Malan and Middlesex strike gold
The first trophy of the county season was decided in July, while the Championship continued to take shape. Cricinfo looks back at the last month of action.
It's been a long wait for the suffering Middlesex fans. But 15 years since their last silverware the club celebrated a trophy, and along with their Twenty20 crown comes the chance of unprecedented riches. Given Middlesex's dire Twenty20 form since the tournament began in 2003, their success this year has seemingly come from nowhere. Under the shrewd leadership of Ed Joyce (standing in for the injured Ed Smith and suggesting he is a viable long-term option) a team has developed with belief and skill. The bowling attack is packed with match-winners, none more so than Shaun Udal at 38-years-young, while Tim Murtagh is one of the most underrated cricketers around. And there's a batch of exciting youngsters, led by the hugely talented Dawid Malan and the bowling duo of Steven Finn and Danny Evans. Middlesex are certainly pretty in pink.
Innings of the month - Dawid Malan, 103 v Lancashire
Yet Middlesex's Twenty20 dreams would have come to nothing without one innings of outrageous class by 20-year-old Malan. He walked to the crease at The Oval against Lancashire (Middlesex's home-away-from-home for the quarter-final) with his team on 21 for 4. Andrew Flintoff was charged up and Middlesex appeared to be sinking without a trace. However, Malan responded with one of best displays of clean-hitting you could wish to see. He tore into Lancashire's spinners and the game changed in the blink of an eye. His century came off 51 balls and Flintoff was one of the first to congratulate him on a breathtaking display. It's a good time show you can play Twenty20 and Malan's display has put him in line for some big money.
Batsman of the month - Robert Key
It's easy to forget that just prior to England's 2005 Ashes success, Robert Key was the No. 3 batsman. In fact, in his penultimate Test he struck a vital 83 at Johannesburg. Since that tour of South Africa, though, he hasn't had a look-in, but his next chance may not be far away. He is having an impressive season as a batsman and captain for Kent. His highest innings last month was 157 against Yorkshire, a central part to Kent's three-wicket victory, but the stand-out performance was his Twenty20 final knock. Ultimately, Kent came up agonisingly short in their chase, but while Key was compiling an elegant, forceful half-century his team were well-placed in a tough pursuit. His all-round game has developed in the three years away from England. They may come calling again soon.
Bowling performance of the month - Mark Ealham, 7 for 59 v Yorkshire
There have been some very fine performances by county cricket's elder-statesmen of late and Ealham has shown he's still a canny operator. He bowled Nottinghamshire to victory against Yorkshire - keeping them top of the table - with his best figures for 12 years. He has always stuck to the basics; bowling wicket-to-wicket and frustrating the batsmen. He once claimed a five-wicket haul against Zimbabwe which were all lbw and he continues to strike the pad with regularity - four of his seven wickets against Yorkshire were trapped in front.
Bowler of the month - Kabir Ali
Worcestershire have moved top of the second division with three victories in July and much of their success is due to Ali's form. He has been tearing through sides over the past month, with three five-wicket hauls and a best of 6 for 58 against Glamorgan. He's one of England's one-Test wonders, so will have had some sympathy for Darren Pattinson's plight when he too was jettisoned after a debut at Headingley. Ali's figures over the years have consistently been some of the best around, but he hasn't had an England look-in under the Peter Moores regime. Some say he isn't quick enough, but when the speed-gun is on him he hits the mid-80s, which is good enough for Ryan Sidebottom and Stuart Broad.
Youngster of the month - Ian Saxelby
Gloucestershire have had a pretty miserable month in July, losing two Championship matches heavily, but it could have been even worse without the efforts of 19-year-old Ian Saxelby. Picked for his bowled, he strode out at No. 11 with more than an hour to survive on the final day against Middlesex. No one would have blamed him if he'd succumbed to the pressure, but 67 balls later - and with a little help from the fading light - he walked off having secured an unlikely tie alongside Anthony Ireland. He didn't make the side for the next match, instead being whipped away for England Under-19 duty where he took 4 for 47 to help his side to victory in the first Test.
Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo