Many Exits And An Entrance : My September In Cricket

Grace Road Autumn

Leicestershire v Essex, Grace Road, County Championship

Northamptonshire v Sussex, Wantage Road, County Championship (both September 2014)

September in cricket?  I’m not convinced there should be any.  My ideal season would end with the Championship wrapped up by the end of August, the last Test on August Bank Holiday and only a week or two of festival cricket at the seaside to come.  Of course, we would lament the absence of cricket, what with the weather being so lovely and everything, but really it is the Summer Game and it should end with Summer.

Both Leicestershire and Northamptonshire’s seasons had effectively ended well before the August hiatus in the Championship anyway.  Neither had won a match nor looked likely to, so having to play another couple of matches in September felt a little like a boxer who’d already thrown in the towel being shoved back into the ring to take a few more rounds of punishment.

The end of the season is, of course, the time for goodbyes, and, in cricket, these are seldom easy or handled well.  Ideally the faithful old retainer would, after many long years of service, acknowledge that his leg cutter no longer had quite the nip it used to and regretfully inform the Secretary of his intention to retire.  After brushing aside attempts to dissuade him “But Joe, the old place just won’t be the same without you” he would leave to a rousing chorus of “For he’s a jolly good fellow” and invest the takings from his benefit in a little public house (where he would not, of course, become too fond of his own wares and decline into alcoholism).

But that is not often how it is handled these days.  Although there will be many players bidding farewell to both Grace and Wantage Roads at the end of this season, their circumstances are a little different.  At Leicestershire the best young players are trying to leave against the wishes of the club, and at Northants the club are retiring their older players, in some cases against their wishes.

Before the match against Essex had started Nathan Buck was known to be fleeing for Lancashire, Shiv Thakor for Derbyshire and, during the course of it, Captain Cobb announced that he would be decamping to Wantage Rd. (perhaps to be nearer to his florist’s shop)

Cobbys the Florist

Since then Greg Smith has announced that he’s leaving for Nottinghamshire, where I think he might be seeing a lot of Lady Bay (works in the tea bar underneath the scoreboard on Thursdays, nice lass), which leaves only Ned Eckersley still frantically sending out a “come and get me plea”

Come and get me! Please!

Come and get me! Please!

 

My two penn’orth on what is wrong with Leicestershire and what can be done about it will have to wait for another day, but I would say that the most dispiriting aspect of what turned out to be the last day of the season at Grace Rd. (Leicestershire having lost by an innings within two days) was that there were so few Leicestershire supporters there to see it and so many from Essex.  Put a few deckchairs out and we could have been on the seafront at Clacton.

Considered rationally, Northants have had an even worse season than Leicestershire (albeit at a higher level).  Leicestershire at least held their own over the first two days in most of their games (on the basis of bonus points alone they would have finished fifth) whereas Northants have been thoroughly outclassed in almost every match.  In spite of that the atmosphere at Wantage Road seemed rather more cheerful.  I’m not convinced the regulars there really enjoy being successful, for one thing.  For another, none of the more promising young players are making desperate attempts to tunnel their way out and those who are leaving can at least say they’ve had a good innings (or be told that by others) and leave with the blessings of the stalwarts (as, here, do James Middlebrook and Andrew Hall)

Godbye to Middlebrook and Hall

Talking of exits, this may have been Peter Willey’s last match as an Umpire (subject to legal action). I’m not certain that I saw him play on this ground in his debut season (1966), but it’s more than likely that I did, in which case I’ve been watching him, in one capacity or another, for almost half a century.  I must say he’s aged a lot better than I have.

Willey leaves the field

For every exit there’s an entrance, more or less, of course, and here – waiting to make his – is 16-year-old Saif Zaib, who’s been signed on a three-year contract.  Haven’t seen him play, but I’m told he’s quite useful.

Waiting to make an entry

I first saw Willey play in the company of my Dad.  I like to keep track of the peregrinations of his memorial bench when I’m at Wantage Road and, on this occasion, he had his back to the action and was securing a temporary sightscreen. I suppose that might be what he would have wanted.

 

Memorial bench

Ah well.  That’s me done. For another year, anyway.

 

Golden Hours (A Trick Of The Light) : My July In Cricket

Northants 2nd XI v Sussex 2nd XI, Finedon Dolben CC

Bedfordshire CCC v Cambridgeshire CCC, Bedford Modern School

Leicestershire v Derbyshire, Royal London Cup, Grace Road

Leicestershire 2nd XI v Warwickshire 2nd XI, Grace Road

(all July 2014)

“Sit on the Mound Stand at Lord’s on midsummer morning at noon, and if the sun be ample and you close your eyes for a while you will see a vision of all the cricket fields in England at that very minute; it is a vision of the game’s rich seasonal yield; a vision of green spaces over our land, of flashing bats, of thudding, convulsive bowlers, and men in white alone in the deep or bent low in the slips.”

