Monday, 30 June 2008

England ODI Ratings

Here is how England's players rated in their second consecutive 3-1 ODI series defeat to New Zealand:

Alastair Cook 4
A sedate 24 during the final ODI showed why Cook should not figure in England's ODI plans until he improves his one-day batting for Essex.
Luke Wright 4
Returning to the opening position he occupied so unsuccessfully in the World Twenty20 last September, Wright proved little more successful this time, lacking the skills to work the ball around. For all the promise of a quick 52 - not coincidentally, when the game reverted to virtually a Twenty20 - the stats - an average of 18 and a strike-rate of 71 - are damning. May, however, be worth perservering with at number seven.
Ian Bell 5
Made starts in virtually every innings, and showed glimpses of why he should be a very good one-day opener. The trouble is, 'glimpses' are no longer good enough and Key, Denly et al will be hopeful of getting a one-day chance soon.
Kevin Pietersen 6
Moving to number three, Pietersen began with a brilliant century, including the phenomenal switch-hitting, but faded terribly in the last four innings. Should England's best batsman be given more responsbility or return to the number five position from which he enjoyed stupendous success? He surely needs at least another series at three before a judgement can be made.
Ravi Bopara 5
Hyped up following a wonderful start to the season, but Bopara looked rather out of his depth at number four, clearly too high. He was also invariably a run-out hazard. He seems inhibited, or maybe is simply not quite skilful enough: he can neither score singles with regularity nor clear the ropes - and has never hit an international six. A series and career strike-rate in the 60s is 20th century, while his bowling, inferior to Wright's and Collingwood's, is almost an irrelevance at international level.
Paul Collingwood 7
Timely return to form with the bat, and some canny bowling underlined his worth to the side. However, the series will be remembered for his part in the run-out incident and his ban for slow-over rates. His captaincy does not always convince - does he have sufficient tactical acumen?
Owais Shah 8
A tremendous series. Shah played some wonderful knocks, from his two-run-a-ball 49 in the first ODI to a pair of classy 60s in the last two games, which could have come to so much more had he had adequate support. In finishing as top series run-scorer, and scoring at over a run-a-ball, he reaffirmed his one-day class. While there is an argument for retaining him at six, such a shrewd ODI operator should surely be given the chance to bat at four.
Tim Ambrose 1
Did almost nothing right, dropping catches and looking hapless with the bat. The England keeper debate rumbles on. It is certain, however, that Ambrose's limited range of shots do not make him the best one-day option.
Graeme Swann 7
Bowled excellently throughout to confirm himself as the number one ODI spinner. As a fine fielder and sometimes dangerous batsman, preferably at nine, he has cemented his place in the side.
Stuart Broad 8
A fine series, with seven cheap wickets and an economy rate of just 3.58. An automatic ODI pick.
Ryan Sidebottom 3
In his three appearances Sidebottom was uncharacteristically out-of-sorts. Still, as a canny left-arm operator, there should still be room for him in, or at least vey close to, the side.
James Anderson 2
There were some good moments, and his performances against McCullum were certainly impressive. Anderson seems to be an integral member of the ODI side but recent showings raise serious questions. In his last 15 ODIs, he averages 51 with an economy rate of over 5.5. Ultimately, he is just too inconsistent.
Dimitri Mascarenhas 6
One game produced a valiant 13-ball 23 and a solitary over, which went for 10. So the Mascarenhas conundrum continues.
Chris Tremlett 7
Is a better first-class than limited-overs bowler but will be very satisfied with his solitary appearance in the series, impressing with his consistency.

The Verdict
After the thrashing meted out to New Zealand in the first game, a comfortable series victory seemed inevitable, and England's one-day future appeared, fleetingly, to be reasonably bright. But brainless batting, above all, saw them lose easily. Players such as Key, Denly, Afzaal and Hildreth should be considered, especially if they can end England's opening woes. England, clearly, have a long, long way to go.

Friday, 27 June 2008

The Twenty20 cup's form players

With the Twenty20 cup reaching the end of the qualification stage, it is time to evaluate who has made an impact so far in this year’s tournament.

The stakes are high in this year’s Twenty20 cup and numerous English players have risen to the occasion. With the big-money carrots of IPL contracts and a place in the England squad in their minds, domestic players have produced some notable performances that will make the franchises and national selectors sit up and take notice.

The Indian Premier League was not dominated by the superstar overseas players as was expected, with lesser known names like Shaun Marsh and Sohail Tanvir lighting up the event. We have seen overseas players have an impact this summer, but this has mainly been with the ball.

Eight of the tournament’s top 10 runscorers are English, which might make some of the national team’s batsmen a little wary ahead of November’s Stanford bonanza in the Caribbean.

Graham Napier is bottom of that list but his record-breaking innings of 152 not out against Sussex has surely put him in the Twenty20 international limelight. Few players are capable of such rope-clearing and his nippy opening bowling that has brought him nine wickets is more than just a bonus.

Six-hitting is the IPL currency and Napier might expect a phone call when the new contracts are handed out. Twenty20 batting is not just about producing the big shots and two of the event’s most consistent performers are proof that a classical technique can prosper in the shortened format.

England Lions Joe Denly and Michael Carberry are already in the selectors’ thoughts and with four half centuries apiece they are clearly capable of combining quick-scoring and innings-building.

Mal Loye and Anthony McGrath have been the northern division’s top runscorers but are unlikely to resume their England careers, although 28 year old Michael Lumb and Rob White are at their peak and would represent an endorsement of county form if they boarded the plane for the West Indies.

Phil Mustard and James Foster have been the premier wicket keepers on show and will be watching Tim Ambrose’s continued batting troubles for England with interest.

The bowling stars have generally been experienced overseas campaigners. Andrew Hall and Tyron Henderson (first and third in the worldwide Twenty20 wicket-taking charts) lead a Kolpak contingent that is broken up by Simon Marshall, James Tredwell and Rich Pyrah.

All three are capable top order batsmen who can operate in the top six and each would bring something different to the England set-up. Leg spinner Marshall has been overlooked in most quarters in favour of Roses rival Adil Rashid, despite offering a similar all-round package.

Tredwell, who has an economy rate of 6.03 in the tournament so far, is an off-spinner who is unafraid to flight the ball even in the face of a Twenty20 onslaught and was a key component of Kent’s trophy winning outfit last term. Pyrah generally operates in the middle overs and 14 wickets in eight matches is a good return for a seam bowler who does not rely on express pace.

The lack of English death bowlers is a concern and few have staked acclaim for this role domestically.

