Northants v Hampshire, County Championship, County Ground, 1st June 2013
Leicestershire v Middlesex, YB40, Grace Road, 2nd June 2013
Northants v Worcestershire, County Championship, County Ground, 5th June 2013
With the Championship almost at the half way point, it’s fair to say that Leicestershire and Northamptonshire’s paths have diverged, in that Northants are top of the table and Leicestershire bottom. Northants’ record reads P7 W4 L0 D3, Leicestershire’s P7 W0 L1 D3. Northants have 118 points, 44 ahead of second-placed Worcestershire (P8 W2 L3 D3). Leicesteshire have 43.
A brief scan of these figures reveals why Northants are top – because they have won the most matches (which isn’t quite as silly as it sounds). To put it another way, the points system (16 for a win, 3 for a draw) is designed to make it worthwhile to play to win, even at the risk of losing. Which makes it surprising that, for two matches in succession, Northants seemed to have settled for a draw when a win may have been unlikely, but not impossible.
As I reported the other week, if Northants had declared at lunch on the last day against Leicestershire to set them an achievable target, Leicestershire (who have little to lose) might well have responded and made themselves vulnerable to being bowled out by what has, so far, been the most potent attack in the Division. On the last day of the match against Hampshire (which I attended) the circumstances were a little different, but the opportunity to win was still there, and spurned.
The first day had been washed out and the second truncated by bad light. Hampshire had made 206 and Northants began the last day on 159-5. At the start of the day it clearly made sense for Northants to ‘execute a plan’ to bat conservatively in search of maximum batting points. At some point , though – perhaps when the 110 overs were up, or when they were 289-8, it might have occurred to them to thrash another quick fifty, declare 150 ahead and try to bowl Hampshire out again in a couple of sessions. In this case they couldn’t even have lost the match.
Instead they batted on to 5.00 and 425-9, the only entertainment coming from Michael Carberry’s impersonations of various bowlers of his youth. This, if it isn’t obvious, was his Vivian Richards.
I should say that this analysis is not some eccentricity of my own. Although this was not mentioned in any match report I read, the batsmen were benefiting from a good deal of vociferous advice from the stands (the gist of which was ‘get on with it’ and ‘declare’), not to mention the muttered puzzlement of most of the Northants faithful, who just couldn’t understand what was going off out there. These are folk have have seen too many promising leads in the Championship frittered away to be counting any chickens (m’duck).
Their most recent match against Worcestershire (I was there on Day 1) illustrates the point perfectly. Worcester were bowled out twice by Copeland et al. within 3 days (without the intervention of rain) and Northants won by an innings. So, 44 points ahead when, with a little more boldness, it could have been 57 or even 70, and as good as home. Copeland now returns to Australia and it remains to be seen whether he takes with him their ability to bowl sides out twice and their promotion prospects.
An interesting sideshow was the sight of ‘keeper Murphy standing up to Andrew Hall (the point being, I think, to force Moeen Ali back into his crease). Hall may be 38, but he is still brisk enough to be listed by Playfair as RFM and I’m not sure the experiment was an unqualified success (a couple of half chances and a number of byes sped past him). Still, I think Gregor MacGregor would have approved the spirit, if not the execution.
Leicestershire’s 40 over match against Middlesex was one of those too common Sunday games where you would not have needed to be a dodgy subcontinental bookmaker to predict the result after 10 overs. The Foxes batted first and things started promisingly with Cobb playing his magnificent stroke to knock James Harris straight back to the boundary for 4. Unfortunately some intelligent and verging-on-quick bowling from Harris and Roland-Jones forced him (literally) on to the back foot. Cobb’s spirit naturally bridled at being reduced to subtlety and he perished unleashing his magnificent stroke against a straight ball from Harris (the small, light-coloured object to the left of the picture may be a bail*).
Our middle order are useful scrappers and consolidators of good starts, and they have Harborough’s own Rob Taylor ‘in their locker’, but they had little to consolidate here, and I was not surprised to learn, having left soon after tea, that Middlesex had won by 10 wickets.
The two sides meet again in the Championship at Grace Road this week. Leicestershire have almost certainly left it too late for a romantic late dash for promotion, but – with an outside chance of fielding their first choice attack of Freckingham, Hoggard and Buck for the first time this season – they may be in with a chance of dragging Northants back unwillingly into the pack. We shall see (well I will, anyway).
*In fact, probably one of the markers for the fielding restrictions. Though he was bowled off this ball.