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What is the point in the County Championship?


Was it a batting point or a bowling point? Was it one arising from a win, or did it come about through a draw?

The dream scenario would be for it to have come about thanks to a penalty for a slow over rate, but neither Middlesex nor Yorkshire has dawdled, so the yawning one-point chasm between them derives from cricket alone.

Nottinghamshire were relegated

We were a bit disappointed by this. It’s a ridiculous thing to say, but they seem too good to have to spend a year playing in the second division. Their match against Middlesex perhaps summed up their year. Samit Patel made a hundred, Jake Ball took a hat-trick and they really rattled the top side. Afterwards, they emerged with four points from a defeat. Ollie Rayner again took wickets for Middlesex for whom most players contributed in some way or other.

Yorkshire beat Durham very much

They beat them by three points more than Middlesex beat Nottinghamshire, which is why the gap has narrowed. Alphabet-straddling AZ Lees made 132 and 88. His opening partner Adam Lyth made 114 not out and their battery of bowlers did their unrelenting thing between times.

Somerset are coming up on the rails

They played a death match against Warwickshire. No chance of a draw. It was just a matter of who could inflict most damage most quickly. Despite being bowled out for 95 in the first innings, Somerset just about walked away. Dominic Bess took six for spit on his Championship debut in the first innings. He says he bowls spin because he was a ‘porker’ as a kid and couldn’t hack a long run-up.

Hampshire and Surrey also played

Just loads of runs really. Mark Footitt took six for plenty.

What’s next?

A lot of reports are focusing on Middlesex v Yorkshire at Lord’s for obvious reasons, but there is actually a round of matches before then. Yorkshire host Somerset from tomorrow (Monday), while Middlesex play Lancashire at Old Trafford.

While we think Yorkshire are in general the better side, our money’s on Middlesex winning the Championship because they always seem to do well when they play the Tykes. We hate that nickname, but it would have sounded too repetitious had we used the word Yorkshire again. Maybe we could have gone with ‘the White Rose’ – people use that as an alternate name for the club, right?

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City-based T20 and the art of forcing windows

Independent websites are meant to provide a rapid response to news stories, telling the world how things should be based on an unshakeable sense of what is right and what is wrong. However, we long ago concluded that when it came to stories about what might happen to the structure of county cricket, we could save ourself an awful lot of redundant thinking and typing by saying nothing at all.

The latest city-based Twenty20 tournament news probably warrants a mention though, if only because the story’s been rumbling on for so long now that surely – surely – something must come of it…

As is our wont, we haven’t really drawn any conclusions about the fundamental merits of city teams versus a tournament involving the existing counties. We do have a point to make about a minor aspect of the scheduling though and we’re going to make it even though it will probably change.

Absolutely first-class

The latest rumblings are that an eight-team T20 competition involving city teams would take place at the same time as several rounds of the County Championship. This, to us, seems very wrong.

There is a feeling among many people that the shortest format is a rival to the longer ones. We’ve never seen it that way. To us, it’s all cricket and we see no reason why the different formats can’t actively support each other, broadening the appeal of the sport as a whole. Twenty20 is more likely to draw people in and we maintain that the greater scope of Test cricket will always be more capable of retaining interest in the long-term.

The current pencil-scrawled plans are for the new competition to take place at the same time as Test matches and we’re not actually too bothered about that. You could even argue that this arrangement presents an opportunity for cross-pollination or whatever you want to call it, promoting Tests via the Twenty20 coverage. Test cricketers would have to be given permission to play in the sixes-and-fireworks stuff too, so there is an implicit message there that Big Man Cricket is the higher level.

It isn’t the same with the County Championship. Four-day fixtures taking place during the tournament would see teams gutted. What would this achieve? What would be the point of those matches?

Shouldn’t you be gnawing on something else?

We already have a situation where no-one’s quite sure what second division runs and wickets are worth. Compromising both divisions by hauling out all the bigger names for a spell would only make individual performances of even more questionable value.

A corollary of that is that team performances would also be qualified. If what basically amounts to a second XI win in July is worth the same as a first team win in June, what the hell kind of a competition are we talking about? Who would honestly care about winning that?

