hour. At 262-7, Derbyshire were 101 ahead and approaching safety. Kent needed quick wickets and, as on other occasions, this season turned to Joe Denly’s increasingly useful leg spin. Denly had already removed Viljoen and proceeded to dismantle the Derbyshire tail, taking the last three wickets in four overs on either side of Tea, leaving Hossain stranded on 62*. Denly’s 4-36 was a career-best and, as more trust is shown in his bowling, he has responded with some excellent spells and big wickets.
The target was 110, with plenty of time to get them, but it could so quickly have been different if either of the last two wickets had added even twenty runs. Callum Ferguson removed Sean Dickson early, but Zak Crawley and Heino Kuhn, who was particularly severe on the bowling, scored at more than seven an over to ensure that there were no scares. Even if the loss of three quick wickets, as Crawley, Kuhn and Denly fell, slipping from 77-1 to 87-4, must have made hearts flutter a little, there was plenty of time and a lot of batting to come. With just twenty-three more needed to win, Daniel Bell-Drummond and Sam Billings could ease back on the pace and get Kent over the line for a six-wicket win.
The main danger for Kent is the damage that 223 consecutive overs in the field will have done to their attack, with games now effectively been played back-to-back. There will be some tired legs after their new ball attack bowled a total of eighty overs in the match and even part-timer, Joe Denly, bowled more than 41. How well the Kent players recover for their next game may dictate their chances.
What it means: Kent’s win pushes them back ahead of Sussex and leaves them in pole position to accompany Warwickshire back into Division 1. They will play Northamptonshire at home, with the visitors seemingly sinking back into a slump after crushing back-to-back defeats. A win will keep Kent clear of the threat of Middlesex’s late charge and maintain the pressure on Sussex. Derbyshire play wooden spoon favourites, Glamorgan, at home, with a tight battle between a bunch of sides to finish in the top half of the table giving Derbyshire something to play for.
Glamorgan v Warwickshire
Warwickshire’s demolition of Glamorgan gives them both twenty-three points and an extra day of rest between matches. Ian Bell’s match-winning double century and 10-110 in the match for Jethan Patel were the difference between the two sides. Glamorgan made a spirited effort in their second innings, reaching 137-3, but although Brown, Carlson and Lloyd all got starts, none of them could cash in and get past fifty as Hain and Barker had in support of Ian Bell. Glamorgan’s fate was sealed as they fell from 137-3 to 202-9. Even though Smith and Hogan added 63 for the tenth wicket and, briefly, threatened to make Warwickshire bat again, the fact that the only fifties made by Glamorgan in the match came from the #8 and #10 batsmen, illustrates their problems. Glamorgan have tried to resolve this by signing Sam Cook for their last four games, as they try to avoid the wooden spoon.
What it means: Warwickshire’s win leaves them twenty-four points clear of Sussex in third and forty-seven clear of Middlesex. With Durham the visitors next week, Warwickshire can put one foot in Division 1 with another win, although probably they will not be able to seal promotion before the penultimate round. Glamorgan are thirty points behind Northamptonshire and have just one win all season. Another defeat would leave them on the brink of sealing the wooden spoon.
Gloucestershire v Leicestershire
What to make of the extraordinary events at Bristol? Gloucestershire have no overseas player and have a host of bowlers injured, had lost their previous Championship game by a considerable margin and also their last three Blast games yet, came through to win this match against promotion-chasing Leicestershire by a significant margin on the back of captain, Chris Dent’s, first century of the season. What is more, he made into an unbeaten double and looked like the batsman who only two seasons ago, had as good a record as any of the openers picked to tour with either the main side or the Lions. Gloucestershire fans were sceptical that the bowlers could repeat the feat of dismissing Leicestershire a second time, suggesting that the Bristol wicket is usually as flat as a pancake by the last day and pointing to the ease with which the home side had batted, but could not argue with the evidence of seeing the Foxes 24-3 inside ten overs, chasing a nominal 494 to win. David Payne and Craig Miles, who have both come through some difficult times in recent weeks, had done the initial damage before Ryan Higgins got in on the act to leave Leicestershire 52-5 and sinking fast. After some resistance from Mark Cosgrove and Ben Raine, Craig Miles had made the critical breakthrough, ending a fifty partnership just before the Close.
Starting the day on 117-6, 367 short, with only four wickets left, only an astonishing partnership could salvage the draw but, despite some substantial tail-end resistance, wickets fell at regular intervals. Seventeen-year-old Ben Charlesworth, playing in only his second First Class game, who earlier in the season was playing for Oxfordshire, came on for his first bowl of the match and duly dismissed last man, Mohammad Abbas with his first delivery to seal a win by 328 runs and, in the process, obtain his maiden First-Class wicket. For Gloucestershire, the bowling honours went to Ryan Higgins, who added 4-28 to add to his first innings 4-26, produced his career-best match figures and took his fiftieth First Class wicket in the process. Higgins has only played fifteen First Class matches, but has taken his 51 wickets at just 19.2 apiece in his career. Still only 23, Higgins is England-qualified as his family moved to Berkshire from Harare when he was a child and worked his way through the Berkshire age-group sides, before playing for Middlesex U-17s and winning his England U-19 cap. In him, it looks as if Gloucestershire have finally found a replacement for Wil Gidman.
What it means: Consecutive defeats to Kent and Gloucestershire now have ended any real hope that Leicestershire had of promotion. They now drop to fifth, behind Middlesex, thirty-nine points behind Kent. Gloucestershire, in contrast, leap from ninth to sixth and are breathing down the neck of Leicestershire in the table. Just eight points separate sixth from ninth, so there is a formidable log-jam in the lower part of the table and sides can rise or drop several places easily. Just nineteen points behind Leicestershire, a top-five finish that would be a remarkable result given the wild changes of fortune that they have suffered is not impossible.
Durham v Northamptonshire
With only pride to play for, it was a matter of who wanted it more. The game ended well inside two days, as Durham’s Jekyll and Hyde season continued with a script out of the Hammer House of Horror: it would have been wholly appropriate if a sinister Peter Cushing had been the umpire at the Pavilion End. With Northamptonshire starting the second day 189-6, already ahead, Durham needed quick wickets and much better batting second time around to make a game of it. The quick wickets came, as the last three batsmen all made ducks and Northamptonshire slumped from being 189-5, just before the Close on Day 1, to 198ao. The last five wickets fell in 22 balls for only 9 runs: Northamptonshire’s fragile batting has got no better. However, this time they did not have Middlesex in front and would not be punished for their profligacy. Chris Rushworth and Matt Salisbury, with 4-52 and 4-44 respectively, must have gone back into the dressing room anticipating putting their feet up for the rest of the day and then coming out to defend a target. Little did they imagine that they would be bowling again less than three hours later and defending only a token chase. The only time when it looked as if Durham might just fight back was when Paul Collingwood joined Cameron Steel. Durham had already lost four wickets clearing the deficit of 69 and were soon to become effectively 4-5, as Sanderson and Gleeson swept all before them. When Collingwood and Steel fell in successive overs for 27 and 50 respectively, Durham resistance was all but over: they slipped to 133ao, leaving Northamptonshire just 65 to win, which was just too few to entertain any hope of defending. 4-34 for Sanderson, 3-26 for Gleeson and 3-15 for Buck ensured Northamptonshire, barring catastrophe, a third win of the season, which duly came by seven wickets. At 45-3 there was just the chance of a real wobble, but Wakeley and Levi added the last few runs, and a sigh of relief will have fallen over Wantage Road, while at the Riverside, the patrons will reflect on a season of three steps forward and two back.
What it means: Northamptonshire’s win pushes them back thirty points clear of Glamorgan and leaves them at the back of the tight group that extends up to Gloucestershire, in sixth. Durham are one point and one place ahead. With Durham travelling to Edgbaston and Northants to Canterbury, both have tough games to come in the next round against opposition desperate to win, so they may find themselves more adrift of the top half of the table by the end of this next round.
8/23/2018 0 Comments
By Mark Kidger (@MarkFromMadrid)
Day four of this round of Championship matches started with considerable uncertainty in all four games. All logic said that a Late-August pitch in Taunton would be bad news for visiting batsmen, particularly if Somerset had picked their spin twins yet, overnight, Essex had established a formidable platform that had set them up for a win against all logic. Would batting be as straightforward when the batsmen had to sleep on it and then come back and start again in the morning? Could the Nottinghamshire batsmen engineer a great escape against Hampshire, in a match that was clearly leaning towards the hosts? Who would come out on top in the battle at the Kia Oval? The previous evening it seemed that the match had started to lean definitively towards the hosts, but the game had swung one way and the other time and time again and you would be foolish to rule out another twist. At Worcester, the question was a much simpler one: how long could Yorkshire hold out against the might of Moeen Ali? Was there any reserve of Yorkshire cussedness left, or had three days staring into that intimidating beard done for them?
So, what did happen?
Somerset v Essex: Somerset get a considerable scare, but Jack Leach sweeps aside a brave Essex chase.
Overnight, Essex were 147-1, still needing 189 to win, but batting with the sort of calm accumulation that suggested that they could pull off a heist that would make the Great Train Robbery look like small beer. Nick Browne, 75* and Tom Westley, on 43* would have to make a new start, which was always going to be the danger for the chase but, if they could get through the first hour, they would have broken the back of the chase. The Somerset bowlers knew though that often a break in play is all that is needed to energise the attack and to break a batsman’s concentration and that if they could remove one of the batsmen who was set overnight, it would open an end.
