Taylor and Ackermann’s finests give Leicestershire the opening round advantage

Hove, April 5-8: Leicestershire 252 & 232 for 3 beat Sussex 173 & 308 by 7 wickets

Until Colin Ackermann’s scathing cut towards Hove’s third man rope sealed a rather straightforward seven wicket victory at 2:30pm on April 8th, one would have needed to hark back close to two decades for Leicestershire’s last spoils in a County Championship jaunt to Sussex. Following up a maiden first-class ton from 23-year-old sprog Darren Stevens, the limelight of that 1999 Arundel fixture fell firmly upon one Matthew Brimson, whose 9 for 120 dwarfed the two other five-wicket hauls his orthodox spin had delivered a month apart against Kent and Sussex three summers prior. Should that name ring any bells, it will most likely be thanks to the surreptitious appearance of his penis on page 657 of the next year’s Wisden – probably not the only reason his county days lasted just six further outings, but nevertheless a perplexing act of self-sabotage that Paul Nixon’s squad would do wisely not to replicate.

Ackermann’s spot at the crease to secure victory was fitting, having earlier used his part-time off-spin for a career-best 5 for 69 – his first five-for in 190 attempts at the professional level. Having gone unbowled first time round, his token over to accelerate forward the second day’s tea interval achieved what 20 from four pace colleagues hadn’t, ending the opening stand of 105 between Tom Haines (39) and an ever belligerent Phil Salt, who slashed 11 boundaries in his 67-ball 80. His dismissal was the perhaps the finest of Ackermann’s crop, with the ball jutting in sharply off a length to force him either to stand still and take his own shot in the gonads or back away and prod it meekly into the bowler’s own mitts, though Hasan Azad’s gymnastics at short leg to catch Chris Jordan and Ollie Robinson within three deliveries on the eve of the new ball the next morning would likely beg to differ.

The hosts had earlier found themselves five down for 36 under an hour into the season, with Salt’s charge a welcome reparation for the indignity that was feathering Chris Wright behind to nab a duck right on the stroke of 11am. Tom Taylor had then run rampant, quelling any lingering doubt around Paul Horton’s decision not to contest the toss under uncharacteristically fine April skies. Upon bowling skipper Ben Brown first ball, the one-time Derbyshire man was on a hat-trick with figures reading 6.1-2-12-4, and by mid-afternoon that too became a career best with the additions of David Wiese and Ollie Robinson’s off and middle stumps respectively.

Wiese had reached 51 by that stage, following up his counter-attacking 139 against Cardiff MCCU five days prior with more of the same before driving past another fine Taylor ball that nipped in. Driving expansively through the offside had worked relative wonders as the score almost tripled in just 10 overs of Wiese joining Stiaan van Zyl, who was marking his first Championship innings after 10 months sidelined with a bruised kneecap, but momentum slipped once again after van Zyl pulled Leicestershire’s winter signing Wright down onto his wicket shortly before lunch.

For the third successive summer, IPL calls from their seam stocks have lured Sussex into short-term overseas reinforcement. This time, that comes in the shape of one-test Pakistan left-armer Mir Hamza, who makes up for his lack of name recognition with mighty swing and a stellar record of 282 wickets at 18.37. Catching the Ateeq Javid nudge back to his right-hand side made that 283 before six overs were out, and by the time he’d called an early tea with one that outfoxed a visibly irked Mark Cosgrove by swaying deceptively in from leg, Leicestershire were well on their way to a Sussex-like 59 for 5.

After surviving an early Hamza appeal, Lewis Hill ably stabilised proceedings with consecutive partnerships of 92 and 52 with Harry Dearden and Taylor respectively, facing one more ball than his top five combined as he built a gentle 67 across either side of the light-enforced close of play. Danny Briggs earned his reward after warming up for what seemed like the first 55 overs as Hill swept hard over a full ball that skittled his off stump, but not before Hill had played the same shot somewhat more successfully to bring up a coveted April batting point. That was joined by a second in the final over before a belated lunch as Wright and a twitchy Will Davis put on 31 for the final stand, eventually broken six balls (and no runs) later as Ollie Robinson topped off a typically understated collection of 4 for 46.

The second day proved to be the peak for Sussex, as their overnight 211 for 2 was followed up by another six wicket session, with van Zyl at least waiting one ball longer than Salt had before giving Hill and umpire Jeff Evans their first actions of the morning. Taylor soon sent a middle pole cartwheeling from behind Luke Wells and had a quacking Wiese trapped in front in overs either side of Ackermann’s continuing plunder running into Brown, who claimed the first pair of noughts in his decade-plus at the first-class level when a turner came into his back pad. Once Taylor had picked off Briggs to claim his tenth of the game with the last ball of his second-priciest over, Wright took all of one ball to seal the hosts’ fate and set his side an eminently chaseable 230 in a day and a half.

