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Sibley wins new role after transfer rumpus

Alec Stewart warms up with the Surrey squad Getty Images

The waspish comments from Alec Stewart, Surrey's director of cricket, after the mid-season departure of Dominic Sibley to Birmingham Bears certainly divided opinion.

For many, Stewart's irritation was understandable after he had made a principled stand that he could not give Sibley assurances that he would bat in the top three on all formats because it was against the performance-related rewards that must underpin professional sport.

Just as many berated him for sending a young player on his way in what was perceived as an unnecessarily aggressive fashion.

Some people saw a young player, with agent in tow, being overly pushy and showing scant loyalty to the county that had developed him; others saw him as talented and hard done to by a rich club with an aggressive transfer policy that was arresting his development.

Amid it all, Sibley summoned a fine NatWest Blast debut for Birmingham on Friday, making 49 from 34 balls at the top of the order (well above his season's strike rate at Surrey) and then, more eye-catchingly, took his first T20 wicket of the season as he bowled four overs of off-breaks for only 20 runs. At Surrey, he had not taken a wicket all season in nine overs costing 86.

All that was missing was a team victory as Worcestershire edged the West Midlands derby with Colin de Grandhomme disappearing for five successive sixes.

That was not entirely to the taste of more than 15,000 at Edgbaston - a record crowd for a home Bears fixture and further proof that the Blast has been resilient in the face of weeks of miserable weather.

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Unsung heroes

Expectations that playing the NatWest Blast in a block would enable larger counties to punch their weight have not come to pass.

What could be more unpredictable than Derbyshire Falcons topping the North Group - clearly benefitting from the sage words of a specialist Twenty20 coach, John Wright - and Glamorgan making the best of four No Results, heading the way in the South?

Examine a side at the top of the table and beneath the big performances - the heavy run-scoring, for example of the persistently underrated Wayne Madsen for Derbyshire or Glamorgan's Colin Ingram - there are little contributions making a difference.

Thanks to a healthy number of not outs, the Blast batting averages are topped by two batsmen hidden away down the order - the Derbyshire wicketkeeper Daryn Smit and Glamorgan allrounder Graham Wagg - both capable of making rapid contributions late in the innings.

Derbyshire's director of cricket, Kim Barnett, has long respected Smit's qualities in South African domestic cricket, while further west, Wagg's late-order flourishes have been a regular staple on the county circuit.

That made Ish Sodhi's lbw, against Smit, vital as Notts sneaked the East Midlands derby on Friday. One for 45 in four overs is not going to win many plaudits, but the removal of Smit cheaply helped keep Derbyshire in check.

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Headingley heartache

Yorkshire's prospects of a home quarter-final in the Blast have diminished after three successive defeats - in fact, after losing to bottom-of-the-table Durham, they will be beginning to doubt if they will qualify at all.

But even if they do gain a top-two finish, they would be barred from playing at Headingley because the ground is under the control of the ICC/ECB ahead of the Headingley Test against the West Indies.

A switch to Scarborough is also ruled out because it is not capable of hosting the TV cameras.

Yorkshire are philosophical about the whole business (who said such a thing was impossible), but should they be?

It would not be ideal for Yorkshire to host the first quarter-final on Tuesday, only three days before the Test begins, but with a bit of imagination, England and West Indies could easily practice at Bradford Park Avenue, should they wish to practice at all.

Test matches, of course, are viewed as sacrosanct, and the Blast is rarely championed as it should be, so it would be a major shock if it happened. But a home quarter-final would pull in a capacity crowd at Headingley, and the public deserves to have its preferences heard.

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Somerset's M5 hell

As any holidaymaker to the south-west knows, Bristol might only be 45 miles from Taunton, but when the M5 snarls to a halt, it can seem 10 times as far.

Still, Somerset were travelling against the bulk of the weekend traffic, so leaving Taunton in mid-afternoon seemed about right, only for an accident to mean their coach journey took more than four hours and delayed the start by 45 minutes.

"Nearly there, lads in good spirits," came assurances on Twitter from @SomersetCCC as they queued towards the ground. Good spirits perhaps, but the upshot was a batting display that their director of cricket, Matt Maynard, described as their dimmest of the season as they collapsed to 96 for 8, before being shot out for 146.

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The oldest swinger in town

Much was made of Ian Botham's inspirational qualities when he was made Durham's president, but as he has fulfilled a figurehead role, the resistance that matters in such a crisis-hit season has come from Paul Collingwood.

Five days after his maiden T20 century - nobody has ever made one at an older age - Collingwood's match-winning 88 not out from 54 balls saw off Yorkshire and took Durham, who began the season with a four-point penalty for financial irregularities, to the princely total of null points.

Such is the evenness of the Blast that Durham are the only one of the 18 first-class counties that don't still harbour hopes of a last-eight place.

With the group stage entering the final third, that keeps interest going right until the end everywhere but in the north-east and leaves Collingwood's defiance on Durham's behalf all the more impressive.