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Who needs to do what to win the County Championship?

would-have-made-an-excellent-spot-the-ball-competition

It’s the last round of the County Championship and three teams could win it: Middlesex, Yorkshire and Somerset. We rather like the ‘there’s been a bonus point at Taunton which changes EVERYTHING!’ chaos of a close finish in this competition, but if you don’t enjoy the baffled-surprise emotion quite as much as we do, here’s a simple take on the state of play.

Let’s take things one step at a time. Put simply, if Middlesex beat Yorkshire, they will win the County Championship. Only if they fail to achieve this will ‘the permutations’ come into play.

We will go into ‘the permutations’ in detail only if it starts to look like Middlesex won’t win. We will however give you a couple of pointers which should help simplify things.

Yorkshire need to beat Middlesex to even be in with a chance of taking the title. Even with bonus points, a draw is not enough for them.

Somerset have to beat Nottinghamshire for them to be in with a chance.

Let’s start with that and then revisit what needs to happen for what outcome once they’re underway.

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County cricket’s spin ecosystem

Adil Rashid bowls one at the moon

In recent years there has been much talk about how county cricket hasn’t been producing spin bowlers. A corollary of this is that county batsmen have been facing less spin. With just a bit of a nudge, the latter becomes something that can be exploited.

This year in the County Championship, visiting teams have had the option of choosing to bowl first without recourse to the coin. The idea has been to deter groundsmen from preparing damp pudding lawns instead of pitches.

Diversity is cricket’s greatest virtue and it seems like this move’s been a success to us. After several years of fans scouring the various scorecards in search of a spinner who’d actually done more than usher in the lunch break, we now have teams like Surrey and Somerset routinely picking two of them (or more).

At the time of writing, the top two wicket-takers in division one are Jeetan Patel and Jack Leach. Ollie Rayner is sixth. Gareth Batty is tenth.

It is not that in an instant England has gained a wealth of good spinners, but a dash of shoddy spin batsmanship does give them a leg up and a reason for captains to bowl them in the first place. Hopefully batsmen and bowlers will now learn together and the national team will ultimately regain a more balanced attack.

In the meantime, it’s not just England’s wicket-taking we’re concerned about ahead of a winter in Bangladesh and India…

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Jonathan Trott and no ice age

jonathan-trott-in-inaction

A lot of you will have assumed that England’s domestic 50-over competition had been and gone. The group stages barely outlasted July and the semi-finals took place three weeks ago.

The final, however, was scheduled for the arse end of the season, long after anyone could remember what preceded it. Warwickshire (not Birmingham Bears) beat Surrey.

There are different ways of chasing down an almost comically low total (Surrey made just 136). You can have a bit of fun or you can make bloody certain. In a final, the latter is what is required.

As such, who better to have at the crease than Jonathan Trott, a man who considers rocks flighty and unreliable on the grounds that they can be cracked and moved during ice ages.

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Why England have selected Gareth Batty

al-pacino-in-the-godfather-part-iii

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

At the age of 38, we have genuinely never been fitter in our entire life. We had however assumed that our chance of playing international cricket had passed.

Not so!

Almost as if England were Australia and Gareth Batty were a gnarly old batsman rather than a spin bowler, the selectors have put their faith in middle-age.

Batty was born in 1977. He’s only three weeks younger than our mate Tim and Tim is the oldest person we know (except for all the people we didn’t go to school with, obviously.)

Tim says he hobbles around hunched over for the first few minutes after getting out of bed these days due to the pain in his ankles. He has even floated the idea of “warming up” before playing squash to prevent injuries. We put him straight on that. We’re not in our 60s. We don’t need to start stretching and all that crap.

But you get the gist. Gareth Batty is almost as old as Tim and therefore quite aged for a sportsman.

If you’re wondering why England have selected a man of Tim’s age, the answer is obvious. The players aren’t really going to be going out in the evenings in Bangladesh due to a combination of fearfulness and security measures. There will be no gallivanting. No evening shenanigans. The younger players will therefore be looking to a man who already has extensive experience of watching Netflix in his pyjamas for guidance.

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This is not about the England squad for the Bangladesh tour

We can’t remember what time our own email goes out. Is it 11am? We could just check the timestamp on an old one, we suppose – but who’s honestly got time to do that? We suspect it’s actually 10am, but on the offchance it’s an hour later, here’s a link to our latest Twitter round-up for Cricinfo.

This counts as Thursday’s post. We’ll do something about the England squad in a bit. Email-receiving folk will have to visit the website proper if they want to read that today. Of course they won’t know to do that until tomorrow (Saturday) if we’ve missed our own email deadline.

Time pressures, eh?

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I Don’t Like Cricket, I Hate It – the city-based T20 edition

A semi-regular feature in which we ask Prince Prefab about cricket – even though he hates cricket. We are in bold. Prince Prefab is not.

We were talking about fat cricketers last time around. It was pointed out to us that the team that won this year’s T20 competition ‘likes a pint’. [At this point King Cricket shows Prince Prefab photographs of Northamptonshire’s Rory Kleinveldt and Richard Levi.]

They even have booze sponsorship.

They should run a campaign to get more fat kids into cricket.

“Like a McDonalds? Sweat when you climb the stairs? Out of breath after polishing your bannister? It doesn’t matter! Cricket: a sport for everyone – even you.”

