Decisions, decisions…

Spoilt for choice as I embark on my 31st day of cricket watching in the last 60 days – how lucky am I?

The match at Chelmsford has the look of 400 plays 400 unless there’s something special happening whilst Surrey/Northamptonshire looks more like coming to a conclusion today.

And the forecast for Chelmsford is worse than the Oval…so the Oval it is and it didn’t take long for Surrey to take the last two wickets and enforce the follow on…207 ahead. However the clouds came over, the lights came on and a very light drizzle delayed the start of the Northants defence.

Somehow or other, we’re about 8 overs behind expectations at lunch. Never quite understand rain breaks when it’s not really raining! No one put an umbrella up, no one rushed for cover during that exceptionally light almost non-existence drizzle but we still had to wait for it to pass! Club cricketers across the land would have been straight out there!

I suppose the difference is these are professionals and can’t risk an injury but they are in the entertainment business and watching non-existent drizzle doesn’t rank high on my list of ‘how to be entertained’! I imagine the rules are made by some health and safety ‘expert’ at the ECB who probably knows the price of everything and the value of nothing or how cricket works!

Interestingly, a counter argument to ‘they’re professionals’ is that the outfield wasn’t covered or mopped up after the rain and it was okay to run around on, so why not play?

There’s always the bad light argument to add to the pot but the light was the same at the start of the innings as it was at the end of the other. Just seems odd.

I know the weather is one of the loved variables of cricket but it’s management can border on the absurd!

In terms of play, Northants reach 14/2 at lunch with Gay having been hit on the elbow twice in the last over (no common sense applied like ‘let’s go off for lunch and get things sorted’) which lasted 5 minutes and long enough for Foakes to need two drinks! Why?

After lunch…the first over of a spell and a wicket falls! To me this is one of the odd features of this season so far – I reckon I have seen that happen close to a dozen times! Atkinson does for Procter for 9 (80+no first innings) and a long ‘hang time’ gave Curran S time to move three times in perfecting the catch!

A long afternoon session (2 hrs 45 mins) was brought to an early end by the worst light of the day as the grey clouds rolled in, full of threatening rain but who knows. Surrey bowlers had kept to their lines and lengths throughout (ok, the odd exception but in the main very tight) which brought Northants to 140/7 before the umpires decided they needed a cuppa. There’s a nominal 39 overs to go but it looks like Northamptonshire will be heading up the M1 in their coach sometime this evening.

And so it came to pass, Surrey winning by an innings and 5 runs and didn’t really break into a sweat (and certainly didn’t need any spin this innings). Twelve wickets in the day shows Surrey’s class.

The Atkinson/Overton partnership really took the game away from Northamptonshire yesterday and just added scoreboard and mental pressure but Surrey would still have won but it would have taken longer.

So my decision for tomorrow has been made for me!

When there’s no one else…you have to do it yourself!
‘I bet I’m going to be caught’ thought Kerrigan!
Gay – blow after blow on the arm
When your name is too long for your shirt, give yourself an airport code!
Keogh – down the wrong line but got away with it!
Just avoids the gloves!

Strange game, cricket!

Even better weather today attracts me to the Oval for Day 2 of Surrey v Northamptonshire (I know I saw them for three days last week but that’s the way the fixture list crumbles).

The pitch at the Oval is so far to the left of the ground that it’s almost in Archbishop Tenisons’ front garden – not that the ArchBish who hasn’t been around since the 17th century would notice a cricket match in his garden, which is concrete anyway…but you get my drift!

Yesterday across the nation saw similar scoring rates so that Surrey resume today on 266/6 with Curran S in sight of his first century. But it was not to be…he lasted a short time and Northamptonshire snuck out another so that at 271/8 they were thinking of batting before lunch.

Sometimes even the umpires can’t bear to watch (only joking!)

But no! Atkinson and Overton stuck to their task and addded a record 124 for the ninth wicket before Overton went. ‘Frankie’ Worrall (last seen in these ramblings for Gloucestershire and before that for South Australia in Adelaide) lasted two balls – 6 and out – to leave Surrey at 401ao on the stroke of lunch.