For the first half hour, the hostilities seemed to be more phoney war than hot war. Eight overs produced just seven runs but, most critically, no wickets. Both sides seemed set on grinding their way to the target: Essex, by grimly hanging in there and waiting for the bowlers to tire and to start offering some cheap runs. Somerset, in contrast, wanted to keep it tight and pray on the patience of the batsmen, hoping to induce an error. It was “Operation Winkle Out”. Rather than trick to pick the Essex batting lock with spin at both ends, Somerset started with Josh Davey keeping it tight at one end, while Jack Leach wheeled away at the other. There were few freebies, but fewer great scares for the batsmen and, little by little, Browne and Westley were getting on top.
Thirteen overs into the morning Tom Westley who, the previous week, had been trying to get some form back in the 2nd XI, swept the boundary that took him to his fifty (117 balls, with 8x4). When you have a batsman averaging 14.3 for the season, batting without difficulty and partnered by another who is approaching his century and, to boot, they are past halfway to their target; you start to believe that this is just not going to be your day. The first hour was ending, and there was nothing to encourage the Somerset faithful that they could turn the match around. However, there was always the hope that one wicket might bring two. It was a hope that found itself realised as Nick Browne went for the sweep and got it horribly wrong. Alan Knott, a master of the sweep, always said that if you got down low and kept your head steady that it was a shot almost without risk, but Browne got a top edge that lobbed straight up into the air. Jamie Overton, at First Slip, ran around the wicket-keeper and pouched it. Finally, Somerset had a breakthrough, but was it too late?
Sir Geoffrey always says “look at the scoreboard and add two to it”. Like so much of what Sir Geoffrey says, he is absolutely right. 173-1: wonderful position. 173-3: not so clever (another Sir Geoffreyism). That is precisely what happened. Next over, Tom Westley played forward to Jamie Overton, missed and was convicted. Two small errors and both set batsmen had gone. The match had lurched towards Somerset, but Essex just needed another partnership. Dan Lawrence and Ryan ten Doeschate seemed to be supplying it as they put on fifty together. Approaching Lunch, only 111 were required, seven wickets were left, two set batsmen at the crease: you would back the side that is batting, wouldn’t you? Somerset had seen their gains of the morning slip away and were thinking of Lunch and the chance to think calmly about how to stop the Essex charge to victory. Leach and Bess were in harness, trying to keep things tight and get some respite. Jack Leach had bowled unchanged through the session and was probably thinking of getting through the over and getting a rest. Three deliveries to go. Arm ball. Dan Lawrence misses it. BOWLED!
Had Essex gone into Lunch three down, the chances are that they would have won comfortably. However, to lose a wicket last ball before Lunch looked like being a critical blow. Sometimes you just feel that one wicket has been seismic and, when Lawrence fell, you felt instinctively that Essex’s chances had gone too. However, once again Essex raised the hopes of their supporters with another stubborn stand. The runs to get had dropped to just 80 with six wickets left. Once again, it seemed that Somerset were letting their advantage melt away, but equally, you thought that Jack Leach could not be denied much longer and that, when the dam burst, it would burst big. Ryan ten Doeschate has played many excellent innings and reached fifty from 72 balls (8x4). Did he relax a little on reaching the milestone and let his concentration slip? Whatever the reason, the ball that Jack Leach delivered was brilliant: ten Doeschate forward, but the ball turned past his bat and hit the top of off: it was the sort of delivery that Phil Edmonds tried to bowl every ball, just pitching leg and hitting high on the off peg, that would get all but the best batsmen.
With the margin 80 and five wickets left, Essex should still have been favourites, but Jack Leach was getting on a roll, and this is what Essex must have feared all innings. He had four wickets, and that was soon to be five as, once again, one wicket became two: a top edge from Wheater, lobbed-up, straight into the bowler’s hands. Five wickets for Leach (5-68) and the end was nigh. Bopara and Harmer played out nine overs, taking what runs there were on offer, but could not make it ten. Leach got the ball to turn just enough to take Bopara’s edge and guide it onto the stumps before it could fall into the ‘keeper’s mitts. Next over, Harmer edged a ball from Dominic Bess into his pads from where it ballooned to Marcus Trescothick, who had spent most of the day fielding on his knees, suicidally close to the bat: Tresco made no mistake. Now, Somerset were not to be denied, nor was Jack Leach. Peter Siddle tried to whack him to leg and only managed to edge to Jamie Overton at slip. Leach then finished the job by trapping Jamie Porter LBW and finished with figures of 48-16-85-8, coincidentally, almost identical to Moeen Ali’s match figures. Somerset had won by 45 runs, and Leach had bowled, unchanged, since the thirty-third over of the innings and produced a spell of 37-13-69-7.
Surrey fans may do well to remember that they have a date with Jack Leach at Taunton in the penultimate round of the Championship.
What it means:
Somerset took 22 points and Essex just 3. Somerset have reduced the Surrey lead at the top by 2 points and are now 32 points behind, with a maximum of 120 points available. With third place Nottinghamshire 28 points further back with a game fewer to play, barring a spectacular implosion, the title race is between Surrey and Somerset. Two wins and three draws would almost guarantee the Runners-up spot for Somerset.
Essex are now only 12 points clear of relegation and are in danger of being dragged into the relegation battle and potentially of emulating the Middlesex double of the Championship and relegation in consecutive seasons.
Hampshire v Nottinghamshire: Hampshire pull away from danger. Nottinghamshire’s title hopes are over.
Once James Vince had wrested this match away from Nottinghamshire with a brilliant century, it was always going to tough for them to save the game. Starting at 128-4, Nottinghamshire needed a big century from someone to be able to hang on.
The aims for the two sides at the start were quite clear. Nottinghamshire needed to get through to Lunch losing no more than one wicket. For Hampshire, the target was two. Take two quick wickets, and the match might well be over before Lunch. The field set for Liam Dawson resembled a close-catchers’ convention. Six men and the bowler in his follow-through around the bat, the bowler and Gareth Berg at slip the only ones without helmets. Fifty minutes were gone, and Nottinghamshire were hanging on. Once again, the critical moment was a batsman reaching a landmark and seemingly relaxing. Steven Mullaney reached his fifty (135 balls, 5x4) and then received a ball from Liam Dawson that turned and lifted as the batsman tried to get out of the way, but only succeeded in punching the ball through to Gareth Berg off his gloves. In came Billy Root to endure a trial by spin. With Liam Dawson getting the ball to talk, but the seamers not able to produce the same danger, James Vince called-up Joe Weatherley to bowl some occasional off-spin. It took him just three balls to get the bewildered brother of the England captain to edge through to slip for only his third First Class wicket. Job done, he had two more overs and came of guarding a career-best of 3-1-2-1, and Kyle Abbott came back with the new ball.
Luke Fletcher is not the sort of man to be intimidated by a new ball and tried to show it; unfortunately, Jimmy Adams was alert to the significant outside edge that his attempt to loft Abbott over the sightscreen produced. It was not the brightest shot, and the overwhelming impression was that the wheels had come off the Nottinghamshire waggon. That impression was reinforced when, with the last ball of the same over, Abbott’s second with the new ball, Matt Carter produced an expansive leave to a ball outside his off stump… and heard the death-rattle. If Sir Geoffrey had seen it, he would have started expectorating “you dopey… There’s more brain in a pork pie!”
Lunch was delayed for fifteen minutes with eight wickets down now, and Nottinghamshire showed no inclination to oblige everyone to troop back out after eating. A superb delivery from Kyle Abbott and Rikki Wessels was trapped LBW. Mark Footitt was injured but decided to come out to bat. Footitt decided that he was going to swing and enjoy himself, but it was only going to take one straight ball to end the match. It took just twenty deliveries for the batsman to miss a straight one. Dawson finished with 35.4-8-80-4. And Nottinghamshire ate humble pie for Lunch.
What it means:
Hampshire took 21 points and Nottinghamshire just 3. While Nottinghamshire stay third, thanks to Essex also losing, they are now sixty points behind Surrey with a maximum of 96 available to them. Nottinghamshire’s title chances have ended, and even the Runners-Up spot looks to be beyond them. Hampshire move up to fifth, but Worcestershire’s maximum points win means that Hampshire are still only ten points clear of relegation and still deep in trouble.
Yorkshire v Worcestershire: Magic Moeen destroys the Tykes.
It took just forty minutes for Worcestershire to finish-off Yorkshire. Starting at 140-6, the greatest interested was just how many wickets Moeen would end up with. It took only twelve minutes for Moeen to open his account. Round the wicket to David Willey, ball turns sharply, Willey defends down completely the wrong line, off-stump impact, thanks very much! In came Matt Fisher and, three balls later, he was gone too – thin edge to Ben Cox that the wicket-keeper pouched. Six wickets for Moeen: do I hear seven? A full four and a half overs passed before another wicket fell, as Jack Brooks decided that he might as well have a hit if he had a ball to hit. Moeen threw the ball to nineteen-year-old Dillon Pennington, who had taken four in the first innings and Pennington took the last two in consecutive overs.
The final margin was an innings and 186 runs. Moeen Ali finished the innings with 23-7-49-6 and 8-86 and a double century in the match. If he is not in the squad for the 3rd Test, something is seriously wrong somewhere.
