Faith restored!

Having watched two sides for two days bat on the road at the Fortress with no end in sight, a return to the Oval was enticing.

The one legged pigeon.

The match had progressed since I was last there to a position at the end of day three of Warwickshire leading by just over 200 runs with only four wickets down. Warwickshire cannot afford to lose this match if they are to retain hopes of Division One next year – teams around them have a game in hand – so the plan had to be to bat for at least a session, take the lead to over 300 and secure a draw.

Hain and Rhodes are well set in the 70s each so what could go wrong? Especially with Surrey a player down – Overton – a key bowler, slip fielder and a pretty good bat to boot!

But Surrey’s bowlers had other ideas. The adage of one brings two just kept rolling over with excellence from Roach and Clark. Somehow, and you needed to keep checking that it wasn’t a dream, Warwickshire managed to lose the six remaining wickets in under an hour and set Surrey 248 in a max of 82 overs for victory.

Norwell found the Surrey bowling challenging!
Jacks had the final word/shot

A sound but sensible start was needed and the Patel/Burns combination steers them to lunch at 49/0.

More of the same in the early afternoon until Patel tries to force the pace, bringing Amla to the crease. Steadily increasing the rate puts more pressure on the opposition until Burns falls for a fine 61.

Pope therefore arrives and continues the slow inexorable increase in run rate until tea which is taken at 146/2. Another 100 in the last session of 37 overs is all that’s needed to keep Surrey top of the tree especially as their nearest rivals, Hampshire, had beaten Yorkshire and were now level on points!

I’m not quite sure what Surrey had for tea but Pope moved up through the gears, encouraging Amla on the way so that victory was secured within the hour. Warwickshire could see the writing on the wall but that does not detract from some of the classical and non-classical strokes both bats displayed and here’s a few to show their class!

Pope succumbed for 52, Amla reached 80no but it was Jacks with three audacious sixes saw them home. He started the match as a newly capped player and ended it in style!.

The above reads like a ‘standard’ type tale of the day and I suppose it’s all about the cricket but let’s not overlook the one legged pigeon feeding on the outfield nor the grounds man walking round the outfield daubing white spots of paint at various places – I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to work out what he was doing and why!

Faith restored in that cricket can be competitive when played in the right conditions. How Essex have not been fined for yet another ‘poor cricket wicket’ – as the phrase goes when each side scored 500+ and you could still be batting this time next week – I do not know but their dry pitches to suit their spinner cannot be good for the game.

At least my faith has been restored.


Captaincy by formula?

The match at the ‘Fortress’ which the Chelmsford County Ground has unofficially christened itself looks doomed to a draw – and has been from early on. But with a rail strike curtailing too much travel, I find myself there again today.

Starting at 99/1, Somerset add 30 in the first hour and 60 or so in the second and lunch at 186/1. Both Abell and Renshaw into the 70s and not really discomforted during the morning session.

The session has been very formulaic especially Westley’s captaincy. Harmer from one end for an hour, have 30 minutes rest, then Critchley before Harmer returns. At the other end, 30 minute stints for Porter, Snater, Walter and Beard. Walter perhaps being the less expected but at least Westley is trying something different!

Lawrence sees double? Sorry…a bit of camera trickery!

Somerset resorted to Lammonby yesterday as a slightly slower, skiddy bowler but whilst Walter is not a lot slower than the others, he’s a close as anyone to a medium pacer. But he too had no success. This formula did manage to bowl 33 overs in the session – so it can be done!

Both sides have similar 5th wicket average scores so far this season. The fifth wicket for Essex fell at 342 and Somerset are already above their 5th wicket average, I expect overall similar scores and Somerset to save the follow on just before close of play.

But you never know! Overcast conditions changing to higher cloud and possibly sun and teams refreshed from lunch!

