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County cricket talking points: draws dominate in another dreary week
Cricket Sport

County cricket talking points: draws dominate in another dreary week

Ball one: nine matches, nine draws

You may think that bowlers had it tough with a ball that looked ill-suited to its job. Normal service resumes on Friday with the Dukes ball restored to grateful bowlers’ hands. You may think spectators had it tough, with just enough sunshine to tempt them into believing that summer was here and that the fourth layer might not have been necessary, before winter blew angrily through the land on Monday.

You may think commentators had it tough finding new ways to describe drives, flicks, cuts and pulls in the long hours before discussion of partnership records could begin in earnest. But the real victim is the writer charged with squeezing six discussion points out of a round of matches that leaves both divisions wholly shapeless with nearly 15% of the Championship completed. Don’t forget that.

Ball two: averages a distinctly average subject just now

When in doubt, fall back on numbers. Statistics always conceal as much as they reveal and the nascent averages are no exception.

Solid county pros lead the batting charts: Alex Davies, skipper of Warwickshire, in Division One, and Sam Northeast, skipper of Glamorgan (despite 11 and a duck last week), leading Division Two. That said, Matthew Potts, after nightwatchmanning his way to an undefeated century, is the 12th highest run scorer in the top flight – after just one appearance. I’m not sure he would claim to be the 12th best batter at Durham.

That the country’s leading wicket taker is Surrey’s part-time wrist spinner, Cameron Steel, tells you all you need to know about the bowlers’ hit parade.

Matthew Potts dives to stop a boundary during the match between Warwickshire and Durham.View image in fullscreen

Ball three: a pitch for better pitch locations

With Lord’s and Edgbaston setting stumps on the edge of their squares and other ground staff mindful of the long season to come (and television’s requirement to use the more central strips), should we just accept an early season short boundary as one of those things? They will all be within the playing conditions and it’s the same for both sides, so get on with it.

Maybe we should not be so sanguine. First-class cricket is the game’s purest form. Its few restrictions – on overs to be bowled, the distribution of fielders and the rhythm of attack and defence – give captains the discretion to paint the canvas as they, rather than the administrators, see fit. The emerging picture, resolving itself across days rather than hours, is a precious delight in a world that increasingly abhors anything that demands patience and the embracing of nuance. Try TikToking the thought processes involved in considering a third-innings declaration and see how far you get with that.

A boundary just a thickish top edge away elbows its way into a captain’s thinking. It limits his options as it must be protected, often by two fielders less than 20 yards apart; it demands that bowlers find a line that takes the mere push for four out of the equation; and it limits the prospect of witnessing a delightful but dying feature of the game: the well-judged three.

There are only 14 Championship matches all season long – it would be nice if they were given more sympathetic strips on the square.

Ball four: carrying a light for Nightwatchmen

Potts’s knock (149 not out from No 4) brought back memories of nightwatchmen past. Often an endangered species (it is mandatory at this point to say that Steve Waugh did not use them) and now being reinvented as Nighthawks, a less problematic, non-gendered term that carries a somewhat forced Marvel Comic Universe razzamatazz to it, not entirely resonating with Wantage Road as an evening chill descends.

They are a delightful quirk in our all-play-all game, free (for now at least) of designated hitters or substitutes. The second or third least capable batter straps on the armour to face the most threatening bowling in the least favourable conditions – that this is somehow the best tactic is a very, very crickety thing.

If Jason Gillespie remains the patron saint of nightwatchmen, Alex Tudor is its lost boy, his 99 not out coming in his third Test match at just 21 years of age. Injuries were to grant him just seven more and he never came close again. It’s probably not the corner of English cricket history he dreamt of as a kid, but it’s his for sure and it’s lasted 25 years and counting, so it’s not a bad place to have planted his flag.

Ball five: the fall of the sixth wicket

A cousin of the nightwatchman is the bowler who bats: the player selected to get through the long hours of the afternoon when the shine is off the ball and batters are well set, but who can also get a few runs now and again. Sometimes at seven, often at eight, occasionally at nine, they live under constant threat from loud voices proclaiming: “You should pick your best six batters, your best wicketkeeper and your best four bowlers.” The Kookaburra is their friend.

The fall of the sixth wicket sees opening bowlers who were grazing at fine leg suddenly stretching ostentatiously in the captain’s eyeline, shouts of “just one more lads” from the keeper and ground staff moseying towards the heavy roller. But it doesn’t always work out that way.

In innings in which a sixth wicket fell (have there ever been fewer in the first two rounds of games?) Essex put on 134 before declaring, Notts added 161, to which Worcestershire replied with 169 of their own, Somerset gave Surrey a taste of their own medicine with 189 in a draw-securing second dig and Durham found 186 runs of their not quite follow-on saving effort in response to Warwickshire’s monstrous near 700. And that’s just Division One.

Is the lower order an underused resource? With body protection to wear and few genuine speedsters around, can a tailender who averages 10 find the technique and confidence to average 20? It’s worth noting that Surrey’s two pennants in the last two seasons have been won with a Manx Cat batting order – no tail.

Ball six: Underwood beneath nobody in English bowling

It’s been a bittersweet pleasure to read tributes to Derek Underwood, a unique bowler, an all-time great for England and a stalwart of Kent cricket – county cricket – for more than two decades.

As kids, we all tried to mimic the greats (Graham Gooch did it in a Test, so it was OK for us on the school playing field in the too-long summer holidays). Anyone could do a Thommo, though the ball usually went straight upwards. For Michael Holding, you just went back to the edge of the field and ran in with your head tilted back. Big Bob Willis? Charge in on the diagonal with your arms at your side.

Nobody could do a “Deadly”, right arm or left. Sure, you knew to run in behind the umpire, but getting the flat-footed, splayed approach was difficult. Then there was the characteristic gather, the hands describing shapes in the air, indistinct but always the same. The hardest part was the ferocity of the pivot and the speed of the arm in the delivery itself. All that energy through the crease resulted in a metronomic accuracy that was little short of miraculous. We couldn’t even make a parody. So we went back and did a little scamper and a stiff-backed delivery from stump to stump. “Terry Alderman – can’t you tell?”

Deadly was as dead hard to do for laughs as he was dead hard to bat against for runs. There has never been anyone like him since.

Source: theguardian.com