What it means:
Worcestershire took 24 points and Yorkshire just 1, that one point thanks to the ninth wicket partnership scrambling over 200 in the first innings. However, Hampshire’s win means that Worcestershire stay in the relegation places, although they do move off the bottom of the table, just five points behind Yorkshire and safety. Worcestershire go to Old Trafford next week in the duel of the bottom two knowing that a win in that game would see them almost certainly out of the bottom two and halfway to safety. Yorkshire have undone all the benefit of their win in the previous round and are deep in trouble still, with Somerset, the visitors on Wednesday.
Surrey v Lancashire
Lancashire started the day on 177-5, with 94 more needed and two set batsmen at the crease in Croft (28*) and Bohanon (22*). We were in for an afternoon of heart-stopping action with the winner uncertain until the very last ball.
Croft and Bohanon added 20 in the first half hour as the target crept down, with Rory Burns reluctant to use Morne Morkel too heavily in the absence of the injured Jade Derbach, in case he was needed later. The stand had reached 78, and the runs required 68 when Rory Burns decided that he could wait no longer and brought back his main strike bowler. Morne Morkel repaid the faith at once. First ball of his second over. Thin edge from Steven Croft, safely into the gloves of Ben Foakes. Wicket maiden to Morkel. Surrey had the breakthrough. In his next over Morkel had the hero of the first innings, Bohanon in his sights. A quick ball just outside off from Morkel. Edge and the ball flew to Rory Burns, who was positioned at Second Slip well in front of ‘keeper or First Slip. A double blow. Both not out batsmen overnight gone and 67 still needed. Then with the new ball due in four overs, Morkel produced what seemed to be the coup de grace, surprising Joe Mennie with bounce and another edge went through to Ben Foakes. Morkel’s spell was, at that point, 4.2-1-4-3 and 203-5 had become 209-8.
Graeme Onions though is a formidable battler in a crisis and, twice in one series against South Africa, saved a Test by holding-out against a baying South African attack. Onions and Bailey applied the maxim “see ball, hit ball”, with an astonished Morkel being carted for a six – how the ball ended-up going over wide Long On, is a mystery – and a four in one over by the #10. New ball not taken. Clarke and Virdi tried to end the tail-end chutzpah. Lancashire were 24 short at Lunch, with the stand already 38. Jon Patrick McEnroe would be screaming “you cannot be serious!”
San Curran took the new ball straight after Lunch, and Graeme Onions deposited his first delivery into the stand at Mid-Wicket. This was the danger: the new ball flies faster, and if the batsmen have two or three lucky swings, the match could be all over. Morkel back. Fifteen needed. Onions charges him… and misses. Backs away to carve the next ball… and misses again! The difference was that the second one was straight. A fifth wicket for Morne Morkel, who has saved Surrey here. In came Matt Parkinson to face the music. Parkinson got off the mark with a two, first ball and saw out the over. Six from Curran’s next over. Just seven needed. Another edge to the boundary would be a disaster.
Morkel to last man, Parkinson. The batsman gets one in his arch, pulls hard and the ball flies wide of Will Jacks at Short Leg. Jacks sticks out his hand instinctively and somehow, instead of flying to the boundary, the ball sticks in it. Surrey had won by six runs when had Will Jacks not been so quick; it could have been all but over for them. Morkel finished with 6-57 and Surrey produced the sort of win, in extremis that is the mark of champions.
What it means:
Surrey took 20 points and Lancashire 4. Although Somerset have cut the Surrey lead by two points, they are still 32 clear, and Somerset need to reduce that by more than 6 points per match from here to the end of the season. However, with Surrey still to visit Taunton, the title may be decided in that fixture. Lancashire are now bottom of the table, 11 points from safety and, with a game fewer to play, probably need to win two of their four remaining games to stay up. Anecdotally, with only a maximum of 96 points available to them, Lancashire can no longer win the Championship as, even if Surrey obtain no more points, Lancashire can only equal their points total and would have two fewer wins! More seriously, Lancashire host Worcestershire next week and, if they lose that game, will have one foot in Division 2.
Only two matches were left in Division 2, but both provided astounding finishes, neither of which could have been predicted at Lunch the previous day.
Sussex v Derbyshire: Sussex rub Salt into the Derbyshire wounds.
At Lunch yesterday, this match had seemed all but dead, before the astonishing assault by Phil Salt had given Sussex the chance to declare and set a target. Derbyshire though made it quite clear that batting a man short; they had no intention of chasing. On a pitch that had produced 1188 runs for 26 wickets over the first three days, at 45.5 runs per wicket, you would not fancy the chances of a positive result.
However, in this match, Derbyshire have suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune more than most. Losing their wicket-keeper and main strike bowler was one thing, losing a pivotal batsman to concussion as they fought to hang on was one blow too many – quite literally.
For the first hour, things proceeded calmly. Ben Slater did the lion’s share of the scoring as he and Billy Godleman brought up the fifty partnership and then reached fifty runs added in the morning session. That the runs were coming at a little better than two-an-over did not matter, the fact that no wickets had been lost, did. With attention focussed elsewhere, it seemed that there would be little action to attract the lovers of the game. Sussex though had not given up, and David Wiese bowled Billy Godleman behind his legs, leg stump and the door was ajar. As so often happens after a partnership, one wicket brought two. The next over, new batsman, Wayne Madsen, was caught in front by Chris Jordan and, suddenly, the match had turned.
What happened next was a tragedy for Derbyshire. They were continuing to defy the Sussex attack after Lunch, with opener Ben Slater looking solid until he took a sickening blow on the helmet from Jofra Archer and was forced to retire hurt. He was assessed, found to be concussed and, under the concussion protocols introduced this season, withdrawn from the match. With Daryl Smit having replaced Harvey Hossein at Tea on the first day and then Ravi Rampaul hospitalised, a second replacement player was needed, apart from the substitute for Rampaul. Former England U-19 player Anuj Dal was nominated as Slater’s replacement and duly came in at #8 for his First Class debut, although he had been a fixture for Derbyshire in their T20 campaign, having started the season in Derbyshire 2nd XI.
How much the Slater injury affected Derbyshire is uncertain but, with two new batsmen at the crease, the middle order just melted away, as Jofra Archer and Danny Briggs removed Ervine two balls after Slater was forced to go off, with Critchley and Smit in following in quick succession. Alex Hughes had dropped anchor and, with Anuj Dal, held up Sussex for a time, but now it was just a matter of when the match would end. When Ollie Robinson induced an edge from Alex Hughes through to ‘keeper Ben Brown, it was 109-6, and the wheels were falling off the Derbyshire waggon. Anuj Dal organised the tail for a while, but it was token resistance only and his gritty innings ended on 25, Danny Briggs’s third LBW of the innings. Derbyshire managed to extend the match just beyond Tea but were well beaten in the end.
What it means:
Sussex took 24 points and Derbyshire 7. Sussex take back second place and are just 4 points behind Worcestershire, with Kent 11 points behind in third. This win has extended the gap to Leicestershire in fourth place to 30 points. Derbyshire drop to sixth, 52 points behind the promotion places and any faint hopes that Derbyshire may have had of gate-crashing the promotion party, had now gone.
Northamptonshire v Middlesex: A stunning Northamptonshire collapse keeps Middlesex’s promotion hopes alive… just.
At Lunch yesterday the script seemed to be a simple one. Middlesex, following on, would set Northamptonshire a small target, would lose and their season would be over as far as competitive interest was concerned. Yes, there was a slight chance if they could win their last five matches maybe they could still go up, but no one believed that guff. This was vintage Middlesex: winning against the runaway leaders one week, losing to one of the contenders for the wooden spoon the next. Even the permanently optimistic Kevin Hand was in “good loser” mode and joking with Alex Winter. After all, when all hope is gone, you just sit back and enjoy it.
As the Northamptonshire attack tired and the Middlesex fightback continued, attitudes changed and, in private, Kevin gave me a number and said that if the lead reached that figure, Middlesex would win. Seeing how the momentum was changing, it was difficult to disagree with his infectious optimism. James Harris was 79* at the start of play, just five short of his career best and probably had mentioned to Tim Murtagh that he expected the “Lambeth Lara” to hang around. Unfortunately, James Harris had not mentioned this to Rory Kleinveldt who zeroed in with his first two deliveries, before re-arranging Murtagh’s stumps with his third. With his contract ended, this was Kleinveldt’s last wicket for Northamptonshire. 374ao. The target 216.
Now, although Northamptonshire missed-out on promotion last season by precisely the 5 points that they were deducted for a slow over-rate in one match, those who follow the team admitted that the real reason why they had not gone up was their regular batting collapses. The target was just large enough, even on a pitch that was getting easier and easier, to give them an opportunity for another.
To be in with a chance, you felt that Middlesex needed two early wickets. They got one, as James Harris took a tame return catch offered by Zaib, but that was as good as it got. Procter and Vasconcelos were batting with great security, and the spark was missing from the visitors. As Lunch approached, the match was heading just one way. Once again though, a wicket fell just before the interval. Bamber induced a loose drive from Luke Procter and ‘keeper Robbie White accepted the catch. Vasconcelos was still there though and brought up his fifty straight after the interval. With Ben Duckett nursing a broken finger and only planning to bat if required to, Northamptonshire could ill afford to lose quick wickets, but that was what happened as Tim Murtagh removed Vasconcelos and Wakeley within the first half hour after Lunch. As the procession of batsmen continued, Ben Duckett came out at #7 but lasted just three balls. Incredibly, Northamptonshire had fallen from 94-1 to 130-7. It was soon 148-8, and the match seemed to be over.