The afternoon progressed much as expected. Harmer unchanged from the River End, quicks from the Hays Close until 10+ overs away from the new ball when Critchley returns. One wicket in the session – Bartlett for a quick 24, but he’s only there since Abell had to retire hurt/injured on 90no just as the 200 partnership looked.

Renshaw quietly and serenely progressed to his hundred and tea arrived – to time for once, and 65 overs bowled – at 288/2. This is all very formulaic and predictable especially in a match going nowhere fast.

A key bowling skill is to hide the ball from the batter! Matt Critchley
And again
Once more!
All culminating in a perfect delivery (but no wicket!)
Harmer in action

As foretold Somerset save the follow on by the close; Renshaw eventually goes for 146 and Somerset 359/3…just 146 behind.

The pitch could last for a week or more, bowlers toiling without reward, bats filling their boots. But how to break the formula?

The oldsters will tell you ‘do something the opposition don’t expect’ – as the game is played in the mind, the trick has to be to scramble brains! One wicket often brings two so why not? Try SirA with his Bob Willis impersonations? Westley and Lawrence and their version of spin (or are there restrictions in place for players in the 100 so they don’t overexert themselves…as social media will have you believe?); just anything to break the formula! Incidentally, it’s been scientifically proved that the more you play, the better you get! Will someone please tell the ECB?

Or is everyone just winding down in this last round before the one day month takes centre stage? Who knows…but Somerset have the most to gain to save their season but if it all follows the formula then you can probably count the spectators on one hand when they shake hands after tea tomorrow.


The Shining Fidget-twitcher!

When your opening bats are bowling in tandem at lunch on Day 2, you know you have problems and boy, oh boy, do Somerset. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Lammonby – locks flowing!

After having my dentist play with and photograph my teeth (seemed to keep him amused) I get them into the second day of Essex v Somerset – the latter languishing at the lower end of the Division and one of the sides contemplating possible relegation.

Essex had chalked up 281/3 on the first day with Browne reaching a hundred with all the overs completed almost on time. From that alone it’s clear it’s a batting track first and foremost. And with the lack of rain in Essex since, it seems, time began, the pitch looks one for booking in for an Airbnb!.

By lunch Essex had crawled – not dominated – to 364/5. Browne soldering on to 150+. The bowling wasn’t threatening (Overton C making more threatening noises than his bowling) as everyone can see this is a 500 vs 500 match.

Overton C – another tongue sticker!

Change after change, end switching etc did no good until an inspired (?) piece of captaincy (or desperation – you choose) sees Tom Lammonby running in from the River End.

Long haired, Alice banded fast bowlers make great photos!

You will recall, dear reader, that Lammonby has appeared in these ramblings before as one of the biggest fidgeters and twitchers (not to say walkers to square leg) between each ball many of us have ever seen! He makes Steve Smith and Rory Burns look like amateurs – so it will be fun to watch him bat. That’s assuming he – and fellow opener and current bowlers Matt Renshaw (of Aussie Test fame) – are not too tired from all their bowling.

It says a lot that when you need to resort to your opening bats to bowl then you’ve got problems.

Lammonby is one of those bowlers who you think you can score off but he skids it through at a faster pace and with a bit of movement caught Walter and Critchley unawares and back in the hutch. He’s Somerset’s only success – so far.

Essex missed out on batting points as they scored so slowly yesterday and today and seem to have given up all hope of the Championship (as I mentioned last week).

But the afternoon is to come and who knows what the next chapter of the book that it first class cricket will reveal!

An hour into the afternoon and I’m confused (doesn’t take much I hear you say!). I can’t make out either sides game plan. Roly Rossington came and went for a brisk 30-odd and moved the Essex score along nicely; Somerset using both openers as bowlers (again)! Fields are set to save runs (understandably), no effort now to push the score along or are Essex looking to bat only once? In the meantime Somerset are giving Harmer practice against probable English bowlers of Overton and Leach.

Leach giving Harmer some practice ahead of the Tests!