England appear to be grooming the inexperienced Luke Wright for the role and the best display I have seen in this year’s tournament has been by Tim Bresnan, who bowled nearly a full set of final over yorkers in a tense battle with Lancashire, which is a good indicator of his ability to handle the pressure of the win or bust Stanford match.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

25 years on from India's game-changing victory

Today marks the 25th anniversary of India's incredible victory over West Indies in the 1983 World Cup final at Lords. The immensely unexpected win defending an apparently meagre 183 ignited India's love of one-day international cricket, whose virtues received timely confirmaion today with New Zealand's pulsating last-ball triumph over England.

Perhaps future cricket historians will look upon the era of cricket beginning with India's World Cup win as ending with their World Twenty20 triumph 24 years later, but hopefully all three formats of the game will be able to coexist.

That is for another day. For now, relive the amaizng tournament with Nick's 1983 World Cup tournament review.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Twenty20 problems - and solutions

With Twenty20 certain to form a core part of cricket's brave new world, the news that crowds are slightly down on previous years should not be ignored.

The reasons for this slight decline are obvious. Whilst games in which rivalry is fiercest - the roses clash, for instance - sell out, interest in the less glamarous fixtures is reduced. Over the space of 17 days, each county plays five home games. Yet, with five home games spread so thinly, even the most avid of Twenty20 fans would find it difficult to attend every game, especially members of counties for whom Twenty20 is no longer included in the membership. The problem is not helped by brainless scheduling: four of Surrey's first five games were at home within the space of eight days. Fans would be more willing, and able, to attend every clash were they spread over a longer period. The problem is obviously compunded at counties that have struggled and were effectively eliminated by the halfway stage. Where is the motivation for fans to attend Leicestershire's last two home games? These should be one of the highlights of their season, and should contribute a large portion of their annual gate receipts. But, with the grim record of seven consecutive defeats, the incentive for fans to part with their wages is negligible.

There is considerable merit in the decision, from this season, to increase the number of games played by two to ten. It makes the groups symmetrical and, subsequently, a lot fairer. Yet there are flipsides. The ECB are determined to encourage local rivalries but there is palpable frustration developing amongst fans bored of playing the same teams persistently, due primarily to the regionalisation of both the FP Trophy and the Twenty20 Cup. There will be 13 days of cricket between Kent and Surrey this season, including eight in seven weeks, whilst some pairs of counties go seasons without meeting others.

What is the best way round these problems to maximise the popularity of Twenty20 Cup cricket, and the financial benefits it can have to the counties? I would advocate replacing the three regions with two, prior to the quarter-final stage, meaning each county would only play the others in the region once, reducing supporter fatigue with seeing the same opposition players constantly. This would reduce the number of games played by each county to eight. This would be hard to stomach, and chairmen may be angry that they would only have their bumper derbies every other season, but has great merit. Extra games of Twenty20 would be implemented to placate the chairmen by replacing the Pro40 with a Twenty20 league, played primarily on Friday nights.

Another thought that needs serious consideration is the possibility of extending the season into October - playing almost the same number of days of cricket, but more spread out, would help increase resting and preparing time during the season itself. Late September weather is also generally superior to that of late April. The championship should not extend beyond around the 20th of September, but there could be great merit in an end-of-season Twenty20 bonanza. This would help consolidate the fanbase built up over the mid-season and would give county cricket a memorable end-of-season that would capture the attention of the nation in a way that even county championships as enthralling as last season's simply will never do. Ending the season with a final - perhaps Twenty20 finals day - would provide a climactic and definitive finale. Just as the FA Cup Final concludes the English domestic football season, so the Twenty20 finals could conclude cricket's.

Ideas, ideas. The ECB has an abundunce of them to consider: of that no one doubts. Now it is up to them to make the right choice: to maximise and consolidate the support for Twenty20 in a way that leaves the 16-game county championship as it is.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Twenty20 proves its real worth

There has been much talk of Twenty20 cricket replacing 50 over cricket as the premier one day format. At Chelmsford last night I saw for myself why this is.

The main advantage Twenty20 cricket has over the traditional one day format is its ability to excite. It is not the big hitting, sociable start time, music and other gimmickry, but purely the prospect of a close finish.

This is all I ask from a Twenty20 match. 50 over matches are criticised for producing a winner early, reducing the crowd’s interest in the remainder of the match. As nice as it was watching England hammer New Zealand at Chester-le-Street in the first ODI, the match ceased to be a contest as soon as Brendon McCullum was dismissed. Not a great competitive spectacle.

A poor start to the innings can be turned around in Twenty20, and so it was at Chelmsford last night. Essex started off slowly, losing two wickets for nine runs in the first three overs. Such a poor start would necessitate a rebuilding job in 50 over cricket, but the Eagles continued to play aggressively and set a competitive target of 148.

By racing to 50 for one inside seven overs, reigning champions Kent seemed to be cruising to victory, especially as they are so adept at judging run chases. However, Danish Kaneria dismissed Martin van Jaarsveld with his first ball and the momentum changed.

In essence, the match was enthralling for its entirety and went down to the wire. Few one day games ebb and flow in such a fashion, keeping interest alive throughout. Indeed, close finishes are becoming more common in the Twenty20 cup.

37 matches have been completed this season, with 22 teams winning batting second, 14 by defending a target with one tie. 13 of those successful run chases have climaxed in the final over. Of the 14 final ball finishes in Twenty cup history (excluding ties), four have occurred this season.

This not only proves how likely a tight finish is, but also suggests that teams are improving in the format. Essex’s one run win last night (albeit being with eight needed off the last ball) was the first time a defending team has won by a margin of less than 10 runs this year. If chasing teams get close, they generally reach their target.

All this reflects well on Twenty20 cricket, and as news filtered through of the farcical wet finish between England and New Zealand at Edgbaston, it was hard not to think that the one day future of the game lies in Twenty20.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Players moving up, England moving forward

For those of you who are regular readers you will be all too familiar with my musings over the years about the England One Day International side. Finally we seem to be making some progress.

Firstly, Alistair Cook is no longer opening the innings, fabulous. He is undoubtedly a fantastically talented Test match cricketer, albeit slightly out of form at present, but he is just not a modern day limited overs batsman. Ian Bell has at last been elevated to the role of opener, one he has enjoyed success in before. His innings against the Australians at the last World Cup demonstrated that he could score quickly, through a vast array of strokes. Notably he has the ability to use his feet and hit over the top, something Cook patently struggles with.

