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County cricket: the week’s final over


Ball One: Does Toby Roland-Jones deserve more attention?

In a game affected by weather, Middlesex never really got going in pursuit of 270 to beat Warwickshire at Lord’s. Indeed, when stumps were drawn, the score was 152-5, so perhaps it was the Midlanders who were more likely to go top of the table with last week’s leaders, Durham, having a week off. The stalemate gives me the opportunity to highlight an issue that continues to puzzle. With England’s schedule particularly punishing for seamers, why is Toby Roland-Jones never mentioned as a man who could do a job? OK, it’s because he’s labelled as not quick enough, but maybe some bowlers can get wickets without express pace. His career average of 24 at a strike rate of 46 compares favourably with Steven Finn and his batting average of 21 is not too shabby either. The last time I kept seeing figures that suggested a man should be considered for England but was never in the reckoning was eight years ago, when I wrote this about someone people were soon to hear of and haven’t stopped hearing of since: Graeme Swann.

Ball Two: Look, it’s Luke Wood

The only positive result in Division One came at Trent Bridge where Nottinghamshire secured their long-delayed first win of the season, beating the inconsistent Sussex by 159 runs. Forty-one years ago an unknown teenage all-rounder was hit by an Andy Roberts bouncer, spat a tooth or two out on to the pitch and got on with winning the match for Somerset – yes, IT Botham always knew how to get noticed. With deeds less heroic, but just maybe as significant, Luke Wood, Nottinghamshire’s teenage all-rounder arrived at the crease with the score 98-7 and scored a round 100 from No9. He then got on with the day job, shooting out international cricketers, Mike Yardy and Matt Machan with the new ball, before returning to nail Chris Jordan just when he was starting to motor. In at crisis point again at 108-7, his half-century contributed to a stand of 133 with Samit Patel, as Notts set a stiff target of 310. After an hour’s bowling he had another two wickets and his team were on the way to a comfortable win. It was Wood’s fifth Championship match – and quite a way to get spotted.

Ball Three: Daryl Mitchell back in form at the right time

Worcestershire will feel a little hard done-by running out of time with Hampshire just 64 runs ahead with four wickets in hand at the Rose Bowl. Skipper Daryl Mitchell was in fine form this time last year, laying the foundations for their promotion, but had not registered a 50 this time round until he batted over six hours for 142* in this match. Those runs will be needed to give Moeen Ali and Saeed Ajmal something to bowl behind over the next few weeks – weeks that are crucial to Worcestershire’s survival chances.

Ball Four: Six down, but Glamorgan fight back

With the top two (Lancashire and Surrey) playing out a rain-affected draw in which Gareth Batty, perhaps infected by the battle-fever at the sight of the Red Rose, chose to bat into the third day, Glamorgan seized the chance to close on a promotion slot with a win over Northamptonshire. As is so often the case, the turning point came at the fall of the sixth wicket, Glamorgan 150-6 and struggling. Cue a century from Craig Meschede at No8 and another 221 runs added to turn the game towards the Welsh county, who were able to enforce the follow-on and cruise to a ten wickets win. As Australia showed again in this week’s Test, batting down the order really matters in 21st century cricket.

Ball Five: Jos Buttler cleans up at Headingley

With some sides having played seven fixtures and others three, the T20 Blast tables are still sorting themselves out, with Durham leading the North Group and Kent the South Group. Chris Gayle’s masterblasting average of 328 made a few welcome mainstream sports headlines, but my performance of the week goes to Jos Buttler, the England and Lancashire wicketkeeper. In with more than half the overs gone and still over 100 to get, he rode his luck, hit the bad ball to the boundary (and some good ones too) and delivered the win for his team in the cauldron of Headingley, heaving for the Roses Match, if not the Test Match. It was a Bevanesque display of the art of finishing, the calmest head in the ground on the shoulders of the man with the greatest responsibility. Buttler wasn’t the only England man who found the adjustment to white ball cricket not quite as challenging as we are led to believe: Ian Bell made 90 to guide Warwickshire to the win and Moeen Ali’s 90 helped set a winning score for Worcestershire.

Ball Six: Crowd behaviour an issue on Friday nights at The Oval

There were dismal scenes at The Oval on Friday night as plastic glasses and bottles were thrown from the OCS Stand at stewards protecting the outfield at the end of the match. It had been loud and very boozy all evening, with the patient and professional stewards booed every time they broke up the tedious, anti-social and dangerous beer snakes. Many of the crowd appeared to be somewhat uninterested in the cricket, but perhaps that is what’s intended, with the PA encouraging Mexican waves in the middle of a tight run chase and play held up briefly while the words for the karaoke Delilah scrolled across the big screen. The cricket was good, with Essex getting up in the last over to beat the home side, but it was overshadowed by people who seemed not to notice the score and, even if they did, may not remember it the next morning. Quite the change from the ECB’s original desire to attract women and children to cricket through the Twenty20 format and the Big Bash League’s family focus.

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