Playing the County Championship and a new Twenty20 competition at the same time achieves two shitty things:

  1. It means the domestic game needlessly cannibalises itself when there’s no real reason why the different formats can’t work together
  2. It reinforces this idea that the long and short formats are fundamentally different and are actively in competition with each other

Those two points overlap really and that part of the Venn diagram is why we’re writing about something that probably won’t happen. The very fact that it’s being mooted betrays the fact that decisions aren’t being made in the interests of the game as a whole.

A gateway to nowhere

Whether it’s just that people have become so involved in trying to develop a more appealing ‘gateway’ cricket competition that they’ve lost sight of the bigger picture; or whether they really don’t care what form the sport takes as long as it makes more money, we don’t know. Despite the temptation to err on the side of cynicism, it’s actually far more likely to be the former. British cricket administrators are a bunch of old bastards and most of them have a long history of being involved in county cricket.

An alternative take is that they know full well that it’s a terrible idea to have the two competitions running concurrently. In this scenario, they’re only floating the idea so that the county chairman can see that giving a new Twenty20 competition its own window while retaining the validity of the County Championship is a much better option than trying to play a devalued four-day competition at the same time.

In other words, the counties might need to experience the bad idea before they accept it is just such a thing. As a friend’s aunt once said of a toddler crawling towards a roaring fire for the nth time one evening: “Oh, let him – he’ll soon learn.”

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‘We played like pretty boys there at one stage’ – Trevor Bayliss

It’s been very humid in the North-West these last few days. That probably didn’t have any impact on the outcome of the T20 International between England and Pakistan but we haven’t got much to say about the cricket so thought we’d flesh out this piece by talking about the weather in true British tradition.

England found it harder and harder to hit boundaries as their innings wore on. Pakistan didn’t – and they didn’t shed wickets either.

Pakistan bowled really well. Eoin Morgan said something about the dew. Is dew related to humidity? Again, nothing to do with the cricket, we’re just wondering.

England’s international summer has come to an end with Trevor Bayliss accusing his batsmen of playing ‘like pretty boys’ which seems as good a way as any to draw things to a close.

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I Don’t Like Cricket, I Hate It – county attendances and world record scores

A semi-regular feature in which we ask Prince Prefab about cricket – even though he hates cricket.

As we speak, the team in first place in the County Championship has played 12 matches, won four and drawn eight. What do you make of that?

I know what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to draw me into a rant about how can it be possible for a cricket match to be drawn because I don’t understand how that is possible despite you explaining over and over in tedious detail.

But I have a sore throat and I’m feeling sorry for myself and I don’t want to talk about that. Instead, explain to me how the fuck can anyone earn money playing cricket for Hampshire? I’ve seen the grounds on match days and there’s no bastard there. There’s less people there than at an East 17 comeback gig, without Tony Mortimer, in Margate. How’s it viable? How does it buy takeaways and pay for mortgages? How do county cricketers pay for Netflix?

What’s the average attendance for a county game KC? 48?

By the way I’ve just realised I don’t know how many players are in a cricket team. Is it eleven? Like football?

I was actually posing the original question because I thought you’d be taken aback that the league leaders have only won a third of their games. Your answer’s better though.

Yes, there are 11 players in a cricket team. Football presumably thought that seemed like a decent number and copied.

I’m not actually this angry about county cricket I’m sure you are aware. More puzzled.

I was going to go on about how Lancashire weren’t winning. I was always told we were the best. Like Man Utd.

That’s probably a reasonably accurate comparison actually.

England just made the highest-ever score in one-day internationals. What do you make of that?

Not much to be honest. If you’re constantly doing the same thing day after day it’s bound to happen at some point. You know, that monkeytypewritershakespeare thing.

Also, a technical aside here, I just heard some expert on the radio say, ‘it’s easier with these modern bats and the lads are much fitter these days too.’ So basically they hit a few more runs than big fat lads with shit bats.

But, you know, well done.