Kerrigan – flexible legs?
Keogh – clearly you need bendy legs to be a spinner!
‘Frankie’ Worrall* – first ball 6
Second ball – out; same footwork (!), same shot

Northamptonshire’s performance confirmed my thoughts from last Sunday in that they lack the ‘killer’ edge in their attack and will struggle to roll sides over twice. Without this, I fear they are doomed to the Second Division (or whatever the ‘experts’ at the ECB decide to have in place next season).

Did someone lay a new pitch during the lunch break? Northamptonshire at tea are 87/5 and with little by way of established batting to come. Surrey’s bowlers have extracted a bit more pace and life from this pitch so that they have the dominant position. Northamptonshire never really got going although I must say that Will Young’s lbw looked ‘generous’ (no, not that Will Young…this is the NZ one!).

Frankie’s snazzy socks!

I suppose the thinking has to look ahead to the follow on and tomorrow – more overcast than today so…? What would you do? But there’s the last session to go.

I do feel sorry for any weed which has had the audacity to peek through the outfield here. At each break, the grounds staff are hunting them down – so any deciding to appear in the last two hours…well, this awaits:

Perhaps I should check my lawn for weeds every two hours?

Post tea and the high clouds as forecast roll in, reducing the warmth of the very sunny and pleasant afternoon. For a while, nothing really happened – bowling wise – and McManus and Procter were starting to look a bit settled but…almost on the hour, one fell then another and…

By the close, 8 down and 250ish behind – looking like following on and perhaps defeat? The complete reverse position Northamptonshire were in this time last week! Strange game, cricket

* you need to be a ‘certain vintage cricket nut’ to get Worrall’s nickname!

Alastair in his pomp

A slightly warmer day than of late greets a large number of spectators to Day 1 of Essex v Yorkshire at the Cloud County Ground (the FM has been dropped as people were expecting to dial into a radio station, and not a facilities management company) and the prospect of Root’s first first class appearance this season. Incidentally the snappers are out in force!

England’s last two captains!

Early arrival was necessary not only to gain a members car park space but also to beat the geriatrics in the race to the best seats! And by the start of play some areas were packed. Where were these people on Sunday?

Looks idyllic in Spring sunshine

Browne’s early departure in the first over and Westley’s later sees Essex lunching on 63/2 with Sir A holding things together on 31no, clearly batting himself into some kind of nick.

Yorkshire have kept to their game plan and bowled well as a group on a pitch with a reasonable green tinge; whether it gets flatter remains to be seen but yesterday’s rain was welcome for the outfield.

As often at the Cloud, the pitch position means large swathes of the ground are cordoned off squeezing members into even smaller spaces whilst the large area set aside for commentary boxes is devoid of seats/chairs but an ideal empty spot. I sometimes think that the game is being played for the benefit of someone other than the paying public and members.

The afternoon passes with sunny periods just like the Essex batting – occasional bursts of scoring interspersed with periods of maidens so much so that tea sees the score 138/2 Sir A 62no and Walter 43no – the latter carrying on from his long stay on Sunday.

The Yorkshire bowling looked less threatening with Brook (thought he was a rising star as a bat) and Root bowling for the last 25 minutes or so. Essex need to increase the scoring rate otherwise batting points will go begging and can Yorkshire take seven more in 44 overs? Well, the way Essex have been playing this season…probably but that all remains to be seen.

Again, not something you see every day!

By the close Sir A had made his century and went for 107; one of his cover drives was ‘worth the gate money alone’ as Richie used to say. Last week he couldn’t buy a run but today…he’s covered in riches!

Bess tries his best
Hill in action

Cook S was sent in as night watch for 4 overs but Walter, homing in on his best score and possibly a century for the second time in five days, managed to keep stealing the bowling.

