The final curtain

The English ‘summer’ finally drew to a close today, at least as far as cricket is concerned. Predictably, Glamorgan were relegated in the Pro40 playoff, where the form 2nd Division side was guaranteed the home advantage in the competition’s rules. While I use the word ‘relegated’, a more accurate description for their performance against Hampshire would probably be ‘thumped’.

As a format, Pro40 has seen quite a bit of stick in the press. As a spectator, I quite enjoyed it as a competition. Certain aspects of our domestic season are to be taken as read. Firstly, we play too much cricket. This comes from the irresolvable situation where players and officials want to play first class cricket, whereas counties want to stage as many one-dayers as possible to draw crowds. Secondly, there are days and periods that simply are not conducive to good cricket, be that due to poor weather or diverted media attention.

Pro40 was tasked with several burdens. It was given the dregs of the season to pull in crowds that were increasingly drawn away by football and frequent showers, and an uphill battle to establish itself as a format. Where I feel it succeeded is in improving dramatically on the 45-over league of last year.

While placed in a part of the season where interest in cricket usually starts to wane, scheduling was quick to ensure that most of a team’s eight matches were played on Sundays. Although questionable as an international format, day/night matches at county level ensure a higher crowd, and sensibly all mid-week games were played with later start times. The decision to drop the amount of overs to 40 is one for which I have the utmost praise. I never understood the need for 45 overs. Especially considering the increased C&G 50-over workload, an extra five overs simply provides a drag on a game struggling to maintain Twenty20’s excitement.

There were also very few dead rubbers. Competition for places both up and down was still hotting up until the last round of fixtures. Although the decision to place the game on the last day of the Ryder Cup weekend lacked a certain amount of sense, the decision to have a playoff added the opportunity to retain a decisive season ender. Considering the third rule of domestic cricket is there is always someone who will disagree with whatever you change, I would much rather that the last ball of the season was bowled in a match that mattered than a game played for the prestige of finishing Nowhere Special, Division 2.

Doctor who? Doctor Warne?

It’s been a mixed birthday for Shane Warne. As far as play was concerned, Warne managed to find himself en route to hospital earlier after being hit above the grill of his helmet. Unable to be given stitches, he came out to resume his innings with his right eye almost completely obscured, and was unsurprisingly soon dispatched. Hampshire only managed to muster 131, which they will do very well to defend with their captain unable to take the field as yet.

Before the match, however, the world’s greatest leg spinner was bedecked in gown and cap to receive an honorary doctorate from Southampton Solent University for his services to cricket. Whilst Dr. Warne looked amused, he seemed to receive the accolade quite happily from the same institution to hand Master of Arts degrees to Robin Smith and David Gower.

What has Twenty20 done to D/L?

Another day, another Pro40. Today, though, saw a late season glimpse of Twenty20 batting, after Sky’s televised game from Trent Bridge faced several interruptions. After high winds, lightning and finally an evening drizzle, Warwickshire saw their required total reduced to 124, with some 70 runs to get from just 10.5 overs. Once upon a time, a team would have balked at the sight of a required rate above 6 an over, and the visitors tried their best to suggest this hadn’t changed with the loss of two wickets in as many balls.

These days, however, such recalculations place a strike-rate savvy batting side at an advantage. Whilst I would much rather see a game play on, and wouldn’t know where to start if asked to algebra my way to a better system, Duckworth/Lewis calculations often seem a few runs light on games of significantly reduced length. Nottinghamshire, having rebuilt their innings in their last few overs to place themselves at a competitive total, will feel a little hard done by.

What this result does do is ensure that Nick Knight has played his last domestic one-day game. Having announced his retirement at the end of this season, this final win places Warwickshire safe from relegation. A pity, then, that he lost his wicket for a mere 9 runs, from an ill-advised prod outside off stump.

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?

Benning for England

Despite twisting his knee while fielding against Kent yesterday, James Benning again proved what a maverick opener he is – the new Ally Brown? – in smashing 71 from 51 balls. Kent were admittedly woefully wide with the new ball, but Benning times the ball so well and has the ability to play unorthodox shots from the off. The chant, after Surrey had completed their win, of “Benning for England” from the Surrey faithful doesn’t seem too fanciful. This guy can play; he and Trescothick opening, Strauss at No.3 and Kevin Pietersen at No.4 would make for an explosive first half of the innings, with Andrew Flintoff and Chris Read in the lower-order.

Just my thoughts.