Ball one: The T20 Blast bring in huge crowds but little coverage
Has there ever been a greater mismatch between popular interest and media profile than what we are witnessing with the T20 Blast 2018? Tens of thousands of people turn up day after day all around the country, pay decent money and enjoy the cricket in the sunshine and yet the game is almost invisible in newspapers and their websites, and is ghettoised by the national broadcaster into online-only commentaries. On most sports news bulletins, some of which find room for very niche interests, you’re lucky to get: “And there were wins tonight in the T20 Vitality Blast for , Sussex and Surrey.” Of course, there is some splendid work being done by the counties themselves, with ever-improving streams of live action and highlights packages, and there will be pockets of local coverage too, but this is a national sport with huge popular interest – it deserves better.
Ball two: Fans turn out to watch the Red Rose
More than 22,000 of The Ignored turned up at Old Trafford for a pulsating Roses Match between two counties whose fans this season have prompted mutterings of “trouble at t’mill” with well founded grumbles. In a shortened 14-overs-a-side match, the crowd saw more than 350 runs, spiced with 23 sixes, the whole show coming down to the last ball, Kane Williamson needing a four but only squeezing the inexperienced Toby Lester for a couple. Of course there is more to the game than the big hits, but try telling that to the Lanky fans who streamed out into the night royally entertained with their team top of the North Group.
Ball three: Ian Bell chimes in to tie the scores at Edgbaston
Performance of the week in the North Group goes to dear old Ian Bell, who is having the most glorious summer – enjoying his cricket again at last. Northamptonshire’s bruisers, led by Richard Levi’s 95 not out, piled up 231-5, but were undaunted, tying their opponents’s score to share the points. Bell’s contribution was 131 off 62 balls, 11 of which were struck to the boundary and seven over it. Bell can infuriate as much as he can delight, but we’ll miss him when he’s gone, so we should catch him when we can – so that’s what I’ll be doing at Lord’s this week.
Ball four: Somerset getting a tune out of Max Waller
With rain causing some “No Results” in the South Group, Somerset jumped up the table to third with a couple of wins, chasing 176 against Middlesex and defending 190 against . Once again, wrist spin proved a fine option for a captain, Max Waller taking 2-23 from his four overs at Lord’s (including the wicket of Eoin Morgan) and 2-20 from his full allocation at Cardiff. Any player who has one that goes the other way and can land four or five out of six in roughly the same spot, should be practising their difficult art as hard as possible, because what is the ideal number of wrist spinners in a T20 XI? Three? Four? It’s certainly more than one.
Ball five: On song Surrey slog skilfully
Performance of the week in the South Group is a sympathy vote for Surrey (stop giggling at the back!) Having made 222-4 and 192-3 in their previous two matches, they topped those mountainous scores with a vertiginous 250-6 against Kent – only to see rain wash away their defence before a ball was bowled. Aaron Finch led the way with 83 off 38, but seven batsmen in total took guard and all reached double figures with no strike rate was less than Sam Curran’s 160. Though lost five wickets in the last nine overs, they kept attacking, knowing that they had batting resources down to Gareth Batty at 10, something other sides will have noted and may wish to emulate themselves. It’s almost certainly worth the risk of trying to hit every ball hard if you have eight wickets in hand and fewer than half the overs left. You’re more likely to get 220 than 160 in such circumstances, but the collapses live longer in the memory because the big scores look inevitable in hindsight.
Ball six: Sussex produce a fine win at Cheltenham
The County Championship is back! It even poked its head up last week with a match at Cheltenham because the locals expect such distractions from their afternoon teas in the second week of July. And what a match it proved to be – another fine advert for the grand old competition. Gloucestershire had the better of things when Sussex were 97-4 in their first innings, but Ben Brown and Harry Finch got together to put on 113 for the fifth wicket to even things up before the last five wickets went for 76 – Sussex 286 all out. Miles Hammond scored a maiden century and, with the home side in front with just three down, things were looking good for Glaws fans. Cue Jofra Archer to justify the hype with three wickets in four balls and, in 10 overs of mayhem seven wickets fell, so Sussex resumed just 20 behind, the match evenly balanced again. Harry Finch (98) top scored for a second time for Sussex and were looking at 276 for the win – call that one! It looked a long way off at 38-4, but James Bracey and Gareth Roderick secured a foothold in the chase with a partnership of 138 for the fifth wicket and the pendulum swung again. Despite batting all the way to 11 (having deployed a nightwatchman) the Sussex seamers had too much for the lower order and Bracey was last to go for an heroic 87. Sussex go third in Division Two and appetites for the longer format can be considered well and truly whetted.
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