Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Phil, Mac and cap - another Aussie at Hants.

The equation for this match was simple - win and we were in with a chance of qualifying still. Lose and we were out of the running. As it was we just have the Championship to concentrate on now, as we were just outplayed, though by not very much, by a Kent side in a similar position to us. There were some disappointments throught the game, which contributed to a disappointing though not suicide provoking performance. In truth we looked a pace bowler short, Slug as first change is not ideal to be honest. Yes he bowled well but we lacked the pace of somebody like Jones or Griffiths to provide something a little different to Cork and Wood, both of whom bowled ok, but not spectacular, Cork outperforming Wood on this occasion though. Replacing Riazuddin with Dawson wasn't the problem either - the two spinners operated decently though not quite to the same level as Bandara and Tredwell. Carbs' one over thankfully remained his only over, and to be honest why it wasn't given to Dawson I don't know. The fielding was good but not great, Wood in particular having a bit of trouble in the deep with the bouncing ball, twice being undone by a ball that was spinning and twice conceeding the boundary. Adams however was quite the opposite, despite messing up one boundary stop he pulled of I think three fines stops that more than made up for those runs. He also helped run out Coles by combining with Briggs after Key had sold Coles out. Coles' innings was to put it mildly, strange. First ball Briggs found a slight edge but it fell safe. This was followed by a slog for one, a reverse sweep in which the ball somehow managed not to connect with anything, and then the run out.

A mention must go to Phil Hughes, on debut. If I'm honest I had slight reservations considering it was his first game back after a 7 month lay off due to a dislocated shoulder. However he batted superbly, looking in really good touch and playing some excellent shots. His fielding stank of test match practice, such was his energy, enthusiasm and alertness inside the 30 yard ring. To top it off he took an absolute stunner of a reflex catch to dismiss Blob Key off the bowling of Briggs, the force of the shot knocking Hughes off his feet, whilst it's a good job he got hands to it otherwise there wouldn't be much left of his face. Obviously on the runs front Hughes would have wanted more but the runs he did score, as I said, were top drawer, couldn't fault him as a debut performance. Another man in fine form was Jimmy Adams, who played just as he always does. Picking out the gaps on the cut and drive, so assured at the crease and he absolutely dwarfed Hughes in the middle. His dismissal was extremely disappointing and frustrating, but up until that point he had played the sort of innings that in all honesty we have come to expect. Surely, surely he must tour with the Lions this winter. Nice day for Macca too, who was awarded his county cap by Brangrove before play. All we need now is his signature for a contract for next season! Sadly he was unable to repeat his performance against Leicestershire, as he struggled to work the field around enough and keep the strike rotating in time with the run rate. Sacrificing himself the ball before Carberry took the batting powerplay to get Slug in was very nearly a masterstroke but it was not to be. The truth of the matter was that we did not have an MVJ (though Adams got damn close), someone who oversaw proceedings, could rotate the strike and select balls to send to the boundary. It was a masterful performance by the South African, and certainly the difference between the two sides as after the opening stand we were unable to put together any meaningful partnerships. And so ended our interest in the CB40 for this season, but given the start we had to the season, we should be extremely chuffed witht the way that we turned our form well and truly around. Still, always next year. The Championship gets full attention now, with Macca and Hughes almost certain to start in Hampshire's top 4. They will be needed too, as Liverpool is an original result pitch. Carberry's reported asthma problems are hopefully not too serious either.

A special mention to Stan Rudder, who got to bowl to Cork before the match in recognition of his service to the Hampshire leagues, terrorising opposition batsmen and most probably their sons that followed them, such was Stan's longevity. A true champion of the country's cricket leagues, and he received the applause from the crowd that he so richly deserved. A memorable day for him and for all those associated with the club game in the county.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

A draw will do!

When you have an entire day's play rained off, and you have to contend with the most on form batting lineup in the country, consisting of three 1000 run makers, a full bonus point draw and pretty much dominance of the match is extremely satisfying. After the loss of the first day I was annoyed but also a bit pleased as it meant that our chances of a loss were greatly reduced. As it turned out the rain in fact denied us an almost nailed on victory, such was our particular strength with the bat, and of course the presence of Cork. In recent years it has been our lower order hitting and bowling that has bailed the side out, it wouldn't be a proper Hampshire innings if Pothas wasn't at the crease by the time the team total had reached 100. This season however, injuries and an alarming spate of decent top order scores have conspired to put us in strong positions only to see the game slip towards a draw. Once again in the first innings of this match, after a typically strong Yorkshire start, Cork ripped through them, leaving the Yorkies 141-5. However Rashid was the thorn in our side again, though the Hampshire bowlers responded better after a poor hour or so to get Yorkshire to declare on 322-9, giving Hampshire maximum bowling points. The stand out of course was Cork, 5 wickets, but it was frustrating to see Briggs get no wickets, though by all accounts he was unlucky to do so.

Centurions at the top

Adams has been solid but not amazing in the Championship this season. After a huge century in his first innings of the year, he developed what I used to refer to as Vince syndrome, as he just could not convert all those 50s into 100s. Well, now I guess he has Adams syndrome, the inability to convert 150s into 200s! What a way to break a run though, 196 having batted in 3 seperate days and five sessions. Once again he was the rock for the mammoth score racked up by Hampshire, which saw 400 and the last batting point gained with four overs to spare. Truly a fantastic performance but at the other end a bloody miracle occurred. It's not often someone gets to more than double their previous best first class score, but that's exactly what James Vince did and what made it all the more sweeter was that that previous high score was 77. Vince has been talked of as a future England batsman but before this match had failed to convert numerous good starts into proper scores. Having played classical shots to every part of the ground, Vince would be almost nailed on to play a lazy swipe and end up trudging back with a handsome 30 on the board. However the strokemaking continued unabated this time around and my heart missed about 10 beats when I heard him dropped at gully on 82. Vince certainly took charge of the chance offered to him. With his own personal score on 92, the nervous nineties were negotiated as quickly as possible as Pyrah was dismissed for consecutive fours, sending the young 19 year old into deserved apoplexy. Without dwelling on the century, Vince set about the Yorkshire attack, eventually falling on the 4th morning for 180 from 205 balls. Adams scored 196 but the pair had turned the game completely around to put Hampshire into a no-lose position.

