Ball one: Rosy week at the Rose Bowl
Rather than an over (so passé after all), this week’s column could become an example of the Queen of Hearts’ “six impossible things before breakfast” as county cricket descended down a rabbit hole and into a strange world of comings and goings, and one not getting started again at all. Two competitions reached the end of their group stages while another sat looking on, its expensive marketing grin as wide (and perhaps as illusory) as the Cheshire Cat’s.
A very good week for Hampshire started in the County Championship with the kind of match only first-class cricket can provide. The last game of the stage proved to be a play-off for Group Two’s second Division One slot (do keep up!) and, needing big performances, they were indebted to two men who started the season with other priorities.
New Zealand’s Colin de Grandhomme finished with match figures of 5-62 in 29 tight overs and loanee Nick Gubbins top-scored in Hants’ first innings with 137 not out, perhaps the best innings by a Middlesex batsman this season. The two men were at the crease to see their team over the line in the match’s final session for the win they needed for qualification to the top division.
Spare a thought for their opponents, Gloucestershire, whose five wins were matched only by Yorkshire, but who will play in Division Two when the red ball is back in hand. Finding a way to win a championship match in such a variety of conditions is the great collective challenge of the domestic game – its reward should reflect that outcome.
Ball two: New Road inundated with runs
Life was tough for the bowlers at New Road, where Warwickshire must have been pleased to see a dead track offered up by Worcestershire for a match that the visitors only needed to draw to progress to Division One.
Pieter Malan certainly wasn’t in a mood to complain after scoring 218 runs for once out, but one wonders if the hosts might have pushed on a little more if they too had the prospect of Division One cricket to play for. 447-9 declared off 174 overs with only centurion, Ed Barnard’s, strike rate above 50 in the top seven (and not by much) feels slow, even if the ball was not coming on to the bat. Worcestershire’s home on the banks of the Severn presents unique challenges to ground staff with its frequent off-season flooding, but one has to think that 21st-century knowledge and technology can produce a pitch with a little more in it for seam and spin come mid July.
Ball three: Northants react with nuance to players’ grief
Rob Keogh’s innings for Northamptonshire felt more like a story from the 1920s than the 2020s. With his team already two men down after a bereavement to Luke Procter and an injury to Gareth Berg, Keogh retired from the crease to attend his grandmother’s online funeral, then returned, having donned a black armband, to bat out the draw against Glamorgan.
Grief affects different people differently, so it was good to see Northamptonshire support Luke Procter when he left the same match due to a family bereavement and support Keogh equally when he chose to return to it. Our condolences go to both players and so too our respect for honouring their personal and professional responsibilities as they saw best – knowing when it was right for them to step away and when it was right to step back.
Ball four: What’s going on in Division one?
Did you know that we’re already into the divisional stage of the County Championship, with Warwickshire and Somerset leading the way on 21 and 18.5 points, respectively? Lancashireare two points further back in third, then a gap to Hampshire in fourth on 8.5 points, with Nottinghamshire in fifth on five points and Yorkshire propping up the sextet on 4.5? It’s all a matter of the carrying over of points won against divisional opponents during the group stage, but it does feel a bit unsatisfactory already.
Ball five: Double disappointment for Gloucestershire
Gloucestershire’s fans endured the reverse emotions of those of Hampshire’s – squeezed out of the chance to win two competitions in the same week.
It had all looked so good in the Blast at Taunton. Needing a win, they had reduced Somerset to 73-4 halfway through the 13th over and must have seen last season’s Taunton wonderkid, Tom Lammonby, as easy meat as he endures the cricketer’s equivalent of “the difficult second album”. The next 46 balls brought 110 runs as Lammonby, suddenly clicking into form, plundered 90 runs from the 36 deliveries he received, the kind of knock that takes the game away from the opposition as much mentally as it does in the hard currency of runs on the board.
The visitors had the chase manageably in hand, if not under control, deep into its second half, but they couldn’t afford two bad overs and three arrived at once, just 17 runs scored and two wickets conceded just as the need for boundaries became pressing. There was no coming back from that.
Somerset’s fans deserve to have something to look forward to as domestic cricket turns its attention elsewhere for a few weeks, but I won’t be alone in hoping that Gloucestershire have better luck in the Royal London One-Day Cup than they have enjoyed in the Blast and County Championship.
Ball six: Mr D’Arcy the apple of Hampshire eyes
You have to hand it to Hampshire though. They made the most of knowing what they needed to do and dealt with scoreboard pressure in securing the fourth qualification spot in the T20 Blast’s South Group.
Glamorgan, powered by Marnus Labuschagne’s 78 off 47 balls, set the home side 185 runs to win the match – but also set them 185 runs in 14.1 overs if their net run rate were to better Surrey’s and the other results fall their way. D’Arcy (Short) and Weatherley (Joe) may sound like rival suitors for a mysterious maiden in a Victorian novel, but they smashed 10 fours and nine sixes from the 43 balls they faced and Hampshire were through comfortably in the end.