Another day, another batting collapse but Surrey are on the charge!

Few words today as the match was done and dusted by 12.45pm as Surrey demolished Warwickshire on Day 4 of this Division One championship match.

It dawned as one of those days with the delicious prospect of any result. Surrey needed seven wickets, Warwickshire another 150 or so and even very long odds on a draw.

But it all fell apart for Warwickshire in the last 45 minutes; they’d progressed to 190/4 after an hours play, Sibley showing why he’s on the cusp of possible higher calls farmed the bowling well whilst keeping the scoreboard ticking over to within 100 of the target.

Then Curran S decides that things needed ‘sorting’ – a fine lbw dismissal started the rot and the procession began! Warwickshire lost six wickets for 25 runs in a blink of an eye.

Again no adhesive qualities shown, the idea seemed to be to hit yourself out of trouble but when it works it looks great but when it doesn’t, you just stop doing it? It’s like hitting your head against a brick wall…when it hurts you stop? Perhaps not as a first class cricketer? But so many batting collapses in so many matches this season suggests the balance has moved to favour the bowlers, but has it gone too far?

Anyway, Surrey’s first Championship win of the season and the Champs are not giving up without a fight!

Patel devises Batty has to go!
Second try…
Foakes snaps up the stumping chance!
Morkel can still make the ball ‘sing’
Let’s have another go at Batty!
Same delivery…but caught and bowled by Batty running to extra cover!

Sultans of swing have batsmen in dire straits? – Essex v Somerset Day 3

It’s not just at the Oval yesterday or Lord’s for the World Cup today where batsmen have found things a but on the tricky side since after two days at Chelmsford 26 wickets have fallen in overcast and humid conditions but it’s more than just poor batting. Essex are 249 ahead with 4 wickets left but soon collapse to 183 all out in 40 mins playing time leaving Somerset 267 to win in almost six sessions.

The overcast and humid conditions mean that the ball is nipping about for both Somerset and Essex bowlers – each side has its sultans of swing – Groenewald and Gregory, Porter, Siddle and Beard. Essex are batting as if they have a plane to catch almost in one day style! Every ball has to be hit either out of the ground, or have its cover knocked off – why? Patience and application will get you there! This is a pitch and conditions where you need to work hard and be prepared to wait. Wheater is especially guilty nibbles at one so far outside hips off stump that second slip would have taken the role of keeper! The rest follow like sheep. The only exception in this game from reports is Sir A’s batting on Sunday and to an extent yesterday. It makes you weep and you wonder what you’re watching – these are professionals yet…?

Somerset lose both openers inside two overs (with seven on the board); pitch has nip in it but swing and seam should see Essex home; but to have 32 wickets fall in 6 and half sessions….technique and temperament come into question + for all concerned.

Somerset are not top of the table for no reason and Hildreth and Blanton look like steadying the ship but still going for four an over! Hildreth has never played for a England and one wonders why? Blanton looks to have the potential to do so but both keep tapping the pitch like pigeons nibbling seed but this is just adding to their nervousness and mindset that the pitch is full of demons and devils being exploited by the sultans! It just sends the wrong message to the rest of the team…adding to the pressure and mental pressure. It’s been said many times…this game is played in the head.

So…why did Hildreth nudge the last ball before lunch into W heaters gloves…they had made sure this was the last ball – there was no need but Somerset lunch on 64/4.

Hildreths eyes say it all! Why? Last ball before lunch…why?

But worse…a lot worse was to come!

The outcome was Somerset collapsing to 117 all out by 2.45pm – less than an hour after lunch. Kamizake batting, lack of application, spirit, desire, skill…you name the attribute! Hampshire collapsed badly here last week in a similar fashion but to see a second team do so badly so soon after the last fiasco of a match leads one to wonder all sorts of things. Do visiting teams want to avoid the M25 in the rush hour on their journeys home? Is the skill level in the first Division just so inept as to be bordering on scandalous? Where is the technique for test matches being learned? For all 40 wickets to fall in 7 and a half sessions of a 12 session match just beggars belief!