Vince's conquering of the century voodoo was satisfying enough, but what I was particularly impressed with was his attitude to the whole innings. As mentioned above Vince bats positively and correctly from the start, but from about 60 onwards he was pretty much into uncharted territory yet still played his natural game. The consecutive fours to get to his century as described above the perfect case in point. It would have been extremely easy and to be honest fully understandable if he had seized up when approaching three figures, but he played the way he knew he could, and he also played with the team in mind. With the monkey off his back, Vince then did more than could be asked for by the team, going into one day mode and combining with Ervine to set up a possibly match deciding innings. As it was though Yorkshire's batsmen showed their resilience to confirm a draw, but overall it was a wholly satisfying performance (Briggs got two wickets in the second innings, so even better). 11 much needed points and the unbeaten run in all competitions has been extended to something like 5 and a half or 6 weeks.

One in, one out  

Sadly the great Macca finished his inspirational stint at The Rose Bowl with a duck, as he returns to South Africa to compete in the Champions League. The repercussions of his presence on this team and club as a whole are worthy of a separate post, but it's fair to say that it has been nothing short of inspirational. Getting him to sign a new contract would be out of this world. That too is for another time but here and now the news is that Hughes will be available for this Sunday's game against Kent, a huge boost given the loss of both Macca and Lumb. Hughes has a very important job to do at the top of the order - Macca's runs were more often than not match winning, and with just 5 matches left in the season Hughes has to find the middle straight away. A few showers forecast for this Sunday but a decent day's play should be on. The team I would like to see take to the field is:

Adams, Hughes, Vince, Carberry, Ervine, Dawson, Bates, Cork, Wood, Briggs, Griffiths.

The top of the order looks very strong, whilst also keeping the young/experienced combination in the side. Griffiths provides some extra pace into the attack whilst there are plenty of options to get the full 40 overs done bowling-wise. Should be an interesting match, winning is the only option if we are to stand any chance of getting back to Lord's next month.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Ohhh yeah

128 balls, 156 minutes, 15 fours. Well played, son. The day James Vince entered the big time! The sky really is the limit now, to use an overused cliche. Special mention also to Jimmy Adams, first century since the first match of the season, and it's a big one too. This pair have really turned the tables on Yorkshire, still half an hour of play left and we're 25 runs ahead, 7 wickets remaining. Shame tomorrow is the last day of play!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Adams and England - A future marriage?

There have been rumblings in the domestic cricketing scene, mainly from me, about the possibility of Jimmy Adams one day in the not too distant future representing his country in an international. If this suggestion had been made 16 months ago then I would have died laughing. Given a go at the top of the order in the Championship after Brown's departure, Adams was solid but not spectacular, whilst he didn't get a gig in the 50 over league until the very end of the group stages following the dropping of John Crawley. From that point on, however, things just got out of hand. He developed in my view the best limited overs opening partnership in the country with Michael Lumb, whose stock had also risen considerably. The pair proved a nightmare for opening bowlers, with carefully laid plans put in place for the more vicious Lumb, Adams was able to score heavily almost on the quiet. Before anyone really knew it, Hampshire would suddenly have plenty on the board, with both players finding different areas of the ground to score in. Opening partnerships of 149 (unbroken), 156 and 159 formed the basis for Hampshire's march to the final, whilst a 93 run opening partnership and a 50 for Adams were key factors in Hampshire securing the title at Lord's. In just 5 games Adams racked up 327 runs at an average of 81, scoring more runs than Slug, who had played 10 games. This form was present in the 20/20 too, with 178 runs, whilst in the Championship he quickly established himself as a certain pick at the top of the order. Three centuries, 1280 runs (highest in the club) and an average of 53 make for pretty good breakthrough season stats, and combined with energetic fielding and a safe pair of hands, it was no surprise when he was awarded player of the season.

Always prone to a bit of invention. Copyright Sarah Ansell

Adams started this season where he had left off from last - a century in the first innings of the first match against Essex, and already he was up and running (a factor he had pointed out over the winter was that a good start to his own season was vital), however he has been plagued by the better-than-Vince-but-same-problem-as-Vince syndrome. Six times he has passed 50 but failed to turn that score into three figures, and I'm certain he'd be the first to say that that conversion rate is unacceptable. However, 799 runs at 38 is still a decent return, but falls into the 'could do even better' category. Limited overs cricket is a different world altogether though. Two centuries and leading run scorer in the country defined Adams' rather successful 20/20 campaign, whilst the runs have again been flowing in the CB40. As well as myself, Adams has found an admirer in Nick Knight, who claimed after the 20/20 final that a certain left handed opening batsman would be an outside pick to open with Kieswetter in the 20/20s against Pakistan in a week or two. For me that would be the first port of call in my voyage to get Adams international recognition. So calm at the crease, he keeps things ticking and in fact only scores about 5 runs an over himself. But of course if the guy at the other end is doing the same or better then you are on for a very formidable total after 20 overs. Adams is never going to be the guy who comes out going berserk from ball one - playing 90% of your one day cricket opening with Lumb does that to you. Trott was maligned for being too much of a foundation in the shorter game at international level, but in my view at the moment Adams could carry out that same role but at a much better strike rate (taking nothing away from Trott, he is in my view still one of the best 20/20 openers in the country). Adams' fielding would probably put many international cricketers to shame, too.

In 50 over cricket I feel that England could do a lot worse at the top than Jimmy Adams. He is perhaps a slow starter but again he will bat the overs and not steal the strike from other players who are in to hit quick runs. In a 40 over match this season, Adams opened and was dismissed in the 40th over for 121. However the team total read 347, with Carberry and Ervine in particular laying waste to the Warwickshire bowlers safe in the knowledge that there was a sure bet at the other end to keep the innings going. And that's exactly what he does, he provides the insurance for the other players to express themselves. Even better than that Adams has the ability to step up the pace himself in the later overs, and can match the best strikers shot for shot. He does favour the leg side in limited overs cricket, and this of course means that the majority of his dismissals are around square leg, mid-on etc. Interestingly I can not think of a time Adams was dismissed LBW in a one day game or 20/20. Obviously it has happened but without the stats or scorecards to hand I can not recall a single instance. It is somewhat surprising given firstly his lunge to the off-side as his trigger movement (which then of course opens up just about the entire on-side to stroke play), and secondly his exaggerated but seemingly brutally effective high back lift. This provides the bat swing that helps with those brilliant pulls and swats, coupled with high levels of physical strength and Adams can clear any boundary.

