Ball one: Malan’s good year at Middlesex continues
Middlesex made three out of three last week to jump top of Group A at the Royal London Cup. The best hat-trick win was their latest thriller against Somerset at Taunton.
After Matt Renshaw and the precocious James Rew scored centuries for the home team, Middlesex knew they needed their big guns to shoot. When in-form captain Steve Eskinazi joined opener Mark Stoneman in the booth during the fourth over, much rested on South African test batsman Pieter Malan, who has contributed throughout the campaign. He made a century and there were 70 twins from Sam Robson and Max Holden, who was out with a necessary 26 from 25 balls but only three wickets in hand.
This is the delight of cricket for the 50+: like a novel or a box set, the weight of its climax is reinforced by the investment of time required to reach it. Enter Martin Andersson: a villain in last week’s column, a hero in this one. The all-rounder scored 20 of the required runs, leaving only the winning single for the bottom pair. Max Harris complied and the crowd went home disappointed, but genuinely entertained.
Ball Two: Hill Bowlers Reach New Heights
Leicestershire won both of their games to level on points with Middlesex, with the two games following a similar pattern. Batting first at Grace Road, the home team set a target (an achievable 270 for Somerset, a more difficult 339 for Warwickshire) and then pitched and sent as a unit to comfortably cruise home.
Cricket has long talked about a batting order but, in one day cricket with its emphasis on giving a captain options, should we also talk about a bowling order? In the first win, Beuran Hendricks, Chris Wright, Wiaan Mulder, Roman Walker and Tom Scriven each took a wicket short of a run; in the second win, the same thing happened, except Walker went on eights, Louis Kimber helped him by sending in some overs.
None of these players would be considered a bowler, but sometimes it comes down to the chemistry in an attack, and the role of the captain (in this case, Lewis Hill, going through a tough time personally) in keeping the pot bubbling. .
Ball three: Albert is already a prince of finishers
Three tight wins ensured Hampshire held the only 100% record in the country and topped Group B. It took an old-school, low-scoring squeaker at home for second-place Lancashire to preserve the egg in the L column.
After Rob Jones did what he does, dug in and salvaged a poor start, Lancashire posted something of a goal, rallying from seven for three to 183 overall. That looked much better than the numbers would suggest as Hampshire hit 67 from five, but Toby Albert backed up his match-winning 84, not out of No. 7 in the previous match against Derbyshire, with 65 failing to sort the order lower than the victory with 10 balls in hand.
Racking up 139 runs unbeaten, all under pressure without even a six to ease him, it’s a finish worthy of Michael Bevan, and the accolades don’t go much higher than that.
Ball four: Shutt opens the door to the national team’s dilemma
Yorkshire sit comfortably in third place with a game in hand after their victory over Glamorgan. For the second game in a row, the White Rose fielded two secondary players, Dom Bess and Jack Shutt, both 25, and Shutt outplayed his England colleague on both occasions. It will be interesting to see if Yorkshire continues this balance in attack. Bess offers a lot more with the bat and has the experience he needs for a young side with a new patron in Johnny Tattersall, but wickets and cheap rates are the currency of the white ball game. Not the worst selection headache you can have.
Ball five: batter of the week – Che revolutionizes batting
“He is the last of a kind, driven to extinction by the twin attacks of the mighty bats and the Twenty20 cricket.” I wrote that about VVS Laxman 12 years ago and, you’re right, I still miss him.
Cheteshwar Pujara has little of VVS’s languid beauty in the crease but, like the man from Hyderabad, his game seems unsuitable for India’s Age of Pants: at 34, he has played 172 white-ball matches; Ten years his junior, Rishabh Pant has played 284. Pujara? One day cricket? Nope.
But this week alone, he’s hit seven sixes, making 107 in a losing chase at Edgbaston and 174 setting up what turned out to be an insurmountable goal at home to Surrey. While the usual Royal London Cup caveats apply (Surrey’s attack was particularly weakened), it’s always good to see a foreign professional adapting his game and giving their all for their country. Like Geoff Boycott’s 146 in the 1965 Gillette Cup Final, we might look back at that 174 and wonder if it really, well, happened.
Six Ball: Bowler of the Week: Benkenstein is Monstrous
One of the toughest and highest paying jobs in world cricket is being the bowler who comes in after the power play and takes the wickets. Probably the most influential player in England’s cue ball renaissance is Adil Rashid, whose wickets often prove critical in stopping an innings heading towards 350+.
Luc Benkenstein (Dale’s son) is also a madman and at 17 (half Rashid’s age), Essex has given him a chance with engaged Simon Harmer. Featured in the 22nd with Sam Northeast and Kiran Carlson well set up for defending champions Glamorgan, the chase under control, Benkenstein caught them both on a 5-29 spell in seven overs, and there was no turning back from there.
It was only his third high-profile match providing cricket’s most difficult skill and many young spinners undergo significant testing to explore their physical and psychological limits. But it’s a start for the kid and exactly the sort of exposure this tournament offers, which has been neglected by the ECB and much of the media, but embraced by counties, players and fans. As it was once said about a teenage footballer 20 years ago: “Remember the name.”