Bike-riding? Somersaulting? Jumping in the pool? Although 51allout have a passing interest in other sports, we do find them baffling. Although the London Olympics is dominating the airwaves, using up all the newspaper print and hogging the blogosphere, we’re determined not to let these joke pastimes distract from the simple game of cricket. We must admit we did watch the opening ceremony, in which cricket was briefly shown in its Broadhalfpenny Down era, but were severely disappointed that the only appearance of Dave Stewart was a brief burst of a Eurythmics song. Lord’s 1999 this was not.
The County Championship this week was probably not helped by the schedule, with just five matches across the two divisions. After an absolute humdinger the week before, could the games continue to thrill?
The Middlesex seamers cashed in at the Riverside as Durham limped to just 102; Tim Murtagh, Steven Finn, Gareth Berg and Toby Roland-Jones sharing the wickets between them. Despite 59 from Chris Rogers, Middlesex also struggled with the bat. Graeme Onions, Ben Stokes and Callum Thorp each took three wickets as they dismissed the visitors for 185.
Some late order hitting from Scott Borthwick and Thorp pushed Durham to 200 in their second innings (Finn taking four expensive wickets), but Middlesex’s target of 118 still looked very attainable. The chase started terribly, as both openers fell for ducks. Chris Rushworth and Onions kept the pressure on and wickets fell regularly: at one point they had Middlesex 71/6. In what was a tense finish for all concerned, Middlesex had three wickets in hand with the score on 97, but the tail emulated the batsmen in managing to be completely and utterly shit. Ben Stokes took the final two wickets and their 15-run victory was the first of a very poor season, one that takes them to within four points of second-bottom Worcestershire.
In the first innings at Nottingham it appeared as if Sussex were hungover from their exploits in the T20 quarter finals earlier in the week. Only Luke Wells reached 50 as they were bundled (or trundled, considering the attack) out for 171. The home side found things much easier in their reply, taking the lead for the loss of just two wickets. By the time they declared on 520/4, Michael Lumb had recorded 171 and James Taylor 163* to catch the eye of Geoff Miller.
Second time around and Sussex must have finally taken some paracetemol, drunk some lucozade and eaten a plate of bacon, bananas and hash browns, for they were much much better. Indeed, they wracked up 214 runs before Ed Joyce fell for 98. Chris Nash continued feasting however, and recorded an impressive 162 as the match reached its inevitable draw with Sussex on 385/5.
Nottinghamshire’s draw gave Warwickshire the chance to move clear at the top of Division One, a chance they really should have taken. Batting first, their innings followed the traditional Warwickshire pattern: top order fails to capitalise before the lower order bails them out and bats their side into a supremely strong position. For the first time all season Jim Troughton (119) successfully hit the ball off the square before Chris Woakes further enhanced his burgeoning reputation. England’s answer to Jacques Kallis made 118* – his sixth first-class century – to lead Warwickshire to 571.
In reply, Surrey followed their very own traditional pattern; they didn’t get anywhere near enough runs. Rikki Clarke took four wickets, sending George Dobell into new realms of ecstasy, as the visitors slumped to 167/7 before the tail wiggled and wagged them up to the dizzying heights of 286. Despite their best efforts, Surrey were following-on almost 300 runs behind with more than a day left in the match. It looked all over.
It wasn’t. Zafar Ansari is a Cambridge student with a county contract, who bowls a bit and opens the batting. And, most importantly, he’s quite dreamy in the right light. Er, anyway, Surrey needed a saviour and he was the one to step up. He batted through all 88 overs of the innings and his 83* in 257 balls frustrated Warwickshire for the whole of the final day. Support came from all corners – even Arun Harinath’s duck lasted 28 balls – before Jason Roy came in and stayed with Ansari until the end. Surrey are still looking anxiously over their shoulders, but this is the sort of gritty, defensive display that has looked well beyond them for most of the season. Warwickshire, meanwhile, moved back level with Nottinghamshire at the top.
With Derbyshire in CB40 action this week it gave the three teams directly below them the opportunity to close the gap on the surprise leaders of Division Two. All three of them proceeded to balls it up. Hampshire started reasonably well at the Rose Bowl; Jimmy Adams’ 91 leading them to 292, a score which looked competitive until Rob Key (119) began treating their attack with the sort of disdain he usually reserves for vegetables at his post-game feasts. Key and Sam Northeast (140) put on 252 for the first wicket and, despite a wobble as their entire middle-order ditched batting and had a race to the bar at the end of the second day, Kent’s 467 put them a long way in front on first innings.
With no prospect of victory, Hampshire had the simple enough task of batting out the final day to ensure a draw. A task that became much less simple as the top order collapsed like an English all-rounder over the side of a pedalo in the middle of the night. At 10/3 they were in trouble, at 144/9 they had left Trouble and were rapidly approaching the small hamlet of Total Chaos, just outside Humilationville.
Fortunately, Jimmy Adams was still at the wheel. He followed up his top score in the first innings with a sterling rearguard action in the second, but he needed support. It came in the rather unlikely form of the number eleven: Danny Briggs. Between them they saw off the final 20 overs of the match to save Hampshire’s blushes and deny Kent the opportunity to move above them (and Yorkshire) into the second promotion spot.
That draw gave the aforementioned Yorkshire the chance to put daylight between them and the promotion-chasing pack as they faced the Division’s bottom side at Grace Road. In a strange development, Leicestershire’s first innings effort didn’t bring disgrace upon the great art of batsmanship and they posted a reasonable 320 – largely thanks to Matt Boyce’s 107. Stung by this affront, Yorkshire then smacked everyone apart from Claude Henderson (4/126) to all parts of the city as they compiled 486 and, given Leicestershire’s complete inability to do anything well twice in the same game, into a supremely strong position. Adam Lyth was the star of the show; he carried his bat for 248*, the highest score of any Yorkshire batsman to achieve that feat. Jonny Bairstow also returned to form, adding 118 to the 180 he made in the return fixture earlier in the season. If only international attacks were as shit as this one, eh?
So, once again, it was a game which rested on whether a side could see out the final day for a draw. Unlike the previous two, Leicestershire would almost certainly have failed, but the rain Gods appear to hate Yorkshire with the heat of a nova and helped thwart them again here. Even then the home side tried their best to lose; they were 78/5 before Ned Eckersley and Wayne White all but led them to safety. The draw was of little use to Andrew Gale’s side, who remain second, but Leicestershire’s 8 points saw them power past Glamorgan and off the bottom of the table.