The best 20/20 batsman, 2010
The big question though is test cricket. If Adams were to play test cricket I think his debut would have to be declared a national holiday. In my view though I can't see us getting an extra day off in the foreseeable future, as much as I would absolutely love it. Though he is 29 or 30 or around that age, Adams' late arrival to the first XI as a regular means that in a way he is still quite raw in the longer format. He is of course pretty much first name on the team sheet (with Carbs and Cork) and despite suffering the issues mentioned above in the CC, he has become a reliable performer. It is perhaps in the CC that the high back lift causes problems for Adams. He seems to like to get his first run on the board quickly, to get down the other end and get a feel for the whole game in general as early as possible. He also likes to feel the ball onto his bat, and so in recent CC matches he has been getting out fairly early on in an innings (very early on against Kent, Essex and Durham) where he plays at a ball he really shouldn't have to. I know it's too easy for me to say just leave the ball outside off, as I'm sure it is extremely difficult to do when you are facing the likes of Masters, Thorp and Harmison. However it is almost as if the back lift causes him to bring the bat down at a ball instinctively. I'm probably completely wrong but that's the impression I have got. He has though looked very comfortable against spin and can handle the turning ball very well indeed, as he is very strong on the sweep and knows when to come down the pitch and when to stay in his crease. He does therefore have very good situation awareness and can develop an extremely effective, versatile game plan. This is of course vital in test cricket as top quality bowling will be the order of the day non stop in some very different conditions to anywhere experienced between The Rose Bowl and Chester-le-Street.

So can Adams cut it as an international cricketer? Yes and no. I think that test cricket can only be a dream for Adams, as work is still needed on his technique, especially on green tops, whilst Carberry and Lyth are both ahead of him in the openers queue. There may be an opening in one day cricket, though his similar scoring style to Strauss would count against him. I think if Adams finishes well in the remaining CB40 matches against Kent and Leicestershire, then he may be in the selectors' minds come next season's summer internationals. In my view though Adams should start along side the Bedwetter (though in an ideal world Davies) against Pakistan for the two 20/20s against Pakistan in Cardiff. It's likely that the selectors will disagree with me and go Bopara but no man deserves more of a chance at the top than Adams going on recent form. He has scored skip-fulls of runs against some fine bowling attacks in the much tougher South Group, and he has done so without looking like he's doing it by accident, surely the mark of a class player. There are mountains to climb rather than hurdles to jump at the moment, but Adams' fairytale transformation from club/Second XI/occasional first team cricketer to international quality opener is progressing nicely. Very, very nicely indeed. 

All photos courtesy of Sarah Ansell. Click here for more fantastic cricket photos.

ECB send Flower packing

The English National Cricket team is in disarray this morning as it was reported that head coach Andy Flower had been removed from his position with immediate effect, as well as being referred to a psychiatric doctor by officials in the ECB. Though it is not known for certain the reasons behind this radical move, it is believed to have stemmed from a comment made by Flower during a meeting following England's defeat to Pakistan in the third Test at The Oval. An ECB press release statement announced that Flower had been forced to step down from his post due to being mentally unfit to continue as the national head coach. However an inside source claimed that this whole incident started when Flower was discussing about the time when he was playing cricket. "He (Flower) was talking to David Collier and Giles Clarke about having a wicketkeeper batting in the top 5, and said that he himself had done just that when playing for Zimbabwe. It was at that moment that Collier collapsed and Clarke started raging at Flower, asking him what on earth he was going on about some team called Zimbabwe." Said our source "Flower responded that it was the country of his birth but Clarke was having none of it, taunting Flower and questioning why he was making up a country. Flower looked a bit bemused to be honest, but when he mentioned that India had played in Zimbabwe recently then it really kicked off, fists flying and biting etc."

Once the pair had been broken up and Flower restrained by Gooch and Saker, Clarke demanded he be removed from the premises and taken to his own personal counsellor for immediate treatment for delusions and insanity. When questioned in the immediate aftermath of the incident, Clarke explained his actions. "We can't have the head coach of the national side losing his mind. He had gone on before about people like Sean Ervine, Murray Goodwin, Heath Streak but as far as we know they are unattached nationals. Actually, they might be South Africans, probably. Thing is, what on earth is this Zimbabwe place? We can't have a person in a position of power making stuff up, he might as well have claimed he had played cricket for Mbolobololand or Wales or something imaginary."

Friday, 20 August 2010

What's on offer in the Seconds?

Currently Hampshire Second XI are playing Ireland A at The Rose Bowl (well, they probably won't be today because it is grim outside), and I thought it might be worth taking a look at who we have in reserve to the main team. For me the stand out name is David Griffiths. Wildly expensive more often than not in the Championship earlier this season, he was however a key component of the side because of the pace he can generate from a relatively slippery action. Capable of consistent 89, 90 mph deliveries from a low trajectory due to being small in stature, Griffiths was well on his way to being the premier strike bowler until injury of the serious variety pretty much crushed his season. He has been recuperating in the Seconds though, and was very unlucky (and pretty gutted from the looks of it) to have missed out on starting against Leicestershire on Tuesday. If he is back to full fitness (and five wickets in the morning against Ireland A would suggest so) then in my view he must come back into the Championship side, at the expense of Balcombe. At the moment our Championship attack is too one paced and needs that something different, that unpredictable component that can win you a game in a spell of bowling. Yes Cork is capable of that still, just about, but he can't do it all on his own.

There are of course the usual suspects in the Seconds team. Balcombe is captain and of course is batting well up the order. It will be interesting to see what happens to Balcombe. He's an honest trier and will bowl aggresively all day and pick up wickets, but to me he just doesn't quite seem at the same level as say Cork and Tomlinson. His batting has sadly gone downhill too, as he was a very reliable number nine behind Mascarenhas before. Tomlinson's batting is improving all the time, and so he could provide balance at 9 now, with Briggs and Griffiths' batting not up to much this early into their careers. Also in this team, but looking more and more likely that he won't be next season, is Chris Benham. It's a real shame that Benham hasn't been able to nail his place in the first team, despite the numerous chances. Drafted into the team in the penultimate game last season because of injury, Benham scored a century against by far the best bowling attack in the country to secure firstly the draw, and secondly Hampshire's status as a first division team. He was also a more than decent opening batsman in one day cricket, scoring 158 out of a total of 265-9 to beat Glamorgan in the 2006 Pro40 play off and so gain promotion to the first division. He also hit the winning runs at Lord's last year to secure the trophy. The thing is his consistency and after his failed attempts at 3 in the Championship, he was dropped until picked for the 20/20 group game against Essex, which he also failed in. It's a real shame as he has acres of talent, just not the temperament.

