Positive spin

Only yesterday, at Sky’s only televised County Championship match of the season, David Lloyd was to be found grumbling at the lack of positivity in modern English first-class cricket. Although the Roses match is normally a lure, I’m afraid, Bumble, you were just at the wrong game.

For most teams in the County Championship, it would be fair to say that the days of the sporting declaration have, for the most part, disappeared. This is especially so when the first 5 teams in the top division are within elbows distance of each other. The bonus system, which rewards first innings performances with bat and ball, boosts the meagre four points handed to teams who draw without an over bowled. As such, when Yorkshire were all out this morning for 320, Lancashire merely began their first innings as if there were still days to play.

Shane Warne has brough many things to the County Championship. Yet high on this list must be his forthright version of captaincy. Hampshire are not a team to draw many games, and today was no exception. In a deal that must be applauded, Warne, and Warwickshire counterpart Darren Maddy, arranged a declaration and forfeiture to set up a run chase, which was so closely contested that it took a career best 192* from Michael Carberry to secure the game in the final over for Hampshire.

Does it seem right the Warwickshire are in a worse position for playing a competitive match than either of the Roses teams are after a draw in which the only tension rested in whether Lancashire could make it to their second bowling point before they ran out of overs? Yorkshire’s former captain, Darren Lehmann, was rather vehement on the subject and but two years ago, Warne himself accused David Fulton, then captain of Kent, of handing Nottinghamshire the Championship by refusing to accept such a deal on the last day of the season.

Certainly, the Australian system is far more rewarding of results over ‘score draws’, and the whole point of the extention to four day cricket was to avoid games without victors. However impressive the scorecard of Essex’s game against Nottingham these last four days, neither team showed any hunger for the win over inflated career averages and record breaking. Unfortunately for Chris Read, the two overs he bowled in a final session dedicated to over-rate improvement did not yield him his first wicket in all competitions. That, at least, might have been vaguely entertaining.

Dampened Competition

While there are potentially two more days of contest left in the Championship race, Nottinghamshire’s first innings collapse to Sussex has left Lancashire’s claims very weak indeed. Of course, any team with Mushtaq Ahmed in form – not to mention a superb cameo from Rana Naved – is bound to find themselves in good stead, but I can’t help but feel for Lancashire. Many suggested that this would be their season, and for good reason; despite injuries, their attack has fired consistently and their batsmen have been impressive.

Where they may consider themselves unfortunate is the sheer amount of rain-affected matches they have played. Six of Lancashire’s draws were washouts where they had looked strong, with eight games drawn in total. Sussex, in comparison, have had five. Most recently, having been on a level peg until very recently, Lancashire have had two games they dominated lost to the weather. Sussex, meanwhile, managed to scrape together a win and a draw against Kent and Hampshire respectively.

Such are the quirks of the domestic game in this country, especially considering many Championship games are pushed to the extremes of the season to leave the prime weather to the money-earners of Twenty20 and Pro40. As it is, the red rose looks set to finish in second place for the 5th time since the ’98 season. The last time they finished there, of course, was in 2003 – Sussex’s first, and for the moment only, Championship title. Not a piece of history Mark Chilton will be very happy to repeat.

Chivalry is not dead!

The final day of Warwickshire’s season today took a slightly unorthodox turn today as Kent proved that cricket is still a game of gentlemen. With the visitors having batted through the day, securing a draw in a dead match, Rob Key declared with a few overs yet available in the final session. Opening the batting for the final time in his last championship game, Nick Knight was allowed to get the fifteen runs he needed to bring his Warwickshire first class average up to 50 before teams called a halt to play. Knight had been extremely disappointed when dismissed for 52 the previous day, so it was a nice gesture.

However, it appears none of the Kent batsmen felt quite strongly enough to hand Knight, who bowled a rare nine over spell, a second first class wicket.

A day for umbrellas

Someone needs to find Chris Adams and ensure that he is in no way performing any kind of rain dance. After a morning deluge washed out Thursday’s play at Old Trafford as well as Edgbaston, Lancashire’s chances of staying level in the title race are becoming faint. With Sussex sitting out this week’s round, they have been unhampered by the bad weather. Mark Chilton’s men, on the other hand, have now suffered two games running, with good performances against Warwickshire going to waste for the same reason. Requiring maximum bonus points and victory to grab top spot, they have only taken four Durham wickets, and are running out of time.

At the other end of the table, Yorkshire will also be rueing the lack of play in today’s Division One matches. With their two remaining bats skittled in what little action they saw at Headingley, the win Craig White’s side desperately need will be a hard task. The last thing they will want to see is third from bottom Durham holding on for a draw, especially as they will be playing each other next week. Maybe they will take some heart from the fact the only Harmison they will face will be batsman Ben – his older brother has been ruled out as a precaution.

As if six injuries weren’t enough

Matthew Hoggard gave the media a scare today by pulling up with a possible side strain. I’m trying not to get too carried away with this, as we’re bound to be twitching over twinges for the next ten weeks. It’s just that almost every injury problem England have started off with something small. Simon Jones gets cramp in the outfield, falls over in the nets some months later, and is on crutches for months. Flintoff plays a first class game as a final warm up, and then has to hobble off for the rest of the summer. Trescothick leaves a ground in tears, then leaves the country, and now can’t go back for medical reasons… and it goes on. So I’ll postpone my sigh of relief until the second MRI tomorrow.

Regardless of the test results, the scare has already left a mark on Yorkshire’s search for the vital points they need to pull themselves from the bottom spot in the Championship’s first division. Whilst they have yet to field, the Northern county will surely miss the Hogster’s guile and experience, as they look to set nothing more than a par first innings score against Notts.

Going domestic…

I didn’t get to see much of the one-day international yesterday because of work, and it doesn’t seem to have been much of a loss. So, with a brief congratulatory note to Pakistan for yet another fine bowling performance, I’m moving onto county cricket.

As much as the Championship can ever be viewed as hotting up, the Division One title race is providing as close a race as last year. A quick bit of maths suggests that unless Sussex avoid the likely draw against Hampshire today, they will remain level with Lancashire. Comparing the teams’ fixture lists for September, this weekend’s rain could prove to be decisive. Down in Division Two, Surrey have cruised their way through to automatic promotion. However, the fight between Essex and Worcestershire for the final place up will provide some tail-end tension for the season. The match between the two was rained off yesterday, leaving Essex ahead by the barest of margins with two games left to play.

In the meantime, I’m going to my last home Pro40 of the season. Who needs international cricket?

No wonder they love him at the Rose Bowl

County cricketers have seen all sorts of players come and go, not least with overseas players coming and going. Shane Warne’s stints at Hampshire have been something else. He is not just a ‘gun for hire’ for Hampshire, he’s totally committed to their cause.

That’s why he’s not too happy at being called back to Australia for a three day training camp.

And rightfully so. With the new rules about what you can and can’t do on an airplane these days,  Warne faces two full days of flying, a three day training camp, and a bad dose of jet-lag, right in the middle of his constant battle to get Hampshire to the county Championship.

Other overseas professionals might be indifferent, but to Warne, this is a deeply irritating thing, and Hampshire know that. It’s part of why he’s so popular down there.

Oh Boy, I am Excited!!!!

In the UK, the County Championship started last night. Lancs are giving Hampshire a hard time and Gloucestershire are doing well against Somerset. Yay for County Cricket.

All joking aside, it would seem to me that the reform of county cricket into a two-division system seems to have had a positive effect in producing tougher cricketers for England.