Ball one: Hot streak continues for Burns’ men
In a good week for red-ball cricket, Surrey found themselves in unexpectedly squeaky bum territory as a resourceful Somerset side snapped at their heels all the way into the 12th session of their match in the County Championship.
After dismissing the home side for 180, Rory Burns probably thought that one decent partnership would get the leaders ahead and two would put them into a winning position. The first came in somewhat unusual circumstances (it was a match of unusual circumstances, in which one Overton concussed the other) as Hashim Amla was unable to continue, so the second wicket partnership of 136 was constructed by the captain, the Overseas signing and Ben Geddes. Will Jacks and Jordan Clark added 86 for the sixth wicket and Somerset were 200 or so behind with almost half the match to be played.
But pitches are not deteriorating this season (or maybe, as in Surrey’s case, spinners are not being picked) and Lewis Goldsworthy and Lewis Gregory got their side level before Peter Siddle showed that he has lost none of his tenacity at 37. Surrey were still 39 short with half the order back in the hutch, but Jacks and Clark continued where they left off the first time round and the clearheaded Overton was at the crease when the winning runs were scored. Surrey stay top.
Ball two: Hill the obstacle as Hampshire tough out win
Hampshire stayed on the heels of the unbeaten leaders after an even tighter win at home to Yorkshire (whose players should be commended for retaining focus in the circumstances).
The win looked a long way off after the visitors had racked up 428, 21-year-old George Hill stepping up from the seconds with 131 in the opener’s slot. At 12-2, James Vince was at the crease and knew his batters would need to deliver – and they did, all but his No 11 notching at least 30 to stay in the game.
Not a single Tyke could reach that mark second time around, as the experienced seam trio of Keith Barker, Kyle Abbott and Brad Wheal bagged three wickets each, leaving their batters 197 to get. Liam Dawson, whose spin had not taken a wicket, and Nick Gubbins stuck to the old-school plan of getting them quickly, scoring an aggregate 109 runs off 110 balls, but it was the wise old heads of Barker, James Fuller and Abbott (over 100 years between them) who brought the points home.
Ball three: Wells digs deep in long chase
Lancashire, shorn of some of their stars by England calls for both Test and ODI squads, hung on to the top two’s coattails with an impressive chase in what turned into a one-innings match at Edgbaston.
After Alex Davies had, somewhat inevitably, scored a century for Warwickshire against his old comrades, Dane Vilas was looking at 329 in just over a day to win the match – even a day earlier, such a target looked stiff, but maybe things have changed since McCullumism was introduced to English cricket.
Luke Wells, in a trough of indifferent form, and Rob Jones, in only his second match in the championship, were the unlikely Red Rose version of the England redheads, Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes. But this was no charging flurry of sixes and fours, more a calculated accumulation that kept the required rate under control and made sure the late middle order were not exposed too early. Wells’ 175 in not much shy of seven hours was cricket as it used to be played – and no less effective for that.
Ball four: Notts tie up easy win after first-innings chasing
In Division Two, Nottinghamshire’s win over Leicestershire while Middlesex were going down to Derbyshire effected a 20-point swing, which was sufficient to send the Midlanders to the top of the table.
It was another example of an emerging theme this season. No side is ever batted out of the match, grounds staff delivering on the request to make it harder for a bowler to hit good areas at just below 80mph and wait for the ball to jag this way and that, receiving a routine 4-75 as a reward.
Ben Slater and Haseeb Hameed walked to the crease with the Grace Road scoreboard telling them that they were over 400 behind, but after another fine knock from Ben Duckett and plenty of support down the order (even Extras were within a run of notching a half-century) their counterparts, Hasan Azad and Rishi Patel took guard a second time over 100 behind – which must have been a little soul-destroying.
Cue one of the stars of the early season, Liam Patterson-White, who added four second innings wickets to the three he bagged in the first dig, and the visitors travelled the short distance home having secured an innings victory – not something that used to happen too often after conceding 440 runs before lunch on Day Two.
Ball five: The past is a foreign country
Older readers (am I kidding myself that there are others?) may recall the days of the John Player League, with its shortened run-ups, Peter Walker on the gantry and 40 overs a side – still the ideal format for a Sunday afternoon match.
Jim Laker would describe a target of 200 as “taking a bit of getting” and Richie Benaud would keep an eye on the required rate, warning us that the batting side would not want it to rise to over a run a ball.
Last week at Chelmsford, Essex made 244-7 in their 20 overs and Sussex, eschewing their inner Gavaskar, had a damned good go at it, led by Ravi Bopara, back in familiar territory. They fell 11 short of a tie, but the 40 overs produced 477 runs. Somewhere Peter, Richie and Jim are nodding towards Fred Trueman, who is saying: “I don’t know what’s going off out there.”
Ball six: Rehan does a Rashid
The search for effective English spinners continues – hint: try the ones who spin the ball most – with Adil Rashid’s fragile shoulder as much a part of England’s white-ball success as Jos Buttler’s mighty bat.
So it should be noted that Leicestershire’s 17-year-old leg-spinner Rehan Ahmed came on straight after the powerplay, defending a target of 158, and took four wickets in the crucial middle overs for just 22 runs, Durham collapsing for a paltry 106.
He is only making his way in the game but Leicestershire’s faith in him is being repaid. He tops their bowling averages with 14 wickets at an economy rate of just above seven, having played all 11 matches.
If we must, let’s get Liam Livingstone into the Test XI as a kind of uber biffer, but he is not the future of English spin – players such as Ahmed and Sussex’s Archie Lenham, another 17-year-old, are. After all, why can’t spinners attack as hard as batters?