That equation morphed into 131 on the final day after an evening washout with Leicestershire only a Javid down, and with it kept looking firmly in the visitors’ favour as none of Horton, Azad, Cosgrove, or Ackermann appeared keen to rush things along amidst the most pleasant conditions of the game. After two rejected appeals, two more wickets came for the economic Robinson through edges to Salt in the slips, though Horton’s ended up deflecting off his hands to be taken by Jordan instead. Eight overs apiece from Briggs and Wells were nowhere near as fruitful for spin as the pitch had suggested via Ackermann the night before. Likewise, 24 split between sub-par displays of Hamza and Jordan conceded 110 runs, as steadier heads ultimately prevailed in an enthralling display that left Leicestershire sitting atop the Division 2 table.

Miserable Hampshire chase allows Glamorgan a record win in Vitality Blast opener

The Ageas Bowl: Glamorgan 168/6 (David Lloyd 38*, Colin Ingram 35, Liam Dawson 2/25) beat Hampshire 105 (Andrew Salter 3/34, Ingram 2/15, Graham Wagg 2/17) by 63 runs

One could forgive a Hampshire supporter for hauling a cool bag of above-moderate expectations out to The Ageas Bowl for Friday night’s sun-kissed Vitality Blast opener. Craig White’s side comes with a strong pedigree in the short format, after all – being attendees at Finals Day for seven of the the past eight summers and twice champions, anchored by an incessant core of strong internationals, and fresh off sealing a dominant victory in the game’s other limited overs format at Lord’s just six days prior, it’d be rude not to have faith for their homecoming.

Freshly imported to bolster a top order that already ranks amongst the circuit’s strongest, 86-cap New Zealander Colin Munro made inroads towards an under-par Glamorgan target of 168 by dispatching Andrew Salter for a deep boundary with the first ball of the innings. Such audacity was immediately stemmed, however, as Chris Cooke took a sharp catch behind before Lord’s hero Rilee Rossouw misjudged a sweep to leave the score at 9/2 six balls in. That became 15/4 three overs later as Timm van der Gugten caught both a stunning return grab off England misfit James Vince (2) and a flimsy prod from former Kent talisman Sam Northeast (3) off the miserly Michael Hogan, hopes of anything respectable lay firmly on the shoulders of Tom Alsop, who struck a bold 64 in similar circumstances last summer against Sussex.

Instead, all he could muster was a lethargic pull on 12 to become Salter’s third victim, and Graham Wagg’s brace of Lewis McManus (0) and Liam Dawson (2) to similar shots into Salter’s hands the next over sparked hunts for the record books. From a platform of 32/7, only superfluous counterattack from tail-end duo Gareth Berg (26) and Kyle Abbott (a career-best 29) kept Hampshire from limboing beneath their decade-old previous lowest of 85, and by the time they closed their tallies the formidable ground appeared yet more cavernous. Around 7,500 spectators appeared, and all many had to sing about was how football may well be coming home. Continue reading “Miserable Hampshire chase allows Glamorgan a record win in Vitality Blast opener”

Soundtrack to a Twenty20: Every song played at a county cricket match

I spent a drizzly evening on Shazam so you don’t have to

Thursday’s report from the Telegraph on the topic of a city-based Twenty20 league coming as soon as 2018 confirmed the inevitable: a tournament to ape the flashy leagues of almost every other test-playing nation, particularly India and Australia, is incoming whether the existing county community likes it or not. How such a tournament would magically revive the fortunes of the domestic game remains to be seen, but its impending arrival is sure to fuel the growth of ‘cricketainment,’ that ugliest of portmanteaus.

For stubborn purists, there’s a fair bit of a professional Twenty20 experience to despise, yet perhaps the most consistently irritating, regardless of location, is the soundtrack. On any given evening, county grounds are filled with a jumbled mix of records picked, presumably by an ECB-guided hand, to inject energy into crowds, celebrate rare moments of cricketing magic like boundaries being hit and overs ending, and usually just annoy people who’ve actually turned out to watch some cricket.

