As the County Championship and this column draw to a close for another season, it’s time to praise Essex, Chris Read, Liam Livingstone and our faithful readers
Yorkshire’s bowlers must have felt that they had caught the champions on an off-day at last when they had them at 80-5 having invited them to bat. If so, it was not a feeling that lasted. By the midpoint of the match, Essex led by 250 with eight second-innings wickets in hand and were en route to a 10th win (to go with four draws) in a season for the ages. They topped the table by 72 points, with the gap between second and the first relegation slot only 30. Yorkshire were dismissed for just 74 runs in their last innings of 2017 and senior players attracted some blunt words from coach Andrew Gale, who might want to look in the dressing room mirror too as he casts an eye over his underperforming charges.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/99-94-cricket-blog/2017/oct/02/county-cricket-talking-points-middlesex-relegated
It’s time to salute the County Championship’s standout players this season: Kumar Sangakkara, Alex Hales, Alex Davies, Jamie Porter and Simon Harmer
It was said that Barry Richards, his career coinciding with South Africa’s isolation, became bored with batting that notch below international as it came so easily to him. Well, it can’t have come much more easily to the South African champion than it came to Kumar Sangakkara, an all-time great of the game, whose powers, at almost 40 and in his last season of first-class cricket, seem not so much undiminished, as enhanced.
The county professional is a very, very special breed of person and I’ve found a completely new respect not just for county cricket but for the game as a whole. To understand that wherever there is first-class cricket, the pride with which they play this sport, the pride in which the club supports the players and the pride with which the fans come and embrace those players. It’s something that suddenly hit me and it hit me once I retired from international cricket. I regret that but I thank Surrey for allowing me to rediscover that immense love and passion that first-class cricket and cricketers have for this game, and what an amazing breeding ground it is for players.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/99-94-cricket-blog/2017/sep/30/county-championship-cricket-players-season
Whenever the scoreboard ticked over to 76, the late Brian Johnston would announce that it was “Trombone Time”, so how he would have enjoyed Essex’s win over Hampshire at the Rose Bowl. The hosts’ Aussie captain, George Bailey, un-Pontingly enforced the follow-on after the wheels had finally come off in the champions-elects’ annus mirabilis, dismissed for 76 in their first dig. Cue 20-year-old Dan Lawrence’s century, backed up by the old hands, James Foster and Neil Wagner, who posted 82 for the ninth wicket to set an awkward fourth-day target of 185 for a suddenly nervy and much-needed win. The victory fanfares were soon blaring again for Essex, as Sam Cook led the attack with 5-18 to despatch Hampshire for (you guessed it), 76 stretching Essex’s lead at the top of the table to 69 points. They’re just trolling their opponents now.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/99-94-cricket-blog/2017/sep/25/county-cricket-essex-hampshire-relegation
Essex earned promotion to the top flight last year by winning Division Two and now they have been crowned champions of Division One without losing a match
Just before the County Championship was suspended in late June, Essex hammered the reigning champions by an innings, scoring 542-3d and then bowling Middlesex out for 246 and 262; the game is easy if you pile up the runs and then take 20 wickets. The 2017 Championship wasn’t quite a done deal (the lead was 29 points), but the other seven counties must have put on their garish gladrags and packed away the whites wondering whether it would be worth retrieving them when the hoopla was over. Turns out that it wasn’t really, as Essex picked up the red ball where they left it, cruising to the title with two matches (14% of the season) still to play. What had seemed highly unlikely six months ago has been inevitable for weeks now, but no less laudable for that. So the pennant will fly over Chelmsford for the first time since 1992 – Graham Gooch, Paul Pritchard, Mark Ilott and Peter Such and co emulated at last.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/99-94-cricket-blog/2017/sep/18/county-cricket-talking-points-essex-win-championship
Jimmy Anderson and Ben Stokes were the stars for England but Gary Ballance, Mark Wood and Keaton Jennings might want to look away now