Most of the photos I took today show inept batting technique (Ok Gregory tried to prolong the game by hitting Harmer for three successive sixes and a few other boundaries) but I feel short changed. I know…the one day stuff is just batting gone made whereas the four day game is bowling gone mad but of the current crop of Championship players who would you ask to bat for your life?

Porter considers what to bowl next
Gregory in full flow! Note Wheaters v wide stance!

Jack Leach getting in a tangle…remember he’s opened the batting for England!
Beard takes the last wicket of Brookes…looks mesmerised or stunned!
But earlier he’d removed Gregory with this one! Reckon this could be my photo of the season (but I said that in my last blog!)

On the evidence of the first class season to date we are in dire straits but yesterday and today belong to the sultans of swing!

Which to choose?

My best photo of the season…so far! Patel b. Morkel (but a no ball!)

One of the ‘advantages’ of being a member of Surrey and Middlesex is the chance to come across the ‘great and the good’ popping along to watch the game, none more so than at the Oval which is the ‘local’ ground for our friends in Westminster – past and present. But the grounds also offer brilliant viewing facilities and you feel you’re never too far from the action. So today I’m left with a choice of which of my photos to put first in this blog.

So whilst the World Cup continues in its seemingly never ending quest to find a winner (we’re only just over half way through and it seems to have been going on since time began), there’s the refreshing alternative of the longer game to relish !

After other commitments yesterday I’m faced with earlier choice – the relegation battle of the Oval or the dash for the pennant at the CloudFM County Ground Chelmsford.

Both matches were evenly poised overnight but having seen Essex eviscerate Hampshire only last week, the lure of the relegation zone match between Surrey and Warwickshire won the day today.

A forecast of hot humid weather and the prospect of Surrey’s seamers and swingers to claw themselves back into the match sees Warwickshire overnight 89/1 in response to a feeble 194 from Surrey.

And I’m not disappointed – Morkel and Curran S followed by two Clarks (one with an ‘e’ the other without) keep things tight all morning with seam and swing and make batting a test of character as much as skill. Yates reaches 48no just before lunch but Warwickshire lose four wickets in the session; at the break they’re 176/5 – nearly at parity.

Overcast conditions are having their sway and the odd drop of light rain is sprucing up a green pitch, which, from afar looks incredibly similar to the rest of the square in being so green but when up close looks very dry and nowhere near as green as from a distance.

Sibley, Hain, Hose and Lamb have all departed this morning and in moments of deep though give rise to…is it possible to name a team of 11 garden implements to play a team of 11 farmyard or other animals but all must be first class cricketers? One for a cold November afternoon I think!

Interestingly all the Warwickshire wickets today have been caught behind or in the slips (one exception of an lbw) but swing and seam are doing it here. The only concern for the Champions is how they’ll bat against the Warwickshire attack if they have to chase down a large lead? And who said Championship cricket was boring? It’s a matter of knowing where to look (as well as patience)!

And as the following photos show, batting was never easy in these conditions against test class bowling (in the main) and batsman after batsman turned inside out. The occasional cover drive got through and was so pleasing on the eye.

Tough going against a swinging ball for most Warwickshire batsmen
But classic shots were still possible!

The end of the fifth session of the match comes with the end of the Warwickshire innings for 230 and a lead of 36. Morkel extracting some real nip and bounce from the Pavilion End after lunch; each taken by Foakes with consummate ease. The test of a good keeper is that you don’t hear the ball thud into the gloves and Foakes is in that class. Undoubtedly the best keeper in England by a long way. There’s something in the pitch and the overhead conditions that the ball is swinging madly – seven of the 10 wickets fell to catches behind or in the slips.

Surrey face a long session after tea with the aim of wiping off the deficit and taking a decent lead into Day 3. This they achieve with some style – Burns batting with flair, Stoneman settling in for a score and the runs come at a fast pace, against bowling which, to be honest, can only be described as ‘moderate’ which then questions the Surrey first innings!

By the end, a lead of over 100 with the power to add; but it all depends…on the choices the batsmen make, and, of course, the overhead conditions tomorrow which seem, in the current spate of hot humid weather to be the ultimate decision maker. But what I can say…this is the best day for Surrey all season (and about time too!).

