There was a fair bit of noteworthy action in the County Championship this week. The good news for us is that we don’t have to write about much of it because it didn’t particularly affect the top of the table. The good news for you is that we therefore won’t feel we need to repeat our dull-the-first-time point about England players performing well in early season matches, because that’s kind of the theme of what’s been omitted.
1st – Middlesex
Still top and they didn’t even play.
2nd – Warwickshire
Warwickshire conceded a huge first innings lead to Somerset, for whom Alviro Petersen and Jos Buttler scored hundreds, but they then managed to hold on for the draw, finishing nine wickets down. Rikki Clarke followed his 4-70 in Somerset’s first innings with 61 not out in Warwickshire’s second, which is the kind of low octane competence we anticipated when we decided to monitor his performances this season. Varun Chopra made 108 in Warwickshire’s second innings and he’s a player many people are talking about, but not us because we can’t be bothered. Nick Compton made a second innings hundred for Somerset. That was something else that happened in this match.
3rd – Sussex
Sussex made 526, but drew with Surrey at least partly because it takes ages to make 526. Luke Wells made 208 before somehow contriving to get himself bowled by Vikram Solanki. Chris Jordan took 5-92 in Surrey’s first innings and it struck us he was having a good season – he also took six against Yorkshire – but then he took 0-63 in the second innings, which impressed no-one.
The next chapter
Sussex play Warwickshire next week in an early season near-the-top-of-the-table clash. Middlesex again take the week off. Lord knows what they’re doing with themselves. They’re probably out robbing sweets and vandalising cars and that sort of stuff.
Fast bowling isn’t just about bowling quickly. It’s also about sitting around worrying about your knee. As such, Australia’s younger bowlers have the perfect role model in Ryan Harris.
Harris is injured again, which is pretty much his default status. Really, the news was that earlier in the week, he was fit – that was what was worth remarking upon. Now we’re back to normal and he’s had to fly home from the IPL after a debilitating workload of 12 overs in three weeks saw his Achilles tendon sustain some form of knackage.
Ryan Harris doesn’t look fragile. Like a potato, he appears lumpy and functional. He’s not like one of these gangly fast bowlers who move like puppets where every component’s stretched to breaking point. Those guys look like they’re made out of cooked spaghetti wrapped around raw spaghetti and you can easily see why something is likely to give way.
But yet Harris is the vulnerable one – particularly his legs. He’s still the best at this. He’s the one showing Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins et al. how it’s done.10 Appeals
We don’t normally link to our Cricinfo Twitter round-up because, you know, we can’t really be bothered. However, we thought we’d make the effort this week because the subject matter might be slightly more of interest to you.
As you know, we’re ‘down’ with all the modern trends (it’s presumably one of the main reasons why Cricinfo hired us to monitor cutting edge social media on their behalf). As such, we know exactly what the cool kids are into and we’re pretty sure they’re currently all talking about the correct use of punctuation. That’s why we devoted over half of this week’s Twitter round-up to an examination of how the IPL teams are using exclamation marks on their official accounts.
It’s important to channel one’s energy. If you spread your irritation too thinly, you’ll find you have nothing left for important issues such as these.19 Appeals
Maybe not. One of first-class cricket’s finest batsmen may yet get an opportunity to play a second Test having been selected in Australia’s Ashes squad. It just goes to show, if you hang around long enough, the failings of the next generation will eventually earn you the recognition you sort of deserve.
15 years of experience
You wouldn’t say Rogers has been picked at his peak, but he’s still good enough in English conditions to have topped Middlesex’s batting averages last year (if you ignore Andrew Strauss because he only made 277 runs). Also, being as he’s here already, he’s got plenty of time to get his eye in.
He won’t be the only one with an opportunity to get his eye in. Modern Test tours are short, but there seems to be recognition that the players need more time to acclimatise as seven of the Test squad will arrive early with the Australia A team.
There has been a cull. Batsmen picked for their bowling and bowlers picked for their batting are out. Glenn Maxwell, Moises Henriques and Steve Smith are all dropped, as is Xavier Doherty. Even if they hadn’t been replaced, the squad would be stronger. They were basically just diluting the previous Australia squad and distracting people. Brad Haddin’s gnarl-dog face has also been brought back, because it looks the part.
This may be the least terrifying Australia Ashes squad in years, but at least there’s some clarity about it. That wasn’t the case in India, where the selectors seemed to be hysterically hedging and hoping. It’s also a good move to have plenty of players over in the UK for a prolonged period before the first Test.
