County cricket talking points: Surrey and Lancashire lead the way in Blast | Cricket

Ball one: slowly does it as Lancashire are flying

Three wins in a week, including an 87-run evisceration of a strong Nottinghamshire XI at Trent Bridge, sent Lancashire top of the North Group with a game in hand over the rest of the upper half.

Dane Vilas used spin for 11 of the 15 overs Notts survived and that’s not atypical in recent seasons, “pace-off” forcing the batters to generate the power, narrowing the angles between fielders as the ball comes more slowly off deflections and (an underrated aspect of the strategy) hurrying the batters to face up to the next ball.

Fifty-four of the 95 overs the Red Rose men have been required to bowl this season have been delivered by spinners, which is getting on for 12 overs per innings. Of course, the approach depends on the bowlers available and Liam Livingston and Matt Parkinson may soon be indisposed, but don’t be surprised to see Steven Croft, an unused option so far, firing a dart or two at the toes.

Ball two: early retirement proves redundant move

Eight overs each was all that was possible at a gloomy Edgbaston in the Bears’ match with Nottinghamshire, but it was enough to send the them second in the group. After Alex Hales had biffed 30 off nine balls (yes, really – fancy doing that and losing), it came down to a last ball one-two-three equation for the visitors. One run to lose; two runs to tie; and three runs to win.

Cue a little wrinkle that was both a surprise and not a surprise. Taking a leaf from Carlos Brathwaite’s decision to retire himself out in the Bears’ innings, Notts skipper Dan Christian retired Samit Patel for Calvin Harrison who he deemed, not unreasonably, more likely to come back for the tying second run (actually, Tom Moores might have lapped Samit if the third was on).

Maybe the to-ing and fro-ing got to Moores, as he could only scramble the single and the sacrifice of Samit was all in vain.

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Ball three: out-of-sorts Rashid no big deal for Yorkshire

The chase of the week in the North Group came at Headingley, where Durham would have fancied their chances of defending a target of 208. England’s thoughts were all red ball, but Adil Rashid’s 1-39 in three overs added to an underwhelming season so far for the middle-overs lynchpin, his three wickets in five matches costing more than 50 runs apiece at more than nine runs per over.

Adam Lyth, Finn Allen and David Willey (who is still only 32 and playing as a batting all-rounder) had 79 on the tins by the end of the powerplay, leaving a “keep your heads” required rate of 9.21 for the win. They did it and the White Rose men could afford to forego 14 balls, captain Willey ending matters early with a four and a six.

Ball four: Narine just fine for Surrey

Surrey are the only team to match Lancashire’s unbeaten record and they sit top of the South Group as a result, rain their only vanquisher so far.

Hampshire may be their nearest rivals in the Championship, but they proved no match in the Blast. They were blown away by the Londoners’ power hitters in a batting order that has nine men who could interchange places without affecting its potential. Will Jacks and Sam Curran led the charge, the two 23-year-olds hammering 10 sixes and nine fours, before handing over to Sunil Narine – a ridiculous cricketer in the best possible use of that term – who helped himself to 52 off 23.

There was no way back for the visitors, Narine going at a run a ball in his four overs, backing up his economy rate of under five this season. His fellow Trinidadian, Kieron Pollard, has had barely anything to do so far and, incredible as it sounds, he might not get a place on merit in a T20 XI that looks as strong as any in the game right now.

Sunil Narine in action for Surrey.
Sunil Narine in action for Surrey. Photograph: Ben Hoskins/Getty Images for Surrey CCC

Ball five: sweet striking Smeed for England?

Somerset are tucked into second place, just a point behind the leaders, after making a potentially tricky chase of 174 look very straightforward at home to Glamorgan.

Will Smeed and Tom Banton had the ton up before the halfway mark and, when Banton got out next ball, the bowlers must have had mixed feelings, warily eyeing Rilee Rossouw walking to the crease. Sure enough, seven balls straddling the end of the 11th over and the start of the 12th went for 34 runs and the game was up.

Smeed is 20 and averaging 50 in the Blast at 177. He can’t be much more than a broken finger or tightened calf away from being the first man capped by England without a first-class match to his name.

Ball six: another Joe also has a good week

Confounding expectations was the theme at Canterbury, where Kent arrested their dismal defence of the 2021 Blast Trophy with their first win at the sixth attempt – over an in-form Middlesex, to boot.

Joe Denly made 110 at the top of the order, striking as many sixes as the other 19 batsmen who made it to the crease put together. Perhaps having earned the break, Sam Billings gave him an innings off from bowling, preferring Jack Leaning’s occasional off breaks instead, the decision vindicated with 3-30 from the ex-Tyke.

It’s not too late for Kent to make a late run for the knockout stage with eight matches still to play, but they will need to be in confounding form, starting at Chelmsford on Tuesday evening.

This article appeared first on The 99.94 Cricket Blog
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