He looked more comfortable out of the spotlight and produced another Cook Monument at Edgbaston with a 10-hour 243, an innings that gained lustre as the series progressed and the expected walkover failed to materialise. Earlier, against some very classy new-ball bowling from Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander, he made a contribution in all four Tests, but faded as the Test summer stretched into September. He caught but also dropped plenty at first slip, which suggests he might not be sighting the ball quite as early as he used to as he approaches his mid-thirties. Grade: B-
Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/99-94-cricket-blog/2017/sep/12/jimmy-anderson-england-summer-tests-cricket
Somerset defeated Warwickshire and are now chasing Middlesex, whose slow over-rate in the ‘crossbow match’ at Surrey earned them a two-point deduction
With less than half the scheduled overs bowled (in Manchester, in September – who’d have thunk it?) the showdown at the top of Division One turned into a damp squib, nine points each and as you were. There was time for Haseeb Hameed to dig in with 88, more than twice the score managed by any other batsman, ground out in five and a half hours on solid defence and occasional attack. While it would be absurd not to take him on an Ashes Tour, whether he makes the starting XI will depend on a few more innings of this kind delivered in the next few months. All talk of scoring rates, positive body language and taking the game to the bowlers (the “Alex Hales” case, one might say) can be shelved, because 30-0 at lunch will be a very good score with Patrick Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood firing on all cylinders. No opening option is better suited to leaving it or blocking it, as the Kookaburra ball fades and softens – the runs can come quickly at No6, No7 and No8.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/99-94-cricket-blog/2017/sep/11/county-cricket-talking-points-essex-middlesex
Nottinghamshire added the T20 Blast trophy to the Royal London Cup they won earlier this summer – and thankfully sports fans were free to watch the show
Essex continue to be the biggest surprise in county cricket. They won Division Two in 2016 and now sit 36 points clear in Division One with four rounds of matches to play. Their win over a Somerset side fighting the drop showed all the hallmarks of a team who know how to win cricket matches. Batting first, they were soon in trouble at 39-4, before a few boundaries from skipper Ryan ten Doeschate raised spirits and a few more from the tail got them up to 159. But Jamie Porter and Mohammad Amir got among the fragile Somerset batting and the match turned into a one-innings affair. Opener Nick Browne and Ten Doeschate were in the runs again but they got some crucial support from Adam Wheater, whose 88 was the top score in the match and a perfect example of a man coming good for the team in a personally disappointing season. Cue Jamie Porter again, whose pace and accuracy added 7-55 to his first innings 5-40 and blew Somerset away. Porter’s 52 wickets puts him just one behind team-mate Simon Harmer in the Division One bowling table. He won’t be needing his hot water bottle this winter.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/99-94-cricket-blog/2017/sep/04/county-cricket-finals-day-notts-ecb-natwest-t20
The boozers and money men who love T20 should give the rest of us a few more days of proper cricket at the time of year best suited to it
In the 1970s in motorway service stations, you could buy Top Of The Pops albums (and even cheaper copies) with their glamour girl covers and their small print (“Re-recorded for your pleasure – not by original artists”). Then, in the mid-1980s, came the Now That’s What I Call Music series that gave us the actual songs by the actual artists, meaning we no longer had to record songs off the radio and catch a few seconds of Peter Powell. But we got tired of those soon, too, and wanted to look at them yo-yos play the guitar on the MTV. Watching Shahid Afridi tee off and make a century to smash Derbyshire and catapult (checks who Shahid Afridi is playing for this week) Hampshire into Finals Day, reminded me of that series of albums. All those hits, all that star quality but I’ve seen it so many times now that I turned right over to the TV page and watched Game of Thrones long before the match slumped to its conclusion.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/99-94-cricket-blog/2017/aug/28/county-cricket-talking-points-protect-championship-t20
Bowlers Amir and Jamie Porter were on song for Essex, Alex Hales is seeing it like a beach ball and Dan Christian epitomises the modern T20 all-rounder
