July 3, 2012

Friends Life t20, Tuesday July 3, 2012

Tim Wigmore

Difficult times at The Oval

Surrey’s second thrashing at the hands of Hampshire in three days was soon overshadowed by news of Rory Hamilton-Brown’s extended compassionate leave. It is too early to suggest that he will not captain again this season, although the possibility cannot be discounted. But Hamilton-Brown's continued absence will not surprise anyone who witnessed how distracted he was at the Rose Bowl on Saturday in his first game since Tom Maynard’s death in what was patently too swift a return.

Hamilton-Brown’s replacement, Gareth Batty, has a difficult task. Having won two of their first three matches in the T20 tournament, Surrey have lost three consecutive ones since Maynard’s death. The squad will be loath to use his death as any sort of excuse; and such is Hampshire’s current form Surrey may well have lost both games against them regardless. But it is ridiculous to think Surrey will easily be able to move on from the tragedy.

Surrey face the most onerous of weeks, with their only day off in a run of four home games in five days, Wednesday, consumed by Maynard’s funeral. To stay in the tournament, Surrey probably must win all their four remaining games. It is extremely hard to envisage them managing that, unless Kevin Pietersen can replicate his IPL form of earlier this year, when he averaged 61 with a strike rate of 147. Yesterday's first ball duck was hardly an ideal start for him.

Rain, please stay away

It seemed the perfect evening for T20 to make its mark: KP was back, the Euros had finished and rain had even stopped Andy Murray’s match at Wimbledon. But, alas, the SW19 showers extended both to Vauxhall, where they limited Pietersen’s return to a 1010, though he only managed one ball, and Bristol, abandoning Gloucestershire’s game against Glamorgan that Sky had planned to broadcast. With all three groups intriguingly poised - Sussex and Yorkshire are the only sides that can genuinely relax about their prospects of reaching the quarter-finals – now would be an opportune time for the elements to cease their merciless assault on this season’s tournament.

A bit of a slip

Amid the criticism Wimbledon attracted for not extending their use of Centre Court during rain, it was heartening to see the umpires at The Oval so keen for cricket to take place. While rain had ceased by the time play began, it soon recommenced, progressing from showers to borderline torrential during Hampshire’s run chase. The umpires insisted on playing on, even as Gareth Batty angrily protested, concerned at the prospect of an injury.

Eventually farce ensued: as Stuart Meaker attempted to bowl a delivery at 90mph, he incongruously succeeded only in lobbing the ball down at perhaps 70mph – all the way to third man for four. It was the last ball before the umpires accepted the miserable reality and ended proceedings.

England’s forgotten man

Steven Davies has become the forgotten man of English cricket, though he remains England’s reserve wicketkeeper in Tests.

When he was dropped it was felt Davies’ game was over-reliant on his excellent backfoot play and would be unsuitable for Asian conditions. That may still be true – but it might not matter. The next World Cup, after all, is in Australia, where strong square-wicket play which is one of Davies' qualities – will be essential.

In hitting 30 in an 11-ball cameo against Hampshire, Davies provided a reminder of his qualities. He is unusually comfortable attacking from the start against spin bowling and has even been known to loft spinners over long-on first ball. Yet in comparing Davies to England’s incumbent limited-overs wicket-keeper Craig Kieswetter, his advantage lies not in power but subtlety: Kieswetter has never seemed adept at the sort of fine deflections suich as the one that Davies steered though the vacant slip region for four off Dimitri Mascarenhas.

Yet while his talent is not in doubt, Davies needs to lose his penchant for soft dismissals – normally hitting the ball in the air through his favoured offside – to improve on a mediocre season. If he does, and with Kieswetter’s position a perennial question, a limited-overs recall may not be too long in coming.

Trending: Zafar Ansari

Could Zafar Ansari be the first Oxbridge graduate to play for England since John Crawley? The 20-year old Cambridge student may have only seven first-class appearances to his name, but Ansari appears to possess the talent, composure and combativeness necessary.

Promoted to number four against Hampshire, Ansari exhibited elegant class cutting, straight driving and flicking off his legs, as he hit 35* to top score for the second consecutive game. And his clever left-arm spin – which accounted for Pietersen last year when Ansari was playing for Cambridge MCCU – is at least as promising. It’s just slightly unfortunate that, with Gareth Batty and Murali Kartik both certain picks, Ansari may be denied any championship cricket this season.

Clash of the day: Nottinghamshire v Lancashire

While Notts are unbeaten in the competition, three abandoned games out of six means they still need two more wins to be sure of qualification for the quarter-finals.

They will hope to get one against a Lancashire side who have underwhelmed thus far – they have three wins, but one came against Derbyshire and two against Leicestershire, the sides below them in the table, with the batting over-reliant on Stephen Croft.

Expect left-arm spin to be crucial at Trent Bridge – Stephen Parry has been excellent for Lancashire in this format and Gary Keedy remains a skilled performed, while Samit Patel has been released by England and has a chance to show Andy Flower what he is missing.

Fixtures Nottinghamshire v Lancashire, Trent Bridge, 18:10 Surrey v Sussex, The Oval, 18:30 Glamorgan v Worcestershire, Swalec Stadium, 18:00

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