To illustrate the absurdity of the situation, I travelled to the 1st Central County Ground in Hove last night to see Sussex host Glamorgan in the final NatWest T20 Blast game of the season. Though the match, which was meant to begin at 6:30, ended up overrun by rain, the four hours of music that accompanied it may have been the most frustrating element of it all. Continue reading “Soundtrack to a Twenty20: Every song played at a county cricket match”

Sublime Sangakkara squeezes Surrey into Lord’s final

The Oval: Surrey 300/5 (Kumar Sangakkara 166) beat Nottinghamshire 296/7 (Greg Smith 124, Dan Christian 54, Samit Patel 51) by 4 runs

Kumar Sangakkara’s first century since retiring from international cricket at the age of 37 – and his second-highest score in a List A career spanning 511 matches – saw Surrey to a narrow victory over Nottinghamshire in their Royal London One-Day Cup semi-final.

Sangakkara announced his arrival to the crease in style, uprooting the entire wicket at the non-strikers’ end in a superfluous and misaligned dive to register on the scoreboard. Before Surrey reached their first hundred 24 overs in with Rory Burns chipping over Steven Mullaney, Nottinghamshire had conceded only 6 boundaries and 2 extras. The visitors’ bowling and defensive field placement provided significant control but little threat, with singles into gaps – both in Read’s layout and past spectacular dives – a frequent sight. From there, Sangakkara and Burns began to execute their strokes with a greater aggressive intent, including a pirouette hook from Burns and a violent straight shot from Sangakkara that narrowly avoided the head of bowler Jake Ball.

Burns fell for 23 attempting to go to the point boundary and locating an outstretched Greg Smith who made a tough opportunity look straightforward. Sangakkara struck the only six of the innings towards the groundsman’s alcove and his thirteen fours – of which only two came in his first 50 balls and seven in his last 66 – littered all corners of the ground and gave wicketkeeper and captain alike food for thought. In few situations could one imagine a backstop in professional cricket, yet Sangakkara’s panache for paddles, ramps, and sweeps behind square as he took 61 from 31 deliveries in the final Powerplay demanded one. Each was followed with a smile through gritted teeth as he took a knee to find more energy. This was the innings the Monday afternoon crowd craved.

Gary Wilson, the member of Surrey’s wicketkeeping quintet who was actually granted the gloves, played an admirable support role in a partnership that reached 100 in 86 balls. Though he began slowly with anxious wafts at Stuart Broad, he flourished in his role of largely maintaining Sangakkara’s strike. The onslaught finally concluded in the first ball of the final over, with Sangakkara finally misjudging a paddle against Ball into the hands of the wicketless Broad. This followed a torrid final over from Harry Gurney which began with a no ball and ended with Sangakkara 19 runs better off. Fortunately for Nottinghamshire, Wilson couldn’t reach his 50, locating Riki Wessels with the last ball off the innings.

Sam Curran, the 17-year-old left-armer who managed to take the day off from school to take part, wasted no time in putting a chokehold on Nottinghamshire’s hopes. Following a relatively tidy opening over from Jade Dernbach that surrendered a solitary wide, Curran utilised steadily escalating pace to make Wessels play on second ball and trap Brendan Taylor lbw immediately after. The next over he was unlucky not to add Smith to his haul, as the ball flew narrowly out of reach of Steven Davies at mid-on, and only an incredible effort from Curran’s older brother Tom on the boundary edge prevented damage being too severe. Moved to the slips, Davies had the Outlaws three down within less than an over with a sharp catch to dismiss Michael Lumb. At 16/3 after 21 balls and with Samit Patel receiving treatment for cramp minutes later, the road to Lord’s looked stormy.

The game was subjected to a lengthy delay in the 21st over to determine whether Smith – brought into the side as a consequence of Alex Hales and James Taylor’s England calls – had hit either two, four, or six. Having driven straight over Gareth Batty, an athletic attempt by Sangakkara to take the catch or at least save a boundary proved in vain, as he was ruled to have made contact with the rope before freeing the ball from his tumbling grasp. Patel went on to escape narrowly twice in consecutive overs with a stumping appeal – referred to the third umpire to the chagrin of the crowd – and a one-handed catch from the pads by Wilson both rejected. His resilience was eventually curtailed by Zafar Ansari as he gave Davies a second catch – this time at long on – two balls after reaching his fifty.

The partnership of 91 still left the Outlaws looking for almost 8 per over, though a platform of some sort allowed the returning Dan Christian to assume the limelight as Smith quietly accumulated. A mammoth six that struck the upper tier of the pavilion chased Batty out of the attack as Surrey’s spin pair, while largely economical, hadn’t achieved the desired breakthroughs. The tandem of Currans were then granted five overs, with a few looser deliveries tarnishing their figures, before the same could be said for Ansari and Dernbach, with the former producing some heavy movement and unlucky to allow Smith into the 90s as he hit a one-bounce four to bisect the colliding Tom Curran and Aneesh Kapil at square leg. Later that over, Christian’s fifty came up with another wallop into a cluster of members in the sky, leaving 92 to win from the last Powerplay period and – much like Surrey’s quarter-final against Kent two weeks prior – a match poised for Surrey’s early dominance to collapse into complacency.

