Sport

County cricket: Hampshire take the weather with them and go top of table

Ball one: Hampshire make hay in game in hand

In cricket (especially in England) there are always two opponents: the team you are playing and the weather. Sometimes, the weather is working with you, sometimes it’s against you, but it’s always an active participant in the contest. Long may it be so.

Hampshire needed to make the most of their game in hand if they were to steal a march on Championship leaders Surrey and they had followed the perfect template for maximising not just their chances of a win, but of securing maximum points. Form batters Felix Organ and Aneurin Donald made runs and Kyle Abbott surprised nobody in making a half-century just when it was needed.

Northamptonshire racked up 68 for the first wicket, but a seam attack as experienced as Keith Barker, Mohammad Abbas, James Fuller and Abbott won’t be denied for long and Emilio Gay and Will Young were soon obliged to pad up again.

Once more the openers made a decent start and once more the Hampshire seamers demolished almost all the Northants’ batting (with Ian Holland filling in for the injured Abbott). Clouds had scowled over the Ageas Bowl all day and the players had been on and off – the next time would be the last. James Fuller ran in, rain in the air, maybe one ball left to do it – and hit the luckless Jack White’s stumps.

Hampshire had their win, 24 points and an eight-point lead in Division One – and the weather gods had to look elsewhere for a victim.

Ball two: Fraine refrains from risk and secures draw

They found one on a favourite patch of theirs – Old Trafford. Actually, that’s unfair, as the Roses match did not lose much time and Yorkshire’s young side showed real strength of character to earn their draw in a typically hard-fought derby, which was brilliantly covered by Lancs TV.

After Keaton Jennings and Luke Wells had each scored centuries (203 runs in the first innings for the openers and 192 in the second, Wells recording Lancashire’s third fastest ton), Yorkshire had to bat last on a tired pitch against two good spinners, Tom Hartley and Matt Parkinson. Credit to Tom Kohler-Cadmore (34 runs off 159 balls) and Will Fraine (18 off 83), who batted against type to deny the home side.

“We set them 302 in 84 overs which for me is 50-50 game,” said Lancashire coach Glen Chapple. But with Lancashire needing a win to keep their Championship hopes alive and Yorkshire needing a draw to pull away from any threat of relegation, maybe it was worth risking a 30-70 game – not that it would have made much difference in the end.

Ball three: Cook serves up a win for Essex

Essex, ruing their very slow spring, annihilated Kent by an innings and 260 runs at Canterbury. Feroze Khushi led the batting effort with a maiden first class century, scoring 164 before he was last man out. Staring at a scoreboard showing 573 for the opposition, the last thing you want to see is 40-3 on your own side and resistance was minimal from there. Jordan Cox played something of a lone hand with the bat, while the always impressive Sam Cook took his career average below 20 with match figures of 10-60.

Cook has always swum a little in the backwash of Jamie Porter (who found some form with five wickets of his own) and Simon Harmer, but England will need to replace Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson’s wickets soon, and the 25-year-old has dealt in that hard currency for six years now. He might not look exactly like a Test bowler, but plenty don’t – until they do.

Ball four: Abell caned by Harris

Somerset will have viewed their match with winless Gloucestershire as an opportunity to launch an autumn push away from relegation trouble – but cricket seldom falls into such easy narratives.

Somerset captain Tom Abell had a new option in Pakistan spinner Sajid Khan and reasoned at the toss that the best way to take 20 wickets in a match is to get on with it. The lunchtime scoreboard’s grim logic (showing 115-0) disabused him of the wisdom of that plan and Marcus Harris’s day-long vigil acquiring 159 runs meant that the home side were always chasing the game.

Set an unlikely 375 to win, rain washed away the slim chance of Bazballing to that target. The 12 points secured by the draw may prove to be the ones that keep Somerset in the top flight for 2023, but it’s an opportunity missed with Warwickshire, Northamptonshire, Kent (and weather) to come in September.

Ajeet Singh-Dale celebrates after claiming the wicket of Somerset captain Tom Abell.
Ajeet Singh-Dale celebrates after claiming the wicket of Somerset captain Tom Abell. Photograph: Harry Trump/Getty Images

Ball five: Good Evans stands alone as Notts cruise to victory

Nottinghamshire walloped Leicestershire by 241 runs at Trent Bridge to open up a 43-point gap at the top of Division Two and surely make top-flight cricket a reality for them in 2023.

Steve Mullaney won the toss, batted and will have been feeling a little disappointed as Nottinghamshire’s innings failed to build momentum, only one partnership realising 50 runs or more. He was a lot jollier after Leicestershire capitulated to 93 all out, Sam Evans surveying the wreckage as he carried his bat for 50.

The home side were much more solid second time round, 28 the lowest score of the eight batters required, Leicestershire’s target a notional 499. They put up more fight this time but the Notts’ seamers shared the 10 wickets between them and it was all wrapped up with no need to check the weather apps for day-four showers.

Ball six: County cricket is at a crossroads

You can read more about Andrew Strauss’s review (this is as good a place as any) elsewhere and I do not intend to make detailed points here, merely invite considered comments below the line from a readership that has proved itself to be both knowledgable and committed. This column was largely quiet about The Hundred in its first year, but has grown more critical in 2022, if obliquely so as it is somewhat off-topic, but it’s happy to nail its colours to the mast now.

County cricket faces an existential threat from many sources, perhaps all but one of which are beyond its control – not so with The Hundred. The format is not selling overseas (rendering the ECB’s intellectual property rights an asset less valuable than was anticipated) and is doing great things for the women’s game, but is cannibalising the men’s.

At the start of this year’s tournament, The Hundred’s managing director Sanjay Patel said about critics: “We’re not worried, it doesn’t consume us. We’re very, very clear with what we’re trying to achieve. If we’re achieving our KPIs and objectives, and that means that the game is growing, then I’m OK with what people want to say.”

Growth at what cost? This column says the price is too high and, if that means fewer business class flights for suits, BMW 3 series cars for county players instead of 5 series and, yes, a few star players we see about as often as we see Jos Buttler, then it’s a cost to be borne. We live in times when things can change very quickly – the future of our game lies not on balance sheets, KPI trackers or in marketing meetings, but within the souls of those who love the game. It’s time those voices were heard – loudly.

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