Leicestershire v Northamptonshire, County Championship, Grace Road, 12th June 2013
There are those who would have you believe that day 2 of a Championship match between Leicestershire and Northamptonshire is likely to be a tedious occasion (and that this is likely to be a tedious post). Unfortunately, they would be quite correct. Apart from giving me another chance to mount some of my favourite hobby horses, the most interesting aspect of the day was my discovery that, if stared at for long enough, the roof of the George Geary Stand bears a slight resemblance to some kind of minimalist work of art (perhaps one of Dan Flavin’s neon sculptures).
The team news was that we would not, in fact, be seeing Leicestershire’s dream bowling unit in action. Hoggard was at the ground, but not on the pitch (having apparently picked up some kind of mysterious niggle since his 8 wicket performance for the 2nds the other week). The suspicion grows that he won’t be seen in a Leicestershire shirt again (unless his plan is to sneak back into the side for the T20s). Nor would we be seeing acting Captain Cobb, who appeared to have followed his first decision as Captain to drop himself down the order by dropping himself altogether. He later turned up playing T20 for the 2nds, which I suppose shows where his and our priorities lie this year.
The Captaincy passed to Matt Boyce, whom many good judges believe would have been offered the position before if he had been certain of his place in the side (the general view being that he is the brains of the outfit). His first decision, having won the toss, was to follow the modern fashion and bowl first. It looked to be the case that we had prepared a lifeless pitch to foil the thus far all-conquering Northants attack. Predictably, our own youthful seamers struggled, and were not helped by five dropped catches. By close of play on the first day Northants had reached 320-4.
On Day 2, when I was there, Northants once again batted on past the 110 over mark, narrowly missing out on the last batting bonus point (395-5) and then on past all reason, before declaring on a quite superfluous 567-7. As a tactic this would make sense if the game were guaranteed to last the full four days, but a moment’s thought, or a brief look at the weather forecast, would surely have told them that they had effectively batted themselves out of any chance of winning the match, or even achieving maximum bowling points. The strategy appeared to be one of ‘mental disintegration‘, and it’s true that poor Ollie Freckingham looked a broken man as he left the pitch (having taken 0-122), but the only real signs of mental disintegration were among the crowd, especially the Northants supporters, who seem unanimously convinced that they will, once again, be pipped at the post for promotion. As it was, Leicestershire crept on through two heavily rain-depleted days to finish on 238-6. And that was it.
So, have Northants really blown it again? They stand at the head of the table, with 127 points from 8 games. Lancashire are in second place with 94 from 7, and the two meet this week at Old Trafford. My prediction would be that Lancs, who are the only side of any real quality in the Division, will overtake them and head the table. The question is whether any other side can rouse themselves enough to take second place and I suspect the answer is no. The sides who are playing well lack quality and the better sides (Hampshire, Kent, Essex) are playing poorly. Hampshire do, at least, seem to have had a look at the points scoring system and the table and tried to achieve a result by forfeiting an innings against Gloucestershire last week, but cocked it up and lost by 198 runs.
When the Championship resumes in August we can expect to see a flurry of declarations and forfeits as sides who are incapable of bowling the opposition out twice (particularly in three days) scramble for points, and we may see some unexpected results. Who knows, Leicestershire might even win a match. It does strike me that it might be better to learn how to declare and achieve results in the first half of the season and then consolidate, if necessary, in the second, rather than dozing through the first half and panicking in the second. But I’m sure our Captains and Coaches (who, I suspect, now devise the plans for the Captains to ‘execute’) know what they’re doing.
I feel unable to bring you action shots from this match as, frankly, there wasn’t any to speak of, but here are a couple of shots of the most memorable innings I saw last week – a whirlwind and career-best 57 from Stan Galloway of Barrow against Market Harborough. He is a rare bird these days, as a Caribbean cricketer in the Leicestershire League, he eschews the use of a helmet in favour of a towering tam that lengthens as the seasons go by and his innings seemed to my rheumy old eyes to blow in on the warm air of warmer climes and happier days.