What happened next was pure drama. Nathan Buck and Ben Hutton showed an application that some of the batsmen would do well to copy. Having done so much to get their team into a winning position, they had no plans to let it slip away. Run-by-run, they chalked off the deficit and inched their side towards its target. It was under fifty, then under forty and the tension started to rise again with every run. Northamptonshire’s super fan, Wendell, could be heard over the effects mic, cheering every run. Surely Middlesex would not let this one escape now? The players came in for Tea with 43 still wanted.
As so often happens, it was the break that did for the batsmen. On their return, the ball was tossed to Tim Murtagh, after Bamber had allowed just two singles. Two more singles from Murtagh’s first over. 39 needed. Hutton 18*, Buck 20*. Maiden over from Bamber. The tension was becoming unbearable again. Tim Murtagh was, at one point, probably a couple of injuries away from an England place. Finally, having found a chance to play international cricket in the twilight of his career, thanks to an Irish grandparent, he has been able to reach the pinnacle with a Test cap in Ireland’s maiden Test and, after six wickets and a bowling average of 16.7 and, knowing that it can only go downhill from here, he has retired at the top. Tim Murtagh remains a fearsome competitor and, although not the quickest bowler in County cricket, is having a wonderful season. Once again he pulled the chestnuts out of the Middlesex fire. After 11 dot balls, he floated it up. An uncontrolled drive from Nathan Buck. Fuller takes the catch. 39 to win and surely it is all over. Six runs from Bamber’s over. The #11 in Murtagh’s sights. Sanderson gets the single to get off the strike, and the pressure is back on Brett Hutton, 23 not out. The next delivery hits the pad. Murtagh screams an appeal, and it is given.
Middlesex have come back from effectively 7-6 just after Lunch the previous day to win by 31 runs after following on. Only three times in the club’s history have they won after following on, the last time in 1924 and the previous two in the nineteenth century. Northamptonshire, for the first time in 123 years of history lose after enforcing the follow-on.
Back-to-back wins for Middlesex who, once again manage to get over the line after eight sessions of receiving a cauliflower ear.
What it means:
Middlesex took 24 points and Northamptonshire 7. Middlesex remain fifth, 39 points behind Sussex and are just about still in the promotion race, although no less than four wins out of five will do from here. The biggest issue for Middlesex is that their eight batting bonus points are 17 fewer than Sussex and 13 fewer than Warwickshire and they also have fewer bowling bonus points than either, meaning that they require an extra win to compensate. Northamptonshire are ninth and sure to finish in the bottom half of the table.
What is to come?
We have another full round of matches, with all eighteen counties in action on Wednesday, August 29th.
Essex v Hampshire, Chelmsford
Lancashire v Worcestershire, Southport
Surrey v Nottinghamshire, Kia Oval
Yorkshire v Somerset, Headingley
Derbyshire v Kent, Derby
Durham v Northamptonshire, Riverside
Glamorgan v Warwickshire, Colwyn Bay
Gloucestershire v Leicestershire, Bristol
Middlesex v Sussex, Lord's
Two matches stand out: Lancashire and Worcestershire will battle for Division 1 survival. It is fair to say that the loser will be favourite to be relegated (if it is Lancashire, they will be almost down). And, in Division 2, Middlesex play their last card in their bid for promotion. A win against Sussex and we may yet see a squadron of pigs flying over Lord’s.
8/18/2018 0 Comments
By Mark Kidger (@MarkFromMadrid)
Friday night saw a full round of matches in the Vitality Blast to determine the final qualifying places for the Quarter Finals and the crosses between teams. While three teams had qualified in each group before tonight’s games, the actual order of those teams was undecided in both and thus the home/away Quarter Final assignations. For example, Kent and Gloucestershire could have finished anywhere from 1st to 4th in South Group and any one of Sussex (who could finish as high as 2nd, or as low as 5th), Glamorgan and Surrey could take the final Quarter Final place. The North Group started the evening only a little less complicated, also with three teams (Yorkshire Vikings, Notts Outlaws and Birmingham Bears) in with a chance of the final place in the Quarter Finals, with Durham Jets and Worcester Rapids competing for top spot and Lancashire Lightning lying in wait for a home draw if either should slip up.
Meanwhile, rain encroaching from the west gave Birmingham Bears some slim hope that maybe they could get the double-cannon that they needed to qualify, in the form of winning their own game, while the Vikings – Outlaws game failed to give a result.
So, how did the action play out?
Durham Jets v Derbyshire Falcons: Durham’s game was abandoned without a ball bowled. The point ensured Durham a home Quarter-Final, with only Worcestershire Rapids able to overtake them. The equation was simple: if Worcestershire won, they would finish top; otherwise it would be Durham. In the end, Durham were pipped to top spot by 0.039 on NRR, equivalent to 10 runs and will host Sussex in the Quarter Finals.
Yorkshire Vikings v Notts Outlaws: This was the critical game, with the winner guaranteed to qualify for the Quarter Finals whatever the other results were on the night. Yorkshire won the Toss and elected to bat. The start to the innings was explosive, with the first ball of the innings hit for four and then a wicket to the second. Andrew Lyth and David Willey then added 92 at 8-an-over, giving Yorkshire hopes of a total of 190+ but, when Lyth departed to the first ball of the thirteenth over, caught behind for 44 from 36 balls, the momentum slowed. Willey departed for 51 from 40 balls two overs later and with him the hopes of a really imposing total, although Kane Williamson tried to push on, but had little effective support in his 44 from 26 balls, run out from the last ball of the innings. 163-6 was a useful total, but not one that you felt should be impossible for the Outlaws to pass. For the Outlaws, 1-16 from 4 overs of Harry Gurney and 1-2 from Steve Mullaney’s single over were the difference between chasing 164 to win and chasing a total in the range of 180-190.
Rikki Wessels and Alex Hales gave the Outlaws a quick, if rather brief, start, with Willey castling Wessels for 16 to the last ball of the third over, but Alex Hales and Jake Libby kept the Outlaws well ahead of the asking rate. Even though Lyth had Libby stumped for 30, Tom Moores came in and hit powerfully, with Hales acting as the anchor, and the Outlaws cruised to their target with an over to spare. Hale finished with 71 from 56 balls and Moores with 43 from 26, with the margin of victory of 8 wickets every bit as comfortable as it looks on paper.
Birmingham Bears v Worcestershire Rapids: The Bears won the Toss and elected to put in the Rapids, knowing that they had to win and hope that a local deluge rained-off the Vikings – Outlaws game. The Rapids knew that a win should put them ahead of Durham Jets to top the Group on Net Run Rate. Unfortunately for the Bears, they ran into the double-whammy of Moeen Ali in inspired form with the bat and rain in the North that stubbornly refused to reach Leeds. After an opening stand of 80 between Clarke and Moeen at almost 10-an-over, Moeen cut loose with Calum Ferguson as sleeping partner and put on 74 in 38 balls, before adding 30 in 12 balls with Ben Cox before falling stumped for 115 from 56 balls. If Moeen is needed by England, he is in prime form and ready. The chief sufferer was Aaron Thomason, who went for 53 from his three overs. With Moeen’s departure, the scoring rate slowed, and Ben Cox and Ross Whiteley were both run-out from the last two balls of the innings, but 209-5 left the Bears a formidable chase.
Ian Bell and Ed Pollock gave the Bears a tremendous start and their opening partnership of 55 was made well in advance of the asking rate. Unfortunately, although the top seven all reached double figures, no one was able to go on and make the sort of contribution that was needed to push the Bears over the line. No one passed Adam Hose’s 45 and, although the scoring rate kept right in touch with the target, wickets kept falling just as it seemed that the Bears were getting on top. Finally, with the batting knowing already that their hopes of qualifying had gone, the chase ran out of steam and 20 were needed from the last over, but Patrick Brown, who finished with 2-23 in a high-scoring match, allowed just 4.
The Rapids just sneaked ahead of Durham Jets on NRR. Had the Bears lost by five runs instead of by 15, it would have been the Jets who topped the group.
Leicestershire Foxes v Northamptonshire Steelbacks: This was a dead rubber, with the Steelbacks, with the worst record in either group, already certain to finish last in the North Group and the Foxes unable to finish any higher than sixth. Northamptonshire won the Toss and elected to put the Foxes in. The Steelbacks had an awful start when, after a quiet first over, Gareth Wade bowled high full tosses with his first and third delivery of the second over and was removed from the attack after just one legitimate delivery. Worse, the legitimate delivery was hit for four, with Wade finishing with the extraordinary figures of 0.1-0-9-0 and his over being completed by James Cobb, who restored sanity by delivering five legitimate deliveries – his only deliveries of the match – and conceding just three singles. From the relatively high point of 24-0 from 2.4 overs, Leicestershire slumped to 37-4 from 6.1 and were never in the match after that. Harry Dearden held the innings together with 61 from 40 balls and, when he was out in the eighteen over 27 came from the last 15 balls of the innings. All in all, 148-7 was a decent recovery, but never likely to be enough.