The fidget twitcher has taken the one wicket to fall and it’s 422/6 and I’m confused! Browne reaches 200 – he certainly owed Essex runs this season! On he plods, reaching 229no at tea; Harmer having taken an age for 26 before falling to the combination of openers (c Lammonby b Renshaw!) and Essex reach 486/7.

Somerset have no plan, Essex will just grind things out. Another hundred or so by the close or a declaration just before the end seem likely.

Well that 15 minutes was a bit pointless unless the goal was to get Browne to his best first class score. Snater and Beard went quickly leaving Browne undefeated on 234 and Essex declaring at 505/9.

Beard – am sure he’d been told not to take your eyes off the ball!

Lammonby was the best of the bowling 3/35 – his career best before today was 1/4 and a total of 6 wickets at an average of close to 70. Perhaps the fidget twitcher sees himself as a budding all rounder?

Somerset have a tricky session – it’s now overcast and with Essex in full flow (let’s see!), they’ll need to preserve wickets.

Somerset set off in a positive frame at close to 5 per over. Lammonby fidgeted and twitched as usual (five movements before each ball) and sped his way through to 17 before Harmer came on and bowled him straight away.

Renshaw and Abell slowed things down as the light faded and light rain swooped in. At the end Somerset reached 99/1 – still some way to go but no collapse.

Whilst Browne dominated the batting day, the shining of the fidget twitcher was something to behold!


The case of the dirty knees

Another day and I’m spoilt for choice!

Either Surrey v Warwickshire or Essex v Somerset? As my dentist wants to play with my teeth tomorrow and there are no trains on Wednesday due to another strike, today sees me at what looks increasingly like the home of the 2022 champs (have I spoken too soon?).

Past or current champs Warwickshire are in town to do battle. They need a good performance as the lower half of the table has two sides to be relegated and it’s looking like Gloucestershire and one other.

Evidence of dirty knees

Losing the toss and batting Warwickshire reach 71/2 at lunch – should have been more if Surrey held their catches! I’m going to get technical now, dear reader. Why are catches dropped ?

There are countless reasons – didn’t see it, came too quick, too sunny, moon was in the wrong astrological site and so forth! Heard them all! By why in the slips can it be a problem?

The slips take their position relative to the wicket keeper depending on the expected trajectory and speed of the ball. So if the keeper stands too deep, then the slips could be too deep and so the ball doesn’t get to them as expected – and dropped!

Foakes – regarded as currently the best keeper in world cricket – likes to take the ball between his knees and ankles; lower than most. So the ball when it reaches him is on the way down. This means it will also be on the way down if snicked to the slips and hence possibly dropped!

Gloves on knees
Low stance
Between knees and ankles

How do I know this? First by watching Foakes and secondly by his dirty knees. He rests his leather gloves on or near his knees as the bowler runs up making his flannels dirty! All the slips need to do – especially if people don’t regularly field there – is to take half a pace further forward and improve their catching chances.

Or so it seems to me? Anyway…back to the match!

Sibley 33no being the only innings of note – trying to impress his new employer as he rejoins Surrey next season. A nondescript first hour under cloud doesn’t produce the level of expected swing or seam but Tom Lawes strikes in his first over and Davies is actually caught!

Sibley looked uncomfortable
More than once!
And again
Well left!
And again
Burgess didn’t look that comfortable
Nor Rhodes

The pitch looks green from afar but has biscuit coloured stripes from close up so is less dangerous than you might think. It’s probably a pitch where the first and second change bowlers may fare better but let’s see as the clouds and rain of the second hour skirt the ground for the afternoon.

Green from afar but drier close up.

Two wickets in the afternoon session double the wickets and just doubles the score to 144/4. Sibley, having crawled to 43, is still the only innings of note.

At just over 2 an over, it’s batting for the connoisseurs and there doesn’t seem to be any demons in the pitch, swing or seam but clearly scoring at a fast pace is not easy.