There’s a feeling among some that what English cricket needs is a new Twenty20 competition where the teams are cities, not counties, and where there are fewer of them (eight cities instead of 18 counties). The thinking is that a lot of people don’t give a flying full toss about counties. They think having cities would bring in a new audience.

As a Lancastrian living in Manchester, what’s your take? Do you think they should have cities instead of counties? Would you personally be more interested in Manchester Mizzle than Lancashire Lightning?

It sounds like the first step to ‘footballising’ cricket and the one thing I could love about cricket is that it isn’t football. Cos you can bet your balls there would end up being two Manchester teams, two Liverpool teams, two Sheffield teams and we can all see where that would go: the wankers would get interested. This would feed into the cricketers who would wave their finger in a knowing way at the umpire when he made a decision they disagree with and nobody wants that.

So yes, it would probably bring in a new audience but is it an audience you want? Keep it county. Keep it sparse.

Well apparently as we speak, there’s been a vote and they’re going to do it. There won’t be two teams in each city though, just one – and only eight cities.

It’s a good point though. Round our way, childhood football support was defined by rivalries. You knew people who supported other clubs because City, United, Liverpool and Everton were all within legitimate supporting range. We can’t really see that you’d get that with this competition.

Leeds will presumably be Manchester’s bitter rivals, but we won’t know anyone who supports Leeds on account of the fact that we don’t live in Leeds.

As long as they don’t try and do what they are doing with snooker. Trying to make it snazzy. Cos it just ends up looking naff.

Although there is something delightful about Ding Junhui walking into the arena with Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars blasting out, only to be usurped by Rocket Ronnie’s genius entrance to Train’s Drops of Jupiter. In fact, cricketers probably have terrible taste in music too. They should each have a song of choice blasted when they score a century, bowl someone out etc.

Sorry, I’ve gone off track.

They do play music when a batsman walks out. Dunno whether they get to choose what it is though.

The new city thing’ll definitely be a snazzification exercise though. We sort of imagine it falling between two stools: the Full Snazz stool of the Indian Premier League – which is all napalm marketing, fireworks and cheerleaders – and the Village Fete stool that is county cricket grasping at the threads of modernity without ever quite catching hold of them.

The latter’s probably best exemplified by the mascot race on T20 Finals Day when a load of people dressed in giant foam animal costumes belt round an obstacle course in between cricket matches.

I was raised that the only extra excitement allowed at a cricket match other than the cricket should be a bottle of coke (with a straw!) and a bag of salt and vinegar chipsticks.

But maybe the problem is the sport? If they need all this snazz?

Well, obvious goading aside, there’s truth in that. Test cricket in particular is not exactly plug-and-play, easy to use straight out of the box. You need to study the instructions first – and who honestly wants to do that?

The idea with T20 and the city franchise tournament is that it’s sort of ‘My First Cricket Format’ – easier to sell to more people in itself, and perhaps also a route to the grown-up version.

I’m not sure they’re going about it the right way. As someone who doesn’t currently watch cricket I’m more likely to be drawn to Test cricket and the history and complications and nuances of that than a load of lads in yellow jumpsuits running out to Mr Boombastic and wellying a ball as hard as they can with cheerleaders shaking pompoms every time something happens.

Well you say that, but Test cricket hasn’t entrapped you in its vicelike grip just yet, has it? So maybe they’re thinking why not give Mr Boombastic a whirl.

Yes, I should have been clearer. I like the idea of Test cricket more. Still probably never go.

Only ‘probably’. That’s tantamount to an invitation. [Checks 2017 fixture list.]

2017’s chocka mate.

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The County Championship state of play a few crucial minutes before the end of the second day

We could wait until the end of the day’s play before giving the latest round of County Championship matches a mid-point once-over, but why wait? Whatever we write will be out of date soon enough anyway. Might as well allow it to become so almost instantly.

Keep on Keaton on

Let’s start with the most impressive performance so far, which came about in the least important fixture. Fourth and fifth in the table respectively, Surrey and Durham probably aren’t playing for much of any consequence. Keaton Jennings did however score an unbeaten double hundred against an attack comprising a right-arm swing bowler, a left-arm swing bowler, a right-arm fast bowler, a left-arm fast bowler, a right-arm finger spinner and a left-arm finger spinner. Even if it weren’t his seventh hundred of the season, that would be a lot of boxes ticked. He is averaging 72. In the first division. As an opener.

Lancashire v Middlesquelch

We’re, what, 15 miles from Old Trafford and there hasn’t been a spot of rain, which rather underlines the fact that Middlesex must be dragging their own clouds round with them. In all honesty, half the time it’s not been rain but humidity which has derailed play. There’s so much moisture in the air, it’s actually become too thick for light to penetrate. On the occasions when the two teams have made it out to the middle, Lancashire have been doing their utmost to be accommodating hosts, shedding their wickets as if it were 2014 or 2015 – or indeed any year in the previous decade.

Somershock v Yorkshod

The best team in the land is doing a damn fine impression of the worst and Somerset are starting to believe that they could once again be narrowly denied the County Championship by a ridiculously slim margin right at the very death. Yorkshire are still a hundred and plenty behind with – at the time of writing, but almost certainly not when you are reading this – seven wickets remaining.

What does all of this mean?

It means there are two days to go in these matches and we should probably try and avoid thinking about the permutations until after they’ve finished.

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What is the point in the County Championship?

11th-sep-table

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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