County Grammar Round 7


Daryl Mitchell has had a lot on his plate recently. Not only has he been opening the batting for Worcestershire, attempting to shepherd a talented but young batting line-up through the demands of Division One cricket, but he’s also combining that with his role as Chairman of the Professional Cricketers’ Association at a crucial time for the game in this country with pay deals to be negotiated and talks around the new Hundred competition ongoing. It’s enough to make your head spin.

But the 34 year-old Mitchell has always been a resolute character. Two years ago, he was removed from the captaincy of Worcestershire, a decision which came out of the blue and which he was extremely disappointed with. Director of Cricket Steve Rhodes felt that a young team needed a different leader and Joe Leach was appointed. Mitchell could have made a fuss, upped sticks and left but he didn’t. Instead, he got his head down and averaged 55 to help the club gain promotion.

Mitchell, a one club man, has become one of the most consistent batsmen on the county circuit. He has a career first-class average of 40.82 and has scored a thousand runs in four of the last five seasons. After a slow start to this season, he re-stated his class in this round against Lancashire with a hundred in each innings to help Worcestershire to their first win of the season. Remarkably, it was the fourth time Mitchell has achieved that feat in his career. Players have played for England with a lot less.

And how Worcestershire needed him this week. After a difficult start to the Championship season – four losses from their first five games had left them firmly rooted to the bottom of the table – this was a vital victory which has ensured they remain in touch with the teams above them. There’s plenty of work to do yet but this could be the victory which kick-starts their season. Mitchell, as he has done so often over the years, has got Worcestershire back on track.

Drama at Grace Road

For your correspondent, little else in the game of cricket can rival the drama of a final day run chase after two teams have spent the preceding three or four days going hammer and tongs at each other. And there was certainly no shortage of drama on show at Grace Road as Leicestershire and Middlesex fought it out into the final session with all four results still possible right up until the wire.

Middlesex, relegated last season, were widely tipped to go straight back up this term but they have found things none too easy in the bottom flight. Before this round, they had only won one of their five matches and were sitting comfortably mid-table while Leicestershire had just won two games in a row for the first time since anyone can remember and finally, there was a positive feel around the club.

It was Middlesex, however, who emerged victorious – by just one wicket – thanks to an unbeaten half-century from James Harris at number nine who nervelessly saw his team to their victory target of 383. Harris is an underrated cricketer and displayed plenty of composure to eke out 40 runs from Middlesex’s last two wickets as Leicestershire tried everything to get the win.

It was made all the sweeter because a Middlesex victory didn’t look much of a possibility after the home side had reduced them to 197-6 shortly after lunch. But Australian important Hilton Cartwright, wicket-keeper John Simpson and Harris somehow got their side up. Leicestershire might rue a missed opportunity but they too played their part in a quite brilliant game. “We are all gutted but proud of our attitude and will to win,” tweeted head coach Paul Nixon. Quite right. Who says the County Championship is boring?

Could it be Surrey’s year?

Surrey have not won the County Championship since 2002 which, for a county of their size and resources, is nothing short of an outrage. In their quest to win it, they’ve tried various approaches, splashing the cash on flash foreign imports and, when that didn’t work, signing experienced older heads in a quick fix attempt to get another trophy on the board. But they’ve tried a different route of late.

The current squad is full of young, homegrown players who the club have spent much time and effort investing in. Last season, they picked four teenagers in a Championship game, the first time that has happened since the second world war. This term, they have introduced more young players to first team cricket and now, all the hard work behind the scenes is beginning to yield results on the pitch.

Surrey thumped Somerset in the top of the table clash this round and are now sitting pretty at the top of Division One with 12 point lead over second placed Nottinghamshire and a game in hand. 20 year-old Ollie Pope registered his third ton of the season against the men from Taunton while another 20 year-old, Ryan Patel, took a stunning six wickets for five runs in 23 balls in Somerset’s first innings. This was a lad who had previously taken just two first-class wickets.

Surrey do still have their outside influences, of course. South African Morne Morkel took four wickets in Somerset’s second innings and another South African Theunis de Bruyn was also playing but this is now very much a side built on homegrown talent. Pope, Patel and 19 year-old off-spinner Amar Virdi were all included at Guilford as was captain Rory Burns and another 19 year-old in Will Jacks. Arun Harinath, Jade Dernbach and Rikki Clarke have all been developed by Surrey too and Jason Roy and Sam and Tom Curran would have played had they not been involved with England.

While any Championship title is a proud moment for a county, winning it with a homegrown element at the club’s core makes it even sweeter. Essex’s victory last season, achieved with Tom Westley, Dan Lawrence, Nick Browne and Jamie Porter to the fore, was an example of what a team with a strong affiliation to their club can do. This season, Surrey could be on course to do something similar.

First Ever Concussion Replacement

Lancashire’s Aussie import Joe Mennie became the first ever concussion replacement in the County Championship during his team’s game against Worcestershire at New Road. The ECB brought in new playing conditions for the start of this season, allowing teams to replace players who had suffered concussion with a ‘like for like’ alternative. It was used after Mennie was hit in the head by a ball struck back at him in his follow through by Worcestershire’s Martin Guptill.

The system appeared to work well with Mennie being replaced by Danny Lamb, a bowler who, like the Australian, can also bat. Lamb had to travel down from Manchester as the two players Lancashire already had at the ground were not deemed ‘like for like’ replacements. Shortly after Mennie’s removal from action, Somerset’s Jack Leach was also substituted in their game against Surrey after being hit on the head by Morne Morkel. Thankfully, it’s expected that both Leach and Mennie will make full recoveries.

Time for a Duke?

Following England’s dismantling of Australia’s attack in the current ODI series and their world record 481 at Trent Bridge last week, Sachin Tendulkar tweeted that using two white balls in one-day cricket was a “perfect recipe for disaster”. His argument was that neither ball gets old enough to allow reverse swing to develop in the latter overs, kneecapping bowlers as a result. Others have wondered whether the Kookaburra ball is the best option for white ball cricket as it barely swings at any stage.

The ECB have been trialling the Dukes white ball in some second XI matches – just one ball per innings rather than two – and Warwickshire’s Josh Poysden told Cricbuzz: “There’s a touch more swing and seam in the first ten overs but the biggest difference is how hard it stays. It’s still rock hard at the death which means it goes further when hit towards the back end.” Not perfect then, but perhaps still worth a go?

Yorkshire’s Travel Woes

Spare a thought for Yorkshire’s players this weekend. They finished their drawn match against Hampshire in Southampton late on Saturday afternoon and have to race back up north for 300 or so miles to Scarborough where they host Surrey in a four-day match beginning on Monday.

That’s reminiscent of the bad old days of county scheduling when counties would finish a day-night one-day match and then their players would have to drive three or four hours through the night for an early Championship start the next day. Thankfully, those sort of situations have been removed from the schedule but Yorkshire’s plight this weekend is still far from ideal.

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