In praise of the long tail
Does anyone remember that sports other than those represented in the Olympics exist? Probably not, given that London 2012 has parked itself like a Borg cube in our national consciousness, assimilating us into its egalitarian spirit via a newfound collective obsession with pelotons, repechages and watching beach volleyball after your better half has gone to bed.
Thankfully the opening ceremony had a demonstration match to remind cricket fans of their first love. Strange field they had set though. Two men at deep square leg? Why? Was the slog sweep a popular shot during eighteenth century village cricket? Still, at least they had a third man. There are some county captains who should take note of that. Nothing gets the members riled up quite like the ball flying off an edge and down to an unguarded third-man boundary.
You’ve got to get on to the field of play for that to happen, of course. And the latest round of Championship matches were once again hit by rain, meaning only one out of the five games ended with a result. An important one though, as when Middlesex failed to chase down 118 on the final day at Chester-le-Street it gave Durham their first win of the season and renewed hope they might somehow avoid relegation. There are now just 15 points separating the bottom four sides in Division One, so we could well be in for a blanket finish. Although given the weather, perhaps it’s going to be more of a wet blanket.
Elsewhere Warwickshire, Notts, Kent and Yorkshire all had the better of their matches, leaving themselves the task of bowling out the opposition on the final day to secure 16 points for a win, only to be denied by a combination of rain breaks and some stubborn rearguard batting from their opponents. That’s particularly frustrating for Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire, the two form sides in Division One this year, who still can’t quite manage to break away from the chasing pack.
Warwickshire’s match against Surrey gave a perfect example of one of the reasons they’ve been so successful in the Championship. After being 322 for 6 at the end of the first day’s play they were already on course for a substantial first innings total before a second Championship century of the season by Chris Woakes and an almost run-a-ball 76 from Jeetan Patel saw them finally make 571.
That ability of their lower-order to boost their innings into a potentially match-winning total has been present all year, with, on average 200 being added after Warwickshire have lost their fifth wicket. With their batting line-up, Varun Chopra apart, struggling for consistency in the bowler-friendly conditions we’ve had for most of the summer, if the title does end up at Edgbaston come September a lot of credit will have to go to the batting form of their trio of allrounders, Tim Ambrose, Rikki Clarke and Woakes.
It’s that kind of middle/lower-order fightback that over the last few years we’ve come to expect from their closest rivals for the title, Nottinghamshire. In particular Chris Read – surely the best No. 7 on the county circuit - has become a master of stabilising an innings following an earlier batting collapse. He managed it a couple of times during July alone. Although for much of the year Nottinghamshire’s batting hasn’t been quite as prone to collapse as in previous seasons due to the winter recruitment of Michael Lumb and James Taylor.
Lumb has bedded in well at No. 3, finding a consistency that he’s sometimes found elusive during his previous career with Yorkshire and Hampshire. Taylor on the other hand had a more difficult time adjusting to his move, in the Championship at least. So it must be annoying for Nottinghamshire that as soon as he hits top form - the unbeaten 163 he scored on Saturday was his first Championship century in Division One – team England send the child snatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to whisk him off for Test duty, never to be seen in county cricket again. But then I guess that’s the price you expect to pay for signing players on the verge of international honours.
Taylor won’t be missed in the current round of Championship matches though, as Nottinghamshire sit them out and can only watch whilst Warwickshire play their game in hand, away to Middlesex. When Notts played the same fixture exactly three weeks ago another England player, Andrew Strauss, scored a four-hour second innings century that held his side together until a washed out final day earned them a draw. Middlesex can’t rely on Strauss again for the current game, but with intermittent showers forecast for the next three days and a Dawid Malan century already helping them to 324 for 7 on the first day, Warwickshire might have to rely on further invaluable contributions from their allrounders if they’re to win what is the most important match of their season so far.
Kenny Shovel has never sat in a press box or charged a match programme to expenses