Ball one: Stokes fires on Durham
One point separates five teams at the top of the North Group, it’s almost as if the ECB is in control of a popular and ultra-competitive league. It even has 2019 BBC Sports Personality in it and Ben Stokes was at the heart of Durham’s win over the Birmingham Bears, two of those five pacesetters.
But cricket matches are rarely won by one player and rarely by one approach. While Stokes muscled five of the 18 balls he faced, his captain, Cameron Bancroft (who had a rather different 2019) hit only seven of his 53 against the rope, but his 76 wasn’t the glue that left two more midfielders. -range innings by Graham Clark and Sean Dickson in a competitive target.
The Bears continued to lose wickets when they had to accelerate and eventually came up short, Stokes got a wicket and caught his old nemesis Carlos Brathwaite from Brydon Carse’s bowling.
Both teams have nine points, level with group leaders Yorkshire, and Stokes has had a much-needed game.
Ball two: Lancashire draw with Notts
It was more Oh Dear, Lanky Lanky than Oh Lanky Lanky at Old Trafford, as the home side managed to turn a chase they controlled for almost the entire duration into a draw against Nottinghamshire, a result worth a triumvirate point each. held off the group.
With Matt Parkinson having a rare day off, it was surprising that Dane Vilas didn’t turn to Keaton Jennings or Luke Wells for a few part-time stuff, but after Alex Hales did his thing in the power play, there was no real Notts batsman escaped and 172 felt like a par score at best.
Openers Jennings and Finn Allen soon made it look a lot less, still getting together half way through the chase, 92 disallowed, 81, but Samit Patel got the pressure and somehow the home side needed 20. of the last two overs, a situation where their eight wickets in hand sound more favorable than it actually is. The time to spend those wickets was over, as new batsmen no longer had a pair of viewers at their disposal before hitting the line (as they would have had in the overs 12-16).
Keaton Jennings six of the penultimate ball left his team needing two of the last ball to win. He was well short looking for that second point. Credit to Steven Mullaneys men for only conceding the six limits in the bottom half of Lancashire’s innings, a huge effort considering the wickets in hand. And Samit (4-0-18-1) should have been man of the match, not Jennings (88 out of 61).
Ball three: Kent leans upward as Essex buckle
Kent leads the South Group after knocking down Essex in Canterbury. After a delayed start due to a wet outfield (just play boys, sure), the home team posted 236-3, their highest T20 score ever, with the outfield not being needed at all 14 times.
Daniel Bell-Drummond and Zak Crawley escaped after a few overs to assess conditions, never stopping in an opening score of 145 from 11.5 overs, including nine fours and eight sixes. Bell-Drummond came up 12 short for his century, but that just brought in Jack Leaning, who can’t do anything wrong at this point, and he blew 42 out of 17, and a seasoned Essex XI went looking for a mountainous 237.
When Leaning took over Ryan ten Doeschate in the eighth there was only a net run rate to play for (quite a grim expression) and Essex will need a lot more than that to take them off the second bottom in the group after one win out of six. By contrast, Kent has lost just one of their six games and is two points ahead of the top.
Ball four: Cracknell breaks open a tough chase
In a difficult season for Middlesex, a beam of light shone on Radlett’s backwater as an old pro, a young thruster and a shrewd importer came together to chase Hampshire’s imposing target of 216.
Joe Simpson was the old pro, a wiry six-hitter, whose partnership of 122 in 10 middle overs with the young Joe Cracknell took his team back into another game in which they slid to defeat. Cracknell, at 21, showed great success in his 77 to anchor the innings, proving it was no fluke with 67 a few days later against Gloucestershire. Cue Aussie T20 specialist, Chris Green, whose 26 failed to cross the line from his team with a few balls left. Londoners will be needing a lot more of that stuff in all sizes very soon.
Ball Five: Batter of the Week
Too often it’s too easy to define Jonny Bairstow by what he doesn’t do: don’t hold, don’t open, don’t play, don’t defend. Sometimes it might be better to heed the two candid words on Jos Buttlers’ handle and focus on what he’s doing.
Against Worcestershire he wasn’t fit (oops, there I go again) but he did what few English players can do better (in the history of the game) repeatedly hit and smear the ball all the way in his 112. Though he can show elegance (he has the poise of the gifted multisport star he was in school) he often forgoes that grace for power-hitting which can sometimes cause him to lose balance. In some ways, his limited movement due to injury in these innings may have helped him maintain his form through the shots.
But with Jonny, it might be better to hear than to see. Has an English batsman ever made that unmistakable sound that makes you, almost involuntarily, well inform the person next to you that he does that more often? There are AB de Villiers and Adam Gilchrist in the world game and that was it for me.
Ball six: Bowler of the week
When my son caught a small cricket on the television, he exclaimed: Is that? the Steven Finn? and I explained that it was, and that he was only 32. Frankly, it could have been me who asked the question, because that sweet old self-effacing, stupid Finny turns out to belong to a previous generation, even on the cusp of becoming a self-contained previous generation. That’s a sign of how fast the game is moving these days and, perhaps, how many players England are nibbling at with their schedules and array of selection options.
But the Glamorgan match also illustrated something about the Finns’ career and Middlesexs’ season. He comes on, sacks just about the biggest overseas name in the league (Marnus Labuschagne), captain David Lloyd takes the next ball, finishes 4-19 from his four overs and loses the game.
A funny and observant presence behind the mic, with the right spirit, can give Finn one of the more interesting My Story bios if he chooses to do so when the boots are hung for the last time. But let’s see a lot more of him doing what he’s good at before that moment comes.
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