I have quoted that passage (from “The Summer Game” by Neville Cardus) before.  It describes an experience that he that hath understanding of that vexatious phrase “the Spirit of Cricket” will have had at least once (perhaps as often as once a season, if they’re lucky), even if he (or she) might be shy of admitting it.  English cricketers may, as Bernard Shaw once unintentionally pointed out, be unspiritual people, but cricket does occasionally allow them a glimpse of, if not eternity exactly, a kind of seemingly infinite simultaneity.

Of course it’s not necessary to sit in the Mound Stand at Lord’s on midsummer morning to summon the Spirit of Cricket (she is that not that local or particular a Deity).  If I were to try to summon her deliberately I’d have a couple of pints at lunchtime on a sunny day and sit in the stand on the roof of the Charles Palmer Suite (which usually does the trick).  But at the beginning of the month I was surprised to be surprised by the Spirit in what is, almost literally, my own backyard, the Little Bowden Recreation Ground.

At the end of an overcast day which had turned brilliant to the point of hallucination towards evening I made a slight detour on my way home and chanced upon the time-honoured closing stages of a close encounter (the last man, the last over, the winning run, the handshake, the pub).

Little Bowden Rec July 2014

No doubt it was merely a trick of the light (at close to what photographers call the “golden hour”) but at that moment the two elevens seemed to contain all cricketers everywhere and of all time, stretching back to Hambledon and beyond.

Of course, it is the curse of visionaries (think of Rat in “the Wind in the Willows”, for instance, or even Julian of Norwich) that they cannot convey in words the substance of their visions to those who haven’t shared them, which is why it is generally wiser not to attempt it.  But something of that feeling has remained with me through the month and lent a sense of unity to what are, on the face of it, unrelated happening and sights …

… Nathan Buck attempting to score off a last over bouncer from Mark Footitt …

Young Buck

… some natty duck-egg blue sight screens at Finedon Dolben …

Finedon 1

(the batsman is Samit Patel’s brother Akhil, seen here leaving the pitch looking pained after narrowly missing his century)

Akhil Patel

… a tree in the churchyard of St. Mary the Virgin, which overlooks the ground at Finedon (and where at lunchtime the incumbent, the popular radio evangelist the Rev. Richard Coles was supervising the raising of the bellows) …

Finedon Churchyard

… a Cambridgeshire player (who I think embodies the Spirit of Amateurism as much as anything) tucking his trousers into what appear to be (Harlequins?) rugby socks …

Bedford 1 (socks)

… the same displaying a broadness of beam in the slips not seen in the professional game since the heyday of Cowdrey, Milburn and Sharpe …

Bedford 3 (slips)

… a World War II bomber that passed low over the field at Bedford in the late afternoon …

Bedford (2) bomber

and even the poor, much abused alleyway that leads to Grace Road …

Grace Rd alleyway

… until, as the month ends, the skies darken and the outfield parches, Barrow Town’s Stan once again hit out boldly in the closing overs …

Stan Fairfield Rd Aug 2014

So, Lo! – do you see? – it all coheres!  Well no, of course, it doesn’t really cohere at all, but sometimes – do you see? – it just seems to for a moment.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s a fine Summer evening, and there might be some cricket still going on somewhere in the vicinity …

(On a more sober note, future England watchers should make a note of the name Sam Hain, who took advantage of the new 50 over format to build a substantial century for Warwicks 2nd XI at Grace Rd. last week.  The new Ian Bell, mark my words, unless he changes his mind and decides he’s Australian again.)

Far From The Madding Crowd : Trescothick At Wantage Road

Northamptonshire v Somerset, Wantage Road, County Championship, 12th July 2014

The second time I’ve been to Northampton for a first-class match this season and the second time they ended the first day on at least equal terms with superior opposition (only to lose heavily).  This is perhaps not unconnected to both Yorkshire and Somerset having played a T20 at home on the Friday evening before travelling to Northampton for a 12.00 start on the Saturday.  This would, of course, have only affected those who played both games, not including Marcus Trescothick, unexpectedly left out for the T20 fixture.  What was the story there?  I don’t know.

I’m not sure I remember much of the Marcus Trescothick story since he left that tour of India in 2007 (so long ago!) to be replaced by Alastair Cook.  I know he has made runs consistently for Somerset, with an annus mirabilis in 2009 (I think) but a gentle decline over the last couple of years.  This season he has rallied and on Saturday made his fourth first class century of the season (without ever looking particularly at ease).  He is now 38, with 55 first class centuries (and 28 in limited overs) to his name.  Somerset have won nothing, but have come second in all three competitions at at various times (all in the same year in 2010, under his Captaincy).