It could be that you need to graft for your runs here – exactly as it should be. But given Warwickshire’s average score when five down this season is only 150, then innings building is on their ‘to do’ list. Surrey’s by comparison is over 240! Let’s see how the rest of the day pans out?

And so it came to pass – 5th wicket fell at 149. And, honestly, these stats are not made up! Burgess falls caught behind off Overton – clearly the mystery of Overton’s finger has been resolved.

The mystery of Overton’s finger

As if by magic, or one of those clocks where the man appears when it’s raining, the ground-staff appear en masse and head for where the covers are kept! They must know something or have magic seaweed? But the old ball (60+ overs) is doing more under the cloud cover after tea than most of the day so far. As ever, cricket defies logic!

A bit of trickery doubles the Oval!

But they were not needed as the rain didn’t arrive but the procession of Warwickshire bats continued.

Close of play couldn’t come soon enough but at 240/8 Surrey probably had the better of the day, dirty knees not withstanding.


51 days…and it’s all Greek to me?

Today marks my 51st day of live cricket watching this year and how better than watching two matches on the same day!

A brief trip to the Oval sees Surrey trounce Essex – Lawes, the night watchman, nearly top scoring and ends undefeated on 32. It’s clear Essex didn’t want to be there and only by stretching out play into the second hour could they be assured of staying for lunch – more tempting for some I would suggest (somewhat tongue in cheek)!

Snater in the action early
Fast pace = wrinkles
Not all plain sailing for Lawes
Concentrate in the field – works better if you stick your tongue out! 🤣
But…the man of the moment!

All very clinical by Surrey who still sit top of Division One. Pope scoring the winning runs with a reverse sweep from the one ball he faced. One wonders if he’ll be asked ‘busy day at work today…?’

Pope – one ball, one reverse sweep, winning runs!

With Hampshire winning too, Surrey haven’t put any more clear blue water between them. Maximising bonus points and optimising over rates will be key for the remaining matches.

This loss essentially removes any hopes Essex may have had even with a game in hand. The title is destined for Surrey, Hampshire or possibly Lancashire.

So a quick trip across Central London to Lord’s for the remainder of Middlesex v Sussex – previously regarded as much of a local derby as Roses matches!

There had been a run fest over the first three days but only 40 or so runs between the sides (each side scoring high 400 or low 500!). Almost the same first innings difference as south of the river but for a lot less runs!

But what’s this? Sussex 69/5 at lunch and a lead of just over 100? Could there be a result today? A run chase? A cascade of wickets? Exciting afternoon in prospect!

Helm – the pick of the Middlesex bowlers

A couple of wickets after lunch (96/7) puts the cat in the pigeon loft but the arrival of Ari Karvelas – SA by birth, but an international cricket player for Greece (yes…they do!) – brings a calm and the occasional six so that after tea he reaches his half-century.

Lenham – one of the many youngsters in the Sussex side
Ari Karvelas

I can’t remember watching any other Greek cricketer scoring a 50, let alone one at Lord’s – unless, dear reader, you can tell me otherwise?

Joined by Steve Finn – formerly of this parish – they doggedly defy everything Middlesex can throw at them. Karvelas (an anagram of Lark Vase – just shows how slow the game had become that even I could work out the odd anagram!) eventually succumbed for 57 but onward both sides plod. Why no declaration or handshake at 4.50pm which is usual when matches reach this point of pointlessness?

Finn – practiced this stroke to perfection!

Sussex lead by 200, Middlesex would need to score at close to 10 an over to win; Sussex highly unlikely to take all 10 wickets in that time and Middlesex just shut up shop if the wheels started to come off. So why carry on? Why play another half an hour before declaring (which they do and everyone walks off) but the afternoon has definitely been all Greek to me!


Hair today, whair tomorrow?

