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.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
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