Hampshire also appear to be trialling three players too, possibly because we just have no-one left in the squad, or because Chalky is taking a proactive approach to look at possible players. The first is Jordan Coughlan, a young Irish fast bowler. To be honest I've never heard of him but he took a wicket against his 'home' side. Another is the Anguillan Kelbert Walters, another 19 year old bowler over here on the recommendation of Cardigan Connor. Walters actually trained with the main squad before the Leicestershire game, and if the whole cricket thing doesn't work out for him, then I'm certain that he'll be able to find employment as a professional goalkeeper. The third triallist is Glen Querl, former Zimbabwean U19 bowler, who has been playing over here this season for the Unicorns in the CB40. 11 wickets from 7 games suggests he has something so it is good to see Hampshire quickly getting a look at him. There are then of course the academy products in the team too, if all is good and well then hopefully in the next few years they too will start to filter into the first team much like their predecessors. All in all the 'reserves' look promising, and as has been shown in the past, a good springboard into the main side. The key point of this though, is get Griff back into the team!!

Griffiths - back fit, back in the wickets and back in contention 

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Hampshire win again

Macca sweeps on his way to a controlled 51*

There is always the danger, after a fantastic trophy victory, of a hangover that badly affects another competition. This can not be made clearer by Hampshire's performance last season, losing the 20/20 quarter final to an average Northants side a few days after the FPT Final at Lord's. Two days after the magical win on home turf in the 20/20, 8 of the XI that beat Somerset turned out to play Leics in a must win match in the CB40. Ervine was rested whilst Razzaq and Christian were of course unavailable. This opened the door for a whole batch of young guns to take to the field, lead as ever by a becalmed Dominic Cork. Eight of the team have come through the Hampshire academy, whilst seven of them were aged 22 or younger. Bates, Vince, Wood and Briggs all kept their places, with Dawson, Riazuddin and debutant Benny Howell coming into the side. For all the youth, energy and potential of the Hampshire team, it was of course the two old stooges that secured the vital two points. McKenzie has been everything we could have wished for and more at Hampshire this season. Calm, helpful, friendly and above all an absolute run machine, it was with great delight to read this evening that we have offered Macca a new contract for next season. It would be a great testimony to the culture nurtured at the club by Chalky, Mascarenhas, Cork et al to convince a test quality batsman to sign on again.

When Macca came out to bat, Hampshire were in a spot of bother at 45-2 in search of 177 to win from 35 overs. The man he replaced, Vince, had played extremely well, striking some beautiful fours before getting out lbw to Malik. Though disappointing he couldn't go on, Vince's cameo was pleasing as he looked in much better touch than he has done for the past few weeks. Howell batted like he was on debut. Which he was. Actually he looked very solid getting bat behind ball, just that he didn't really play a shot in anger - after 12 overs he was 11*. However it must have been a great experience for him finally being out in the middle for the full Hampshire side. His bowling was more than decent, and reminded me of the bowling of Durham's Ben Stokes - not the greatest pace by a good action to get the ball down the pitch and hurry the batsmen. Got a wicket too! So all in all a good first outing, despite the collision with Carbs. Carbs for his part took a good jumping catch, and after a slow start with the bat, began cutting ruthlessly. His dismissal was contentious, and I don't think anyone bar the umpire were convinced that he had edged a Naik ball. This left Hampshire 4 down with 90 odd on the board, but in came Dawson at 6, back in the side and looking so much better for it. He batted with the enthusiasm, the determination and the technique that had made him such a key component of the 2008 Pro40 team. I hope Chalky takes note of this game, as Dawson batting at 6 with a few overs under his belt looked a different man to the specialist batsman tasked with coming in at 3 in the Championship. Though of course the game looked safe as long as McKenzie was in, Dawson's positivity turned the game in Hampshire's favour as he upped the scoring rate, as well as pressurising the fielders by finding twos. By the time he departed, caught on the boundary at square leg, under 30 runs were required with around 6 or 7 overs to spare. Wood fell first ball in a failed experiment at 7, but Riazuddin did everything but hit the winning runs, batting with a technique similar to Pothas, carving a number of fours. He then fell with 3 needed, and Bates was in at number 9. A single from him and McKenzie tied the scores, but a slight inside edge off of Malik removed Bates' leg stump. Corky obviously didn't want to bat this game, but came in at number 10 and didn't have to lay bat on ball as his first ball went down the legside for 4 wides, Hampshire won by 2 wickets and McKenzie was 51*. Buck the pick of the bowlers, removing both Adams and Howell for just 16 runs from 7 overs. Malik ended with 4 wickets.

An agricultural innings from Riazuddin sealed the victory
Such a low total to chase was down to a combined bowling effort from Cork, Wood, Howell and Riazuddin, who managed to chip away constantly at Leicestershire's order, with Jacques du Toit top scoring with 45. His partnership of 71 with captain Boyce was the only one of note, rescuing Leics somewhat from 33-3 the ball after a rain break that saw the covers put on, taken off then put back on in a stop start affair that cost the match 10 overs. Benning had started positively, hitting the first ball of the innings for 4, but succumbed to a brilliant diving catch at third man by Riazuddin off the bowling of Cork two balls later. The highly talented James Taylor was in at three and looked calm at the crease before du Toit sold him, sending Taylor back only when halfway down the pitch, Adams sweeping on the ball and throwing down the stumps after a delay to take aim (he had plenty of time!). The rain came down very soon after, and the first ball back after the delay, Smith gloved Cork to an unmoved McKenzie at slip. This brought Boyce to the middle and after the mini recovery to 104-3, Riazuddin initiated the collapse with the first ball of his second spell, du Toit picking out a diving, sliding Wood on the boundary. It was a good move by Riazuddin, who bowled more at the stumps than in his first spell which, though economical and induced a few wafts from Boyce, was never really looking like taking wickets outside off stump. Briggs held two good catches, one off Howell and one off Wood, but sadly the damp conditions made bowling difficult for him and Dawson, as both went wicketless. Wood came roaring back after some early punishment from du Toit, removing White then New and Naik in successive balls as all three tried and failed to capitalise on the powerplay and couldn't clear the inner circle fielders. The hattrick ball missed by not much at all, but any momentum built by New and Naik was gone, leaving a low enough total for McKenzie and Dawson to take command of.

So overall it was a very healthy performance from a young Hampshire side. Often we have seen sides play the youngsters and to be honest they have played poorly, but the difference I think with this Hampshire team was that all of the young members, Howell aside, have played plenty of cricket for the county already, as well as playing alongside each other in the academy. Yes they are young but they have also tasted major success, 5 of them have won trophies, combined six of them have played 68 FC games, 82 one dayers, 92 20/20s and they've grown up in an environment dominated by the professionalism of the likes of Adams, Carberry, Lumb, Ervine and Tomlinson who are all around 8 to 10 years older. Combine that with the wise (?) heads of Cork, McKenzie, Pothas and Mascarenhas and it is a very potent combination. If contract negotiations go our way then this mix can be kept together longer and developed further, and if the opinions of Cork and McKenzie are present in the changing room for another season at least, then success will hopefully be forthcoming.