The County Championship is back – was back – and is now gone again until the end of the month, like a satellite briefly returning to Earth’s orbit before being slingshot back into outer space (a fate, one can’t help feeling, some administrators would invite for the grand old competition). Not down Essex way though, as the southern softies went into the heartland of tough northern cricket and blew Yorkshire into the North Sea at Scarborough inside two days. With the honourable exceptions of Adam Lyth (last man out in the first innings) and Jack Leaning (last man out in the second), the home side had no answer to Mohammad Amir and Jamie Porter, whose combined figures of 17-157 will win 99.94% of matches. Amir’s class is obvious – what a signing he is – and Porter’s 40 wickets at 22 this season must surely earn him an overseas tour this winter. Essex lead by 46 points with five matches to play.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/99-94-cricket-blog/2017/aug/14/county-cricket-talking-points-mohammad-amir-blows-yorkshire-away
With Yorkshire leading the North Group thanks to their run rate and Glamorgan just two points ahead of Somerset and Surrey, quarter-final places are up for grabs
The T20 Blast North Group remains as tight as a drum (Durham aside) with seven teams separated by three points as the race for quarter-finals places enters the home straight. Yorkshire sit atop the pile-up on net run rate despite losing an extraordinary match at Trent Bridge (Nottinghamshire members are getting their money’s worth this season). After the visitors had powered their way to 223-5, which – in the days of the John Player League with cricket shown for five hours most summer Sundays free-to-air on one of only three television channels – would have been rated a decent score in 40 overs. But Alex Hales got into one of his grooves and beat a tattoo on the boundary boards, his 101 using up just 47 balls, 18 of which were struck to or over the fence. England seamers, past and present, suffered particularly badly, David Willey, Tim Bresnan and Liam Plunkett carted for combined figures of 8.1-0-121-2 as Notts cruised home with five balls to spare.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/99-94-cricket-blog/2017/jul/31/county-cricket-talking-points-t20-blast-groups-yorkshire-glamorgan
With Essex and Lancashire not playing, the chasing pack had a chance to reel them in, but Yorkshire lost to Somerset and Hampshire were held by Surrey
With pacesetters Essex and second-place Lancashire enjoying a week off, Hampshire and Yorkshire had a chance to put themselves into the Division One title mix before the break in red-ball cricket, but neither could accept the opportunity. At least Hampshire managed the draw at a sweltering Oval, a result that owed much to the fortitude of Surrey’s stand-in captain, Rory Burns, and a very flat pitch. Acting captain Burns, a steady if unspectacular county pro who is probably half a notch below international class, concentrated in the sun for all but the last half hour of the match, directing operations for the home side while the visitors racked up 648-7d, then carrying his bat for 219* before striding back to the middle after the follow-on was enforced to add another 68, his 12.5 hours vigil ending with defeat averted. Whether piling up a massive first innings (just because you can) and then expecting bowlers to take 20 wickets in such conditions is the optimum route to victory is moot (see Ball four below) and Hampshire’s George Bailey may reflect on that over the next few weeks.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/99-94-cricket-blog/2017/jul/10/county-cricket-talking-points-yorkshire-hampshire-essex-lancashire
Alex Hales was the hero in the One-Day Cup final; Essex are 29 points clear with six games to play; and what will the new TV deal mean for ticket prices?
Essex can even beat the weather, their win at Chelmsford over defending champions Middlesex the only positive result in Division One, enough to take them 29 points clear at the top with six games to play. It was an extraordinary match, one packed with drama, a fine advert for county cricket – day or night. There were records aplenty for the stats enthusiasts and, for those with a more subjective outlook, it’s a contender for the greatest win in the county’s history. Day One had hurtled along, powered by Paul Stirling’s 77 biffed off just 50 balls, Middlesex all out for 246 in fewer than 60 overs, ceding the crease to Alastair Cook and Nick Browne, who reduced the deficit to 140 before the close of a breathless day. After a washout on Tuesday, the openers batted on and on, not separated until the stand reached 373, Cook the first to go seven short of his double century. Browne (as is becoming his habit) got his double and there was time for Varun Chopra (subbed in as Tom Westley was fed to the Lions) to bash a quick, round undefeated hundred before the champions were challenged to bat out three and a half sessions for the draw. They were nine balls short of achieving that objective when Simon Harmer snared Steven Finn, his ninth wicket of the innings and 14th of the match, to send team-mates (and more records) scattering.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/99-94-cricket-blog/2017/jul/03/county-cricket-talking-points-essex-middlesex
Six observations from the week’s action, including praise for Simon Harmer, Dane Vilas, Paul Stirling, Samit Patel, Joe Clarke and Barry McCarthy