The Steelbacks needed a start, and Ben Curran (the brother of Sam and Tom) gave it to them in partnership with Ben Duckett, with fifty from the first 29 balls. The back of the chase was broken and, although Ben Curran fell for 29, Ben Duckett and James Cobb kept the run rate close to 10-an-over in a partnership of 40. The fall of the captain, Wakely, in the fourteenth over though led to a horrible wobble as the Steelbacks lost four wickets for 15 runs in 25 balls before Graeme White came in and leathered 2x4 and 2x6 in a 9-ball 21* to see the Steelbacks home for only the second win of the competition.
Sussex Sharks v Middlesex: Middlesex put Sussex in and saw Sussex make a fantastic start, with the score 58-0 after just four overs, with Phil Salt reaching a fifty from 18 balls and then pushing on. Salt fell finally for 66 from 25 balls, but Luke Wright and Laurie Evans took up the charge, leaving horrendous damage to the figures of Tom Barber – 2 overs for 35 – and James Fuller – 4 overs for 53, although he did have the compensation of 3 wickets. It was utter carnage. Thirteen came from the last three balls of the innings and Middlesex’s case was not helped by the amazing total of 19 wides.
215-5 was a formidable total, and the betting was that Middlesex would not be able to get close to it. When Ben Scott fell for a duck to the fourth ball of the innings, the Middlesex supporters could be heard diving behind the sofa. What happened though was a blitz on the Sussex bowlers so brutal that it appeared that Middlesex would win with several overs to spare. Paul Stirling, who has blossomed this season, hit 58 from 29 balls and, in partnership with John Simpson, they put the Sussex bowlers to the sword. Together they put on 122 in 49 balls, leaving a highly gettable 92 from 67 balls for the rest of the batting. At that stage, it seemed that Middlesex were set to end the Sussex chances and with rain at Cardiff, Surrey would sneak into the Quarter Finals by the back door. Even when John Simpson followed soon after for 62 from 29 balls, Middlesex were right on top, and Eoin Morgan kept the scoreboard moving and Middlesex well on target to win.
The match turned on the first ball of the fifteenth over, with Middlesex needing 58 from 36 balls and, seemingly, cruising. Danny Briggs bowled to James Fuller, who hit it back towards the bowler. Briggs half-stopped it and tipped the ball onto the stumps, with Eoin Morgan out of his ground. What followed was pure Middlesex: there was plenty of batting left, the target was not a difficult one, but the panicked big time. Three balls later Franklin edged Briggs through to ‘keeper Burgess: 161-5. In the next over, Tymal Mills bowled Steve Eskinazi and, even more critically, had James Fuller, who could have won the match in two overs of clinical hitting, caught: 166-7 and Middlesex sinking fast. Archer bowled Andersson with the last ball of the seventeenth, and it was all over bar the shouting. Middlesex had imploded when it seemed easier to win and, with Middlesex now trying to play out the overs, a noisy crowd celebrated Chris Jordan taking the last two wickets with the third and fourth ball of the final over of the innings. Incredibly, Middlesex had lost by 31 runs and the tones of “Sussex by the Sea” rang out around the ground.
Would this win be enough though to get a home draw in the Quarter Finals? That depended on the goings-on at Canterbury.
Essex Eagles v Kent Spitfires: Kent won the Toss and elected to field only to see Wheater and Chopra end the Power Play 58-0 as the Kent attack struggled to contain the batsmen. 40 for Wheater and 37 for Chopra gave Essex and an excellent start, backed-up by the middle order. Only Matt Coles, who came in for the last four balls of the inning, failed to get into double figures as Essex looked to end a disappointing campaign on a high. The scoring rate had slowed a little in mid-innings, but 25* from 10 balls from Ravi Bopara pushed Essex past 200, and the qualifying scenario for the South Group started to get very interesting, with Sussex looking at the possibility of a wholly unexpected home Quarter-Final.
202 seemed like a big chase, but Denly and Bell-Drummond went off like a train. Shane Snater’s first over went for 23, as Bell-Drummond reached 50 from 27 balls. It looked as if Kent would make light of the target. When Denly fell for 45, the openers had put on 98 in 8.4 overs. Heino Kuhn came and went, bowled cheaply by Ravi Bopara, his dominant form of the One Day Cup long-forgotten. Sam Billings though is a superb limited-overs bat and, with Bell-Drummond, the target was reduced to a seemly simple 51 from 32 balls. Bopara and Snater kept the batsmen to a run-a-ball over the sixteenth and seventeenth overs, and the target started to get just a little tight. It came down to 9 needed from the last over. Bell-Drummond hit the first ball for a boundary but fell to the second for 80 from 51 balls. Coles then limited Gavin Stewart and Dickson to two singles. With three to win from two balls, the pressure was back on Kent to stay calm. Coles bowled the penultimate ball to the hero of the Kent One Day Cup Semi-Final victory, Gavin Stewart, who got the winning boundary and Kent had sealed a home Quarter-Final that looked to have possibly escaped them.
Hampshire v Gloucestershire: Gloucestershire were put in and struggled to time the ball. The outfield was slow, and the batsmen were allowing far too many dot-balls. At the same time, Maxy Klinger seemed to be struggling with his movement with the back injury that he has suffered from throughout the Blast campaign. Hammond and Cockbain fell quickly, leaving Gloucestershire 21-1 from 5 overs, with both out before Klinger had got off the mark and managed just 29-2 from the Power Play overs. In the end, the Shire struggled to 144-8, centred around Maxy Klinger’s 43. The lesson was that anything pitched up was almost impossible to get away, but short deliveries could be dispatched, as reflected by the fact that sixes (eight) in the Gloucestershire innings far exceeded the fours. For Hampshire, Chris Wood took 4-16 from his four overs. Gloucestershire were, quite literally hamstrung by Kieron Noema-Barnett pulling a hamstring badly early in his innings and being unable to bat again; more critically, he would not be able to bowl on a pitch likely to suit his dibbly-dobbly pace.
In reply, Payne bowled Dickinson from the fifth ball of the first over and, unexpectedly, James Vince did not come out to bat at the fall of the wicket. This was a deliberate tactic ploy as Hampshire set out to swing hard during the Power Play, which was what Gloucestershire had totally failed to do and paid for. Initially, Hampshire found timing just as hard as Gloucestershire had, but then David Payne bowled another poor over (he had been horribly off-colour at Bristol the previous night), and suddenly Hampshire were up and running. Andrew Tye came on to bowl and bowled an equally poor first over. Maxy Klinger was fuming in the field but, with a bowler missing, his options were minimal. Overall, it was a repeat of the previous night at Bristol: poorly directed balls down leg, misfields (sometimes giving away boundaries), dropped catches and a generally shoddy performance. At the end of the Power Play, Gloucestershire had been 29-2, while Hampshire were 67-2. 42 in 18 balls from Rossouw broke the back of the chase and solid scores from Sam Northeast (37) and James Vince (48*) ensured that there was no way back. Even a third wicket in two matches from the previous night’s debutant, Jacob Lintott, was no consolation for a second consecutive pretty desperate performance.
Gloucestershire who before the game last night, must have expected to top the South Group, now face a trip to Worcestershire Rapids and an in-form Moeen Ali with a point to prove.
Glamorgan v Surrey: For both Glamorgan and Surrey, the equation was simple – win and hope that Middlesex could pull off a win at Hove. With both sides needing the win there was some high-octane cricket. The Glamorgan top three all scored at a rate close to or above 200 as the first five overs brought 67 runs. No one though could push on to a decisive score, and wickets fell, bringing the inevitable brake on the headlong scoring. Even though no one in the top six scored fewer than 21, no one could score more than 39 and, from looking set for 225-230 if you double the score at 12 overs, 183-8 was a disappointing effort as the Surrey bowlers hauled their team back into the match. Tom Curran with 3-30 and veteran, Gareth Batty, with 0-23, each from their full stint of four overs, had much to do with the total being at least forty short of what seemed likely at one point.
With the storm clouds gathering from the West and Sussex looking to be on the verge of defeat, Surrey knew that if they could get in five overs, there could pull off an amazing heist. Rain delayed the reply and, with more rain imminent, Burns and Finch needed quick runs to ensure that they would be ahead on Duckworth-Lewis. Aaron Finch scored 44 from just 16 balls as Tim van der Gugten, in particular, was treated brutally, his over going for 24 (3x4, 2x6). The umpires kept the players out, taking them off after the minimum five overs for a result had been completed, at which point Surrey were 60-0, well ahead of the 37 required on Duckworth-Lewis. The rain stopped, a rope went around the field and play was set to re-start, but it started raining again, and the umpires bowed to the inevitable. Surrey, who had the best NRR in the country, missed out on the Quarter Finals by a single win.
The Quarter Final line-up
Worcestershire Rapids v Gloucestershire
Durham Jets v Sussex Sharks
Somerset v Notts Outlaws
Kent Spitfires v Lancashire Lightning
Notts Outlaws, Lancashire Lightning and Birmingham Bears are in a close tussle for the title of Kings of domestic T20 cricket. Interestingly, Durham Jets, who were agonisingly close to winning North Group, have the third-worst record in the country (how many fans would have put Gloucestershire or Glamorgan as one of the three sides with the worst historical record in T20? Most would, I guess, have one of the two in their list). In contrast, despite having won the Blast in 2008, Middlesex are competing with Derbyshire for the title of, historically, the very worst T20 side in the country. While, begging their pardon, not too many people would go to Derby expecting to find a great depth of talent, the fact that year after year, Middlesex sides packed with talent struggle in this format, suggests serious structural problems: the one year that Middlesex won the competition with some gloriously carefree cricket, was the year when the dressing room was, reportedly, riven with strife and the members were in uproar. It is also interesting that Surrey, with traditionally the biggest chequebook in the country and frequently the biggest star names, have not been more successful historically in T20.
