County cricket: Notts soar clear as Division One hits halfway stage

Ball one: Lamb fleeced of the points for draw

Nottinghamshire soared 10.5 points clear of the chasing pack in Division One after the kind of victory that gives the lie to the easy jibe that county cricket is soft cricket.

Batting first, Ben Duckett, Sam Northeast and Joe Clarke registered half-centuries that looked much better than that when Brett Hutton’s five wickets (well, four plus an lbw decision won against Dane Vilas) established a lead of 104. Lancashire were right in the match when Tom Bailey (having a very decent game) dismissed the captain, Steve Mullaney, to leave them 211 in arrears with five wickets to take, albeit on a flat pitch in some of the best weather of the summer. Cue a stand of 176 between Tom Moores and Lyndon James that took both men into the 90s and a declaration that gave Notts four sessions to take 10 wickets, the target a notional 444.

But, as intended by the eight points available this year for the draw, the visitors dug in, George Balderson leading the non-charge, batting 80 overs for his 77. The second new ball did its thing to account for three wickets in three overs and the game looked up until Tom Bailey played sensibly with Danny Lamb, as useful a No 9 as you’ll find, and the clock ticked on. And on. Dane Paterson found a beauty for Bailey and, in the last hour of a pulsating last day, Brett Hutton sparked mass celebrations when Saqib Mahmood edged one. What a match!

Ball two: Barker gives Bears something to shout about

Were Hampshire all out for 89 on the first morning of their match against Warwickshire because (a) the terrible pitches in domestic cricket have led to a terminal decline in English batsmanship; or (b) it’s bloody hard work batting at 10.30am in September? Well, Mohammad Abbas and Keith Barker know where to bowl when there’s a bit in it too and, another 10 wickets later, the second day began with the match pretty much a one-innings affair.

It was scarcely less tough for Hampshire in the second dig, batsmen grinding out scores (except James Vince, who cruised to 48) but the visitors were probably still second favourites until Barker and Brad Wheal put on 93 runs in 42 overs for the ninth wicket, Barker showing yet again what a resourceful cricketer he is.

296 looked in that “tough but gettable” bracket that freights a fourth innings with possibilities and, when Dom Sibley and Rob Yates had posted 99 without loss in 50 hard-fought overs, the home side looked favourites. Liam Dawson may have been the sixth bowler to whom Vince turned, but he’s an international player and he cracked the match open with the wickets of Sibley and Chris Benjamin. Plenty of Bears got in and got out, but the end came quickly with a clatter of four wickets for four runs as 19 points went back to the south coast, Warwickshire all out 60 runs short.

Ball three: Fisher nets nine wickets

At least Yorkshire had a good week on the pitch, as Somerset fell apart and likely out of contention, eight points adrift from the logjam behind Notts.

Matthew Fisher was their destroyer with 5 for 41 in the first innings and 4 for 23 in the second. The pacer seems to have been around for ages but he’s still only 23 and has plenty of time to realise some, if not quite all, of his potential. As a teenager, he looked to have something of Tim Bresnan Deluxe about him, 10mph quicker and more likely to nail down a No 6 slot with the bat. Injuries mean he might now become more of a Tim Bresnan Not Quite Deluxe, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

A lesson I learned from my father is to look out for batters who make big scores when no others do. Harry Brook’s 118 was enough to propel the Tykes to 308 and that was enough to secure the win by an innings. Brook’s is a name that crops up often in reports of all formats of domestic cricket – perhaps he’s outgrowing it?

Somerset have the Blast’s Finals Day to look forward to next weekend. Having not won a match outside the shortest format since 1 August, they need to get something out of that to avoid another season fading away in the autumnal mists.

Ball four: Chelmsford massive wreak havoc in Division Two

Essex appear to be taking their Division Two status as an affront, sweeping aside Gloucestershire by an innings having meted out the same treatment to Glamorgan last week. Quite what winning Division Two means I suspect few are quite sure, but I suggest that they’re about to find out down Chelmsford way.

Simon Harmer was, inevitably, the main man, taking three wickets for spit in the visitors’ first innings and then applying his tourniquet of turn to staunch any potential rush of runs with 40 overs in the second dig, 4 for 78 his reward.

Harmer is 32 now and might have a decade or so left as a player, but surely there’s nothing he doesn’t know about spin bowling, specifically how to make the most of talent a notch or two below genius. Whatever plans he has for the off-season, the ECB should sign him up as a spin consultant with a view to a more permanent role in the future. His immigration status might be problematical but surely there are ways round that if it’ll lead to Moeen Ali and Dom Bess landing a few, Jack Leach getting a game and Matt Parkinson and Jack Carson twitching their fingers, ready for a roll.

Simon Harmer bowling against Gloucestershire.
Simon Harmer bowling against Gloucestershire. Photograph: Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo/Rex/Shutterstock

Ball five: Batsman of the week

Sussex’s blooding of the teenagers sounds more like an episode of Game of Thrones than a Championship selection policy and there have been times when the resultant carnage has resembled the Red Wedding. But they were always going to find a player or two, and they might have found a bit more than that in Tom Haines.

After your team have chased leather for 161 overs as Middlesex piled up 676 for 5, an innings that really should have attracted the attention of social services, a captain needs to lead. Haines puffed out his chest and batted nearly six hours for 156, had half an hour off and then marked his guard for another four hours following on. At 22 years of age, that’s some serious cojones.

En route, he became the first batsman to pass 1,000 runs in the Championship this season, so there’s technique behind the testes. He probably won’t play in the Ashes – not this time round anyway.

Ball six: Bowler of the week

In the same match Luke Hollman, in only his fourth Championship game, faced the spinner’s challenge. Tossed the ball with a mountain of runs behind him and the scoreboard reading plenty for one down, the leg-spinner’s job was not to hold an end or bowl dry, it was to win a cricket match by taking wickets on a flat track.

He’ll face more experienced opponents in the future, but 5 for 65 and 5 for 90 speaks of a spin bowler who can close out the game, as all the best should do. Still only 20, he’s learning the hardest art in the game, one very few master (even SK Warne couldn’t cut it in India) so he’ll have some bad days in the future. But, however favourable the circumstances, he can point to this match as evidence that he has what it takes – which is more than many practitioners of his capricious trade can claim.

What's your reaction?