Various games, July & August 2013
The last time I wrote about a County Championship match was on June 22nd. Since then an entire Ashes series has been and gone, as has this Summer’s T20 Competition and most children’s Summer holidays. In the background the Championship has been creeping surreptitiously along, odd games fitted in here and there between the shorter forms. It began again in earnest last week and should have the whole of September to itself, as it had most of April and May, like an elderly Duke reduced to living in the wings of a grand house.
Writing about several matches at once should allow some sort of pattern to emerge. Since June, I’ve seen Lancashire beat Northamptonshire convincingly and dismiss Leicestershire. Yorkshire I’ve seen crush Derbyshire like a bug, and, less predictably, beat Nottinghamshire with equal ease. Lancashire have, as I predicted, overtaken Northants at the top of Division 2. Northants have hung on in second place (and should have acquired some extra confidence from winning the T20 and leading their group in the YB40). With Copeland returning, Willey on song and none of the sides below them getting their acts together, even the congenital pessimists at Wantage Road should be secretly confident of joining Lancashire in Division 1 next year.
None of the days I’ve seen have been hugely memorable in themselves, and I somehow seem to have contrived to miss the most significant performances (and it doesn’t help that I’ve mostly been distracted by having the TMS bantz-fest in my earpiece). When Lancashire beat Northants I caught the double century by Simon Katich – as vast and featureless as the Gobi Desert – that enabled Lancashire to overhaul Northants’ first innings of 310, but missed Simon Kerrigan’s 7-37 in the second innings that set up a 10 wicket victory and drew him further into the selectors’ Radar. At Chesterfield, which was a joy as always
I arrived the day after Alex Lees had made 275 (though the Derbyshire greybeards were still buzzingly grudgingly about it). I’m not sure there was anything historically significant about Lancashire’s defeat of Leicestershire (apart from more wickets from Kerrigan) but, if there was, I missed that too.
It is tempting to see all this as the natural order of things reasserting itself. The splitting of the Championship in two was meant to result in the strongest sides being concentrated in the First Division, but, thanks to cricket’s “glorious uncertainty”, this never quite happens. With two relegated from a Division of nine, one poor season, or even unusually bad luck with the weather can result in a strong side being relegated and one season of punching above their weight can mean a “small club” can be promoted. Last year Lancashire, who had won the Championship the year before with a young and largely home-grown side, were relegated. Yorkshire, who had suffered the same fate the year before, were promoted in their place, along with Derbyshire, who had taken advantage of the foul early season weather to establish a runaway lead while others were dawdling.
This season Lancashire have been able to fortify their youthful batting with the acquisition of the multi-county Katich, while retaining Ashwell Prince, but their real strength has been in their bowling. The routine is that, in the first innings, Kyle Hogg and the 38-year-old Glen Chapple
dismiss the top order, supported, if necessary, by a decent selection of second string seamers, before Kerrigan winkles out the lower middle order. In the second innings (or if the pitch is taking spin), it is generally Kerrigan who does the damage. Kerrigan’s eye-catching figures this season (and the season before) don’t exactly flatter him, but they do present his bowling in the best possible light, having been achieved in the best possible circumstances.
Yorkshire should (if the weather hadn’t intervened) have won the Second Division last year by a distance and they look on course to do so in the First this year. Their batting remains home produced, an apparently limitless supply of talented young batsmen flowing from their Academy. They have been able to replace Root with the equally talented but more pugnacious Lees, the absence of Bairstow (seen here in unflattering but not untypical pose at Trent Bridge)
has been compensated for by the steady emergence of Ballance, who may well in turn supplant him (and the luckless Taylor) in the England side.
As was the case when they last won the Championship in 2001, they have a relentless four man pace attack. Then it was Hoggard, Kirby, Silverwood and Sidebottom, now it is Brooks, Patterson, Plunkett and – semper eadem – Sidebottom again. Brooks (bought in from Northants) is as hostile a bowler as I’ve seen this season and batters the batsmen from one end
while the still impressively hirsute Sidebottom (35) bowls them out from the other.
They too have a spinner who was once talked of as an England prospect in Adil Rashid who is still in the side, but mainly for his batting these days. He was allowed a spell at Chesterfield, which disappeared all over the park, but I rather had the impression that they were giving him a bowl to humour him and that he would not have been allowed on in more testing circumstances.
So, Yorkshire for Champions (probably), Lancashire and Northants promoted, Leicestershire for the wooden spoon and Derbyshire … well, I had them down for relegation at the outset and they have been attached firmly to the bottom of the table all season. In an amusing twist, though, they have won their last two matches and it looks as though Surrey – the biggest, richest County of them all – might be the ones we will be welcoming to Grace Road next season. I’m sure they will be looking forward to that.
I am conscious, in writing this, that it sounds like the ramblings of a football pundit as the Leagues enter the crucial Easter period. There are many other signs that cricket is becoming more like football (such as star players threatening to leave if their side gets relegated and Counties sacking their coaches to stave off relegation). I suppose this is pretty much what the authorities were hoping for when they split the Divisions in the first place, but I can’t help feeling a slight nostalgia for the days when a County who were in a comfortable mid-table position in late July could look forward to dozing their way through August, and the most the players had think about were their averages. But in that, as in so much else, I am no doubt out of tune with my times.