The super-heatwave this week meant train travel was all but non-existent and not recommended and so I had to resort to online feeds of county games – the one at the Oval being the pick of the crop. Surrey lead Division One but Essex have a game in hand and if the latter are to succeed then the Rey need to be humiliated!

One of the few bowled dismissals

Other organised calls on my time on Day 2 mean it’s the third day before I see any live play. The match so far has followed a familiar theme – clutch of wickets to the new ball, then runs get easier once the shine has gone. The pitch from afar looks tinged with green (the outfield lush – every other lawn in the UK is beige, cream or yellow depending on the level of heatwaves and lack of rain suffered!)

Surrey however have had the better of the match to date – Essex rolled over for 271 (after 80-odd for 5) – in getting to 319ao (after being 112/7). An unexpected lead and unexpected batting points. Essex stood overnight at 16/2 both Cooks having spoilt the scorecard!

A hundred runs in the morning session for one wicket (should have been two, could have been three) see Browne and Lawrence having time at the crease – and they both need it!

Browne nicks to Foakes

As often happens, a break in play brings a change of fortune (and today weather as the humidity increased and clouds rolled in). From 130/3 Essex fold to 208 with only Harmer resisting after Browne and Lawrence went in quick succession.

Harmer farmed the bowling well
Overton sometimes lets his emotions overwhelm his bowling

Worrall, Roach and Lawes do the damage post lunch with Worrall taking another five in the innings (to go with the five in the first innings) and supposedly with a sore shoulder! What could he do if fully fit! 😱

It leaves Surrey needing 161 from a max of four sessions or countless overs to win (again!). The most interesting contest of the day was the bat Burns against the bowler Snater – who has the most hair? I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to judge from the range of snaps I was able to take.

Snater – hair in full flow but ball under control!
Side by side – you decide!

So the decision I have to make – come back here (Oval) tomorrow for more hairy challenges and a short sharp victory for Surrey or head to Lord’s for the run fest going on there, or both? After all, the number of first class games left is shrinking each week as are the chances of more hair raising exploits!


Bazball breakout or brighter batting?

If, dear reader, you are wondering what my thoughts and ramblings are on yesterday’s ‘half-day’ International at the Oval, well, plenty has been written elsewhere. Suffice to say that I’ve been to the Oval ODIs for the last three years/occasions these ODIs have been held and none of them went the distance. But yesterday I found myself leaving the ground at the time when the second innings should have been starting. Questions asked today…is this the worst live game you’ve ever seen? I’ve been watching live cricket for decades and, yes, it was abysmal but I’ve seen worse!

Today sees a return to the ‘Fortress’ having missed a century by Sir A yesterday and a general cascade of wickets – nine for Essex and six for Gloucestershire. The opening position is a shortfall of 34 for Gloucestershire and four wickets for Essex to take. This match was going to finish today and the crowd numbers showed it – probably less than 500!

But what a display they witnessed!

Gloucestershire continued their batting Bazball from Monday in scoring 112 runs in just over 75 minutes (yes…112 runs at lightning speed) to set Essex 79 to win.

Losing Sir A in the 30 minutes or so before lunch gave Browne the chance of a longer innings and looked in dire need of time in the middle as he started. With 29 needed at 1.00 pm common sense went out of the window as they all trooped off for lunch. It was all over within 20 minutes of the resumption and a win for Essex by nine wickets and further problems for Gloucestershire who seem doomed at this point.

But back to the Bazball break out – in essence the West Country team had nothing to lose so set about the bowling with gusto. Harmer went for boundary after boundary so much so that he seemed to be buying his wickets – he ended taking 8 for 112 (out of 252) and one begins to wonder whether that tactic or his bowling at the moment would survive an England Test challenge (assuming he is selected to play by SA). Critchley looked out of bowling practice, the quicks of Porter and Beard struggling on the flatest of flat pitches and Snater nowhere to be seen other than dropping a catch on the boundary but then making amends.