Interesting point. Do you think cricket’s shooting itself in the foot trying to be all modern and elite? Do you think it needs to crack down on fitness and return to the age of the fatty?

There is far too much of the ‘elite’ about sportsmen and women these days. It’s boring. They’re boring. And they’re always tweeting/instagramming photos of their abs. Bring back Beefy. He never tweets embarrassing photos.

Look at you making knowing references about cricketers.

I only know cos it involved a cock on the loose.

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England float the idea of picking Haseeb Hameed to see what happens

This is what they do nowadays. They say they’re thinking of picking someone as a means of increasing the scrutiny on them and then they see how the player reacts.

Earlier in the season, word got out that England were almost certainly going to pick Scott Borthwick. He reacted by briefly forgetting how to bat. England didn’t pick him.

Haseeb Hameed is not exactly in the spotlight now, as he would be in a Test match. He’s more under a large fluorescent strip light. This is not quite the same, but it’s  a great deal harsher than the Toc H lamp light he’ll have experienced thus far in county cricket – where fans outnumbers reporters only because they actually warrant a plural.

Some sort of gauntlet of lumens has been thrown down to Ian Bell too. He’s capable of withstanding the glare, obviously – we already know that. It’s more a case of establishing whether he can be bothered to do so any more.

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Yorkshire bear down on Middlesex

4th Sep table

Before the latest round of County Championship matches, Yorkshire were five points adrift of Middlesex. NOW THEY’RE ONLY FOUR POINTS BEHIND.

Truly, it was the definitive week of this year’s competition. Eight teams were in action and the points accrued ranged from 8 to 11 as everyone drew.

Nottinghamshire were the big winners

And by ‘winners’ we mean ‘drawers’. And by ‘drawers’ we mean ‘people who draw’ not ‘furniture components’ or ‘underwear’.

They picked up those 11 points against Durham, who scored nine. This moves Notts up to bottom of the table.

Nottinghamshire’s Jake Libby made 144, which was downright unseemly when set against all the low scoring that had preceded it. Not to be outdone, Keaton Jennings made 171 not out. How many runs has he made this season? An awful lot. 1,262, including six hundreds. No-one has scored more.

Yorkshire thrashed Hampshire

10-9. Truly, it was a shellacking.

Jack Brooks five-for for Yorkshire. Gareth Berg six-for for Hampshire.

Middlesex thrashed Warwickshire

9-8. It’s a good thing Middlesex and Yorkshire play each other in the last match of the season, or the climax could be a snail’s pace crawl to the line, weaving between the raindrops.

Five wickets for Warwickshire’s Josh Poysden (always nice to see from a leg-spinner). Five wickets for Middlesex’s Ollie Rayner (who opened the bowling).

Lancashire fully drew with Somerset

This is how you draw, with the same number of points: 10-10.

This was a less-than-excellent pitch, although it’s also worth noting that neither side’s attack is ‘all that’. Tom Abell and Peter Trego made hundreds as Somerset sauntered to 553-6. Alviro Petersen made 155 for Lancashire. Liam Livingstone, who started the season as a specialist number seven batsman, came out at three in what may or may not be ‘a development’.

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One major worry about England’s one-day team

They aren’t due. Aren’t remotely due. This occurred to us midway through yesterday’s run-chase when they were a few wickets down. While they eventually overhauled Pakistan’s total, that’s only postponing the problem.

Yes, there are arguably players who haven’t scored too many runs recently, but unfortunately for them, England aren’t due as a unit. Alex Hales in particular has selfishly plundered the team’s stockpile of runs leaving little for anyone else.

The next step on England’s one-day journey (yes, journey – everything’s a frigging journey these days) is surely to become more adept at rationing.

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Last week’s County Championship news… today!

Suppose we should try and catch up. We’d left it so long we were thinking about doing a double round-up after the matches taking place at the minute, but then we thought about how long that article would end up being and decided we had to do some nettle grasping.