Photos courtesy of Wes

Monday, 16 August 2010

'av it

I'm going to be honest here. I'm a complete mess. A prior warning for this blog, like me it's going to be a complete mess as well. Even though it is nearing two days from the end of a quite extraordinary day, for a simple county fan like me to get my head round my team doing what they managed to do against Essex and Somerset at home with thunderstorms tracking the area (saw a beauty over Salisbury) is very difficult indeed. I like to think of myself as a realist, whilst others will suggest I'm a bloody pessimist. It's the old thing of thinking the worst then everything else is a bonus but I genuinely held the view that at the end of it all I was just chuffed that Hampshire had made it to Finals Day for the first time, leaving just Yorkshire, Worcestershire and Derbyshire without that taste of 11 hour cricket. When you looked at the other teams, they just appeared so superior. Essex welcomed back RTD, though obviously having not played any cricket for two months, the Dutchman was never going to be at his best. They also boasted Grant Flower at 8, though 6 balls faced and no overs bowled suggest that Essex did not use him properly. I guess that pretty much sums up Essex's day to be truthful. They of course felt compelled to get as much out of 10k Bravo (which turned out to be not much at all), and so batted him ahead of players he shouldn't have batted ahead of, and then was given a full quota of overs when two should have been more than enough. Any team in their right mind would not bat Walker, Foster, Flower at 6, 7, 8. They just struck me as a team of individuals, finding places in the side for Bravo and Cook at the expense of players that got them to Finals Day. Each player in that side is capable of absolute brilliance, but throw them all together and expect them to come off was just never going to happen.

The three captains (well, they tried their best)

Notts' decision to pick Broad and Swann has been much debated, and in my view they fell into the same trap as Essex with Bravo and Cook. Swann played well, picking 2 wickets up with an economy of 6 and accounting for Tresco when he was looking lethal. However, promoted to opener and falling for 11 off 9 when 10 an over is needed was both a failure and a disruption to the settled order that had seen Hales and Brown open. Broad, in a word, was crap. 4 overs, 1-44 and to be honest he was lucky to get away with an economy rate that low. Darren Pattinson must be seriously fed up, having done all the hard work in the group stages and quarter finals, only to see his place taken by someone who was obviously better because he played for England. They weren't helped by off days for their normally reliable opening pair of Sidebottom and Nannes, and combined these two and Broad returned figures of 11-0-119-1. Compared to the spin duo of Swann and Patel who returned 8-0-44-3. Dussey and Patel were their reliable best with the bat, but that super Pollard catch and the rain conspired to knock them out. Pretty much deserved it really, despite fans' protestations that they were in fact the best team in the country and the title should be theirs by right.

The third team at Finals Day that do not of course hold demi-god status were by far the most team-like of teams out of the three teams. Follow? Somerset played hard, fast, flamboyant cricket throughout the tournament, and really deserved that semi-final win. The boy wonder to rival the other boy wonders in Briggs, Taylor and Stokes really came to the party in the semi-final, smashing 55 to turn the game around. Buttler is still only 19 but must surely go on the Lions tour this winter. Tresco was his normal belligerent self, but Bedwetter was a bit of an enigma. Ended up scoring quite a few runs in the day, but never looked anywhere near being a world beater. Their bowling was decent but Kartik was not potent, though to be expected given the conditions, whilst Pollard without the ball in hand probably decided the final. It was a sickening blow he received from Cork, who was visibly shaken by the incident. Somerset deserved to be in the final more than Notts and Essex, but of course so did another team.
Captain Mischief
Which therefore brings me onto the fourth team present at Finals Day. The rank outsiders, the romantics, Dad's Army, call them what you want Hampshire were there on home turf and loved every single second of it. The only team of the three not to have reached Finals Day before and in a way it showed. Yes everyone enjoyed themselves, but the other teams portrayed the fact that they had been there before, as if they reckoned they knew roughly what they were doing. Hampshire's approach was simple. Stick with the same team from the latter group stages and quarter final, give it everything and if it comes off, brilliant, if not then never mind. So much is mentioned about big names etc and performing on the day. Well, Hampshire didn't exactly have the stars of the other teams but the big names came good. Vital contributions were obvious from McKenzie and Razzaq, whilst the likes of Adams, Carberry, Christian and Slug put in telling performances, Slug taking on extra responsibility with the bat due to not being able to bowl. The younger players were also very impressive. Vince and Wood had off days with the bat and ball respectively, but Vince's catching was superb, whilst Wood's long range direct hit to remove Bravo was the sucker punch that deflated Essex's title bid. Briggs and Bates worked wonders, Briggs taking the most number of wickets on finals day (4), whilst Bates was alert and energetic as ever behind the stumps. You of course can not ignore Cork. Half OAP, half scourge of the county game, Cork was born for big occasions, taking man of the match last year in the 50 over final at Lord's, whilst leading a ramshackle team to home glory in the 20/20 this year. Was aggressive and accurate with the ball, whilst also putting in the hard yards in the field. Made the right call at the toss for the semi final, whilst also being his inspirational self not just for the players but for the crowd as well. Was affected clearly by the Pollard accident, but was still composed enough to take 2 wickets and conceed just 3 runs in that final over. What Cork has done for Hampshire is nigh on immeasurable.

Says it all, really

So what is the effect of this win on Hampshire? Obviously they are £200,000 better off, whilst Macca has a nice fat cheque and a magnum of champagne for his troubles. Cork and Bransgrove have their hands on another trophy, whilst the team were able to unfurl the victory banner once again, but with 09 altered to 10. For Slug it was his third cup, the only player remaining in the team from that 2005 victory. The biggest effect will be on the younger players though. A first taste of a final for all four of them, and most importantly a win. I suspect that their already high confidence will move to another level, and it follows that their skills will move upwards too. Caution will have to be taken not to get too caught up in it all, but each of these four, as well as Dawson and Riazuddin, possess bucket-fulls of natural talent they can all progress. A youthful, confident core of talented players would be a dream for any team, and Hampshire have the chance to build something significant in the extreme for the years to come. With a knee up from Cork, of course.

A brief word on a certain Aussie. The melon Christian had a rare old day. Following his ten rounds with Mike Tyson on the Thursday, Christian bowled with pace and a bit of wildness, taking the wicket of Cook, caught at short fine leg by Briggs off a terrible ball. The batting was, umm, interesting, a sweet shot only resulted in two and left him with a buggered hamstring. Found missing the ball yielded a better outcome despite being a complete clutz and nearly losing the game for Hampshire. You gotta love him though, with all his injuries, bruises, foibles, mistakes and carelessness. Oh, and as proved by his post match interview, he isn't the robot as predicted by some.

