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.
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