Christian only lasted an over more as a mistimed cut against Kapil went safely to Ansari, but Smith reached triple figures for the second time in his List A career soon after. It was an innings with little power – his stroke for the century itself was a fortunate glance to fine leg and only his seventh boundary – but finely accumulated. Swift running had put Surrey in command, but swifter too were the Outlaws. When Mullaney ran the ball deftly to third man, they managed two. Both his and Smith’s bats were on the floor, and a Donald-esque run-out farce was only avoided through a Wilson tumble.

Five overs later, the equation remained the same: 9.6 per over to go to Lord’s. A hobbling Dernbach surrendered briefly to the Currans, only to return and deliver his final two overs with a torn calf. Smith locates a chasm behind square on the leg side. Just after Tom put down a running catch off Sam’s bowling, Smith tried to play the ball by lying the bat on the ground; soon after, backing up and not given the shot from Mullaney he was hoping for, the centurion is gone. Tom leaned in to make sure he wouldn’t fumble this opportunity.

With captain Read at the other end, the all-rounder and sometime opener brought out his own array of behind-square specialities, before Read too perished, falling to his right to paddle a Dernbach delivery that instead found leg stump. Dernbach’s limp and grin grew ever greater as 19 from 12 slipped to 14 from 6, and a dodgy yorker from the elder Curran tucked Broad safely away at the non-strikers’ end. Standing casual and tall, were it not for Broad, Mullaney scrambled doubles. That behind-square chasm? Still there, but not enough. 5 from the last ball proves an ask too far, and the sun set on a roaring Oval with Gloucestershire in sight and Surrey’s road to Lord’s complete.

Stoic Taylor ton sets up Nottinghamshire resilience

Horsham, Day 1: Nottinghamshire 358/5 (James Taylor 163*, Riki Wessels 94, Chris Read 54*, Ollie Robinson 4/81) vs. Sussex

How does 30/3 turn into a formidable score? For England, the question lingers, as a malfunctioning top order again failed to appear as the hosts crumbled to 103 all out in pursuit of 509 today at Lord’s. In Horsham, however, a similarly mediocre start turned into a golden position for Nottinghamshire thanks to an unbeaten 163 from James Taylor.

Taylor, who has long flirted with the fringes of the national side but remains a veteran of only two tests, could not have found a more timely century. Though not without its chances, which included a pair of LBW appeals that took him off his feet either side of reaching his first century of the summer, Sussex failed to control Taylor, who reached three figures from 190 balls and continued to push on, gaining in flair and carefully accelerating. The shot that brought up his 150 was a microcosm of the day’s luck, as a prod to mid-off for a single ended up rolling to the boundary for 5 and a chorus of applause from the Nottinghamshire squad, under the watchful eyes of England selector Mick Newell and exiled coach Peter Moores.

He found support in a pair of century stands with wicketkeepers, with Riki Wessels’ departure for a punchy 94 to be Ollie Robinson’s third victim soon bringing Chris Read to the crease. By this stage, Taylor found himself settled on 50, and this allowed Read to make a slow yet untroubled start. He eventually reached his 50 from 117 balls, adding just one more run before stumps. Though Ed Joyce let a tough opportunity off Read’s edge fall on 35, Sussex can take solace in their drastic improvement in fielding from a comedy of errors in Friday’s T20 loss to Hampshire.

The third option with the gloves, Taylor’s Zimbabwean namesake Brendan, was not so fortunate. As the visitors appeared lukewarm to the initial character of the pitch, he fell for 7 from 37 balls to provide an early reward to Matt Hobden, who went on to concede over 100 in his 17 overs. Before him, Alex Hales had become the first to fall off the bowling of Ollie Robinson, providing an edge to Chris Nash at second slip on 3.

Like Hales, Steven Mullaney played a strong hand on Nottinghamshire’s last trip to West Sussex, and for a few balls it looked as if his destructive mindset was the same. Ultimately his innings proved more concise, ending on 15 in the plentiful mitts of Luke Wells for Robinson’s second, but not before he all-out decapitated a rare empty seat with a swipe over the midwicket boundary. Hope later emerged out of the escalating scorecard for Sussex as Samit Patel succumbed to Robinson for 9 to chase Wessels back under the pagoda, followed by a tightening of the screw from Robinson and Magoffin, though Read, once under way, helped Taylor into a comfortable position at the close.

