The County Week - August 15-22

Middlebrook's bat and Anderson's back

Cricinfo takes a look back at the week of county action and some of the performances that caught the eye

Andrew McGlashan

August 22, 2006

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Cricinfo takes a look back at the week of county action and some of the performances that caught the eye.

Mushtaq Ahmed has been back in the wickets for Sussex and will play a key role in the Championship run-in © Martin Williamson
Innings of the week - James Middlebrook, 113 v Surrey
A spin bowler who can score centuries in the lower-order would normally have caught the interest of the England selectors, but attitudes are slowly shifting after the emergence of Monty Panesar. However, James Middlebrook confirmed his all round ability with a decisive ton against division two pace-settings, Surrey, as Essex pulled off a notable win. The top-order had laid a solid foundation but the game was in the balance at 310 for 6, in reply to Surrey's 330, when Middlebrook walked to the crease. He departed 220 runs later with his contribution worth more than half. To round off an impressive match he took three second-innings scalps with his offspin.

Bowling of the week - Mushtaq Ahmed, 8 for 121 in the match v Durham
Nothing can separate Sussex and Lancashire at the top of the first division, but ultimately one man could make the difference, and decide if the pennant heads north or south in September. For the second time in the season Durham capitulated to Mushtaq Ahmed as Sussex raced home in two days. Time may be starting to catch up with Mushtaq, he has suffered a variety of injuries and niggles throughout the season, including neck, shoulder and groin problems, but he remains Sussex's trump card. He now has 73 wickets in the current campaign, and is on course to match his century haul from 2003 - Sussex's season of Championship glory. Mushtaq will have a huge say over whether that triumph is repeated in 2006.

Team of the week - Essex
Twenty20 finals day was a miserable time for Essex as they failed to enter into the party spirit. But since then the team has bounced back admirably, to the extent where they inflicted Surrey's second defeat of the Championship season, at a time when Surrey were starting to appear invincible. However, without Mark Ramprakash the batting stumbled and Essex pounced. A concerted batting effort built a lead of 200 then, for the second time in the match, the bowling managed to work through Surrey - not something many sides have done this season.

James Anderson's recovery from his stress fracture has been long and slow, but he is now back on a cricket field - at least as a batsman © Martin Williamson
The long road back
It has been a depressing summer for Jimmy Anderson, out of action with a stress fracture of the back since the end of England's winter of India. For six weeks he was strapped in a corset-style back-brace during the day, only allowed to remove it to sleep, but eventually was able to start the slow progress back to bowling. After learning the lessons of rushing players back from injury before, both England and Lancashire have understandably been cautious over his recovery. Anderson has spent time with the national squad, bowling in the nets, working with Kevin Shine as they try to adjust his action to prevent future problems. At the weekend, he finally stepped back onto a cricket field for his club side in Burnley. The return was as a batsmen only and Mike Watkinson said: "It is simply to get some cricket miles in his legs, have a bat and spend some time in the field, and hopefully to relieve his boredom as well." But after a painful summer, it's a welcome sight.

The rumour mill
It's that time of the season again. With the summer entering the final stages, players are eagerly looking over their shoulders at contract news, waiting to see if they have a job for next season. Some players, though, now start sniffing out pastures new - and that means they are plenty of rumours doing the rounds. There is talk that Craig Spearman could be heading to Middlesex and an even more intriguing story that Dominic Cork is being sounded out by Warwickshire. Will Jefferson has been released by Essex so he can try and continue his career elsewhere - with Nottinghamshire currently in the frame. And this is just the start.

England watch
Chris Tremlett takes 6 for 89 against Warwickshire...Jon Lewis takes one wicket against Derbyshire after being released by England...but that is better than Graham Onions, who goes wicketless against Sussex...Jamie Dalrymple misses Middlesex's trip to Old Trafford with a groin injury.

Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo

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Andrew McGlashan Assistant Editor Andrew arrived at ESPNcricinfo via Manchester and Cape Town, after finding the assistant editor at a weak moment as he watched England's batting collapse in the Newlands Test. Andrew began his cricket writing as a freelance covering Lancashire during 2004 when they were relegated in the County Championship. In fact, they were top of the table when he began reporting on them but things went dramatically downhill. He likes to let people know that he is a supporter of county cricket, a fact his colleagues will testify to and bemoan in equal quantities.

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