Secondly, and I want to scream hallelujah here, England’s best batsmen, Kevin Pietersen, has finally been elevated to number three! Many of us have only been looking for this change for the past two and a half years, but better late than never as they say. From number three Pietersen can dictate the innings for England and spend the maximum amount of time at the crease (other than if he opened of course!). The best player in a side regularly bats at number three and it is of major importance in limited overs cricket.

Luke Wright has been re-elevated to the role of opener, a role he has yet to really succeed in for England (though his brisk fifty today is a good start). He has enjoyed success down the order coming in against the old ball, should he be left down there to do what he does best? It is a difficult question to answer. Undoubtedly he should be given the rest of this series to readjust to opening. One thing for sure is that he should be in the side. His fielding and surprisingly effective death bowling certainly add to a developing unit. We must hope that he can succeed as an opener as the alternatives are limited and once Andrew Flintoff returns, there will still be plenty of power down the order.

The lack of an aggressive opener has been the failing of the England side over the last few years. Often the wicket keeper opens as the aggressor. However, it can’t be Tim Ambrose, as he has neither the technique nor the experience for the role. Whilst on the subject of Ambrose, I wonder how effective he will prove to be so low down the order, as he plays higher up for Warwickshire and does not seem to have the game to come in late and provide a brisk cameo. His performances will be under review no doubt. As Ambrose is the current incumbent keeper, it doesn’t appear as though the aggressive opener will be Phil Mustard, especially given his woeful recent form and limited stroke play at the highest level. Matt Prior, for all his runs, does not currently have the glove work to back them up and he is having to serve more time in county cricket for the time being. Steven Davies and Craig Kieswetter, two young wicket keepers, could yet be tried in the role, but their debuts are unlikely for a few years yet.

Other than Wright that leaves only specialist batsmen. Of them, Owais Shah, Jonathon Trott, Vikram Solanki, Michael Carberry, Joe Denly and James Benning are the main contenders. Shah is undoubtedly a great player of spin and a wonderful exponent of the limited overs batting art, who is currently batting too low for his talent at six. Elevating him to opener takes him away from the spinning ball though and exposes him to the new ball, which has at international level in the past seen his downfall. He is probably best left to bat at four. Of the remaining men, Solanki is a fantastic cricketer and agile fieldsmen. He has had many opportunities in an England shirt already though and has failed to convince, but he has rarely had a sustained run in one position. Trott is another candidate, who made it into Peter Moores’ first limited overs squad, playing two Twenty20 matches against the West Indies before being discarded. He often opens for Warwickshire in limited overs cricket, has a safe pair of hands and is a capable medium pace bowler. Meanwhile, Carberry is an electric fielder, blessed with Wesley Snipes’ Blade’s turn of pace. He has enjoyed success for the England Lions on a number of occasions, most notably in India over the winter, where he averaged 47 in three First Class games and 58.33 in three List A games. He scored two hundreds and two fifties. A lefty, he would compliment Bell and leave England with that all important right hand-left hand combination. Fellow Lion Denly is young and technically sound, but he is more likely to make his breakthrough in Test match cricket at the moment. Finally, Benning, whilst a fine striker of the ball, is not the most talented and is rather predictable with his constant search for leg side blows.

There is one further possible contender and that is Graeme Swann, who has often been the pinch hitter for Nottinghamshire in the past. He would not be capable of building an innings however and would be unlikely to average in excess of 20, which at international level is going to leave you in trouble. He is also far from a certainty in the side, with both Monty Panesar and Adil Rashid eager to take his place. If Wright is not successful in the role then I would seriously consider getting a wicket keeper into the team who can open once again, with Wright dropping down the order. There hasn’t been a problem so far with having two different captains, so I fail to see the difference in having two different wicket keepers. Prior, Mustard, Davies and Kieswetter could all fit the bill in my opinion. If not, then space would have to be found in the side for a specialist batsman to open. Ultimately, most of the other players mentioned, including Wright, can do well enough in the role to make England competitive again in One Day International cricket and that is down to the new formula which coach Moores and captain Paul Collingwood have devised. Exciting aggressive multi-dimensional cricketers now comprise the squad, with Test specialists left to do what they do best.

With Flintoff yet to return, the side is shaping up nicely and furthermore it seems as if only four specialist bowlers are required, with the likes of Collingwood, Wright, Ravi Bopara, Pietersen and Shah all capable of making up the fifth and final bowler. That will leave England with a nice dilemma when Flintoff does make his comeback in an England shirt. One of Stuart Broad, Ryan Sidebottom or James Anderson may have to make way. In the last 12 months Anderson has averaged 36.14 with the ball, at a strike rate of 40.1, with an economy of 5.39 in ODI’s against the West Indies, India, Sri Lanka and New Zealand. That is not good enough and is made worse by the fact that in that time England have not once played either of the two leading ODI sides. He is most under pressure, along with Sidebottom, who whilst economical, has not taken as many wickets against New Zealand as he would have liked.

Meanwhile, Dimitri Mascarenhas can consider himself unfortunate to miss out on a place in the first choice XI, but his place appears to have been taken by Bopara, who unlike him, can bat in the top seven, though he will need to curb his penchant for a run out. Mascarenhas is a certainty for the Twenty20 side however and will still probably get the odd game in place of the spinner, depending on conditions. He will hopefully make up the selection pool, which would also feature Cook, Trott, Panesar and Anderson.

A potential England side of:

Mustard / Prior (wk)
Collingwood (c)

will hopefully be taking to the field sooner rather than later and challenging the rest of the world for limited overs trophies once again.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Pietersen's switch-hit: bad form or just brilliant?

The MCC has ratified Kevin Pietersen's switch-hit – a shot which enabled him to hit two fantastic sixes - but debate still rages within the game over its legality.

Even if the Laws of Cricket do not ban such a shot, questions have been raised as to whether it complies with the spirit of the game. It has been compared to a bowler switching bowling hands just before a delivery, but surely, such individuality and enterprise can only be good for the game?

Cricket does not want to be seen as regressive and stifling of progress, so the ICC will do well to quash the planned review of the switch-hit. Few batsmen will be able to pull off such a shot, and Pietersen's incredible ability allowed him to not only execute it perfectly, but also pick up two maximums in the process.

Scott Styris was the bowler left red-faced, but he could only praise Pietersen, "Sometimes you've just got to take your hat off and say 'well played'. We all admire good cricket and that's what it was. I don't view it in any other light, I don't believe it's against the spirit of the game or anything."

And it is not just natural talent that enabled the self-assured 27-year-old to succeed in such an audacious shot. Pietersen admitted he has "spent many hours in the nets working on it" - and why should that go to waste?