There is, of course, a much better look back at events from Wes here.

Friday, 13 August 2010

A captain's innings

Hildreth edges Tomlinson behind for 130 
Neil McKenzie must be wondering what it is he actually signed up for at Hampshire. I expect the job offer from Hampshire went along the lines of "we need a highly experienced top order batsman to come over on a kolpak status to fill the gap left by a retired highly experienced top order batsman. There are a few weaknesses in the top order so we're looking for you to solidify that." I'm not sure how detailed this contract was, but I doubt it included being made acting captain after the three previous incumbents had all been injured, being told to bat out almost an entire fourth day with just 6 fit players and one with a tendency to bleed everywhere, as well as bowl a third of a session yourself on the third evening because everyone else had either bowled 20 overs +, or was currently in the changing room being treated for injury. Luckily McKenzie is quite a versatile kind of guy, and with two opening batsmen, a 19 year old batsman, an Aussie allrounder playing his first CC match, a 19 year old wicketkeeper and two bowlers (though Tommo's batting can not be underestimated), McKenzie stood defiant against an experienced team, actually with 11 men, who were hunting a win to go top.

Christian castles Willoughby to end the innings
After the third day that turned into a nightmare, Somerset still had 3 wickets in hand and a 108 run lead in the first innings. Hildreth was the man in form and the man at the crease, but after a roughing up and a blow by Tommo that may yet keep him out of Finals Day, Hildreth could only add 2 to his overnight 128 before edging the left armer behind, Vince actually holding a catch this time. Kartik fell in a similar manner, though Adams took the catch, and Somerset were 9 down and Tommo had 7 of them. Christian had the nerve to deny everyone's favourite left armer a replica innings haul of two years ago by cleaning up Willoughby and Somerset were all out for 412, Tommo ending with 7-85. If only the other bowlers could match that strike rate. So a lead of 128 and still another 80+ overs scheduled for the day, Hampshire looking to bat and bat and bat and give Somerset not a sniff of victory, especially after what Yorkshire managed to do earlier in the season at Taunton. It was announced that Lumb was out for the season, a foot broken by the Bedwetter and another match injury to add to Cork and Ervine. Carbs and Adams set about batting out the day, adding 47 before Adams swept Kartik to leg slip. Carbs fell 8 runs later, bowled by Willoughby and suddenly Hampshire were in trouble. McKenzie took on the responsibility, coming in at 3 and with Vince at the other end he looked to save the match. This they did very well, adding 85 runs and taking plenty of time out of the game, until Vince edged behind for 43 to leave Hampshire in effect 12-3. Christian was next man in at 5, with just Bates, Tomlinson and Briggs left in the changing room. It appeared one of them would be needed quickly as a de Bruyn ball forced its way through Christian's helmet, splitting open his nose and gashing the eyebrow. 5 minutes of blood, treatment and sawdust later, the man from South Australia was willing to bat on, despite Cork's waving of a makeshift white flag from the balcony. In the circumstances Christian did extremely well, seeing off 10 overs worth before being castled for 36 by Suppiah.

McKenzie drives and pulls Trego on his way to a match saving 60*

McKenzie took on his Cement persona at the other end, reaching his half century whilst Bates, in at 6 at the other end, looked to settle himself into county cricket by striking three boundaries as Tresco realised the game was up just before 5 pm, shaking the captain's hand in the middle and stopping any more pain and injuries for Hampshire. 8 valuable points were Hampshire's as it lifted them above Essex and Kent in the table, Somerset taking second. Ervine and Cork did not reappear for the fourth day, and it is still unlikely if they will be available for Finals Day. Lumb's injury is a real kick in the teeth, or foot, as he was getting into some serious form and could have made the number 3 spot a position of strength for us. As it was it looks like Vince or McKenzie will have to take up those duties, or perhaps Dawson will come into the mix again. Lumb's injury makes the semi-final selection a bit easier, as it simply removes the discussion of trying to fit him into the team. Ervine will be a huge miss if out, and you'd expect Dawson to take up the middle order allrounder role whilst Razzaq moves to opener with Adams. If Cork doesn't make it then McKenzie must play as captain, and I'd bring Jones into the lineup. Though it weakens the batting it's the best we can do. How will Finals Day go? to be honest on players and form I can't see us winning, but this is the big stage and anything can happen in 12 hours of cricket. How Cork and Ervine fair will be key, but we basically need two big innings and good bowling throughout from Wood and Briggs. It's going to be really tough, and we're no doubt fourth favourites, but we're there on merit and we have a chance.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

What a mess

I think it was the early season fixture, when Notts visited The Rose Bowl, when one of the most bizarre series of events occurred that left Hampshire with about 3 players down and strength and conditioning coach Ian Brunnschweiler took up the gloves after Pothas had done something to himself. Kabir Ali's season was ended by injury during that game, but something similar unfolded yesterday at Taunton as first captain Cork left the field having pulled up immediately after tea, and then Slug left the field too, probably related to the back injury that kept him out of the Durham CB40 match. It was left to new physio Craig de Weymarn to put on the whites and take to the field as Hampshire endured a punishing day, watching any hope of victory disappear and a likely defeat loom closer and closer. It had all started so well in the morning session. After a slow start Tomlinson removed nightwatchman Thomas and then opening bat Suppiah with a fine display of swing bowling. Crucially Kieswetter was dropped by Vince at first slip off the bowling of Ervine whilst still on 0. Kieswetter though went on to 43 before Lumb caught him again off of Tomlinson. This only served to bring Hildreth, a man very much in form, to the crease as he and de Bruyn went about repairing the Tommo damage. To make matters worse Lumb took a blow to the foot and also had to leave the field for treatment.

The Somerset pair put on 155 for the fifth wicket, de Bruyn entering the nineties before the hard working Briggs knocked back off stump after a sweep went wrong. Buttler joined Hildtreth and scored runs too, before falling lbw to Christian. Trego then hit a few boundaries before another Tommo bullet messed up the stumps and awarded the bowler with a richly deserved five-for. Hildreth continued on his way though, ending the day on 128, his sixth century this season, as Somerset closed on 392-7, a lead of 108. To say it was a bad day for Hampshire would probably be an understatement. Cork and Ervine both sat out the evening session and so only managed 16.1 overs between them. Christian's one wicket cost 102 runs at more than 5 an over, Briggs struggled to keep the runs being scored off of his bowling, conceeding 137 runs from very nearly a session's amount of overs. Stand in captain McKenzie took on 10 overs himself, whilst the standout was Tommo, 5-78 from 29 overs. If just one other bowler had been able to get figures along those lines then we'd be in a much, much stronger position than the ominous one we find ourselves in now. McKenzie's chances of getting injured have obviously increased ten-fold having been given captaining duties, and to be honest you just wonder when will it end. Hampshire will have to bat out at least two sessions in order to save this match, and that's looking less and less likely if we only have 8 or 9 players at our disposal. I really do feel sorry for Giles White here though. Every plan he had before the season started? Gone. Every plan he had at the end of June? Gone. Our team is on its knees and it has pretty much nothing to do with the type of cricket being played by them. I guess that's a positive. 