Burns in full flow

Surrey justifiably proud of their Champions pennant (at last)!

My choice tomorrow is ‘fortress Chelmsford’ but come Wednesday when each match reaches Day 4…who knows?

Chirpy chirpy cheap cheap…Essex v Hants Day 2

A glorious English summers day – sun, no rain, slight breeze…almost warm enough to take your pullover off – had the potential for Essex to turn the screws against Hampshire, leading by 25 overnight with seven wickets in hand.

Hampshire started quietly- well the bowling did anyway for about 40 minutes – but the chirping from the team was one of the loudest and longest I’ve heard for a long time. Consistent, persistent and a team effort all round.

Three overs after the first change – Fuller in the main – brought a swift change. Lawrence progressed in style with a cover drive to die for – in the style of Cowdrey, Graveny, Gower et al – and reached his half century. All seemed set for batting until tomorrow when the wheels started to come off. Bopara and Lawrence left in quick succession.

Classical cover drive by Lawrence…stylish!

One feature of the game has been the high number and proportion of leg before decisions from both umpires; not necessarily all as correct as they should be, but then spectators are 100m away and it’s a lot easier watching! And ok…they must be correct since it says so in the scorebook; but my old school report for PE said ‘excellent effort this term’ but I’d had my arm in plaster all term and had not done any PE lessons at all! So it must be right!!

Harmer was out lbw!

But the lack of application and patience leads to an Essex collapse in cheap style! If Hampshires five for 24 yesterday was bad, Essex managed to beat that with six for 19…the lower orders seem to hold their wickets cheap and lacked any adhesive qualities. All this means Essex are dismissed just before lunch for 214 – a lead of 96.

Of the 20 wickets to fall so far, 12 have been leg before…an unusually high percentage!

When Aaron Beard is your #9 ahead of Porter and Cook SJ then you know you have a long tail. Aaron attended the secondary school I worked at (not teaching!) and it’s clear from his batting stance of feet pointing at 90 degree angles that there’s something not quite right about cricket tuition in schools! Anyway, he doesn’t last long…

Beard…beaten all ends up by Edwards

So Hampshire have a nasty period before lunch to negotiate and lose opener Alsop for 2 and lunch at 5/1 – and yes, you’ve guessed, out leg before!

Half way through the afternoon session finds Hampshire 35/7 Harmers taking 5/11 so far helped by such inept batting that you wouldn’t believe! Northeast stumped, Rossouw caught sweeping badly and Rahane (who I’d really wanted to see) out first ball after lunch nibbling outside the off stump! He’s lasted three balls in two innings. The crassness of the batting beggars belief. These three were the most guilty of poor application!

Rossouw…good idea for your second ball?
Crane caught by ten Doeschate off a rebound from Wheater

And so it continued…inept, pathetic, awful – do not do the batting justice. Weatherly carries his bat for 29 after a short stands with Abbott and Crane but the inevitable arrives just before tea – Hampshire all our 88 and lose by an innings and 8 runs; I wonder whether this is one of the worst defeats ever seen? Losing by an innings when the opposition only scored 214?

First class this was not; 17 wickets falling in just under two sessions today; the whole match over in just under five sessions – I feel short changed but not as much as the hospitality tents which were empty until just before 3pm when numbers arrived in droves for a barbecue/afternoon tea and it was all done and dusted in under 45 minutes!

The last wicket (Fidel Edwards) falls to leg before (the 15th of the three innings game) and the 12th wicket of the match for Harmer (12 for 61).

And the 15th and last lbw!

Little to chirp about at the end but when you sell your wickets cheap, this is what you get! I wonder if the ECB regard this as cheap too or just an extra long version of the Hundred? Seemed like it.

No one’s watching…Essex blast Hampshire and it’s not T20!

For some…watching was too much but at least they turned up!

After a break and an away game, Essex return to ‘fortress’ Chelmsford for a Division One match against Hampshire.

This game was originally scheduled to be played Monday to Thursday when care homes need to do something with their clients but after pressure from County members, this game (and Middlesex v Glamorgan) were brought forward one day to give something tangible for working members to be able to see some play at weekends; the rest of the season is noticeably bare of weekends!