The home side, who were spun to an incredible victory against Warwickshire here last summer by Kentish loanee James Tredwell, found their ongoing spin conundrum remaining one of the many concerns. Wells, an opening batsman by trade whose dabbling in spin has recently begun to resemble treading water, was the first trusted with the ball – ending up with 21 overs under his belt, third only to Robinson and the typically miserly Magoffin – before trialist Peter Burgoyne, formerly of Derbyshire, was unleashed to bowl at 5.7 per over. Both finished wicketless at stumps.

Ashar Zaidi and Will Beer, the only specialist spinners in the contracted squad, observed from the boundary, doubtless pondering how else they can win the red-ball affections of Mark Robinson. Just two games ago Zaidi was one of four centurions at Edgbaston in a motorway duel, while Beer has been granted just 6 appearances in the Championship side since his debut in 2008, despite his white ball prowess. In a town he calls his home, at a ground where his mother acts as a purveyor of baked goodness, murmurings were rife that Sussex could do far worse than give him a chance.

Hales hundred gives Notts perfect start to title defence

Horsham: Nottinghamshire 312/8 (Alex Hales 116, Michael Lumb 77, Will Beer 3/60) beat Sussex 282/8 (Steffan Piolet 63*, Ed Joyce 59, Steven Mullaney 4/33) by 29 runs

As the newly-restructured Royal London One-Day Cup launched throughout the country this weekend to signify the return of 50 over cricket to the county circuit, reigning limited overs champions Nottinghamshire took a convincing victory over Sussex to begin their title defence of sorts on another beautiful wicket at Cricket Field Road, Horsham.

After being put in by Ed Joyce, the Outlaws ticked along steadily with openers Alex Hales and Michael Lumb staying put for a century partnership that frustrated the home side, who had taken a rare victory over Warwickshire in the Championship on the same ground on Thursday. Unusually for the pair, known predominantly for their exploits in Twenty20, docility appeared the name of the game as both reached half centuries at strike rates of below 100 – Lumb from 58 balls, Hales 73 – before Lumb played on a Will Beer delivery for 77 in the 29th over.

Then, the middle-order collapse began. Though Hales was dropped by Matt Machan on the boundary for 88, Beer (3/60) managed to bowl James Taylor before the batting powerplay was taken after 35 overs. Nottinghamshire didn’t utilise this particularly well, scoring just 27 for the loss of both Samit Patel and Riki Wessels. Hales too almost fell to Chris Liddle, who ended wicketless and 86 runs down the drain, but Matt Machan’s drop over the midwicket boundary spared him as he moved onto his century off 107 balls.

Hales finally departed for 116 to the bowling of Steffan Piolet, who finished with 2/35 from his allocation, but Steven Mullaney fired the team above the holy run-a-ball threshold with 40 off 20, including 16 from a consecutive trio of Lewis Hatchett deliveries. Hatchett eventually prevailed, following up with a bouncer that visibly threw the batsman off track as he offered a simple catch to Craig Cachopa at backward point in the 48th over. Early thoughts were that 350 would be par upon the flat, dry outground wicket, and Mullaney’s blast lifted them from 235/6 after 42.1 to 312/8 at the conclusion.

Sussex started in encouraging fashion, with a partnership of 64 between skipper Joyce and Luke Wells, who departed for a pedestrian (though List A career best) 23 off 44 as Sussex not once overtook the Notts run rate. Lacking Luke Wright, who picked up a side strain during his record breaking 153* against Essex on Friday night, few Sussex batsmen went aggressively at the Nottinghamshire bowlers. One exception was Cachopa, making his List A entrance for Sussex by launching a free hit from fellow Kiwi James Franklin over the long-off toilets on off his first ball before falling contentiously to a Chris Read catch on 22.

Fellow Sussex List A debutant Piolet was the top scorer with his maiden half century in the format, finishing on an unbeaten 48-ball 63 that included 8 boundaries, but support was sparse as the required rate escalated. Joyce mustered 59 to reward James Taylor’s consistent athleticism in the field, while Machan fell for 43 as miserly Mullaney did away with much of the middle order in a spell of 7-1-19-3. He later returned for the struggling Ben Brown (3 off 16) and ultimately secured the points for the visitors with his 4/33. Jake Ball picked up the wickets of Beer and Liddle at the death, completing a 29 run victory that perhaps reflected too kindly upon the hosts’ batting.

“As defending champions we wanted to stamp our authority on the tournament and we’ve certainly done that here,” said Hales at stumps. “It was a nice wicket to bat on. There was a little bit seam movement early on but, as it showed, if you got through that then you’ve got a good score on the board.”