The numbers for historical success and failure are quite interesting. At the conclusion of the 2018 Vitality Blast qualifying, the overall Domestic T20 numbers for the years of competition are as follows:
6/13/2018 0 Comments
As there is no white ball cricket this week, as a sop to those who prefer to see red, the ECB has thrown in a round of Championship games. Of course, only six of the eight First Division and eight of ten Second Division sides are playing: there is obviously a logical reason why the other four sides have no game… if you find out what it is, please let us know! Hard as it is to believe, we are almost halfway through the Championship season and the shape of the race for the Pennant is getting increasingly clear. No longer can a side justify a defeat with the cry “it does not matter, there is still a long way to go” (some are still trying to). While it is not unusual to hear the phrase “it’s a game of two halves” when referring to some other ball game that is intruding on the cricket season, as the season advances, Division 1 itself is increasingly becoming a Division of two halves.
The title race looks to be a four-horse race between Somerset, Surrey, Essex and Nottinghamshire, although, at this stage, Somerset and Surrey seem to have an advantage here (how many people, pre-season, would have picked these two sides to be the ones scrapping at the top at this stage of the season?) At the bottom, the Worcestershire cause is looking increasingly hopeless, while Hampshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire (albeit the last, with a game in hand), are separated by just six points. There is already a keen anticipation of just how Hampshire will engineer yet another last-gasp escape from relegation – or maybe not – come the final day of the season.
Let’s start at The Oval, where remarkable things happened. It cannot be too often that a side is 1-2 after just 5 balls on the first morning and wins by an innings and plenty. However, given that one of those two wickets was the unfortunate Mark Stoneman, things become more plausible. George Dobell has pointed out that, since he took a blow on the head halfway through the Ashes series, Mark Stoneman has looked a shadow of himself. He is still yet to reach 30 this season and has reached double figures just once in his last six innings: might it not be kinder to let him play a couple of low-profile 2nd XI games to try to regain some confidence, away from the glare of publicity? After Stoneman had fallen for a third-ball duck, Scott Borthwick was dopy enough to run himself out second ball, leaving Surrey in a mess. A decidedly unpromising position was transformed as Burns and Foakes added 199 for the fourth wicket, with Rory Burns scoring 151, before Surrey collapsed from 282-3 to 368ao. The fact that Hampshire were fielding an attack with three high-class bowlers who have 152 Test caps between them, makes you wonder just why it is that they are struggling to keep their head above water in Division 1: that is, you wonder until they start to bat. The tremulous Hampshire effort in the face of a decent, but by no means terrifying, Surrey attack, answers that question. From a high point of 41-1, their reply deflated rapidly; in truth, it never got going. The main reason was that every time that Rikki Clarke got his hands on the ball, a batsman retreated quickly to the safety of the Pavillion: he seemed to give the Hampshire batsmen the holy terrors in the same way that Ian Botham did to Australia batsmen when in his pomp. It is one of life’s little mysteries why Rikki Clarke never got another Test cap after his early debut, but his 5-29 was far too much for Hampshire to handle. 135ao. Thanks very much. Have another bat and try to do better. Hampshire did do somewhat better second time around but, as Bruce Forsythe used to say in The Generation Game, “they had nothing to beat!” As Hampshire subsided for a second time, Amar Virdi added to his already impressive statistics for the season by taking 3-23 to ensure that Hampshire fell well short of making Surrey bat again. Virdi has 20 wickets in 5 Championship matches for Surrey this season, which is all the more impressive when you realise that in only five innings has he actually had more than a token spell. The more that the season progresses, the less that a spin attack of Leach, Bess and Virdi in Sri Lanka looks like being an outlandish possibility, with Moeen potentially needing batting form even to get into the squad. There is a genuine risk that, after several winters of being out-gunned in this field, England could actually play a better spin attack than the hosts. The bottom line was that, after the attentions of Clarke in the first innings and Virdi in the second, Hampshire could only manage 135 and 175ao and lost by an innings and 58, in well under three days. This Surrey side means business.
If Surrey were clinical, the defending Champions were efficient. While the first two days showed huge swings of fortune, that was nothing compared to the remarkable third and final day at Old Trafford. Suffice it to say that Essex put down a marker against Lancashire, making a big statement that they will not give up the title without a fight. Starting that third day, Essex were 221-6, chasing Lancashire’s 301ao and first innings bragging rights were far from clear, yet the match ended well before the scheduled Close that same day. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. How did we get here? Let’s start by saying that the fact that Lancashire had reached 301ao was a remarkable achievement starting from the depths of 59-5. For that recovery they had Chanderpaul and Joe Clark to thank for putting on 141 together to stabilise the innings. Afterwards, there were other contributions down the order and the end result was a very competitive total. When Essex batted, Cook and Westley put on 110 for the second wicket after Chopra fell early, before Joe Meenie showed that he is really a meanie, sending Essex diving from 119-1 to 130-5. It took a last wicket partnership of 42 to bring Essex up to parity and obtain a one-run first innings lead, with the third morning now well advanced and the prospect of a draw was looming. What no one could have imagined was the carnage that was to follow. Lancashire lost both openers – Jennings and Davies – in eight balls without a run on the board. Hameed followed soon after. Then Livingstone, Vilas, Clark… At 29-6, Lancashire were looking for the old warhorse, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, a mere stripling of 43, with a Test average of 51.4, to rescue the situation once again. Even Superman has been known to have the odd off day when faced with some Kryptonite and, in this case, Shiv’s Kryptonite came in the form of Jamie Porter, who is starting to show the sort of form that even the selectors will notice. For once, not even not even Chanderpaul could salvage the innings. Essex were left with seemingly simple target of 105 to win and keep their title defence very much alive and on course. Graeme Onions though does not seem to understand the concept of “impossible”. He may be 35 now, with a history of injury problems and his England career long past, but he remains capable of lethal spells and decided that this was a good moment to produce one with the new ball; at 41-4, he had dismissed the top three, who seemed determined to reach the target and get home early and the match was back in the balance. If one thing characterises this Essex side though, it is their cussedness and ability to squeeze over the line in tight matches. Here it was personified by Ravi Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate who added 52 and took their side to the verge of victory. When ten Doeschate fell, even Graeme Onions knew that the game was up. Essex are not going to surrender their title without a battle.
So, three days into the round of matches, Surrey and Essex sat proudly at the top of Division 1 with three wins apiece and 84 and 78 points respectively. Surrey, though, count with the priceless advantage of a game in hand. Would they stay top? That all depended on events at Taunton, where a win for either side would make the winner the leader.
Here, we had another remarkable game. Pre-season, most pundits seemed to think that whatever jiggery-pokery the groundsman at Taunton came up with (do NOT mention the word “rake” to Kevin Hand and, while you are at it, best not to use “arrow” or “crossbow” either in polite conversation with him), Somerset would do well to avoid the drop. To the surprise of many though, Somerset have been thriving instead on seam-friendly pitches that have left Jack Leach (even before his injury) and Dominic Bess toiling for little reward. In fact, even without the seemingly permanently injured Jamie Overton (currently playing in the 2nds as he attempts yet another comeback), Lewis Gregory, Craig Overton, Josh Davey and Tom Abell are proving to be a formidable strike force. When opponents produce green, seaming tracks, with the aim of muzzling the spinners, they are receiving the Somerset seam whammie instead. Somerset’s 392 owed a lot to Matt Renshaw’s 106, although he received Abell support from the captain and from Steve Davies. In reply, had it not been for Ross Taylor’s 74, Nottinghamshire would have been in an even sorrier mess. Overton and Gregory reduced them to 28-5 and, for all Taylor’s efforts, 134ao was a sorry effort. Somerset enforced the follow-on, presumably hoping for a day off, but saw that almost inevitable result: suddenly, batting looked simple and the first wicket pair scored more than the entire XI had managed in their first effort. As the score mounted, horrible imaginings started in the Somerset camp – a captain who enforces the follow-on and loses always looks like a proper Charlie – and, at 456-6, with the lead 198 and Moores and Root taking a delight in reminding Bess that a spinner’s lot is not normally a happy one on English pitches, Dave Bracegirdle in the commentary box was anticipating dining-out for the rest of the summer on the tale of an unlikely victory. Up until then, Roelof van der Merwe was the only bowler who was threatening: his final figures of 48-12-138-4 tell their own tale. Then, Dominic Bess bowled Billy Root (it is possible that he had some help from Root’s inside edge) and an end was open. Bess and Davey needed no second invitation and, despite relatively stern resistance from the tail, they worked their way down the order and limited Nottinghamshire to 505ao and a target of 248 in around 78 overs. There is always a danger, when you have been chasing leather for 146 overs, that exhausted fielders lose their wickets tamely when they have to bat. Somerset though are made of sterner stuff and bedded in around Matt Renshaw to ensure that the target was hunted-down steadily. Somerset reached it with 6 wickets and 11 overs to spare and leapfrog from fourth to top of the table. While the top four have all won three games, Somerset and Surrey have a game in hand and have dealt a sore blow to Nottinghamshire’s chances as their record is now “won 3, lost 3”. Lancashire, in fifth, are 28 points behind, having also played a game more and have a 1-3 record: they would need to win at least five and probably six of their remaining eight fixtures to lift the title.