Tempting, if futile, to speculate on what might have happened had Trescothick not left that tour.  Might he, not Pietersen, have taken over the Captaincy of England from Flintoff?  Would Cook’s entry into Test cricket have been long delayed, or might he have displaced Andrew Strauss?  Would Pietersen still be playing, would Cook be Captain?  The what-ifs are innumerable, but it’s safe to assume that Trescothick’s career would have ended a few years ago (in tears like Vaughan or with a whiff of acrimony like Strauss) and he would not now still be plying his trade in the decent obscurity of Wantage Road.

A couple of incidents on Saturday would, had they occurred in a Test, have been subjected to microscopic examination on TV and amplification from every kind of media.  A ball from David Willey (who looks to be back close to his full pace, encouragingly for England but too late for Northants) struck Craig Kieswetter full in the face.  He was felled so instantly and dramatically that even Willey looked panicked.  A groundsman wandered on with what looked discouragingly like a giant dustpan and brush but was sawdust with which to soak up the blood on the wicket.

 

Kieswetter

A few minutes later Kieswetter’s replacement, Trego, seemed to have been caught at slip by Andrew Hall off Willey’s bowling.  The Umpires seemed unsure whether the catch had been taken cleanly and were disinclined to take Hall’s word for it.  Trego , similarly minded, remained unmoved.

 

Will Trego or will he stay?

With Kieswetter’s blood still wet at the crease, Willey and Trego (normally two of the “feistier” characters on the circuit) seemed disinclined to make much of the incident and even those in the crowd who held strong views were soon distracted by the announcement that real ale left over from Wednesday’s Tom Jones concert was being sold off for £2.00 a pint (and very good it was too).

Without slow motion replays, closeups and allied technologies it was, of course, impossible for anyone in the crowd to form an informed opinion as to whether the catch had been cleanly taken or not.  As I sipped my pint of Sunchaser  (in a Tom Jones commemorative mug) round the back of the Steffans stand I fell to musing as to whether cricket is really seen more truly under the microscope of TV than via the panoramic view from the stands.  Is a butterfly better understood on a slide than on a flower? (Powerful stuff, that Sunchaser.)

I wondered too whether Trescothick ever envies the man who took his place all those years ago?  Might he not (illnesses aside) be happier away from the limelight where the cameras are generally in the hands of friends and admirers?

Trescothick's 100

Would he rather be examined this closely?

Trescothick

Or as closely as this?

 

Alistair Cook

 

Welcome to orthans icket

Northamptonshire v Yorkshire, County Ground, Pre-season friendly, 8th April 2014

Sadly (this is becoming something of a theme) I was not at Leicester on Tuesday to watch the postponed game against Derbyshire and I’m not at Wantage Road today to watch the first match of Northants’ season against Durham.  Leicestershire no longer have a reciprocal membership agreement with Northants and, in these times of austerity, £14.00 entrance plus £9.00 bus fare means I shall have to be more selective in my visits to the County Ground.  Which is a shame, because I’m rather fond of the old place.

I was pleased to see that the new 20/20 slogan “Glory, Honour, Pride” (which sounds too much like some dubious East European political grouping to my ears) was not much in evidence.  I’ve never been that fond of “Steelbacks” either, come to think of it, and wonder whether “Welcome to orthans icket : Home of County” (which is how most refer to them) might not be more appropriate to the spirit of Northamptonshire cricket.

 

Orthans icket

It’s always a good principle that you can’t play cricket seriously without the proper kit (there is really nothing worse than being clouted round the ground by a bloke in black trousers and a  New York Yankees cap) and it was an indication that Yorkshire weren’t going to be going all out when they took to the field in wooly hats.  The effect varied. Jack Brooks, who, under all the hair, has a rather rural face, looked Compo-esque; the ever-stylish Moin Ashraf, in a nod to Ali G., teamed his with some wraparound sun-goggles.

Moin Ashraf

The day was bright, but perishingly cold.  We spectators could keep out of the wind by flattening ourselves against the hoardings like bugs against a windscreen but for those on the pitch there was no escape.  The sensible policy seemed for both sides to concentrate on getting through to the start of the season proper without pulling a muscle or fracturing a frozen digit.  Jack Brooks bowled off six paces, Ashraf was more aesthetic than energetic and Middlebrook and Kettleborough (two villages in Last of the Summer Wine Country) compiled their runs at the rate of a man collecting a part-work history of World War 2.

This seeming not-too-much-aggression pact, however, reckoned without Liam Plunkett, who, after a restrained start, began to bowl in the manner familiar from his Test appearances, fastish, with the occasional nasty lifter and some wild stuff down the legside.  One of the former broke the finger of Rob Keogh and one of the latter evened up the score by doing the same for his own wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow.

