Friday, May 21, 2010
County Championship at its best
Yesterday, it was a great day in county cricket as in the first division we saw some thrilling matches that went right down to the wire. First up, Durham chased down a relatively low score, but at one time they were in a spot of bother at 37 for 3. Lancashire looked set to win at Edgbaston when Warwickshire were 30 for 3, but the ice cool Trott and the dangerous slogger Carter made it look like 441 can be chased down. Saj though did the trick by bowling a superb slower yorker to dismiss Carter and Lancs won in the end by 65 runs. At Taunton, it looked like yet another dull draw was on the cards before Tres gave the ball to part-timers like Hildreth and Compton to encourage Yorkshire to take the bait and declare quickly. Yorkshire did declare at the score of 333 with Somerset being given the chance to chase down 362. At Taunton, no score is safe and Somerset were able to chase that target for the loss of just 4 wickets. At Trent Bridge, the strugglers Hampshire looked good for their first victory, but suddenly lost their way only for McKenzie to make a superb hundred under pressure and don't forget the gutsy Herath too as he supported McKenzie at the other end to help them win their first match of the season by just two wickets.
Anyway, let us look at all the exciting matches in detail
In the match at Canterbury, it seemed like a draw was on the cards, but the wicket started to break up and Kent lost their way to hand Durham only their second victory of the season. Durham have to be praised for coming up with some very good plans in the second innings. I have said it a few times that Key's front foot goes nowhere and is vulnerable to edging it behind the stumps or on a wicket that isn't coming onto the bat like at Canterbury being caught at short extra cover. The plan worked as he got out by spooning a catch to the short cover fielder of a fuller length delivery. Jaarsveld is a gutsy player who can play a long innings, but he tends to shuffle a bit which helps him to get into a good position to play the pull shot, but from the time I have seen him play for South Africa, I have rarely seem him play a good cover drive. The idea of leaving the gap open at cover worked for Durham as Jaarsveld tried to play a cover drive and as expected he edged it to be caught in the slips. Azhar Mahmood unlike other Pakistan's players has always shown the inability to play spinners as he lunges forward. Shane Warne used to get him out for fun with his quicker delivery, but in CC it was Blackwell who did the trick by getting Azhar out partly because the pitch was keeping low and Azhar's inability to play the arm ball helped.
Durham after executing their plans superbly were suddenly chasing a score of just 169, but at 37 for 3 it didn't look good. Experienced players like Blackwell and Benkenstein though, played carefully to take Durham close to the target and once Blackwell got out, the young prodigy Stokes just smashed everything in sight to take Durham to their second victory of the season.
At Edgbaston, Lancs were all over Warks as on that amazing second day Warks were bundled out for just 113 in reply to Lancashire's 354. The Bears team though made a fightback by reducing Lancs to just 33 for 6 before Saj played another fine knock to take Lancs to 198. I have to also say that Anderson gave Saj good support. In 2010 Saj has not just been in great form with the ball but with the bat too!!!
After that amazing second day when 20 wickets fell, Lancashire surely looked like had the upper hand as Warwickshire needed 441 for a amazing victory, but didn't they give Lancs a run for their money as they eventually made 375. It looked all different at 30 for 3 as the old warhorse Chapple again came to the party for Lancs. Before the season started, there was a feeling that he was on the wane, but that is just nonsense as not just this season, even in 2009, he took 35 wickets at just 25.25 and he missed 5 games during that season. In 2008, he took 42 wickets at just 20!!
Anyway, coming back to the match, at 30 for 3 they were staring down the barrel, but the ice cool Trott started to forge some useful partnerships. He and Troughten came up with a partnership of 89 and even Clarke helped Trott to take the score to 205, but when Ambrose got out, it looked all over as they still needed another 197 runs to win the match. At that time, Carter came to the crease and as usual smashed another crucial fifty to create panic among Lancashire's players and supporters. Carter is a sort of player who can be very useful when chasing a huge total as he can score quickly which would take the pressure off the main batsman at the other end. Yesterday as Carter was able to slog a quickfire fifty, it made Trott's job easier as he could play his natural game. Lancs were under the pump as suddenly the opposition needed just 95 runs for a famous victory, but I heard on the commentary that Saj produced a superb slower yorker to end Carter's knock and once he was gone, it was always going to be difficult to chase down a target like 441 as Trott suddenly had to be the aggressor as tailenders like Miller and Rankin are rabbits with the bat in hand. Anderson picked up a couple of wickets and the match ended when Trott after playing a great knock of 150 got out. Warwickshire may have lost by 65 runs, but they can be proud of their fightback. It has been a good season for Lancs, but the fielders have to take the catches. Against Somerset catches were dropped and even yesterday Prince dropped a catch and another straightforward chance was dropped of Trott. The team has to remember that catches win matches!
At Taunton, it looked like another boring draw was on the cards before Tres gave part-timers the chance to bowl overs as he wanted Yorkshire to got after them and set a target for Somerset to chase down. Interestingly, they took the bait and declared at 333 for 4. So, Somerset were suddenly chasing a target of 362 for victory. At Taunton, no target is safe as the wicket is a batting beauty. As expected, Tres and co. took up the gauntlet and chased it down. Tres again gave a good start and Compton did well. The partnership of the match though, came when the expereinced Bruyn and Hildreth put on more than 100 runs in double quick time to make sure that Somerset would likely win the match. Somerset needed about 170 of 20 over which became 132 of 16 overs, but both Bruyn and Hildreth continued to attack to bring the equation down to just 49 runs of 7 overs. Bruyn isn't going to bring too many fans to the ground, but he is a every effective cricketer. Hildreth on the other hand, can play some exciting strokes though, his temperament can be suspect, but yesterday he was at his best.
Once Bruyn got out, they sent Buttler to bat at number six and the general feeling was the tree Trego should have been sent ahead of him as he can smash it a long way, but thankfully for Somerset Buttler came to the party as Somerset won the match in a canter with Buttler getting 14 runs of the penultimate over to end the match. The credit has to got to Hildreth as he was able to score at a strike rate of over 150 and of course, they have to thank Yorkshire for declaring the innings on a flat pitch like Taunton.
In the match at Trent Bridge, the championship leaders Notts were defending a total of 281 on the last day. Notts should thank the young Hales for that as he made 134 to take Notts to 315.
Hampshire though have a good team have been struggling this season as before this match they hadn't won a single match. At 52 for 2, it looked like they may yet again fail to win, but the hero of the match for Hampshire, McKenzie and the player, who for some mysterious reason continues to get picked in the side Benham took them to 127 before Benham again failed to convert a good start into a big score. Ervine too got out, but at 213 for 5 it looked like Hampshire would still chase it down. However, in a matter of a few minutes it all changed as Pothas and Cork got out in quick succession to leave Hampshire in a precarious position at 214 for 7. Balcombe too didn't last long as they suddenly needed 57 runs to win with just two wickets in hand. The hero of the match McKenzie was still there in the middle and with the new ball being taken, McKenzie was able to score quickly and take them to a tense victory. McKenzie has always been a very good player of pace, but isn't that good against spin. Credit though has to go to McKenzie for holding his nerve in a close contest and one can't forget Herath either as he gave McKenzie good support at the other end.
It was a great day in county cricket as there were some exciting matches on show. It shows that county cricket is alive and kicking and the talk of coming up with a new format just doesn't make any sense.