Division 2 is less advanced than Division 1. All sides have now played 5 games, so we are now officially in mid-season, starting the middle third of the games. The next four matches will define the shape of the table before the final run-in starts. Increasingly though, the impression is that the race is for second place, with six teams the within points for two wins of the current occupants: will someone move out of the pack to settle the issue early? Suddenly we have two, unexpected contenders. The current round of games has featured a couple of quite extraordinary finishes, including another remarkable win by Durham from a pretty dire position and Leicestershire, at one and the same time, dashing the hopes of their rival and doing something that they have not done for years, while Gloucestershire recreated Groundhog Day.
We have to start at Edgbaston, if only out of respect for the leader. The visitor was Glamorgan. The result looks, on paper, to have ended in a routine walloping – as has become habitual for Warwickshire’s opponents this season – but, it looked anything like that at the start of the final day. The bottom line though at the end of the day was that Warwickshire won their fourth match from five and have a healthy gap to the team in third: now of 34 points. In 2017 promotion required 7 wins and 222 points; in 2016, the last season with 16 games, 5 wins and 212 points. Either way, they are nearly halfway to promotion and should seal it with 4 wins from the last 9 games. So, how did we get to that position? In the final analysis, there were two reasons: Ian Bell and Jonathon Trott, the former with two unbeaten centuries in the match, the latter with two fifties. Between them they contributed 345 runs and were the difference between the two sides. It all looked so much simpler for Warwickshire as they bundled out Glamorgan for 220 on the first day. Four batsmen reached 30, but none could reach 40. In reply, Warwickshire stumbled to 18-2, started to recover through Bell and Trott and then lost wickets regularly, with only Chris Wright at #9 giving any kind of support. The lead of 30 was a lot less than they would have wished but, critically, the second batting point was obtained… just, with the last two wickets falling to consecutive balls. Batting again, Glamorgan got a solid start, Usman Khawaja registered a century on debut, captain Chris Cooke supported him well and, at 259-4, Warwickshire started to sweat on being batted out of the match. The critical moment was when Jethan Patel got one through Khawaja to win an LBW, just before the new ball was due. With an end open and the new ball, it became a catch-weight contest and the last six Glamorgan wickets ended up falling for 64, with Brookes, Barker, Wright and Patel sharing the spoils. A target of 294 could and probably should have been a major challenge, but Warwickshire survived a tricky spell on the third evening and, when they came back on the last day, fifty partnerships for the first two wickets and a century partnership for the third, set things up nicely. That said, a few Brummie bowels must have been turned to water when Trott and Hain fell in the space of three balls just before the new ball was due, but Ian Bell carried on regardless and Tim Ambrose is a decent batsman to steady a ship. Ambrose fell finally with 8 needed and Keith Barker followed two balls later, but a couple of boundaries finished it off and, to be honest, the margin was much bigger than the official one of 4 wickets would suggest.
For remarkable events though, Durham seem to be the side to follow. Let’s face it, they must have been in contact with Harry Houdini and there has been a lot about Durham’s recent cricket that Houdini, master escapologist, would approve of. Durham fans are starting to get used to the concept of “Sunday Marty” – a scowling, morose figure – and “Tuesday Marty” a beaming, cheerful Geordie, who is bursting with bonhomie and teasing pitilessly his stooge, the long-suffering Dave Bracegirdle. How does this change appear? Picture the scene. It is the close of Day 2. Martin Emmerson has watched Derbyshire put Durham in and dismiss them for 96 shortly after Lunch. After Durham had produced an impressive fightback with the ball, particularly after Tea, he had then seen the ninth wicket pair add 57 priceless runs and turn a manageable first innings deficit for the hosts in a low-scoring match into a towering 109. Durham wobbled like a blancmange in a gale in their second innings and, by the end of Day 2, it was 155-6, the lead was just 46 and a finish before Lunch on Day 3 looked a pretty safe bet. Martin Emmerson was not a happy bunny, raging against the vicissitudes of life. When it took just 9 balls on the third morning for Derbyshire to take the seventh wicket, it only served to confirm to our hero that the world or, at very least, the Fates and the ECB, were against his beloved team. At Lunch, though, Harte and Rimmington had produced a century stand for the eighth wicket and the world seemed a somewhat better place. Then, things got seriously weird. After Lunch, Harte and Sainsbury added 99 for the ninth wicket as Derbyshire disintegrated: there was no other word for it. How else do you explain 81 (yes, EIGHTY-ONE) extras? Daryn Smit let through 34 byes and 23 leg byes, the largest combined total since 1990, when Tim Boon, acting as emergency wicket-keeper for Leicestershire, conceded 33 byes and 26 leg byes. Smit allowed 40 byes over the two innings! You cannot go wrong with that kind of support from the opposition. By the time that Harte fell finally for 114, the target was 268 and you felt that the game was Durham’s to lose. Salisbury and Rushworth reduced Derbyshire to 35-4 and, from there, it was just a case of not panicking. Durham won by 95 runs and have vaulted into fourth in the table, well in touch with the promotion places. Sides now know what to do in the future: avoid bowling Durham out for a pittance in the first innings if they want to have some hope of beating them! You have to suspect that reality will catch up with Durham at some point, but you have to admire their spirit.
Speaking of spirit, the other two games showed another two examples, both sad in the way that they are so heartening. Last season, only a bizarre over-rate sanction separated Northants from promotion. This season Northants are the Worcestershire of Division 2: sides see them in the fixture list and rub their hands with glee, thinking of what the win points will do for their position in the table. However, the visitors on this occasion were Leicestershire. After a blip in 2016, when they won 4 matches (and still finished 8th), 2017 saw a return to normal with a winless season and no fewer than 9 defeats. Their winless streak of 17 matches had finally ended in the previous round when Leicestershire squeaked home against Glamorgan having seemingly thrown away a certain win for the second time in consecutive games. Here, we had the legendary anti-battle of the resistible force against the moveable object. The first innings showed the fragility of both teams: no less than 14 batsmen reached double figures, but not one reached 50. 217 plays 204: advantage Leicestershire. In this fast-motion match, Day 2 ended with Northants 165-3 in their second innings, with Wakely and Rossington well set and well on their way, it seemed, to registering their own first win of the season. Then, it all went horribly wrong. Next morning, 192-4 became 229ao and a victory target of 217 for Leicestershire. Despite two ducks, Leicestershire decided that this winning lark is fun and reached the target with great comfort, to win by six wickets. It is many years since Leicestershire registered consecutive Championship wins – eight to be precise. One suspects that, like Durham, their current position in the table (third) flatters them slightly, but they are going to enjoy it while it lasts.
And finally, to Bristol. I have been a Gloucestershire supporter since the late 1960s. I have seen legends of the game play for the Shire. I have also seen a side that just missed out on promotion in 2011, torn apart and driven to the verge of insolvency by ECB demands, to the point when, in one season, the playing staff was so thin that they relied on amateurs to be able to put out an XI. Not for the Shire the high-profile stars of wealthier counties: the press release announcing the new overseas signing is usually greeted with a chorus of “WHO???” followed by a rush to the Internet to see if the player has a profile anywhere that sheds some light on what to expect. One of the entertainments of recent Gloucestershire games has been to compare the two XIs and decide which Gloucestershire player, if any, would make the combined XI (Kevin Hand, predictably, picked an all-Middlesex combined XI, while Matt Coles was immune to Sir Robert Hunt’s pleas to include Ryan Higgins in the combined Kent-Gloucestershire XI). Watching this game, you could be forgiven for thinking that you were watching the movie Groundhog Day because it followed an identical pattern to the Middlesex game in the previous round. In fact, the Gloucestershire Chairman might want to check that this was not a re-broadcast of the Middlesex game with the names of the opposition players changed. Opposition bat and make a huge first innings score – CHECK!! Gloucestershire bat and struggle and are all out cheaply – CHECK!!! Opposition scents an easy innings win and invites the Shire to follow-on – CHECK!!!! Gloucestershire bat again and show that, actually, the pitch is not a minefield after all – CHECK!!!!! Against Middlesex the heroes were Bobby Bracey and Graeme van Buuren, who saw Gloucestershire through to the draw, here it was the even less likely combination of Graeme van Buuren and Kieron Noema-Barnett. 219-6 against the new ball and with a full session to survive, forged a partnership of exactly 100 to see Gloucestershire to safety. It was great to see Gloucestershire fight their way to a draw for a second consecutive time, but having beaten Kent in the opening game of the season and been in an incredibly tense finish with Sussex, which could have gone either way had the last day not been washed-out, the fans would prefer the Shire not to make a habit of these fighting draws after following-on.
5/11/2018 0 Comments
If you thought that Yorkshire’s comeback win was spectacular – and it was pretty damn good – what would you have made of Monday’s games? What do you make of a side that drops at least nine straightforward chances, suffers a dreadful collapse and STILL wins comfortably? Or a side that was made to follow-on 256 behind, collapsed horribly when it seemed that salvation was possible, leaving a small chase with ample time to get the runs, loses its main strike bowler and still wins?
