Ball one: Rashid Khan is a credit to the game
Yorkshire met Sussex in the first of the T20 Blast quarter-finals on Tuesday. A brace of 55s from Tom Kohler-Cadmore and Gary Ballance had taken Yorkshire up to 177, with 17-year-old Archie Lenham again bowling well for Sussex, his three overs going for just 19 runs. But when Rashid Khan came to the crease, Sussex needed 43 runs from 21 balls and were odds-against a trip to Edgbaston next month.
The Afghan wrist-spinner hit 25 off the first seven balls he faced, leaving Chris Jordan to hit the winning run off a by now demoralised Yorkshire team, the match turned in a blizzard of extraordinary shots for which no field could ever be set.
And that wasn’t the 22-year-old Afghan’s best performance of the evening. That came in a post-match interview in which he spoke with great eloquence about his connection to Sussex and how he would be wishing his teammates well from his Dubai hotel, out there for the IPL. His smile was as genuine as it was broad, but you wonder what must be going on in his life right now. We wish him, and his benighted country, all the very best.
Ball two: Impressed with Prest
One of many new names to grace the county game is Tom Prest, the 18-year-old Hampshire all-rounder who already has an unbeaten half-century to his name in this year’s Blast. He was in action in the second of the Blast quarter-finals on Wednesday as Hampshire took on Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge.
Coming to the crease at 15-1, Prest swiftly lost his captain, James Vince, and was soon looking at a scoreboard that read 40-5. Just two boundaries had been hit by the five dismissed men (who included a couple more internationals in Liam Dawson and D’Arcy Short) so, whether by design or default, the teenager preferred to rotate the strike with the objective of keeping his side in the game.
He found the sponge (not difficult to do as it was brought in to shorten the boundaries) just four times before he was out for 44 off 34 balls. Sure, he top scored and, with the help of James Fuller, he had posted a target of 126, but was it the kind of innings that loses a T20 match? Should he have been more aggressive and risked 100 all out in pursuit of 150? For all the criticisms that can be levelled at T20 in terms of its predictability, there’s nothing like a tricky pitch to provoke some delicious possibilities at the innings break.
Ball three: Wheels come off for Notts
With Nottinghamshire 66-1 in the eighth over and the required rate under five, it looked all over, the home crowd (a decent sized one included plenty of the mathematically challenged demographic of women and children) were bouncing and the short trip east for Finals Day was being planned. Sky’s commentators were telling us that the ball was skidding on under lights at Trent Bridge so scoring was easier, but it didn’t look like that, Ben Duckett having to hit the ball very hard to reach the fence.
Now maybe this is an example of confirmation bias but your correspondent looked at that score and started to wonder from where the 60 runs were going to come. James Vince, the situation demanding it, had his field tight on the ones and his bowlers were operating to plans and keeping their heads. Duckett was out in the eighth over and, in the next nine, Notts scored just two more boundaries in going from 66-1 to 100-8, batsmen perishing as they tried to force the pace.
As can happen in T20 matches, the balance had tilted so quickly that the crowd had hardly noticed, but they were quiet now, 26 off three overs looking distant. Enter Matt Carter, a big ol’ slugger, who muscled three sixes and the crowd were singing and shouting, three off the last over required. But Carter was at the wrong end and No 11 Dane Paterson could not get off strike for three balls and edged the fourth to the keeper. Dawson was named player of the match (and what a match it was) for his canny slow bowling but I suspect wiser judges would go for the lad Prest who played a difficult hand perfectly under relentless pressure.
Ball four: Tom Tom Club headline Taunton
Sixes sailing over the boundary (even from mishits)? Mr Livingstone, I presume. The third quarter-final of the week pitted Lancashire against Somerset at Taunton and Liam Livingstone, the biggest breakout star of summer 2021, had hit three of his first nine balls over the sponge before Roelof van der Merwe, as cool an operator in this format as you’ll find in world cricket, speared one in as usual and Livingstone hit it straight back for a return catch.
Deflated but with a platform on which to build, Lancashire got up to 184-9, but this is Taunton, where the runs flow like the cider and the crowd seem capable of keeping the ball in the air until it reaches them solely through the power and passion of their vocal support.
Will Smeed, another star of white-ball cricket this season, fell to the first ball of the 11th over for 44 and the home side still needed over 100 However, Tom Abell, one of the very best county cricketers around, was starting to motor and Tom Lammonby is discovering last season’s form just at the right time. The two Toms cruised home and the visitors left for the long trip to Manchester.
Lancashire can point to absent players (Matt Parkinson’s self-isolation could not have come at a worse time), some bad luck with decisions and the unique dewy challenge of fielding under lights in late August, but cricket, especially T20, is about what you do with what you have. Nobody does that better than Somerset and they will start Finals Day as favourites.
Ball five: Qais in point
There are many ways to win a T20 match (or, to be more accurate, there are many ways to lose a T20 match) but Kent’s win over Birmingham in the fourth quarter-final might be the simplest route to success.
Two experienced batsmen made half-centuries, Daniel Ball-Drummond finding the boundary four times in his 53 and Sam Billings hitting eight fours and one six in his 56. There were just two more boundaries from the rest of their team, but 162-7 is enough to bowl at and that’s what you have to do when you’re put in.
The next part of the plan is to have a wrist-spinner in form and available to the captain. Qais Ahmad was brought on at the conclusion of an honours-even powerplay, Birmingham 40-2. He bowled his four overs off the reel and, when he was through, the board read 75-6 with the required rate 13, Qais’s contribution 2-13. Billings (as is the way for the top scorer) was named player of the match, but this was another Blast knockout game turned by an Afghan leg-spinner.
Ball six: A load of (20) balls
This column doesn’t really do the administration and governance of cricket – a lack of expertise and interest sees to that. Observing The Hundred and The Blast in swift succession over a few weeks, it’s hard to discern any substantive difference between the two “products”.
Both value the same skills; both invite the same tactics; and both create the same “festival” atmosphere through music, fireworks and colour. The extra 20 balls of the older format make for more nuance, more of a sporting challenge as ebbs and flows can come and go, but neither game is really looking for that. It’s looking for the thrills of the big hits and bum-squeakingly tight finishes.
It’s obvious that they cannot co-exist, so surely the format with nationwide reach, an established marquee Finals Day and teams with histories, loyal fanbases and their own grounds, will win out? Perhaps all we need to do is pay a few million to the executives in charge of The Blast and we’ll get to the rational answer that is staring us in the face.