So, with minimal advertising (let’s be honest…none!) the expectation that the ground would be heaving with spectators- and a few dads being taken out for Fathers Day – was just a vain hope. The Essex faithful flocked in their tens rather than hundreds – put off perhaps by the poor forecast and a truncated and disjointed morning session. All eyes seem to be centred on Old Trafford and the billions watching in Asia so even if the UK audience had something else to do, cricket wasn’t their first choice (at least not here in Essex!)

Play began 35 minutes late after a light shower and Hampshire batting after winning the toss. The ball zipped about in the damp and cloudy conditions and Hampshire found themselves 8 for 3 in less than 30 minutes – must be the quickest time a bonus point has been earned!

Ajinka Rohane lasts two balls…and this is the second which turned him ‘inside out’

Another break and back for 25 minutes before lunch and Northeast and Rossouw progress to 43/3 with no more alarms. It’s as if they’re playing on a different pitch from before…strange but let’s see.

None of the Hampshire batsmen exuded confidence or tenacity!

Yes, they are playing on a different pitch or so it seems as Hampshire reach 94/5 by early afternoon; however a couple of questionable decisions both earlier and later mean they crash 24/5 to be all out for 118 just after 3pm. Poor display by Hampshire, good bowling by Essex although flatter to deceive and a number of poor umpiring decisions (at least three if not five wickets fell to the umpires judgment- they’re consistent which is what you want but both seem to be having an off day).

And as the weather improves, and I’m proved wrong as Dads have finished their special lunches at various venues and spectator numbers for the afternoon increase- almost approaching a healthy level but let’s not get too excited! Some still can’t watch or don’t want to!

Eleven overs before tea (extended day due to weather) see Essex glide to 37/0 with no real issues. The Hampshire bowling is perhaps a bit too full and too quick as the clouds roll in (non-threatening) and the breeze picks up to be quite strong. Hampshire need wickets…and soon!

The openers fall within balls of each other and both to leg before…although Sir A was initially given out to a catch (which looked ok from afar) but soon changed to lbw; Browne went similarly although from afar it looked an ‘iffy’ decision but there we are.

Westley fell for a few and at 64/3 Essex looked wobbly but this is a pitch where batting hasn’t been easy and overhead cloud has helped but as it dries, as it warms, it suggests batting will get easier and ending the day at 147/3 it’s all Essex today. Perhaps Hampshire will rue agreeing to the change of start date but it was good sport, reasonable weather and (eventually) a decent crowd but the ECB need to do something to promote awareness of the county game or change its name to the Extermination Cricket Board!

Security first…or Middlesex v Sussex Day 2

Carson from Downton Abbey still knows how to serve coffee!

Apparently there’s some bigwig American family staying close to Lord’s which means that roads around Regents Park are closed off, protected by armed police as are parts of the park itself. But the theme of safety first seems to have spread itself along the St. John’s Wood Road and into the Pavilion.

Sussex start the day with a lead of 30 runs and buckets of wickets in hand having dominated in all areas yesterday except for the toss!

Through Brown and van Zyl they grind down the Middlesex team through to lunch by which time both have their half centuries with van Zyl looking set for a century. Middlesex look dejected, the bowling at best mediocre, Rayner looking as if he’s going through the motions and the whole team just hoping that something will happen sometime and a collapse will follow and put them out of their misery.

After lunch, Brown accelerates from 50 to 90 in no time as the new ball only has the effect of making batting easier, runs scored faster and the prospect of any wickets being taken ever more remote.

Brown duly scores a good hundred before falling shortly thereafter whilst van Zyl already has his century under his belt and looks set for more. A few wickets fall but this brings Will Beer to the wicket and the prospect of Middlesex batting soon before tea gets higher. However, Beer has other ideas and, to his immense credit, plays within his limits of strokes and shots whilst van Zyl reaches and passes 150 and the grinding down of the opposite side continues.