It is fitting that Pietersen, a player who loves to ignore age-old traditions of cricket, should be the one who leads the game forward and his ingenious shot, rather than being treated with cynicism, ought to be cherished.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

England getting there at last...but what of Mascarenhas?

Just as the 50-over game is being increasingly overshadowed by Twenty20, England appear to be getting to grips with it. For 15 years from 1992, England were playing an archaic form of the ODI game. Since the partnership between Peter Moores and Paul Collingwood has begun, however, things have palpably improved. England's performance in the first game of this series was exceptional: convincing with bat, ball and in their team selection.

Kevin Pietersen's elevation to number three was probably a couple of years too late. He is such a feared batsmen that it makes sense to give him the maximum time to develop an innings, for all his batting genius at five against South African in 2005. Equally, it means England's top three boasts two genuinely attacking players, in Pietersen and Luke Wright (even if he failed to convince today) and Ian Bell, who is far less one-paced than given credit for and has a vast array of strokes. Dispensing with Alistair Cook, whose strike-rate in the '60s is positively 20th century, is a wise move. The only question in the top three now is whether Wright can transfer his Sussex form into the international arena. So far, he has performed terribly opening and only had success coming in lower down the order, but deserves a full series opening.

Owais Shah's brilliant 49 - off 25 deliveries - was testament to his tremendous talent. However, for all the skill he displayed at six, a batsman of his quality deserves the chance to build an innings from number four. Shah is undeniably supremely talented and, as a wonderful player of spin and a good improviser, should not be kept as low as six, as his 107 at The Oval against India last summer, and a superb 82 in Dambulla, illustrate. Since he has emerged as a vital member of the ODI side - at least the squad - in 2007, he averages 33 with a strike-rate of 80, both fairly impressive figures. Yet on only three occasions has he been allowed to bat even at five, when he averaged 46 against the West Indies. England need to get the most out of Shah, and in batting him as low as six they are failing to do that.

Ravi Bopara endured a traumatic winter but after a phenomenal start to the season for Essex, including 201* in the FP quarter-final, fully deserved a recall. Yet given Shah's superior pedigree at this level it would be prudent to swap their batting positions, moving Bopara down to six.

England's bowling performance was impressive enough too, even if Jimmy Anderson and Ryan Sidebottom were below par. The jigsaw pieces are fitting into place nicely for England's ODI side. They have finally rid their top six of 'plodders' like Cook and Michael Vaughan - Bell, who has often been labeled as one, has a strike-rate of 82 since the start of the India series.

The only real conundrum is how to fit Dimitri Mascarenhas into the side. It is no exaggeration to say there has never been an Englishman able to clear the boundary with such regularity in ODIs. In 30 balls he faced in New Zealand (in Twenty20s and ODIs), seven cleared the rope. And, while his bowling may look little better than that of Collingwood and Wright, an economy rate of 4.4 from his ten ODIs to date is surprisingly effective. England need a man with such six-hitting capacity and destructive ability in their lower order, especially with Wright seemingly set to open. How to fit him in, however, is a problem that can wait while England display such ruthlessness.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Championship review - Week 8

As we move in to the 20:Twenty break, just 19 points separate the whole of Division 1 as last week’s leaders lose and the bottom team win in thrilling matches. In Division 2 Warwickshire’s charge to promotion continues while Middlesex finally show some batting form.

Division 1
Last week’s leaders Somerset entertained a much changed Yorkshire team, who only fielded four specialist batsmen and had Jacques Rudolph opening in place of the out of form Joe Sayers. The changes worked as Yorks made 372, with Rudolph making 155. This was enough for a healthy first innings lead as the home side struggled to 258. Yorks then lost both openers for ducks and despite a second 50 in the match for Andrew Gale, the total of 202 meant that Somerset needed 323 to win. Despite a century from Zander de Bruyn, Somerset finished 40 runs short and Yorkshire replace Somerset at the top of the table.

Last week I said that Hampshire were struggling and this looked to be continuing as Durham’s Callum Thorp took five wickets to restrict Hants to 239. The returning Shane Bond also took 5-fer as Durham made just 202 to give Hants a small lead. Steve Harmison took 6 wickets second time round, but 74 from Dimi Mascaranhas gave Hants a total of 256 and meant that Durham needed 294 for victory. Losing their 9th wicket at 232, victory looked a long way off, but Harmison and Mark Mavies took Durham to within four runs before Bond took the crucial wicket. Hants climb to equal 5th with Durham, but only two points ahead of bottom club, Surrey.

Poor weather in the south east of the country restricted Kent and Sussex to just two days play. Kent were indebted to a century from Justin Kemp to allow them to declare on 350 for 8, while Sussex called a halt 50 runs shy of that, also for 8 wickets. There was only just enough time for Kent to start their innings, and Joe Denly have a dent made in his average, before the game was called to a close.

Rain also played a part as Lancashire entertained Nottinghamshire. Lancs scored 384 in their first innings with Steven Croft getting a century. Mark Wagh made 94 as Notts made 304 in reply. Lancs then declared on 234 for 6 to try to force a result and at 46 for 3 there seemed to be a glimmer of hope. However, 71 from Chris Read put paid to any thoughts of victory and the spoils were shared.

Division 2
Ian Westwood scored 176 as Warwickshire put on 421 against Glamorgan. The Welshmen fell well short of the follow on with James Anyon taking 6-fer as they made just 248. They did better second time round, but with 19 year old Chris Woakes (below right) taking 5 wickets for the first time in first class cricket, Glamorgan made 355 to set the Bears a winning target of 183, which they reached for the loss of 5 wickets, Westwood making another 50. Warwickshire are clear at the top of the table and look well set to go straight back up again.

Left: Glamorgan's David Harrison takes a breather as Warwickshire pile on the runs.
Right: Warwickshire's impressive Chris Woakes on his way to 5 wickets in the 2nd innings (Pics c/o RTE).

Tim Murtagh took six wickets as Middlesex skittled Essex for just 161 runs. The much vaunted Middlesex batting line up then fired as only Ed Smith of the top 6 didn’t reach 50 and Owais Shah scored 144 in a total of 583, despite Danesh Kaneria’s seven wickets. Batting 422 runs behind, Essex made a decent fist of trying to make Middlesex bat again, but with Murtagh taking another four wickets they made 384 and Middlesex won by an innings to move to 3rd in the table.

