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County cricket: Hampshire hammer Surrey and encourage chasing pack
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County cricket: Hampshire hammer Surrey and encourage chasing pack

Ball one: Hampshire animated by spirited win

In Spirited Away (an adaptation of which is currently wowing crowds and critics in the West End), the enigmatic No Face reflects back the emotions and attitudes of anyone or anything he encounters. Surrey ran into their No Face at the Utilita Bowl, where Hampshire gave the champions a working over that would have made Godzilla proud.

That Dan Worrall was Surrey’s outstanding player is no surprise – that it was for his batting tells a tale, his 48 when the game was well gone proving the top score for his team. But this was a match of relentless excellence from the home side, for whom Toby Albert scored a maiden century, Nick Gubbins notched three figures and Ben Brown made his 24th first-class ton and his highest. Records were sent tumbling.

It was the story of the spinners that properly revealed the balance of play. Dan Lawrence and Cameron Steel registered one for 309; Liam Dawson and Felix Organ bagged 12-175. Surrey have a few weeks to consider what went wrong before they next take to the field with a red ball in hand; Hampshire will seek to use such a startling result as a springboard for the second half of their season.

Ball two: Essex still on the boil without Cook

Of the chasers, Essex were the team to take advantage, despite some adversity.

They took Kent, who conceded over 500 for the fifth time this season, for almost 600 before Tom Westley ended the carnage when Jordan Cox was bowled for 207. To their credit, not without a few acid looks around the dressing room I expect, the batters dug in and raised almost 400 themselves, Matt Critchley continuing his fine season with a fivefer. Second time round, Simon Harmer got into the groove for the first time this season and nobody made more than Joe Denly’s 23 as Kent subsided.

With Sam Cook, outstanding all season, bowling only six overs in the match, the comfortable win is a testament to the variety and depth of Essex’s attack, but if his hamstring problem leads to a protracted absence, that will impact on their chances of pursuing Surrey in Division One and in their T20 Blast campaign. As it stands going into the one month or so break, they are just two points behind the Londoners.

Ball three: Stokes fuelling his fire

The third-innings defeat at the head of the table saw Somerset trek all the way to Chester-le-Street for a two-day hiding.

Ben Stokes was breathing fire with ball in hand, four wickets in each innings his reward as he turned back the clock (can one say that of a man aged 32?). David Bedingham was the class bat yet again with his fourth ton in four knocks, another vindication of Durham’s decision to retain his services as an overseas when no longer a Kolpak.

Somerset are still handily placed after Hampshire did everyone a favour reining in the leaders, but Durham’s second win has seen them squeeze into the top half.

Ben Stokes was on it for Durham against Somerset.View image in fullscreen

Ball four: Lancashire face another old boy

After Nottinghamshire’s captain, Haseeb Hameed, bit the hand that once fed him a fortnight ago, it was Warwickshire’s captain, Alex Davies’, turn to carry his bat against his boyhood club as the Warwickshire opener racked up 127 of his team’s 284 at Old Trafford.

His team were on top when the rain that had lurked about in Manchester all match closed in with Lancashire 89 for four in pursuit of 232. The draw did not help either county, but Lancashire look much more likely to be looking downwards rather than upwards in the second half of the season – unless they can find a bit of experience and backbone in their middle order to replace what was once deemed surplus to requirements.

Ball five: Northants hit brakes to get a break

The only match that came anywhere near a result in Division Two was the nerve-jangling draw at Wantage Road.

Yorkshire’s Shan Masood, in need of a win after one draw and five defeats, set Northamptonshire 326 in just over two sessions. The home side went after it and were bashing away at more than five an over before Karun Nair’s dismissal precipitated a collapse of four wickets for 27 runs in seven overs.

Ricardo Vasconcelos had watched on from the other end and had to reset to defence swiftly and bat with the tail for the draw. The late order faced just 44 of the last 106 balls, the home side’s opener registering the fourth century of the match, when hands were shaken and the points shared.

Ball six: Lord’s square needs new roots

There’s no more delightful corner of the internet than The On-Line Encyclopedia Of Integer Sequences. That said, I’m not sure its founder and eminence grise, Neil Sloane, could make much of this one: 620-3d 655, 31-2, 159, 246, 244, 158-4, 306, 407-8, 554-9d, 613-9.

They are the innings scores this season at Lord’s, the last pair put on the tins by Sussex and Middlesex, as they batted to a stalemate that nevertheless kept them first and second, respectively, in Division Two after another round of draws.

I was once of the opinion that pitches should always be very flat, wickets hard to come by, bowlers needing aggression or skill (ideally both) to prise out batters. But, since its almost magical drainage system was laid two decades or so ago, Lord’s starts easy for batting and then gets easier and easier. With yet more ground improvements planned outside the ropes, would it be too much to ask for a little inside the boundary to rebalance the contest between bat and ball?

Source: theguardian.com