Middlesex didn’t play…

So Yorkshire clawed back some ground. They were playing Nottinghamshire, which apparently guarantees you a load of points these days. Despite being 51-6 in their first innings, they won by 305 runs. Andy Hodd and Azeem Rafiq – neither of whom are first-choice players – salvaged that innings and then Tim Bresnan and Jack Brooks hoovered up wickets either side of a Gary Ballance hundred. When the dust settled, Yorkshire were five points adrift of the leaders.

Surrey are still winning

It’s very unsettling. They were playing Lancashire, who appear to have undergone some sort of metamorphosis in the close season, from a competent bowling/inept batting side to a competent batting/ineffectual bowling side. Mark Footitt took seven in the second innings and might finally feel a bit better about leaving Derbyshire for Surrey.

Hampshire are second from bottom

Ahead of Nottinghamshire, but they did at least draw with Somerset. Sean Ervine hit a hundred in each innings, but the match was most notable for Roelof van der Merwe and Craig Overton putting on a couple of hundred run for Somerset’s ninth wicket.

Durham are third from bottom

But have a game in hand on Hampshire. They also drew. Jeetan Patel took five for Warwickshire in their first innings, but Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick made daddy fifties to deliver this season’s de rigueur rain-affected draw.

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Yeah, maybe worth taking a look at him in other formats

Alex Hales

Alex Hales (via YouTube)

Boundaries are smaller, the white ball does sod all, fielding restrictions are imposed. There are all sorts of reasons why one-day cricket is different from Tests, but all are of secondary importance to the simple fact that it is.

England’s quadruple nelson was built around a record hundred for Alex Hales which then set things up for a successful game of Stick Cricket for Jos Buttler and Eoin Morgan. It’s interesting to note that these three batsmen are respectively: struggling, out-of-favour and outright rejected when it comes to the Test team.

It’s hard to avoid asking questions. How can they be so dominant in one-day cricket and yet struggle to keep their heads above water in Tests? Could Alex Hales not go out and play the same way and make 171 off 122 balls in the longer format? Why can’t Jos Buttler just play his natural game?

It bothers us that the formats are occasionally portrayed as being so different as to almost be separate sports. But at the same time, there are differences. We know this simply from the evidence above. Whether it’s the scrutiny, the ball, the constant self-questioning as to what ‘the right thing to do’ might be, a good one-day player does not necessarily make a good Test player.

So should we completely disregard one-day performances when attempting to gauge Test worth (and vice versa)? No, of course not. There is huge overlap too. All three of the one-day batsmen mentioned earlier have a tremendous eye, which is an asset in all forms – an entry requirement even. If they assess risk and reliably choose appropriate shots, they are well on their way to becoming successful Test cricketers. All three have had at least some Test success anyway.

So having argued ourself in circles, what exactly is our point here? We suppose it’s just a plea for people not to reach any kind of concrete conclusions about anyone ever. If a player can’t help but pepper the boundary in 50-over cricket, don’t cry ‘get him in the Test team!’ – but don’t dismiss his achievements as irrelevant either.

The campaign to persuade excited fans to say “yeah, maybe worth taking a look at him in other formats,” starts here.

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A quite possibly harrowing development involving a car number plate

Bert writes:

It’s been months now since The Revered One departed this plane of existence and ascended to the Sky (Sports studio). Such elevation cannot but affect a man, but I must say I had thought that Robert the Great would be immune, that he would be able to maintain his humbility and humilness. After all, that’s why he is worshipped across the land.

So it was with considerable shock and disappointment that I came across this car parked just outside Wembley last Saturday. Surely not, I thought. Surely this is some sort of joke. But there it was, parked right in front of me, challenging my denials with its stubborn existence.

Rob Key's car

There are other possibilities, of course. Maybe this was some other Key, Derek Key for instance, a sales executive from Tring. Maybe this was un homage from a committed Keyist. Maybe this was just a random set of letters and numbers that only coincidentally represents the lad Rob. But the likelihood of any of these being true is extremely small. It was just my shipwrecked imagination desperately clinging to some driftwood of hope that came up with these nonsenses.

No, I fear we must accept the truth, that Rob Key is the kind of person who has a Range Rover with a personalised registration on which he describes himself as Boss. In other words, a wanker.

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