Gloucestershire are the only team in Division 2 without a win and they started well against Northamptonshire, Marcus North top scoring with 96 in a total of 475. The was enough for a big lead as Northants only just avoided the follow on, scoring 329 despite a ton from Stephen Peters. However, Gloucester collapsed in their second innings, with David Lucas taking 5 wickets as they made just 142 to set Northants a target of 289 to win. Robert White hit an unbeaten 132 as Northants reached their total for the loss of just four wickets. They remain in contention at the top of the table and even more pleasingly, the major contributors to this latest win were English born and bred.

Worcestershire have started the season well without getting the results but they were skittled by Derbyshire for just 151 and were indebted to a final wicket stand of 50 between Steve Magoffin and Simon Jones to get that far. Derby were seven wickets down for around the same score, but a ton from wicket keeper James Pipe with support from Graham Wagg took Derby to 356 and a healthy lead. Jones took five wickets for Worcester to continue his promising return to form. Worcester did worse second time round, scoring just 110 to hand Derby an innings victory.

England Player Watch
Michael Carberry showed something of a return to form for Hants, although opportunities are likely to be limited at the top of the England batting order. Owais Shah hit a big century, while Ravi Bopara was the pick of a poor Essex batting line up. Matt Prior scored just one for Sussex, while Chris Read’s match saving 71 was a large improvement on his first innings golden duck.

Chris Tremlett took a couple of wickets in each innings for Hants, while Steve Harmison took 6-fer for Durham in the same game. Tim Bresnan outbowled his opening bowling partner, the returning Matthew Hoggard by 6 wickets to 4 while Adil Rashid also picked up 4 wickets and will be hoping for a drier second half to the season.

Player of the Week
I seem to be saying this every week, but it’s a tricky call. Jacques Rudolph and Shane Bond are the main contenders from Division 1. However, this week’s winner is from Division 2 and yet another wicket keeping win. Despite Ian Westwood's two fine innings and Graham Wagg’s all round contribution for Derby for a career best 133 in a low scoring game, the player of the week is Derbyshire’s James Pipe.

England will retain the team and gain a record

England suddenly have a settled team, but not all of its members are guaranteed to start the next Test.

If England name an unchanged team for the match with South Africa at Lord’s on 10th July, they will set a new record. Never before have the same 11 players played in six consecutive Tests. Quite a start for Geoff Miller’s selection panel.

Injuries permitting, the landmark will surely be set, as England are now far more reluctant to change their team. The ‘fail in two Tests and you’re dropped’ policy of the 1990’s has been replaced by central contract continuity and the selectors are eager to keep faith with the players that they have invested time in.

The changing of the bowling guard that took place after the Hamilton defeat necessitated a run of matches for the new unit, and all four bowlers have credit to use up in the sterner challenge of the
South Africa series.

The batting line-up is less secure, but is also likely to remain untouched. The selectors clearly have deep faith in the ability of out of nick Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood, but the lack of alternatives is just as much of a factor.

A look at the top
Division One runscorers – the most sensible place for international recruitment if the two tier system is to have credibility – reveals a mix of former England players, overseas stars and just two possible new caps.

Marcus Trescothick tops the list – it was hard not to feel regret about his international retirement as I watched him score a recent match-winning ton at Tunbridge Wells – and is joined in the top eight of the list by Matt Prior, Mark Butcher and Ian Blackwell, who are experiencing varying degrees of time in the international wilderness. Jacques Rudolph and Justin Langer also feature.

Lancashire’s Paul Horton has hit 573 runs at an average of 63.66 and his overall first class average of 51.29 will make the selectors sit up and take notice. Statistics are only half the story and his temperament and ability to handle Test level pressure will be evaluated. He might be the latest addition to the line of Australia-reared England players.

Australia is in the selectors’ minds. The Ashes are 12 months away and any batsman hoping to feature will need to be blooded imminently, as England’s only other test action comes in the Caribbean in the new year and in a trimmed two-game series in India.

Horton and Yorkshire’s former England U19 captain Andrew Gale (501 runs at 55.66) might have to wait for their chance as the selectors believe Bell and Collingwood are the men most likely to make runs against the Australians.

It is for this reason that Division Two’s most prolific English batsmen – Ravi Bopara, Owais Shah and Jonathan Trott – will remain restricted to One Day opportunities.

Bopara’s selection in Sri Lanka suggests he is next line for a Test call, especially as the claims by fellow England Lions Michael Carberry and Rob Key have been hit by poor county form.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

FP Trophy Weekly Round-up

It pure simple knockout from now on in the Friends Provident Trophy as the race to be this year’s winner hots up.

Essex opted to bat at Grace Road against Leicestershire and were in a spot of bother at 37-3. Ravi Bopara arrived at the crease and played the innings of his life in front of England selector Geoff Miller. He plundered his way to 201 not out, in the process hitting an incredible 18 fours and 10 sixes, as he joined a select group of players who have achieved the feat in fifty over cricket. The prominent support came from another England player who was keen to impress, James Foster, who hit a rapid 61. The Eagles finished up on 350-5, a formidable total indeed. Garnett Kruger (2-70) and Dillon du Preez (2-60) each took two wickets for a rather South African looking Foxes side. In fact there were only four England players on view for the home side, which according to Essex Captain Mark Pettini, made the victory all the sweeter, much to the disgust of the Leicestershire board. In reply, it was two of those Englishmen, Matthew Boyce (57) and the evergreen Paul Nixon (62), who impressed most, each hitting fifty, but it was Bopara (2-34) who again stole the show, taking two wickets, as the Foxes were all out for 232. Alex Tudor (2-38), Graham Napier (2-48) and Ryan ten Doeschate (2-32) were the other major wicket takers.

Play was delayed by a day at Beckenham where Kent eventually took to the field against Somerset, opting to bat first in a match I fancied the winners of to go all the way. They made 259-6, with Captain Rob Key (73) and Neil Dexter (101*) (only in the side because of the absence of Martin van Jaarsveld) scoring the major runs. Ben Philips (2-55) and a miserly Charl Willoughby (10 overs for 24) were the pick of the bowlers. Chasing, Craig Kieswetter hit a well paced 90, but he received precious little support as Yasir Arafat impressed once again with 3-23, Somerset all out for just 222. Kent appear to have the whole package when it comes to limited overs cricket and they remain my pick for the title. They bat deep, with plenty of explosive hitters towards the lower order, have plenty of experienced bowling options, have an excellent captain in Key and they field with energy.