Monday’s games produced some amazing cricket in front of large and appreciative crowds who, to the ECB’s surprise, did know what players they were watching. What is worse, is that the drama and the best of an extraordinary day of cricket was… shock, HORROR! … in Division 2. Yes, those awful, amateurish sides who need to amalgamate with proper teams.
Even Division 1 produced some drama. It also produced a game so tedious that it might have been at Grace Road for all the chance that there was of a result.
So, what was the good, the bad and the ugly in Division 1? There is only one place to start and that is Trent Bridge. It is still early in the season, but the indications are that despite Lazarus the Tyke, Nottinghamshire and Somerset are going to take some stopping. Monday morning started with Hampshire 113-3, with 96 overs to survive. When it took just four balls for Jake Ball to make the breakthrough you would have bet good money on the chances of a late Lunch and no play afterwards. What you would not have expected was that half an hour before Tea was due, Hampshire were 236-6 and the possibility of a great escape was just dawning on the great and good, such as Dave Bracewell in the commentary box. We were watching the great spectacle that is a side that should be beaten, fighting for the draw on the last afternoon and demanding a huge effort to knock them down. It was a tense fight to the death and, when Samit Patel finishes with figures of 21-9-23-1, you know that the batsmen are battling not to do anything stupid. At one end, Hashim Amla was scoring runs and, at the other end, batsmen were blocking as if their lives depended on it, to the extent that the bottom six in the order scored just 29 runs from 209 balls of defiance. In the end, the will of Broad, Ball and Gurney overcame the won’t [give it away] batsmen. Even when the writing on the wall reached 96 point, Hashim Amla hung on like a limpet-mine trying to blow a hole in the flotation line of the Nottinghamshire charge. Finally, Hampshire succumbed, but not until deep into the final session of play. Make no mistake: the Essex tactic of preparing to win the Championship by winning at Cardiff and Bristol and Derby seems to be working for Nottinghamshire too.
If one side is going to stop Nottinghamshire winning the Championship, it may just be the lads from Taunton. Up to now, they have been a one-trick pony: give them turning pitches and they fear no one; give them a nice green, seaming pitch and they look bewildered. Somerset 2018 has a new trick: they have a pretty decent seam attack. Now, this really is a dirty trick because, up to now, the standard tactic was to give Somerset a nice, green seamer to play on in the knowledge that they will be defenceless; for Somerset to bully other sides on green seamers is *just* *not* *cricket*. Those who have followed Somerset knew that they were developing some decent seamers and that it was just a matter of time. Day 4 at Old Trafford started with a tedious bore draw looking a certainty and ended with a draw; what happened in between was not boring. Somerset, without Marcus Trescothick, suffered horrors from a young, blonde leggie. Matt Parkinson put in the performance of his young life to leave Somerset 145-6, effectively 145-7, just 82 ahead and the visitors seemed to be heading for a humiliating defeat. So bad was the position that unknown to the public and to the Lancashire players, Marcus Trescothick was padded-up and prepared to hobble to the wicket somehow, although so crippled that he would only have avoided being timed out if he had been taken to the crease in a wheelchair. Fortunately for Banger, Jack Leach chose this moment to produce just his second First Class fifty and his career-best score. When Leach fell finally, the game was safe and Lancashire shook on the draw soon afterwards. The difference between the best and the rest is that the best find ways to win when no way seems to exist and somehow find ways not to lose when escape seems impossible. Both Somerset and Nottinghamshire are demonstrating these qualities, while Lancashire have been in good positions twice and unable to seal the deal.
For completeness, we have to mention the abomination at The Oval: the type of cricket that the ECB wants the press to publicise. A hapless – and that is erring on the side of generosity – Worcestershire team, who had lost all three games, went to The Oval for a bore-fest and were able to run up the small matter of 526. Had the game had a sixth day available, there was a chance of a result, although probably seven were needed. The only bright spot of the game was that Amar Virdi produced a long spell (most of a day) of admirable control and took 6-105. He now has 14 wickets this season at 18.9. If anyone tells you that there are no young English spinners coming through, just mention Parkinson, Virdi, Leach, Bess, … any of them could go to Sri Lanka this winter.
However, for sheer, stunning drama, Division 2 took some beating on Monday. Just two games remained to finish and both had dramatic finishes. The Sussex-Middlesex game at Hove looked like a title eliminator. Forget the posturing that it is early and the season and a defeat is no drama: Sussex had started with three draws, which was acceptable, but three draws and a defeat – what is more, to a promotion rival, with Warwickshire pulling away at the top of the division – would have left them a long way behind and needing a remarkable run of results to get into promotion contention. Middlesex, expected to run away with the Division, had one win, one defeat and a draw: a second defeat would start to open an important gap with the top two. Add in a pitch on which the occasional ball would roll through if it landed just outside off at one end while, at the other, the occasional delivery would explode and you have all the elements for a small chase to be heart-stopping. Gubbins and Malan had set up what should have been a winning total for a Middlesex team that had been on the back foot. Helped by Sussex fielding that had been scripted by Monty Python, it seemed that Sussex had let Middlesex escape. The last day started with two good wickets down, 197 needed and a nightwatchman in. The betting in the press box was that Sussex would win narrowly: the press box was right, but could not imagine the stress that they would go through. Middlesex, for their part, have been thoroughly disabused of the notion that Division 2 is a soft touch. The nightwatchman, Danny Briggs, had batted for an hour and a half, after a similar performance in the first innings. The score was mounting and he must have been getting embarrassed by the length of his stay – Middlesex certainly were. 112-2 and the only question was how long it would take for Sussex to knock off the remaining runs. 128-6, with three wickets in 4 balls and it looked all over. Ben Brown and Michael Burgess stuck around and then started to accelerate and Middlesex seemed at a loss for ideas. Many fans were screaming for Dawid Malan to come on (they were missing “Golden Arm Malan” in the Kevin Hand bingo): he did finally and took a wicket almost immediately, but when it was far too late. Three times Middlesex seemed to have their foot on the collective Sussex throat and their prey slipped away. Sussex dropped catch after catch yet, somehow won. Middlesex are 22 points behind Warwickshire and have played a game more. They are now 18 behind Sussex. Are they going to leave themselves too much to do? Why have the spent more than a year underperforming? Is all well behind the scenes at the club? Watch this space!
Let’s finish though with a performance that, in its way, was better and more dramatic that Yorkshire’s win at Essex. Durham were being offered at 100-1 to win. Leicestershire seemed certain to break their long, winless streak. As Durham collapsed from 309-2 to 345-8, there seemed a grim inevitability about the end. The lead was well under 100. Gavin Griffiths had 6-49 and a priest was giving the Durham corpse the last rites. Bruce McCarthy though was reportedly not happy about missing-out on the Irish Test squad and James Weighell seems to be developing into a stubborn cuss. The lead crept up. Hope was re-kindled. Durham were maybe five overs from salvation when, finally, the last wicket fell. The target was 148. There were plenty of overs and the RRR was just a little over 3. There followed the sort of frantic chase that occurs when two sides have forgotten how to win. Leicestershire were trying to hit the cover off the ball. Durham was over-attacking. Something had to break… it was Leicestershire. A wicket fell. Then a second. When Leicestershire had slipped to 40-3 the first thoughts that *maybe* just *maybe* the chase was not going to be straightforward started to break through. 47-4 and Martin Emmerson was going into overdrive at the microphone, but Chris Rushworth, the main strike bowler pulled-up injured. Surely that was the final blow. At 79-6, he slipped into hyperdrive and by 95-7 he was starting to get seriously excited. Who needs Chris Rushworth? James Weighell was unstoppable… as was Martin Emmerson. At 100-7 Leicestershire were still alive… just about and Martin Emmerson’s stress levels were reaching dangerous heights. Two wickets in two balls and Leicestershire were 101ao and Martin Emmerson was only fit for a straightjacket. Durham had never previously won after following on. Weighell had 7-32 and Durham had won back its self-respect. It was brilliant stuff, wonderfully broadcast by the home and the away commentator.
So, what are the takeaways?
The next round of games will see a third of the season gone. No one will be able to doubt that the Division 1 table will start to separate the wheat from the chaff. So, who is wheat and who is chaff?
At the top of the table, the top three are threatening to break away. Nottinghamshire have won three from four and are 17 points clear of Somerset and 19 of Yorkshire, but Somerset have a game in hand. It looks very much as if these three will dispute the title, with possibly Surrey threatening to gatecrash but, if The Oval serves up more pitches like the last one, they will struggle to win home games.
At the bottom of the table, nothing changes. Lancashire and Worcestershire prop up the rest and Worcestershire are already falling a significant distance behind. Lancashire had a chance to beat Somerset and could not seal it. Above them, Essex look a shadow of the side of 2017 but, thus far, the distances are not unsaveable. Worcestershire though must already be short odds to go back down.
In Division 2, Warwickshire seem in a class of their own, but only two sides have played four games so far. Just ten points separate Derbyshire in fourth and Durham in ninth. Any one of five or six teams could be promoted and things are far from clear, although it is obvious that Middlesex will have to improve a lot: one of the two sides, with Sussex, to have played 4 games, they are 18 points behind second place already: two wins would see them (or any other of the mid-table teams) shoot up the table. The only side that you can be fairly confident will not be promoted is Northants: it is that open.
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