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County cricket talking points: Surrey look ominously like Manchester City
Cricket Sport

County cricket talking points: Surrey look ominously like Manchester City

Ball one: Burns’ men show plenty of pep

Surrey are yet to emulate Manchester City’s dominance of the Premier League but ominous comparisons are emerging. There is a togetherness among the players; they are effective regardless of who is selected; and they expect to win regardless of form, injuries or conditions.

Perhaps most striking is their adherence to a method that every opponent knows is coming yet all seem powerless to address. Upper order steadiness + power hitting to take the game away in the middle and even late order + classy seamers to probe any mental or technical deficiency = winning cricket matches.

Rory Burns’ team can make it look a bit too easy, a bit bloodless for neutrals. Like City under Pep Guardiola, they are a team to be admired rather than loved. After five matches, Surrey are 19 points clear, Jamie Smith and Kemar Roach leading the hammering of Warwickshire this week, but it could have been anyone really. It may be good for the Browncaps but it is not so good for fans who would like a change of tune before a third consecutive pennant is flown come September.

Ball two: Hameed hits bullseye

He’s probably too young to know Jim Bowen but Haseeb Hameed could probably nail a decent “look at what you could have won” – the Bullseye catchphrase delivered to unsuccessful contestants who looked on at a speedboat or some equally inappropriate prize for a gas fitter from Penge. The Nottinghamshire captain and ex-Lancashire opener must have been sorely tempted to indulge in a similar sentiment as his team beat an increasingly callow looking Lancashire side, his share a monumental 10-hour undefeated 247 in a spectacular return to form.

Hameed’s career trajectory is the stuff of biopics: boy wonder, teenage Test debutant, endowed with a classical technique, the hype handled with a shy self-effacement as pundits talked him up (present writer included) as the “Baby Boycott” who would defy the Indian spin and Australian pace for decades to come. But then the runs stopped flowing, he lost his England place and eventually even lost his place at Lancashire. A move to Trent Bridge revived his career to some extent, but a recall to the Test XI came a little too soon and the opportunity was squandered.

He’s only 27 and, though inconsistent, retains a ceiling as high as any other batter in domestic cricket. He might need to explore that potential as a leader too if Nottinghamshire are to build on their mid-table position. As for his old county? Rock-bottom Lancashire need to find a Has or two of their own, and soon, if they are to retain their Division One status.

Nottinghamshire captain Haseeb Hameed showed his old team what they were missing.View image in fullscreen

Ball three: Utilita Bowl has no use for pacers

What is going on at the Utilita Bowl – “the south coast’s premier international cricket, music and leisure destination”? It’s still early May, but the scorecard is a reminder of when we played this game in August: Hampshire 503, Durham 432, Hampshire 62 for two.

Not so unusual perhaps, until one looks at the bowling. Callum Parkinson got through 43 overs for Durham in the first innings and he was matched by Felix Organ for Hampshire. Both were outdone by Liam Dawson, who wheeled away for 66, the home spinners delivering nine wickets between them at about 2.5 runs per over.

It’s been a difficult start for groundstaff around the country, with water tables high and a Kookaborra ball to deal with in the first two rounds, but for both captains to use so much spin on a pitch yielding such high scores speaks to an imbalance between bat and ball that does no good for the game. England’s men are due to play just the one fixture at Southampton this year (a T20I against Australia in September) and that may be for the best if this match is a marker of what is to come.

Ball four: satisfying stalemate at Canterbury

Worcestershire’s two bowling all-rounders would have licked their lips as they joined forces with the scoreboard reading 393 for seven, Kent’s bowlers already with 121 overs in their legs. Jason Holder and Matthew Waite twisted the knife for 38 overs, each compiling a century, the declaration coming with the score over 600.

Kent were looking at seven sessions of batting to save the match, so the last thing they wanted was to lose both openers early. Zak Crawley and Ben Compton have struggled for form this season, with only one score above 41 between them.

The challenge is as much mental as technical with the game framed by a huge first-innings score, time more important than runs. It’s an old-fashioned and underrated skill in the game – the batter’s equivalent of bowling long spells and waiting for the reward to come. Led by Jack Leaning’s 179 constructed across nearly 10 hours, four other batters kept him company for 90 minutes or more, Nathan Gilchrist also holding out for an hour at No 10.

It was a fine effort, but it was moot as to which set of players were the more fatigued when Brett D’Oliveira enforced the follow-on (he’d got through 30 overs himself, so he’d led from the front). Could the seamers hit the pitch hard for a third day in succession? Could the batters take each session, each over, and each ball one at a time and grind towards stalemate? One for the connoisseurs perhaps, but it was a rare delight to witness such patience in an increasingly frenetic world.

Kent and Worcestershire delivered a captivating game at Canterbury.View image in fullscreen

Ball five: Glamorgan rip up the form book

In contrast to the predictability at the top of Division One, the Division Two leaders Sussex served up a deliciously unpredictable match against Glamorgan. Sussex, possessing one of the best batters and probably the best bowler in the country this season in Cheteshwar Pujara and Jayden Seales, must have been confident given that their opponents had not won a red-ball match for 12 months.

Mir Hamza and James Harris (17 years on from his debut for the Welsh county) had other ideas. Four wickets each for the pacers saw Glamorgan finish the first day with batters at the crease. But it looked like business as usual for Sussex, as Seales blasted out a batter in each of his first three overs on day two.

The early evening sun was glinting before another wicket was to fall, Colin Ingram (170) and Kiran Carlson (148) building a stand of 315 to upend the narrative. The lead was a relatively manageable 133, but the stuffing had been knocked out of Sussex, and James Coles and Fynn Hudson-Prentice were the only men to survive more than half an hour as Andy Gorvin helped himself to a maiden fivefer.

Sussex are still top, but will need to regroup before facing Yorkshire on Friday. Glamorgan will hope they can extend the winning habit at home to Middlesex.

Ball six: Marchant de Lange cashes in

It seems contrary to pick out a bowler in a match in which his team made 409 and 319 for five declared, but Marchant de Lange was the difference as Gloucestershire beat Northamptonshire. When he gets it right, he has something of Garth le Roux about his batting and bowling, his hostility delivering match figures of eight for 100 off 36 overs, a superb effort from the 33-year-old.

It was Gloucestershire’s first win in the Championship since September 2022 and I hope somewhere there’s another South African fast man who hit the ball a long way, looking down with a smile on his face.

Source: theguardian.com