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Match Analysis

Welsh Fire find unwanted consistency in Hundred's relentless record blitz

Familiarity of Fire's self-immolation is admirable amid competition's inherent volatility

Cameron Ponsonby
Ben Duckett lost his leg stump to Dan Lawrence, London Spirit vs Welsh Fire, Lord's, The Hundred Men's, August 24, 2022

Ben Duckett lost his leg stump to Dan Lawrence  •  Alex Davidson/Getty Images

I would like to announce that records have, indeed, begun. A new competition breeds opportunities for many: players, coaches, scouts, and most importantly, the fine people at the Guinness Book of World Records. As with every passing match a new best or worst of all-time is logged.
The highest total in the history of the Hundred. The highest-ever chase. The best figures. Everything record-breaking, all of the time.
But, unfortunately for Welsh Fire, amid a sea of volatility and variance, their record-breaking nature has so far come through unwanted consistency.
Heading into Wednesday night's fixture at Lord's, they were the only team in Hundred history to have lost five games in a row. And despite only playing 13 matches in the competition in total, they had managed the feat twice. London Spirit last season went six without a win, but were spared that ignominy by a no-result.
And now, following their 17-run defeat to Spirit here at Lord's, they have become the only team to have lost six in a row. Welsh Fire, record-breakers.
"We had a tough chat after the last game," Josh Cobb, their captain, said at the toss. "We have three opportunities to put some personal pride on the board." Unfortunately for Fire, the pride did not appear.
Ish Sodhi, who only arrived in the country last night, was the only man to impress with the ball claiming 2 for 19 off his 20 deliveries. And among their top order, it was just Ben Duckett who showed any glimpses with the bat: he struck five boundaries to drag Fire into contention before ultimately falling to the spin of Dan Lawrence, like surviving a fight with a lion only to be killed by a kitten.
This season, Fire have used 18 players, a remarkable feat given a squad can only contain 17 at any one time. Their bankers in Duckett and Joe Clarke have failed, which happens. Their £125,000 punt on Tom Banton hasn't come off either, which can happen too. And their England superstar Jonny Bairstow pulled out of the competition in order to rest for, err, England. It happens, mate. It just happens. What can you do?
"When I don't necessarily know where it's going all the time, the batter doesn't really know either."
Dan Lawrence explains the secret behind his success with the ball
"We're not a bad group of individual players," Matt Critchley said in the aftermath of their defeat. "We're just not playing well as a team which is quite evident to see. And today could've easily got a bit embarrassing, but at least we managed to salvage something to take it into the last over."
It's a series of unfortunate events that no one party can really be blamed for, and yet, enough time is beginning to pass in this competition where blips are becoming patterns. And longer-term concerns are taking hold.
"I don't really know how the draft works and how many you can retain," Critchley added, "but the quality of individuals is quite apparent in what the guys have done for their counties and their franchises. It's just a case of trying to learn to play as a team."
Where Fire may hold some hope is that the team that beat them today and that now sit top of the table were last season's whipping boys. Spirit, with the same core group as they had last season, have turned their fortunes around in a way that even they don't have an answer for.
"Not at all," Lawrence replied, when asked whether anything had changed from last year to this. "The thing with T20 cricket is when you get on a roll of winning games, it's really easy to find a formula and keep doing it over and over again.
"I think we've got a team of people who are confident in all aspects. Maybe they [Fire] are not so much at the moment."
Lawrence starred with both bat and ball, making his top score of the competition as well as claiming his best ever T20 figures (4 for 20) with the ball. Lawrence has one of the more eccentric actions on the circuit, arriving at the crease with a leap and grace that is more Pigeon Pond than Swan Lake. Critchley, his Essex teammate but Fire opponent, described it as "dodgy", while his Spirit captain Eoin Morgan said he was more like Murali.
"They had a lot of left-handers in their top five", Lawrence, after snaring the wickets of three lefties in Jacob Bethell, Duckett and David Miller. "So whenever they came on I was always going to twist a few out. When we had Maxwell for the first few games he did a similar role and now that he's gone, thankfully, I've taken over and done a good job.
"It's a bit of a Brucie Bonus, the bowling. It was a really nice wicket to bowl spin on. I love my bowling, and it's something I take really seriously. When I don't necessarily know where it's going all the time, the batter doesn't really know either."
An unexplained return to form and a bowler crediting a scattergun approach may give cause for optimism for Fire that the slot machine lifestyle of T20 cricket may finally land them on jackpot. But as Critchley said of the brief moments that Fire looked in the game this evening, "it's the hope that kills you".

Cameron Ponsonby is a freelance cricket writer in London. @cameronponsonby