County cricket talking points: the schedule for the season is daft
Ball one: Surrey shafted by Roelof van der Merwe
Just when the County Championship narrative began to build with a logjam at the top of Division One, with Gary Ballance and Darren Stevens adding personal stories to colour the picture, cricket shifts to its white ball format – of course it does. At least the Royal London One-Day Cup got off to a spectacular start with an early contender for innings of the season. After Ben Foakes’s 92 had lifted to a competitive 290, Somerset collapsed to 22-5, the swing of Jade Dernbach (remember him?) and Sam Curran too much for the experienced top order. Dean Elgar – a very classy operator these days – was joined by fellow South African, Roelof van der Merwe and the long reconstruction job began. While the Test man dug in, the all-rounder chanced his arm and the runs kept coming, but the wickets didn’t. Elgar departed with the stand worth 213, but Van der Merwe only walked off when the job was done, his share 165.
Ball two: Haseeb Hameed no longer frozen out of white ball cricket
In a moment as epochal as “Dylan goes electric”, Haseeb Hameed faced his first delivery in white ball cricket (from his former team-mate, Gavin Griffiths – please note future historians) and top scored for Lancashire with 88 at the unBaby-Boycottish strike rate of 87. It wasn’t enough, as solid contributions through the Leicestershire order got them over the line under the Old Trafford lights with four balls to spare. I’ll leave the final comment on this match to my brother, who spends some time in the Scandinavian winter, but still opined: “Night cricket in April was an cold as I have been for a long time.” Where do cricket’s administrators get their scheduling ideas (see Ball Six for more madness)?
Ball three: Billy Godleman and Shiv Thakor remind us of their talents
Two names once touted (by some – possibly me) as the next big things in English cricket put together a stand of 168 to help Derbyshire overhaul Northamptonshire’s 307-7. Both were teenage proteges, but Billy Godleman and Shiv Thakor never quite delivered the outputs their youthful reputations once suggested. Godleman is now 28 and captain of – never an easy hand to play – but his 95 was the kind of innings captains play. Thakor is (incredibly really) still only 23 and will revel in a match that saw him take 3-39 in nine overs and then make 130 at better than a run a ball. That might just kick start his season after a slow start – and a good season might kickstart a career that is not a failure, but not the success (as yet) once expected. He has time on his side.
Ball four: Liam Norwell has a whale of a time as Middlesex go under at Lord’s
Middlesex’s top five were swept aside by Liam Norwell, who bowled a nagging length, hitting the seam hard to extract movement from a Lord’s pitch that, for once, offered the lateral variations its look suggested. Props too to skipper Michael Klinger who, in a format often seen as formulaic for captains, bowled his man through his 10 overs from the Pavilion End, recognising that Norwell was in a good rhythm and that he could break the back of the home side’s batting in the first 20 overs. That said, he was missed when Toby Roland-Jones batted like the “Martin Bicknell all-rounder” (i.e. one with both averages hovering around 25–30) he is rapidly becoming, to get Middlesex up to 250 – an old-school score in an old-school match. In a curious parallel, Gloucestershire’s innings was also rescued by a late middle-order stand, Benny Howell joining centurion Ian Cockbain to deliver a classy stand of 192, enough which to see the visitors home with five balls to spare.
Ball five: (The Shorter) Wisden is a lesser known delight
If the famous yellow book is too slabby and pricey for you, the Shorter Wisden 2017 is available as an e-book at £7.67 – leaving you considerably less short of cash, but definitely not short of reading. You get the heart and soul of the grand old almanack (though not that evocative fading ochreish stripe across the bookshelves) and it’s much easier to read on a commute or if, like mine, your eyes are deteriorating as fast as your waistline is expanding. Be warned! I had to wipe away a tear between London Bridge and Bank as I read Martin Crowe’s obituary and I raised a wry smile reading Ronnie Cockbain’s (Ian’s grandfather), recalling how he sledged me while carting my teenage outswingers all round Bootle CC then later sought me out in the bar to talk cricket for an hour to a mad keen kid. Though I have affectionately parodied the obits (, and ), it’s pretty much impossible to do so these days – real cricketing lives are more funny, more eccentric and more bloody decent than anything that could be conjured by mere imagination.
Ball six: May Day a missed opportunity for a county game
Parents will know the feeling: “Not another Bank Holiday so soon after Easter!” Perhaps a day at the cricket? Well, it was an option if you live near Birmingham or Leeds, but nowhere else. The rest of the country were denied professional cricket on May Day. Is it beyond the wit of the game to schedule nine matches across the country? Why not call it “A Festival of Cricket”, offer free entry for everyone and give all kids a free ticket to a T20 game later in the season? Have BBC 5 Live reporters around the grounds, interviewing players on the boundary. Broadcast a live game or two on Sky and thereby generate some much needed publicity for the domestic game at the start of the white ball season? Yes, there’s the weather, and no doubt other reasons why not – but if anyone listened to the naysayers on back in the day, we wouldn’t have the game at all!
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