We tend to think there’s a tendency to fill in the unknowns rather generously when it comes to Australia’s younger bowlers, but that doesn’t mean we think they’re outright bad and they’ll have more impact in England than in India. As long as you have bowlers, you are always in with a shout.20 Appeals
The worth of a Twenty20 player cannot be measured via a single innings. That’s a mistake many people make – they confuse aberrations with excellence. It’s therefore worth underlining the sheer inevitability that it would be Chris Gayle who would break the record for the highest individual score in the shortest format.
It doesn’t actually matter all that much that he was facing Ishwar Pandey, Ali Murtaza and even an over from Aaron Finch (although Luke Wright’s four overs for 26 look pretty fine in this context). Whoever was bowling, it takes phenomenal ability to hit 30 of the 66 balls you face for boundaries. As a child, we never once managed it when bowling a tennis ball to ourself via the wall of the garage and we were bowling underarm and umpiring as well.
Gayle finished with 175 not out, having hit 13 fours and 17 sixes in another good advert for his core strength. His team, Royal Challengers Bangalore, won. You may well have guessed that last bit.16 Appeals
To which the less generous among you might say: “Again?”
We have mixed feelings about such jokes because we retain a great deal of affection for Graeme Hick. Many years ago, we spent a great deal of time desperately wishing he would turn the corner and start savaging Test attacks. We spent even longer unearthing flimsy evidence that this was actually happening:
“That 31 not out takes his average above 50 over the past eight months if you discount those two bad decisions against New Zealand.”
In a way, Hick is the man who taught us how hope will invariably become attached to at least one player in a poor team and how the beneficiary/victim is rarely the best player in that team. Instead, they tend to be inconsistent players who have experienced very occasional stellar highs. ‘When those aberrations become the norm…’ is the basic mentality. Only who’s to say they ever will?
It’s important to have something to cling to though, even when your team is manifestly dire, otherwise why would you follow any match? At certain times we need a player to look upon this way; someone who might just salvage things single-handed. You might even be able to think of some current cricketers who meet such a need.
We of course would never stoop to naming one, even in the unlikely event that there were some sort of a link to Graeme Hick’s new coaching role which would make for a satisfyingly rounded conclusion to this article.15 Appeals
The County Championship table is slightly canted by the fact that five teams didn’t play this week. It’s week two. It was time to make things a little more opaque for anyone trying to follow the competition.
1st – Middlesex
Middlesex stay top after beating Derbyshire. There were four wickets in the first innings for Steven Finn, but the match was won in Derbyshire’s second innings. Tim Murtagh took 5-12, while Toby Roland-Jones docked the tail with 3-4. Derbyshire were all out for 60, which – if you’re new to cricket – is a rubbish score.
2nd – Warwickshire
Warwickshire rise after last week’s draw. They beat Durham. A hundred from Durham’s number eight, Steve Borthwick, couldn’t save them from a first innings deficit and then Warwickshire also had a go at lower order feistiness via Tim Ambrose, who scored a hundred, and King Cricket player to watch, Rikki Clarke, who made 92. This is fairly typical of Clarke – worth watching, but there’s usually a more obvious focal point. This is probably for the best, what with his face and all. Chris Wright then took 6-31 and Durham were out for 94. While this is a larger number than 60, it is also a rubbish score.
3rd – Durham
Durham remain third after scoring hardly any bonus points in the match described above.
The next chapter
Middlesex and Warwickshire aren’t playing this week. Sussex are and have won their one match so far. If they can manage more than half a point, they will rise above Durham.14 Appeals
International cricket matches are now so frequent that you can forget that those involved are in any way exceptional. We like the early part of the season because it generally provides a reminder.
In general, we don’t like reminders. We like to leave things indefinitely. BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN THAT WE’VE FORGOTTEN ABOUT THEM. Yes, we are going to do that important thing at some point. No, we don’t know when.
This kind of reminder is different. It’s a reminder that assures you all is as it should be. Later in the season, someone will hit a hundred or take five wickets and be spoken of as being in the running for a Test spot. Look back at these early matches and you’ll see what it really takes to be in the running for a Test spot. England players are remarkably reliable when they drop down a level.
We alluded to this at the weekend when referring to Graham Onions’ habit of collecting huge numbers of wickets while he can – before he has to spend his summer driving to England matches only to be told that he’s not needed on the morning of the game. Steven Finn also reappeared this week and promptly took 4-51. Even Jade Dernbach took wickets, for crying out loud. One of them was Nick Compton, who made a duck, but let’s gloss over that.
