Dying embers

Even the Lancashire dressing room of my time was inhabited by half-a-dozen or so. Nick Speak, Graham Lloyd, Phil De Freitas, Wasim Akram and Graeme Fowler all paid constant homage to nicotine. Early season Benson and Hedges games, when sponsors not only provided loot but product as well, produced a terrific scramble for those distinctive yellow bricks; even the non-smokers were known to hoard a packet or two to bargain with. How about a few half-volleys in the nets then, Daffy?

Phil Tufnell and Wayne Larkins were the culprits on my first England tour. Because I was a first-time tourist, and because I have no sense of smell, I was forced to room alternately with ‘Tuffers’ and ‘Ned’ for the whole five months.

Another cracking piece from Mike Atherton in The Sunday Telegraph.

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.

The season draws to a close

Surely it’s not that time again. September? It still feels like mid-May! Yet it’s true; another season draws to a close, and what a hectic summer it has been. I’m off to Southampton on Wednesday to see Lancashire and Hampshire – should be a belting match, one Lancashire need to win if they’re to see off Sussex for the title. What have been your highlights and lowlights of the summer?

Video of the Mark Vermeulan incident

See here. And see here and here if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

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.

All very football

Whilst England’s summer is now over, the domestic leagues still have a few more matches left to play. In fact, play will continue as far as September 24th, with the new Pro40 playoff to decide whether there will be a third team relegated.

Interestingly, it seems that two of England’s names on the injury list may yet still get a last first-class game this season. Lacking the necessary match fitness to feature in the battle for a place in the last round of the County Championship, with Durham and Lancashire facing competitive matches, Duncan Fletcher has suggested that Liam Plunkett and Jimmy Anderson might well make use of the county loan system.

Not one of the most well known of contract loopholes, the idea was introduced by the ECB in the pre-season of 2005 to allow more England-qualified talent to emerge. Similar to the loan rules that govern football, domestic players may sign for a short period with another county, though they may be recalled at any time if guaranteed first team cricket by their own county. Fletcher hopes that the pair may be able to take the field for counties playing dead-rubber matches, possibly in an attempt to ready them for potential spots on the Ashes tour.

Can we have our ball back, please?

Some things never change, whether you are playing for school, club or country. It’s one of cricket’s charms.

Every cricket club needs understanding neighbours. There is more than one landmark case documenting the kind of troubles that can arise when a big hitting batsman decides to go aerial. So when a resident of Chelmsford was confronted with Lancashire’s twelfth man hanging over her fence this evening, it was nice to see her smilingly poke around her garden to lend a hand.

Unfortunately, as Chelmsford lacks the huge stadia of an international ground, the local houses seem to be fair game. As such, it took two attempts to find a ball of the appropriate age.

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?

Water bomb stops play

A caterpulted water bomb stopped play between Lancashire and Warwickshire this afternoon, at Stanley Park in Blackpool. Written up Cricinfo. Love stories like these!

A return to cricket…at last

After the last week, a domestic final is like a breath of fresh air. Finally, a chance to talk about real cricket! The C&G Trophy sparked a real duel between the two teams most likely to take home the County Championship this season. Whilst lacking such touching scenes as Kevin Pietersen poking a prone Ian Bell, felled by a cramp that helped Hampshire to defeat Warwickshire last year, this year certainly provided more exciting cricket. Impossibly close until the last, Sussex finally pipped Lancashire after James Kirtley collected his fifth wicket, Dominic Cork stranded at the other end.

The competition’s new format has come under much scrutiny. In the two months since the last C&G games, both sides have sustained injuries and suffered various dips in form. There seems to be little logic in playing a final so long after the event, where interest can dip and teams can be playing very different cricket to their early season form.

Next year will bring the introduction of semi finals. Even if they had been in place this year, Nottinghamshire, with three matches lost to rain, would have had no hope of making them. There are finite days in an English summer – maybe a return to a direct knockout would help ease the pressure on the schedule?