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County cricket: Somerset and Birmingham impress in T20 Blast
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County cricket: Somerset and Birmingham impress in T20 Blast

Ball one: Coughlin catch a warning?

Having beaten Leicestershire comfortably in midweek, Lancashire went to the Riverside looking to extend their lead at the top of the North Group with a win over Durham.

Alex Lees led from the front, electing to bat and biffing 30 in half an hour before handing over to the form batter in the country this season, David Bedingham. The classy South African hit 78 off 42 while Graham Clark was helping himself to 87 at the other end, all six Lanky bowlers suffering as they were taken for 218.

Conventional wisdom says a good start is essential in such a chase, but another approach is to simply keep hitting from start to finish – sure, there’s a danger of crashing and burning, but you won’t die wondering. With both openers gone in the first 15 balls, Lancashire just waited for someone to come good knowing that if they did, the target was still in range. Chris Green and George Balderson were the unlikely pair and their stand of 62 in 5.2 overs for the seventh wicket hinted at a remarkable win, but the visitors fell one boundary short. It was the kind of match this low-key tournament needed.

Less welcome was a remarkable catch by Paul Coughlin, who was taking evasive action from a charging Matthew Hurst when the full-toss drive stuck in his hand as he protected his head. It was a great catch – see for yourself. I’m not sure much can be done, but bowlers are at risk when 15 yards away from power hitters with big bats. Maybe that’s always been in the game and we just have to get on with it.

Ball two: Root needs to bed in

The Red Rose is still blooming at the top of the North Group, but Leicestershire joined the teams buzzing around them with an unlikely win over Yorkshire at Headingley.

Rishi Patel and Harry Swindells, the hero of the One-Day Cup triumph last season, got the visitors off to a good start, but the engine room of Peter Handscomb and Wiaan Mulder could muster only 20 between them, Dom Bess getting through four overs without conceding a boundary.

It looked like plain sailing for Yorkshire with the hundred up and just 67 needed from more than seven overs, with eight wickets in hand. Lewis Goldsworthy then induced a miscue from Joe Root, caught in the deep and the home side’s phalanx of batters who bowl fell away as six wickets fell for 46 runs leaving them well short.

One wonders about the impact that Root’s wicket has on the opposition and on his own team. Out in the thirties in half of his six Blast matches, without passing 40 in white-ball cricket this season, his dismissal must surely feel like more than just another top-order bat perishing in the hurly-burly of a T20 innings. The burden of an icon, I suppose.

Ball three: Captaining the Bears is a picnic

Birmingham joined Northamptonshire in the fourth qualifying spot in the North Group with two wins in the week that owed much to their spin options.

Alex Davies can call upon Danny Briggs, Jake Lintott, Dan Mousley and Jacob Bethell, who offer left and right arm, wrist spin and finger spin and different trajectories – an ideal set of variations for the middle overs when batters look to settle into a rhythm before a final assault.

The quartet delivered 10 overs in the win over Yorkshire, snaring seven wickets for 61 runs, and 11 overs for 64 runs and a couple of Derbyshire scalps in the second win of a decent long weekend. It’s probably inconsistent to bag Yorkshire’s soft batting underbelly above and then praise Birmingham’s selection now, but every captain in the stands talks like they have 13 players on the field.

Birmingham Bears fans were treated to two wins this week.View image in fullscreen

Ball four: Smeed in the lead

Somerset deposed Surrey at the top of the South Group with two wins, the second of which will have sent shivers down the spines of captains looking to lift the trophy come (checks calendar) mid-September.

Will Smeed did his thing in the powerplay, eventually out for 86 off 48, his case for international recognition surely impossible to ignore now. But wickets fell regularly at the other end, Dan Douthwaite’s four giving Glamorgan hopes of chasing 150 or so. Cue a couple of very canny operators in Craig Overton and Roelof van der Merwe, who tonked nine boundaries to push the innings on to 193 for eight.

Back on the day job, they picked up four wickets between them as the visitors started badly, tailed off a little in the middle and the less said about the end the better.

Somerset will start most games as favourites given the energy that comes from their fervent support, but T20 matches can turn on the vicissitudes of weather, opponents having an off day or a dropped catch. That is the format’s delight – and its frustration.

Ball five: Payne brings the pain

As if to illustrate the caprice of T20 cricket, Surrey have fallen to second place courtesy of an extraordinary match at the Oval against Gloucestershire.

With two international cricketers at the crease and 15 runs required from the last two overs with five wickets in hand, the odds were stacked against the visitors, the Surrey swagger no doubt detectable in the crowd and, just maybe, on the field. “Get it done in the 19th,” will have been the thrust of the conversation in the middle and, even after Dom Sibley’s wicket, Tom Curran was still there with Jordan Clark at the other end and Sean Abbott to come, six off six needed.

David Payne has seen a lot in his time, but wicket, two, wicket, one, two, wicket may be new to even him. He secured a tie for Gloucestershire and made Surrey look a little unprofessional.

Ball six: Mills grinds Essex down

In a match that may be long forgotten come the shake-up for the knockout phase in a month’s time, Sussex beat Essex comfortably at Chelmsford, the sides currently sitting third and fourth in the group with those two points the gap.

Essex were sitting pretty on 114 for one in the 12th over having been invited to bat, when Nathan McAndrew took the wicket of Michael Pepper, who was striking at 200 with power to add. He bowled Jordan Cox next ball and the match took on a different complexion, with the home side’s disappointing 178 for nine being mowed down inside 16 overs.

Sussex used full allocations for Tymal Mills, Ollie Robinson and McAndrew, all of whom can go for a few but each of whom carries a genuine wicket-taking threat, even against defence-minded batters who might be looking to see them off.

Plenty of captains whistle up a bowler and say: “Get me a wicket!” Tymal Mills can say it to his fellow seamers or whisper it to himself as he walks back to his mark and considers who should bowl the next over. But he says it with more confidence than most other skippers tasked with juggling their resources in the Blast.

Source: theguardian.com