At Bristol Yorkshire opted to field first against Gloucestershire and it proved to be a wise decision as the Gladiators were restricted to 201 all out, Matthew Hoggard (3-26) and Tim Bresnan (4-31) impressive up front in swinging conditions. Gloucestershire were indebted to Chris Taylor (54) and Steve Adshead (71), who managed to forge a total which they had a chance of defending. Yorkshire failed to struggle in reply however, as minus Steve Kirby, Gloucestershire seemed to lack penetration, despite the valiant efforts of Captain Jon Lewis (2-21) and Mark Hardinges (2-36). Craig White’s patient 55, coupled with Jacques Rudolph’s solid 53 not out, was enough to see them home as they made 205-4, Adam Lyth hitting a rapid unbeaten 38 at the end.

The final quarter final saw Nottinghamshire opt to bat first in a thriller at The Riverside against holders Durham. Samit Patel played a blinding innings of 114 from 113 balls, as nobody else on his team managed to make it beyond the teens. Resultantly, the Outlaws could only total 188 all out, with Steve Harmison (2-40), brother Ben Harmison (2-33), Callum Thorp (2-20) and Gareth Breese (2-50) all taking two wickets apiece. Although Phil Mustard (14) fell early once again in reply, Michael Di Venuto (70) and Will Smith (41) then shared 107, as Durham reached 127-1. A collapse followed though and they found themselves 177-9, with Gareth Breese and Mark Davies at the crease. Breese hit 34 from 37 balls to win the match for the Dynamos with an over to spare to ensure that Durham remain on course to defend their title. Patel completed an impressive allround performance with 3-27, while evergreen Mark Ealham (2-29) and Darren Pattinson (2-46) each took two wickets.

Player of the Week: It can only be on player despite the valiant efforts of Neil Dexter, Yasir Arafat, Samit Patel, Matthew Hoggard and Tim Bresnan. Ravi Bopara is this week's star player for his awesome unbeaten double century and two wickets against Leicestershire for Essex. Let us hope that he can take that form into England's upcoming One Day Series against New Zealand.

The Semi Final Draw:

Durham v Kent, The Riverside

Essex v Yorkshire, Chelmsford

Sunday, 8 June 2008

England Series Ratings

Here are the series ratings for England's 2-0 win over New Zealand:

Alastair Cook 5
Another disappointing series. Cook needs to work on his off-stump weakness and his penchant for falling lbw if he is to improve on his recent record of one century in 12 Tests.

Andrew Strauss 9
Has responded superbly to his break from the side, playing with discipline and selectivity - and, pleasingly, being less wary of hitting the ball down the ground than before. But the South Africa series will show us whether he's really back to his best.

Michael Vaughan 6
Vaughan's Lord's hundred was sublime, although he rather faded thereafter. His captaincy was also impressive - though New Zealand's frail batting made his job rather easier.

Kevin Pietersen 7
As in New Zealand, he made a match-defining century in the last game of the season as England recovered from an ignominious position. But he would like to forget his problems against Daniel Vettori.

Ian Bell 2
A miserable series comprising three first-innings failures. Bell's talent is undeniable but being dropped may be in his, as well as his side's, best interests.

Paul Collingwood 2
No one doubts his commitment, but fundamentally his form is so wretched that he cannot survive much longer. His shoulder injury, rendering his bowling less effective, further diminishes his worth. It may be in his best interests to have the shoulder operation sooner rather than later.

Tim Ambrose 6
Ambrose kept superbly throughout and made a vital 67 in the third Test. South Africa's quicks will pose a big test, and Matt Prior is palpably a better batsman, but, for now, Ambrose appears to offer the best keeper-batsman combination England have.

Stuart Broad 6
Broad's calm, assured and skilled batting at number eight currently seem more valuable than his bowling. A bowling average of 43 is a poor return - while he has promise, he bowls too many 'four balls' and when (if?) Flintoff returns he may be the one to go. For all his batting qualities and clear relish for international cricket, Broad is not yet amongst England's three best pace bowlers.

Ryan Sidebottom 7
The exemplary stats - 17 wickets at 20 - conceal the fact he was much less consistently threatening than in New Zealand. Still, few will be complaining after another fine series.

Monty Panesar 6
Essentially anonymous for all but one afternoon, Panesar bowled a superb spell at Old Trafford that turned the tide of the series. As has been said ad nauseam, he needs more variations to threaten on flat wickets.

James Anderson 8
Mr Enigma can be happy with two good games out of three, even if he was disconcertingly wayward at Old Trafford, going for six an over in the first innings. He was devastating in the Third Test but many still need to be convinced he can provide a consistent threat over a whole series.

The Verdict
All is not as well with the England side as this ultimately facile win, and five Tests with unchanged personnel, would have you believe. We should not forget that England looked set to be humiliated at Old Trafford and were 86/5 at Trent Bridge. Their response to precarious situations was certainly commendable, but they should never have found themselves in these positions against such modest opposition. Both Bell and Collingwood should now be dropped - probably for Owais Shah and, after his superlative start to the season, Ravi Bopara. The seamers face a stern test against South Africa's strong batting line-up, but it is heartening to see the number of quicks challenging for spots - Chris Tremlett, Steve Harmison, Andrew Flintoff - if he can ever stay fit - and now, it would seem, a resurgent Simon Jones.

Twenty20, The English Summer and a Champions League…

There came the much anticipated announcement this week that there is to be an annual Twenty20 Champions League which will take place in the autumn out in India or the Middle East. However, the format of the competition leaves much to be desired and hardly qualifies it as a true League of Champions, especially when compared to the footballing equivalent.

For starters, it features just eight teams! Now, you would assume that this would be the Champions from each of the major Test playing nations. Unfortunately not. Sorry New Zealand, Pakistan, West Indies and Sri Lanka, you’re not cutting the mustard. How exactly can a tournament be claimed to be that of the Champions, when the four domestic Twenty20 Champions from half of the major Test playing nations are not present? Domestic sides from these countries are still competitive and would definitely add value to the competition in a number of ways, not least in terms of increased viewing figures and truly global interest. That point needs addressing immediately.

So it’s good news for India, England, Australia and South Africa then. The two finalists from each country’s domestic Twenty20 league will battle it out for the much coveted £2.5 million prize on offer. Who though is going to be turning out for each side? What of the Aussies, Saffers and Englishmen who play for the two Indian sides who qualify each year from the IPL? Will they represent their Indian fantasy side, or their domestic side? An obvious example is Dimi Mascarenhas, Hampshire Hawk, or Rajasthan Royal? What of Makhaya Ntini, Chennai Super Kings or Border? Justin Langer, Somerset or Rajasthan? Albie Morkel, Durham, Chennai or Easterns? It could become a real problem and there appears to be no official guidance. A limit on foreign players will obviously be required, as in the IPL, but the format could still lead to clashes over which player will play for which side, with money most likely the deciding factor.