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Slipping

For yet another CC match, rain played a big part in the second day, where very little play was possible. Unfortunately Hampshire didn't quite have the same success this time around that they had against Durham when Tomlinson and Vince plundered boundaries between the thunderstorms. Instead what followed after 5 hours of delays was a horrific collapse that saw Hampshire only manage two batting points, a far cry from the 4 that were on offer. Ervine and Christian returned to the crease in effectively the evening session to continue from where they had left off the night before. Initially things went smoothly as the pair took Hampshire past the 250 mark. However a rash shot from Christian was followed by Bates being clean bowled and suddenly Hampshire were 7 down. Ervine reached 48 before falling to Thomas, the South African then removing Tomlinson first ball before Briggs saw off the hat trick ball. Next over however Cork was caught going for a big shot and Hampshire had succumbed to 284 all out. There was time for 7 overs of the Somerset innings, with Suppiah and Trescothick opening. Tomlinson atoned greatly for his first baller by taking a return catch off of Trescothick to at least save some face for Hampshire, and Somerset closed on 16-1.

Overall it was a thoroughly disappointing day. With so much time lost in the day to rain, it was a wonder that they managed to get so much play in the evening session, though Hampshire will be wishing that they didn't have to come out to bat for that last hour and a half. Plenty of starts in the side, Carberry's 71, Ervine's 48, Lumb's 42 etc but the frustrating thing was that no-one could turn that start into a big score, as was so admirably done at May's Bounty. The weather for the next two days is set fair, making a positive Hampshire result very unlikely indeed. What Cork and Tomlinson need to do first thing on the third day is find their length as quickly as possible. Somerset are prone to monstrous collapses, Biblical proportions even, so putting doubt into Suppiah's and nightwatchman Thomas' minds about a moving ball could be key to getting the others (and there are plenty of others in this Somerset side) early and cheaply. In the corresponding fixture there were centuries for both Hildreth (apparently an interest for Hampshire for the 2011 season) and Buttler (would have been a preferable interest). If a Somerset batsman gets a century tomorrow then Hampshrie will be in serious trouble. Briggs needs to squeeze the life out of the batsmen, just like Kartik did, so as to encourage them to play an uncalled for shot from the other end. If Somerset are allowed to build a lead, even just 30 runs or so, then it will be a very long two days, and Hampshire may well find themselves with more nails in the lid of the coffin. Not particularly the best outcome! Ideally I would like to see Hampshire skittle Somerset and then set about building a big enough lead, but that would be perhaps asking too much of the Hampshire bowlers and top batting order.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Not a fantastic first day

Batting at Taunton has traditionally been a, average-inflating exercise. However, since the signing of Murali Kartik over the winter, the wickets prepared have become noticeably tougher to bat on. So noticeable in fact that to be honest they are looking a bit suspect. An overcast first day and Somerset won the toss and bowled, so the expectation would be for plenty of swing or at least seam movement. However that did not appear to be the case as Carberry and Lumb advanced the Hampshire score to 130-1. Adams was the man to fall, in the 30s, though apparently he had been dropped in the first over and then again a short while later. Adams' form is becoming a real concern in the CC, a century on the second day of the season but since then there have been plenty of fifties and plenty of starts but nothing of real substance. Of course I don't doubt his place in the team for a second, it's just that something appears not to be right in either his technique or his approach to an innings. Kartik then proceeded to bowl 23 overs, quite a surprise for a first day in which only 78 overs were bowled due to intermittent rain. Added to that were 3 wickets as Carberry, Lumb and Vince all fell to spin. Carberry however was a rock in the innings, continuing his outstanding form by scoring 71, taking his season stats above 1000 runs. However, once he fell with the score on 130, Lumb and McKenzie combined for a 50 partnership which saw Lumb reach 42, an extension of his good form also.

A pretty predictable collapse followed, as Hampshire went from 180-2 to 186-5, and suddenly Slug was at the crease with CC newbie Dan Christian, who replaced Balcombe as the only change from the side that played Durham at Basingstoke. The selection of Christian is an interesting one, as he clearly offers much, much more with the bat than Balcombe. However, I'm not sure how well he will be able to emulate the role as first change, unless Slug is brought on to bowl first after Cork and Tomlinson. Either way, the pair had added 31 unbeaten when the rain came down to end all hopes of any further play that day, and Hampshire sit in the precarious position of 217-5. Clearly we don't know how the wicket will really play until Somerset have batted as well, but at the current rate even if Hampshire's lower order gets the runs, we are in jeopardy of missing out on 2 batting points. Not something you'd want to do at Taunton. Rain looks like dictating terms today, so if play is able to get underway at any point then Slug and Christian just need to bat as much as they can and look to be proactive in their shot selection and running. Of course, if needed Cork and Tommo can always come out and smash 100 between them. What will also be on Cork's mind is the bowling. The attack picked for this match is in no way the quickest, and given the hstory of the ground, despite Hampshire's day 1 efforts, means that anything wide or short will be dispatched, most probably by Trescothick. It is however a happy hunting ground for Tommo, and so he will be hoping to find the sort of swing that picked him up 8 wickets on the first morning in 2008. If the pitch really is playing into Kartik's hands then Briggs will need a big effort as there will be pressure on him to pick up wickets. Slug and Christian also need to be incisive and look to work away at the middle and lower order to prevent a huge score from being made. Either way Hampshire are in for 3 (well probably 2 and a bit) tough days of cricket.