The point is, England’s selectors generally have a pretty good idea who the best players are. If a batsman doesn’t make runs for England, it doesn’t always mean he was the wrong selection. It might just mean that the best option isn’t necessarily a world-beater.7 Appeals
Since they added extra teams, the IPL now takes even longer to take shape. Relatively speaking, it’s still early days, but thankfully one team is doing badly enough that it is actually worth remarking upon. Step forward Delhi Daredevils.
After helping Delhi Daredevils to their feet again, we examined them closely and we can exclusively reveal where they’re going wrong.
Delhi Daredevils on paper
However, let’s first take a look at what’s right, because they’re not short of good players and they actually topped the league last year, even if they didn’t win the competition.
They have Morne Morkel, who was the top wicket-taker in 2012 and he’s supported by some of the better Indian seam bowlers, such as Ashish Nehra, Irfan Pathan and Umesh Yadav. Opening batsmen are critical in Twenty20 cricket and Delhi have Virender Sehwag and David Warner who are then followed by Mahela Jayawardene further down the order.
It’s all good, right?
It is NOT all good
Take a look at Delhi’s squad and there he is, stinking up the place like a medium-paced chunk of ancient cheese that someone’s been sick on. Delhi have the right to field the 35-year-old innocuoso, Ajit Agarkar.
He may not be playing, but it’s hard for any player to avoid being tarred by association. If Agarkar’s in the Delhi squad and you’re in the Delhi squad, that makes you equals, which means you must embrace mediocrity with all your heart. Every time he turns up for training, he’s lowering the bar with his filthy long hops, bringing everybody down.
Frankly, we won’t be surprised if Delhi fail to win a single match this year.10 Appeals
Our approach to covering the County Championship has always been to strip away all of the fat and flesh and a fair proportion of the bones to leave something manageable. What you do with what’s left is up for debate. Give it to the dog, maybe.
Our official editorial stance is that only the first division matters, but we’re refining that further this year. We’re going to try and focus on the top of the table. The idea is that those of you who don’t follow county cricket too closely might be able to get just a few details about the title race without wasting time reading match reports which are about irrelevant teams or which provide needless detail about how a batsman was dismissed and in what over.
First, the table. Middlesex and Sussex are top, while Durham also won. Let’s try and tell their stories.
1st – Middlesex
Middlesex beat Nottinghamshire, who are generally one of the stronger counties. The match was set up by 6-63 from Toby Roland-Jones and at the age of 25 and with a first-class average of 20.57, we’re pretty sure we missed a trick in not selecting him as one of our players to watch this season. Then again, trick-missing is one of our specialties, along with making scrambled eggs and being unable to work for more than about eight minutes at a time.
Roland-Jones’ efforts were supported by 97 not out from wicketkeeper John Simpson. We checked his Cricinfo profile and he is not the BBC journalist. The match was then decided when Neil Dexter dismissed Nottinghamshire’s entire middle-order in their second innings, taking 5-27. Not-very-interestingly, Neil Dexter isn’t quite as old as we thought he was.
1st – Sussex
Yorkshire folded in their first innings. That’s pretty much the story here. Chris Jordan, once of Surrey, took 6-48, but we get the impression that if he hadn’t taken the wickets cheaply, someone else would have done. Yorkshire were dismissed for 96, Sussex made an unspectacular 356 and then secured an innings win with Yorkshire a dozen runs away from getting to bowl a second time.
3rd – Durham
It is early season and Graham Onions is playing. Shorn of their foulweather specialist, Nick Compton – who is resting after England duty – Somerset couldn’t cope. Chris Rushworth actually took one wicket more than Onions, but we’d be surprised if that happened too often, even if Rushworth does have a surprisingly good record.
It was a low-scoring match and Ben Stokes’ 49 was the best effort until Craig Kieswetter’s 72 in the fourth innings. Kieswetter batted at three which is perhaps part of the masterplan to teach him how to score singles.
The next chapter
We’re hoping that over the weeks, a story will take shape. The focus should become more consistent as the table becomes established and hopefully we’ll get to know the characters who are having the biggest influence on things.
Set against that is the fact that we’re quite lazy and might get distracted or go on holiday. We’ll do our best to stay on top of things, but faint, not-particularly-heartfelt apologies if we do end up missing a week.10 Appeals