Beer playing within his capabilities and strengths

After tea, Beer scores his maiden championship 50, equalling his first class best, van Zyl improves his championship best with 173 (more by himself than all eleven of Middlesex!) and the lead stretches still further. The biggest prize for Middlesex is Roland-Jones first maiden in the 25 overs he’s bowled which have gone for over 100! It’s that sort of day for them!

Declaration bowling from Robson…or just some variety?

With a lead of 343 and 4 overs left in the day, the declaration comes. I appreciate safety first but this is bordering on insanity. The batting after tea almost came to a halt, the bowling was humdrum beyond description and the game meandered meaninglessly; not even a change of gloves and messages from the captain – all sense of urgency or goals was lost.

The worst case for Sussex would be for Middlesex to score over 500 by lunch on Day 4 and to have to chase 200 or so in two sessions. Given that Middlesex have been outplayed in every area except tossing, that doesn’t seem likely.

Harris…Middlesex best offering for limbering

Even when it comes to limbering up mid-innings, Sussex have the callisthenics down to a fine art so much so that their quicks must be contortionists!

Sussex expert callisthenics- bordering on contortion!

Middlesex had everything to lose and nothing to gain from a nasty four over session before the close but in that time, the Sussex bowlers looked more menacing than all of the home side had done in the previous 120+.

What is noticeable is the different team ethic and approach between the sides. Ok, Middlesex are down and probably out but Sussex seem to be better organised, have a whole team approach (inc coaching staff) and a visible determination to win promotion and from what I’ve seen…they and Lancashire should get it. They may need to take more risks as the season progresses and less safety first…but then if it’s in the neighbourhood, then who you’re gonna call…?

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife…Middlesex v Sussex Day 1.

Photo from BBC London – I’m the one in a pink jacket and purple trousers!

Whilst the one day circus rolled back into London for SA v Bangladesh, the first class County season continues with a match brought forward a day following the outcry of the madding crowd of county members when the fixture list originally had this game to be played when working people couldn’t watch it!

Perhaps Middlesex will regret asking for that change since after winning the toss they celebrate lunch (full Sunday roast plus Yorkies for £12.95 in the Pavilion) at 77/5 having won the toss and batted. Sussex came out with all guns blazing, Middlesex less so and with few knowing where the middle of the bat was.

Humid sunny conditions aided the bowling in terms of movement but it’s a pitch where patience and resilience are needed with time spent waiting for the sun to dry what looks like a good batting surface.

Playing and missing seemed to be the order of the day for Middlesex and as regular as the buses going down Wellington Road but interspersed with the occasional sound of bat on ball but more likely a soft nick to the keeper and Sussex exclamation of joy; the bowling was quite superb!

A surprise and from the Middlesex perspective probably the highlight of the day was the opening of the outfield to spectators at lunch. This is a rare event at Lords especially so early in the season before any big matches.

However many times you do this, it just adds to the magic of the place…walking down the steps where the famous and not so famous have tread, walking to the middle, the view of the majestic Pavilion, the close up view of the media centre but most of all the slope! You just don’t appreciate it from afar or on TV…it’s something to behold!

Lunch turns into 138 all out by mid afternoon and an abject performance by Middlesex especially after winning the toss and batting but let’s see how it goes?

Sussex reach a belated tea interval at 78/1 off 18 overs. They make batting look simple and straightforward. The bowling by Middlesex is too full, too wayward, too off line…just too awful for words with the exception of Tim Murtagh. Salt progresses well and is on course for a 50 if not a lot more.

Interestingly, the weather has changed as if it’s a different day; more cloud cover (this morning was blue sky from edge to edge), the wind has progressed from a cooling zephyr to a vibrant breeze and the temperature dropped several degrees.

And so it seems we’ve two vastly different innings. Sussex end the day at 169/4 with the power to add to what should be a substantial lead but there’s more strife to be seen in this match I’m sure and less of a madding crowd tomorrow.

Apologies for the lack of photos but other than the range of callisthenics on display – primarily from Sussex – for bowlers warm ups – there was little else of note; even for a very subdued and understated ladies day (perhaps the message about how this doesn’t sit well with modern ways, is getting through!) but tomorrow’s another day, another innings, more strain and strife.