Sending in #11 to slow down the scoring when you’re in need of batting points seems odd but there we are. Close sees Essex 234/3 having had the better of the day. I suspect Yorkshire having won the toss would have preferred Essex to be all out for that score!

The Yorkshire fast attack is best described as ‘monochrome’ – all right arm, fast medium bowlers, and, to be honest, if it were not for their numbers on their shirts you’d have difficulty distinguishing between all four.

By the close, the pitch was less green and more beige indicating that it has the potential to be a 500 plays 500 match especially as the potential from the Yorkshire bats is greater than Essex.

One interesting side issue was that 90 overs were bowled in five and a half hours and Yorkshire timed their play exquisitely so that the last ball of over 96 was bowled as the clock ticked over to 1800. Professional to the second! But the day belongs to Sir A!

Essex get out of gaol!

I can say with some degree of accuracy that the crowd at the 4th day of the Championship match at Chelmsford has doubled by lunch time to, oh, at least 200. Ok, it’s an overcast and chill day, there are other attractions locally no doubt (not sure what the ‘Ammers are up to) and the prospect of an Essex defeat will surely persuade the one-eyed Essex folk that there are better things to do on a Mayday Sunday.

After an hour and just as the new ball taken, Essex actually gain a lead but it’s taken them nine and a half sessions. By lunch, two more wickets have fallen – Critchley to a poorly chosen drive and Kushi caught behind for 30 not quite to the shiniest new ball but out nonetheless. Critchley and Walter had added 100 and Walter and Kushi 50, in quick time. So proving that it is possible to bat on this strip and raising the prospect of batting all day for a draw. Not quite what I thought yesterday!

Kushi is one of the young players Essex have and whilst it was a brief innings, it’s clear he’s a stylish and confident bat.

Kushi driving
And defending!

The lead at lunch is 36 with 5 wickets down; Walter (who only ever seems to play when Harmer is in the side?) slowly progressing to 79no and approaching his career best, but let’s not jinx it!

Which brings me to the other thought I had today is that the conditions appear to be ideal for swing, seam and plenty of wickets; other than the cold there’s little difference between todays weather and Friday’s. But I suppose it underlines the fact that science cannot explain why the ball swings in certain conditions and not others! Just as science can’t explain why bicycles don’t fall over when you ride one!

Northamptonshire need to get among the wickets and soon. They don’t want to chase too large a total and have no time to do so. Chasing 130/150 in the last session could be ‘interesting’

By mid afternoon Walter had gone for 93 just missing his best score (perhaps I jinxed him) and Essex are clearly just going to bat all day. The lead is closing in on 100 and whilst there’s plenty of overs and time, I fear Essex will look to get a lead of 150+ by 5pm and then agree a draw but there’s life (and hope yet for Northamptonshire).

Close up of Sanderson’s bowling grip
And again!

Of course, that strategy only works if you don’t lose wickets at intervals – regular or otherwise! Since at tea, another has fallen (Harmer 13) to leave Essex 88 ahead with three wickets – and 36 overs – remaining. Essex scored 52 in that two hour session. Hardly brighter cricket but needs must!

During that session the crowd has thinned out – either due to cold, the state of the match or better things to do. With such low numbers – I counted 18 spectators in the public area (and I suspect most of those were members) – the Championship is becoming even more unaffordable for counties and more dependent than ever on the one day game and ECB handouts. But then that’s probably the ECBs strategy all along!

Essex not only cleared 200 but 300 and stuck to their guns all day! Poor light after tea possibly meant Northamptonshire were restricted to spinners only but maiden after maiden saw Essex strive towards the safe harbour of a draw. The lead with 20 overs left was close to 120 which in the trash and bash game is nothing but here…

With 50 nominal minutes left, a maximum of 14 overs to chase 132, the teams shook hands. It would have been interesting to see if Essex could have used their full attack given the poor light but we’ll never know!

So well done Essex and hard luck Northamptonshire but it does underline the need for top class bowling attacks if you’re going to succeed and sustain in this Division