Could this entire tournament in fact lead to problems within the domestic game? With such a massive prize as £2.5 million being on offer, does that not immediately elevate Twenty20 cricket to the status of be all and end all for the majority of county sides, as that type of money is just not otherwise available to county sides who are reliant on ECB handouts to avoid going out of business. Will the winner of the tournament not subsequently be on a completely different playing field to the other domestic sides in terms of what players it can attract and how much it can afford to spend. The UEFA Champions League has arguably led to such an unbalanced situation in this country and others, with Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Roma, AC Milan, Juventus, FC Bayern and such like almost ever presents in the competition and also of course the leaders in their respective countries. An imbalance already exists between grounds with and without Test Match Status, but this potential new imbalance could be even greater in a decade, so will need to be carefully monitored.

Key to the success of English teams in this competition will be the creation of an English equivalent of the IPL. There is not as much money floating around English county cricket, but people still turn up in their droves to witness this format. The best way to rival the IPL is to create a self-sustaining viable long-term competition of our own which will keep English players here and still be able to attract quality overseas players, with touring countries the most likely supplier of many of the overseas players for the tournament. The creation of a county based Twenty20 Dual League format of 9 sides per division and therefore 16 matches per side would be a good start. Determining who starts in which league could be based upon each sides record in Twenty20 since it’s inception with the 9 most successful sides starting in division one, from which the top four sides would progress to a finals day to decide an overall winner, with the two finalists participating in the Champions League. Meanwhile the top two sides in the second division should be automatically promoted, while the third placed team should face a home play-off against the third bottom team in the first division, with the fourth placed team facing an away play-off against the fourth bottom team in the top division. This would help to maintain competitiveness throughout the entire round of sixteen matches in both divisions, with the majority of sides still having something to play for come the seasons end.

This format would not lead to overkill, given that currently each side plays 10 matches minimum, with the possibility of 3 more matches (Q/F, S/F and Final). A limit of four overseas players per side should be set with the extra gate and television money being used to finance these signings and England players should be allowed to participate, with the gap between English Summer International Series being made greater to allow the new all inclusive Twenty20 League to be played in the five weeks across mid-summer, from the last week of June until the end of July. The first set of three Test matches, five ODI’s and two International Twenty20 matches could be played from the second week of May through to the third week of June, whilst the second set of four Test matches, five ODI’s and two International Twenty20’s could be played from the beginning of August until the third week in September. Meanwhile the Pro40 should of course be culled to free up more space in the domestic programme. The proposals are not unworkable, but flexibility will be required.

Twenty20 cricket is undoubtedly popular and as such needs to cater to demand. We must not get carried away with it and flood the market, but we do need to respond to the IPL and the increased demand for it. Our answer needs to be sustainable and attractive and I believe that the above competition would be. It needs to feature England's best players and the above format could do. There is space in the calendar for such a competition if we simply shuffle the international series roughly two more weeks apart. Touring country's players could often provide a lot of the season's overseas players with it being positioned in between series and would provide a good warm-up or warm-down for such players. The County Championship format should not be touched, the number of Test matches should not be reduced, but the Pro40 can be sacrificed, a small increase can be made to our current Twenty20 competition (which would also make it fairer, rather than regional) and England players can take part and earn some more money, because fans will pay more to see them and more of them will turn up to watch them.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Maverick MacGill well worth saluting

Stuart MacGill's retirement, announced during a rain break midway through a Test series, was typically enigmatic, rather like that of his team-mate Damien Martyn. Throughout his career, he has been elusive and impossible to pin down. Most emphatically, he has been his own man. In an era when international cricketers - particularly of the Australian brand - have been increasingly identikit, single-minded and fitness-obsessed individuals who give each other depressingly banal nicknames like 'Mr Cricket' MacGill has been something else entirely. A man with interests extending far beyond the realm of cricket, he famously read over 20 novels on a tour of Pakistan - and was the only man who objected to touring Zimbabwe on moral grounds. He attracted labels such as 'difficult' - clearly his face didn't always fit, which is only to his great credit.

These attributes were all in display in his cricket. Essentially, he was an old-fashioned one-dimensional cricketer, a poor fielder and a batsman who could occasionally slog a few but could never be relied upon to play within himself in a disciplined manner, as Glenn McGrath did so impressively in improving his batting. With the ball, he was invariably unpredictable. At his best there were few, even Mr Warne, who were better. Sometimes, however, the long-hops and full tosses would be just too many, as when India's batsmen tore into him during 2003/04, when Warne was banned.

Overall though he has much to be proud of - taking over 200 wickets at 29 in an era of bigger bats and smaller boundaries, for one. If anything, he gave the ball even more of a rip that Warne, spinning it prodigiously and possessing a googly to rank with the very best. He has a strike-rate higher even than that of Warne. Always he has been captivating to watch, a high-class attacking leg-spinner who keeps slips and boundary fielders alike active.

MacGill consistently outbowled Warne when playing alongside him, indicative of his great dangerousness when wickets offered assistance. And yet, for all of that, there is the mystifying statistic that he averaged nine runs more in the fourth innings of a Test than in the first, perhaps illustrating that, like so many spinners, he found things difficult when expected to deliver the decisive blows. Enigmatic to the end - that is what MacGill has been, and he should be celebrated as such.

And, rather than ponder how many wickets he would have snared had Warne never turned to cricket, it would be wiser to recognise that Warne's success helped him get his chance; and MacGill's frequent match-winning performances, happily, reaffirmed the significance of leg-spin in the game. MacGill's propensity for true brilliance, as perhaps best illustrated by a match-winning nine-wicket haul on a flat Barbados track in 2003, deserve to be celebrated in their own right.

What now for Australia's spin bowling?

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

FP Trophy Weekly Round-up

There were only three results from the final round of Friends Provident Trophy matches this week, with the weather wreaking havoc once again.

At Lord’s Essex were able to bat a full fifty overs despite the gloom, with Ryan ten Doeschate top scoring with 97, as they made 244-8. Tim Murtagh (2-28), Steven Finn (2-52) and Vernon Philander (2-46) shared six wickets evenly for the Crusaders. Duckworth Lewis came into play for Middlesex as they won by eight wickets, finishing on 120-2 from 25 overs, Billy Godleman carrying his bat for 43, while there were 34 runs at nearly a run a ball rate from Shaun Udal, batting at number three.