At the halfway point of the season, Essex are top of Division One. Even with Alastair Cook available, few expected that sentence to be written when Ryan ten Doeschate’s side planned this season, back in the top flight and without the services of old pros Graham Napier and David Masters. But the batting keeps coming at you – nine centuries shared between six batsmen in seven matches, the latest from Ravi Bopara (192) and James Foster (121) setting up the win over sorry Warwickshire, rock bottom and 40 points from safety. It’s a different story among the bowlers though, with just three crossing double figures for wickets in 2017: Jamie Porter (31); Neil Wagner (23) and Simon Harmer (33). The South African off-spinner relished the heat at Chelmsford, setting records with match figures of 66–24–128–14, proving that not every Kolpak is focused on the pound-rand exchange rate.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/99-94-cricket-blog/2017/jun/26/county-cricket-talking-points-essex-lancashire-durham
Nottinghamshire chased down a record target of 371 to beat Essex and set up a date with Surrey in the Royal London One-Day Cup final at Lord’s on 1 July
After a month in cold storage, the Royal London One-Day Cup lurched back into life with an extraordinary quarter-final (well, sort of quarter-final – more on that later) at Taunton. As is the way these days, Nottinghamshire went hard up top in the powerplay overs, kept going hard in the ex-boring middle overs and finished off the innings in a blaze of boundaries and wickets. There were no maidens allowed and the one over that went for a single was immediately followed up with 15 off the next – indeed, apart from overs 10 and 11 going for three each, no pair of overs went for fewer than nine with 21 overs going for double figures – such is the anatomy of a 50-overs innings of 400 or more.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/99-94-cricket-blog/2017/jun/19/county-cricket-notts-surrey-royal-london-one-day-cup-final
Essex top the table thanks to Tom Westley’s ton; Durham should name a stand after Paul Collingwood; and Somerset had little luck against Yorkshire
With The Kia Oval (sorry, The Oval) unavailable due to the Champions Trophy shindig, third-placed Surrey hosted second-placed Essex at Guildford on a ground that might fit into their usual home’s playing surface twice over. So when Essex skipper, Ryan ten Doeschate, surprisingly opted to field rather than toss for the right to bat first, he must have fancied a fourth-day chase – and, at the end of Day One, with Mark Stoneman 181 runs into a career-best 197, he knew he was getting one whether he liked it or not. After the captain himself had kept Essex in the match with an undefeated 168 to fashion a first innings lead of 36 from a deficit of 265 four down, that Day Four-chase turned out to be 253 in 83 overs – reached with a minimum of fuss shortly after tea, the points secured and Ten Doeschate’s tactic vindicated. Tom Westley steered the visitors home with a 108*, his second century of the season, both setting up victories. Westley seems to have been around forever (in fact, it’s a decade) but he is still only 28 (consequently comfortably inside the “younger than Mike Hussey when he made his Test debut” metric) and, after a long apprenticeship, seems to be realising his considerable potential in Division One cricket. Essex go up the ladder to top position, while Surrey slide down the snake to fifth.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/99-94-cricket-blog/2017/jun/13/county-cricket-talking-points-essex-durham-yorkshire-somerset
Hampshire stayed up at the end of last season and are now top of Division One. Durham went down and they are still looking for their first win of the season
Ask the batsman dropped on 0 who makes a ton how to succeed in cricket and he will tell you it’s not how many breaks you get that matters, it’s what you do with them. Many county cricket fans were less than pleased to see Hampshire restored to Division One having finished 2016 in one of the relegation slots, but a second win in a row has left them sitting atop the table like a fat cuckoo. Captain George Bailey may have scored just two off his own bat but veterans Jimmy Adams (166) and Sean Ervine (203) – that’s runs not ages – amassed 367 for the fourth wicket and, once the No9 Keith Barker, the only partner centurion Jonathan Trott could find in the first innings, was dismissed for 63, Warwickshire’s fragile confidence collapsed and they were seen off by an innings, having followed on. Leg spinner Mason Crane did absolutely nothing to dampen down enthusiasm for advancing his burgeoning talent with match figures of 57-17-154-5, while Ian Bell’s team languish rock bottom, winless and looking for that break to get their season started.
Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/99-94-cricket-blog/2017/jun/06/county-cricket-talking-points-hampshire-durham