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County cricket talking points: is there a better way to start the season?
Cricket Sport

County cricket talking points: is there a better way to start the season?

Ball one: Curtain up

Big musicals start with big numbers, introducing the protagonist and riveting us to the seat for the next few hours.

“My name is Alexander Hamilton
And there’s a million things I haven’t done
But just you wait, just you wait”.

“Swing your razor wide, Sweeney
Hold it to the skies!
Freely flows the blood of those who moralise”.

The County Championship peeps out, unacclaimed, barely announced, apologetic. Hardy souls pitch up and renew acquaintances and reflect on those who can’t make it this summer. There is a new face or two in the team, but not as many as there might be behind the scarves and maybe even a balaclava or two beyond the boundary, cradling thermoses of chicken soup. Is there a better way to open the season? Surely it’s worth trying something new to kick start the most prestigious competition of our national summer sport?

Ball two: Don’t go west young man

Somerset would have been grateful for a trip to Kent, the east of England more suitable for cricket in April than the west. But even Canterbury could not facilitate a positive result, the wet spring producing high water tables on outfields and high blood pressure in groundsmen’s sheds.

The visitors had the best of the first two days, Lewis Gregory leading the attack with four wickets and Matt Renshaw, Tom Lammonby, James Rew and Kasey Aldridge all posting half-centuries. Tons for Daniel Bell-Drummond and Joe Denly in Kent’s second innings were of no import in the disposal of bonus points, so Gregory’s men’s harvest of seven plus the eight points awarded for a draw this season yielded a very handy 15 to place Somerset second in the nascent table.

Ball three: dark days at Hove

Even when county cricket’s underlying product is so strong that it almost forces its players and administrators to get it right, someone can find a way to shoot themselves in the foot.

After Tom Haines’ century and some splendid late-order enterprise led by Jack Carson had pushed Sussex over 100 runs ahead of Northamptonshire on first innings, the home side’s attack soon had the visitors nine down and just 63 runs in credit, whereupon bad light stopped play.

Apparently Sussex will not use Hove’s floodlights in any Championship match this season, citing the £150 per hour cost as a contributing factor. Surely somebody could have passed a bucket round?

Ball four: Cuckoo in the nest

Grahame Clinton knows how Zain-ul-Hassan is feeling. Separated by 34 years and the width of the Thames, the two left-handers recorded scores of eight and 15 and five and two respectively. No matter – it’s early season and an opener learns to take a few low scores in their stride as an occupational hazard.

Context suggests otherwise. Clinton’s scores came in an Oval runfest in which the innings scores read 707/9d, 863 and 80/1 and Zain-ul-Hassan’s in a Lord’s bonanza with scores of 620/3d, 655 and 31/2. For Neil Fairbrother (366), there’s Sam Northeast (335 not out), and for Ian Greig (291) there’s Ryan Higgins (221).

So far, so much fun for the would-be Zaltzs in Statsland, but for those of us unfortunate to watch a day of both matches, the parallels were less comfortable. In both cases, the ECB, in their infinite wisdom, required bowlers to toil with a near seamless ball once it had aged 45 minutes or so. At HQ, I felt that same feeling creep over me as it did under the scoreboard in the old Peter May Stand a third of a century ago: “Nothing’s happening here.” Roll in a bit of understandably ragged fielding early season, cold hands, under the cosh, and, had he not declared, Northeast might still be batting now, his 1,000 runs in April secured.

The Kookaburra ball will not be used in all Championship rounds this season. It shouldn’t be used in any.

Ball five: bowler of the week – Sam Cook

One of the reasons for experimenting with a narrow-seamed, machine-stitched ball is to enhance the X-Factor of genuine pace in a bowling unit. It’s probably not quite as crude as saying: “The Aussies use this ball and they always have scary fast men so we’ll do the same and we’ll get some of our own,” but there are times when one could be forgiven for thinking so.

With Stuart Broad retired and Jimmy Anderson turning 42 in July, is it time to forget about the El Dorado of a resilient, consistent 90mph man and embrace medium pace? After all, those two took most of their 1304 Test wickets much closer to 80mph than 90mph.

If so, Sam Cook gave a reminder of his credentials with a 10-wicket match (including a headline-friendly hat-trick) as Essex recorded the first win of the new season sweeping Nottinghamshire aside for 80 in a dismal second innings. The Chelmsford lad knows how to get batters out, 275 wickets at less than 20 in first-class matches showing that a bit either way in the air and off the seam, at a pace that keeps ‘em honest and a consistent line and length, is a formula that works.

In a low-key Test summer, England surely have to give players like Cook a chance. At 26, he has nothing left to learn in the domestic game – let’s see if he can get among them in the Test arena.

Ball Six: batter of the week – Kashif Ali

There is always a frisson of excitement among cricket fans when a new talent announces himself at the start of a season. Worcestershire, back in Division One, posted scores of 360 and 295 for three in the curtailed draw with local rivals Warwickshire. The star performer was 26-year-old Kashif Ali, playing only his ninth first-class match and posting twin tons (110 and 133).

It is right and proper that the South Asian Cricket Academy, which gave Kashif his opportunity to get a start in the game, is duly credited, but it’s equally important not to burden the batter with the unasked for role as a representative of his community.

He is a batter making his way in the game and showing huge promise – that is tricky enough without carrying the projections of others. The game, yet again, starts a season needing good news stories about inclusion, but that’s not a job for one man or one woman. It’s a job for all of us.

Source: theguardian.com