Price strikes out!
Harmer seemed to struggle today
But defence was still there!
Zafar – on his way to his best score for Gloucestershire?

For Essex this was not a performance by a Championship winning side or anything looking like a Championship winning side. The first innings bowling was flattered by the brain fade by Gloucester and their inability to cope with Harmer. The batting was flattered by two bats scoring ‘big’ but the rest were nowhere and they only just scraped the third batting point when they should have been looking for five! And today, they just looked as if they were going through the motions – which to a degree they were – and victory would come but they had no real answer to the brighter batting onslaught.

Browne in defence
A loud appeal for lbw! Really?
Wining runs!

And bear in mind Harmer has been called into the SA test squad so he may only play one or two more games for Essex and – yes, it’s only just early July but there are only two more home Championship matches this season at the Fortress!

All is calm outside the ground!

In terms of entertainment, chapeau to Gloucestershire for their brighter batting; in terms of building an innings both sides have plenty to learn and as for learning how to bowl sides out, well, yes both sides did but some lessons can be more painful than others!


Brains – fade and application

One of the ‘endearing’ features of cricket grounds is trying to find somewhere to sit which provides comfort, warmth on the cold days of April, May, September (and often most months between) and cool shade when it heats up! And so it was today!

This week promises headlines of ‘phew, what a scorcher’ in spades as the country struggles with summer temperatures (just as it struggles with Autumn leaves, Winter snow and frost and whatever happens in Spring!). Everyone is seeking shade at the ‘Fortress’ but everywhere is crowded as a result and with even more areas roped off and out of bounds for members, we’re rammed in like sardines! Spectator comfort comes low on the list – and why change? The ‘trash and bash’ attracts volume who mainly don’t want to/care about the cricket…so there!

For the first visit this week, I’m hoping that the game is a ‘good’ one especially as the pitch looks like a batting paradise. But then I’m assuming that last weeks thrash stuff or resting if one of the 10 teams not involved will be banished from minds!

But no – Gloucestershire bat and by lunch have struggled to 104/6 with Harmer taking 3/31. I thought the aim of four day cricket was to learn how to build an innings, bowl teams out in tough conditions but Gloucestershire seem to want to implode. One day shots, poor footwork and shot selection, brain freeze, or overheating or all of them?. Will the match make it to days 3 and 4?

Gloucestershire continue their brain fade – Zafar Gohar runs out van Buuren when the latter was beginning to look settled and building an innings. Harmer ends up with another fiver – he should walk into the SA test side being accustomed to English conditions but then when has selection been logical?.

Gloucestershire succumb to 136ao leaving Essex 55 overs to bat today. To summarise Gloucestershire’s innings – Brain fade or an attempt at Bazball?

The loss of a quick wicket (Browne – cheap again) hints at a possible collapse but class batting from Sir A and Westley score at 1.6 during the afternoon to have tea on 37/1 off 21 overs.

There’s something in the pitch but these two Test bats are testing themselves (and the patience of some more experienced spectators) to see what happens when the ball gets older, the bowlers tire and the heat of the day starts to subside. Should be an interesting evening session!

Ninety runs in the last session of 32 overs, half-centuries from Cook A and Westley see Essex almost achieve parity by the close – but only one wicket down! This wicket requires patience and skill in building an innings and I suspect Essex to have a major lead by the time I next visit (Day 3) as tomorrow I succumb to an ODI at the Oval (my one-a-year ODI)!

Photos today concentrate on the disguise spinners use to try and baffle the bat…interesting styles and methods! But first…haircuts and hats!

Ryan Higgins – Alice band around the head!
One of the Price brothers in full hair flow
Josh Shaw opts for the beanie floppy
Van Buuren seems to lose an arm!
Zafar – the start
Tries a bit of disguise
A leap and a glimpse of the ball
Delivery stride
Follow through
Forward defence – a tongue stuck out!
Ollie Price – the taller brother.