The rain tried its best to ruin the game at Oakham School between Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire, however there was a result. The Foxes batted 35 overs, in the process scoring 147-7, HD Ackerman making a patient 37 at the top. England hopefuls Samit Patel (3-32) and Graeme Swann (3-23) each took three wickets for the Outlaws from six overs. Nottinghamshire were only able to bat 12 overs in reply, making 47-3, although that was enough for a result, whether rightly or wrongly, as they lost out on Duckworth Lewis by 13 runs.

In Dublin Northamptonshire amassed 205 against Ireland, Andrew Hall the Steelback’s saviour with 72, as Ravi Rampaul (2-61), Kevin O’Brien (2-34) and Gary Kidd (2-33) each took two wickets apiece. Ireland were abysmal in reply however and were soon all out for just 106, opener James Hall the top scorer by some distance, with 27. In fact only one other player made it into double figures. Skipper Nicky Boje took 4-12, while there were two wickets each for Lance Klusener (2-20) and Johann van der Wath (2-21). You could be forgiven for thinking you had just watched a One Day International…

Player of the Week: Well it is exceedingly hard to pick a star player this week thanks to the truncated nature of the games and the lack of volume of them. Ultimately, Andrew Hall (72) and Nicky Boje (4-12) probably should share the honour as their respective performances ensured that there was to be no embarrassment for South Africa, sorry Kolpakshire, I mean Northamptonshire, against Ireland.

The Quarter Final Line-up:

Durham v Nottinghamshire, Riverside;

Gloucestershire v Yorkshire, Bristol;

Kent v Somerset, Canterbury;

Leicestershire v Essex, Grace Road.

Championship Review - Week 7

New leaders in Division 1 as one promoted team goes past another, while it’s a good week for two of England’s 2005 Ashes bowlers and Ramprakash’s wait goes on.

Division 1
Surrey played host to Somerset scoring 326, and with Mark Ramprakash making only 17 in the first innings and 15 in the second, his wait for his hundredth ton continues. Surrey then managed to contain Somerset to 135 for 4 until Ian Blackwell (158) put on 202 with Justin Langer (112) for the 5th wicket and 103 with Craig Kieswetter (38) for the 6th before losing their last five wickets for 6 runs to end on 446. Jade Dernbach took six wickets. Blackwell then took four wickets as Surrey struggled to 227 and Somerset knocked off the 111 to win for the loss of just two wickets to move to the top of the table.

Sussex batted first at Hove, but were undone by the Harmison brothers, who took seven wickets between them for Durham (Ben – 4 Steve -3) as they made just 214. Durham were in big trouble at 11 for 4 until Will Smith (107) and Dale Benkenstein (110) put on 205 for the 5th wicket and Durham finished on 301 for a useful lead. But for Matt Prior, it may have been enough for an innings victory as he scored 133 of Sussex’s 212 all out, with Steve Harmison taking a hat-trick in his four wickets. Durham lost three wickets in getting the 126 to win and remain in touch with the top of the table having played less games than anyone else.

Lancashire, perhaps mindful of their collapse in the preceding FP Trophy match, put Yorkshire in at Headingley with Yorks getting 395. That’s the fourth time this season that Yorkshire have been bowled out within 5 runs of a bonus point, and on such margins are positions likely to be determined this season. Lancs were 9 for 2 at one stage, but a stand of 258 between Paul Horton (152) and Mohammed Yousef (205 not out) and 197 between Yousef and Steve Croft (96) got Lancs to 481 for 5 in the rain affected match.

In another rain affected match, Kent declared on 431 for 8 with Martin van Jaarsveld (133) and Darren Stevens (127) putting on 210 for the 4th wicket. Hampshire then struggled to 215 and were 33 without loss following on as time ran out on the match. Kent will be pleased with return to from while Hants are really struggling this season.

Division 2
HD Ackerman (below) hit 164 as Leicestershire scored 390 against Glamorgan. This was enough for an innings victory as the Welshmen managed just 189 and 185 in their two innings, despiteDavid Harrison getting 64 off just 27 balls as last man in the Glamorgan innings. Dillon du Preez took 5-fer in the second innings.

HD Ackerman: In sublime form versus Glamorgan reaching three figures (left), and saluting the Grace Road pavilion (right).

Left: Glamorgan wilt against Dillon du Preez, whilst Paul Nixon brushes up on his Afrikaans courtesy of the slip cordon.
Right: Jamie Dalrymple tries (in vain) to stem the Glamorgan capitulation (Pics c/o RTE).

Worcestershire struggled to just 176 against Essex, but this was enough for a lead of 60 as Simon Jones took 4 for 14 to round off the Essex innings. Worcester did better second time round with 279 and although Ravi Bopara continued his fine start to the season with 85 Essex scored 264, to finish 75 runs short with Jones getting another four wickets as did Kabir Ali.

Gloucestershire got off to a brisk start against Warwickshire, amassing 420 all out in 117 overs. However, the Bears more sedate progress to 410 (Tony Frost getting 114) in 171 overs and the poor weather in Gloucester meant that a result couldn’t be forced as Gloucester declared on 228 for 8 in their second innings.

Derbyshire lost their last five wickets for just 27 runs as Middlesex dismissed them for 244. However, Middlesex struggled to 262 in reply, largely thanks to Ed Joyce coming in down the order with wicket keeper Ben Scott and Shaun Udal. Derbyshire then made 273 second time round with Jonathan Clare top scoring with 57. Chasing 256 to win, Owais Shah made 86 and Ed Smith 74 and Middlesex got home by 6 wickets

England Player watch
Another stellar innings from Matt Prior, who is now the first division’s top scorer and Luke Wright made just 15 runs in the same match. Ravi Bopara made a fighting 85 in a lost cause for Essex while Owais Shah made 86 in a winning cause for Middlesex.

Simon Jones and Steve Harmison were both in the wickets but both need to show a lot more consistency in terms of form (Harmison) and fitness (Jones) before they can be considered back in the fold. Tim Bresnan had a better game with the bat than ball for Yorkshire while Adil Rashid took two of the five Lancashire wickets to fall, albeit in 47 overs and for 133 runs.

Player of the week
Lots of big stands this week, two of them featuring Mohammed Yousef, who scored an unbeaten double century. Also kudos to Matt Prior (again) for keeping his head while all around were losing their’s. However, in terms of an all-round performance, for five wickets and 158 runs in a win that took Somerset to the top of the table, this week’s Player of the Week is Ian Blackwell.