 

Johnny Bairstow

Even allowing for the relative talents of the players, this will have been a bigger blow to Northants than Yorkshire.  It is going to be a long, attritional, old season, with the constant distraction of 20/20 on Friday evenings and Northants do not have a big squad.  On the other hand Yorkshire’s squad is, as Jack Brooks observed in this week’s Cricket Paper

“Unbelievably strong … the important thing is the depth: take out all the England players, Tim Bresnan, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Gary Ballance, and it doesn’t weaken the team.”

It’s a slightly unfortunate side-effect of this strength that one or two potential internationals might be tempted to move counties to gain the proper recognition.  Alex Lees is not guaranteed a first-team place (he was left out last season in favour of Kane Williamson), Moin Ashraf is rarely seen in the Championship and Azeem Rafiq (who is a better bowler than most being suggested to succeed Graeme Swann) is rarely selected ahead of Adil Rashid.

Rashid, it has to be said, has recently been in the team more for his batting than his bowling, which has degenerated into something of a joke.  In this match, though, he was given a long spell (perhaps to avoid any more broken fingers) and, after a couple of overs of the familiar dross he seemed, as the wind dropped and he donned a proper Yorkshire cap, to be recovering some of his old brio.  There was turn and lift and flight where once there were full tosses, he fretted less and strutted more.  I’m tempted to wish him well for an England recall, but then – with the way things are – I’m equally tempted, for his sake, to hope that he can avoid the nod of doom and play out his days for a happy and victorious Yorkshire.

(I’m not a great fan of floodlights at cricket grounds when employed for their proper purpose, by the way, but I can’t deny that they have added something to the variations as the shadows fall across the pitch as the summer progresses and recedes.  Wantage Road won’t see a sight quite like this at teatime for a while.)

 

 

Floodlight

 

A Start To The Season (Of Sorts)

Leicestershire v Northamptonshire, Grace Road, Pre-Season Friendly, 1st April 2014

Well, here’s an early lesson in not looking too far ahead, not to mention gathering rosebuds while I may, carpe-ing the diem and so on.  I have not spent the day, as I had predicted, at Grace Road watching the first day of the County Championship because the match against Derbyshire has been postponed, following the death of the Derbyshire wicket-keeper’s father in a car crash.

I did, however, make it there for the first day of the Friendly against Northants, which, following my new policy of lowered expectations, I would have to say was pleasant enough.  By 11.30 Leicestershire were 16-2 as usual, all was right with the world and it was if the close season had been but a bad dream.  I won’t dwell for too long on the century by new signing Dan Redfern (new signings have flattered to deceive too often before) or allow myself to speculate  that if we could find a settled and solid opening pair and a true strike bowler we would have a decent side (true though that might be).

I would observe that Northants, with last season’s match winner Trent Copeland back in Australia, his replacement Jackson Bird and Alex Wakely already out for the season, and David Willey still sidelined with a lower back injury (a pain in the arse for any seamer, as I know from experience) may struggle.  Maurice Chambers could be bowling an awful lot of overs and on this showing quite a fewof them could end up deposited over cow corner.

But here’s one to watch, or at least one who’s hard to avoid watching if he’s fielding in front of you and a trend to keep an eye on for the coming season.  “The Cricket Paper” led this week on the state of Ned Eckersley’s beard, which he claims he grew “out of boredom” during a five month stay in Australia over the Winter.  The story is accompanied by a photograph which makes him look a little like Ashurbarnipal, the late Emperor of the Assyrians.

As any major dude will tell you, this hirsuteness has been in fashion among the cognoscenti for some time now, and looks poised to make a big impact on this year’s County Championship.  We could see more beards on show than in the early ’80s heyday of Peter Willey, Mike Gatting and Dave Podmore.  Aside from Eckersley, Northants slow left armer Graeme White, returning home after a spell with Nottinghamshire, has adopted a look half way between David Beckham and a young King George V.  He has two poses in the field (which is where he spends most of his time) – one with his hands in his pockets

 

Graeme White 1

and the other stroking his beard.

 

Graeme White 2

This gives the impression that he is deep in thought, ruminating on cunning plans for the batsmen when he is brought on to bowl, but I suspect the truth is that his beard has reached the stage where it itches like fury and he is either scratching it or keeping his hands in his pockets to stop him doing so.

I shall follow his progress with interest and will be interested to see whether the beard is still there come September.  My money’s against it.

 

A No-Win Situation

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).

George Geary Stand

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.

Stan Galloway

Stan Galloway 2

Halfway To Paradise

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.

Carberry as 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.

Standing up to Hall

Standing up to Hall 2

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*).

Perishing Cobb

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.