Monday, 9 August 2010

The revival continues

Old times: Lumb and Adams
It's been far to long since Michael Lumb and Jimmy Adams combined in a one day match at the top of the order to decide the outcome of the game. I can think of the final Pro40 match of last season against Notts, but the time they truly came to town was during the run up to, and including the FPT Final last spring and summer. Durham have officially played Lumb back into form - Lumb has played 3 innings against Durham in 6 days and has returned scores of 64, 75 and 158, which is fantastic news for both Lumb and Hampshire as it hopefully solves the number 3 position in the Championship again, plus we have the second one day opener back scoring runs. Tasked with chasing down a total of 206 for victory, Adams and Lumb put on a fine display of power hitting, strike rotation and solid defense on a wicket that didn't offer stacks for the bowler but certainly wasn't a road either. When Adams failed to clear mid-on off of the bowling of Benkenstein, the required runs were only 56 as the opening pair had put on 150. Adams played extremely well, scoring 86 at better than a run a ball including two maximums and six 4s. Unlike last year it was Adams that came out the aggressive one, finding the shorter legside boundary early on whilst Lumb looked shaky early doors. It was perhaps clear that the two had not batted together properly in a long time as a couple of mix ups could have run out either of the two at points in the innings. As it was though, both men survived and nullified the pace attack, Plunkett in particular coming in for some harsh treatment. A six over cow corner by Lumb was celebrated with a fly-over from a Lancaster bomber, and soon the spinners were on but not even that stopped the pair. An outside edge whilst dancing down the track that went for 4 showed that finally Lumb had a bit of luck on his side.

Vince replaced Adams and took four or five balls to find the middle of the bat, but he got off the mark with a shimmy down the wicket and a whip of the bat to send a Breese ball past a diving mid on and to the boundary. He then fell as he cut Benkenstein to Breese at point who juggled the ball but held on. Lumb was the next to go, again dancing down the wicket but missing what looked like a Blackwell quicker ball and was cleaned up. McKenzie then fell to Benkenstein too, with an inside edge onto off-stump. Despite losing effectively 4-43, an assuring arm was provided by Carberry appearing at 5 in the order, and with a solid Dan Christian, in for Slug at 6, the pair put any nerves to bed and finished off the game, Carberry cutting through a packed off-side field to end the game. To be honest the game could have been over quicker but for excellent outfield work on the longer eastern boundary by young Stokes in particular. In all truthfulness though, restricting Durham to 205-8 was quite an achievement. Captain Mustard opened with di Venuto, and much to everyone's suprise it was di Venuto who was the aggressor, ruthlessly cutting and pulling Cork for 4 from the pavilion end. Cork's first two overs went for 23 but from the other end a little miracle was unfolding, as Wood bowled with pace but above all accuracy, cramping the Colonel up for space and restricting di Venuto to the odd single. When Wood removed Mustard's offstump in his third over, his figures read 1-5, a slight improvement of Cork and Christian's combined figures from the other end of 3 overs for 34. di Venuto continued to make merry but was then outdone by Simon Jones, making his first 40 over start for Hampshire, as substitute Benham took a great low catch inside the ring on the on side.

di Venuto - the top order aggressor
At 55-2 Durham had lost both openers but the assured Benkenstein was at the crease with Ben Harmison. However Christian, Jones and Briggs turned the screws, making runs extremely hard to come by as the run rate collapsed. Jones bowled particularly well, and his pace looked up on his 20/20 performances, and his accuracy was better too. Christian bowled accurately, recovering from his nightmare first over, whilst Briggs held his nerve as the batting pair tested the water concerning going after the young spinner. There must have been 2 or 3 possible chances in one of Briggs' overs as both batsmen decided to go aerial but to not much effect, Cork getting a fingertip to one ball but not holding on. It was Briggs who got the breakthrough when Harmison tried to mow one over cow corner but picked out the boundary rider Christian for a frustrated 30 off 53. Muchall was next man in but did not look comfortable either, especially against Jones, and struggled to get any sort of innings going. Adams put him out of his misery though, Benkenstein calling a single that really wasn't on and a direct hit from Adams settled the matter. A slight groan filled the ground though as coming out at number 6 was Blackwell, not the player you want to see come in with 11 overs to spare. However Blackwell looked short of match fitness, as he laboured both his shots and his running. You wonder if Benkenstein did it on purpose, as he again called for a single that wasn't available, and Christian and Bates combined to send Blackwell trudging back to the dressing room. Benkenstein fell soon after as panic set in amongst Durham, realising that 200 was going to be close to their score. Cork had brought himself back on to repair his figures, but Benkenstein targeted the short boundary only to be cut off by a diving Lumb a few metres in from the ropes ending a boundary-less 33 from 57 balls. Breese very nearly lost his wicket straight away, gloving to Bates but Cork had overstepped, much to his protestations. Together Breese and Stokes started scoring quickly, finding the boundary in the powerplay before Wood was brought back on to bowl out his overs. Standing up to the stumps, Bates held onto a faint edge off Breese, who walked immediately to give Wood his second wicket. Plunkett lasted two balls as he top edged Christian to Briggs at fine leg. Claydon let his intentions be known as he warmed up at the crease by swishing his bat in a cow corner arc. It worked to an extent as he found the boundary twice, the second off the last ball of the innings as Durham ended on 205-8. Stokes unbeaten at the other end on 31 but he'd be frustrated as hewas unable to accelerate the innings as much as he would have wanted to.

So another victory in the CB40 and amazingly our hopes of making the quarter finals are still alive. More urgent on the agenda though is the impending match against Somerset in the Championship at Taunton. Taunton is not known for producing results, so a maximum point draw is probably all we can hope for to be truthful. However, yesterday's win coupled with the growing excitement over saturday could cause someone to spark in the team. It looks like Christian may play instead of Ervine again, as Slug sat out yesterday's match with a back niggle. I expect Tomlinson and Balcombe to come back in for Wood and Jones to leave an otherwise unchanged team from the one that played so well against Durham at Basingstoke.

Dear Danish

Dear Danish,

Just, keep away from us, yeah? Look mate we thought you were decent and some of the performances you've put in for us and Essex have been good. But come on. You don't have anything on Saeed Ajmal. For goodness sake the bloke looks like he's gonna knock on your door one day and break your legs if you don't pay money back on time. How's the doosra of yours? Alright? Well let me tell you something, Ajmal's is better, much better. He's a finger spinner! You're supposed to be a leggie but currently Saeed has five times the number of wickets you have this series, and probably 5 times as many runs, I don't know but either way you're crap. You just annoy me so much with your annoying voice and your annoying hand movements and your annoying fielding. I've never seen Saeed field but I bet it's better than yours, just like everything he does is better than you. Seriously if I were you then I'd just end my cricketing career right now. Kind regards,

Ijaz Butt, xx
The guy you've seen in a suit and on that shaky video of Kakmal or something.

PS: Keep going mate, you're not far from the selectors' thoughts.

PPS: Take your stupid teeth with you too.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Drawing in the rain

Despite the best efforts of both sides, the Hampshire-Durham match at May's Bounty unfortunately ended in a draw as half a day of rain meant that anything but a completely contrived result was out of the window. Having ended day 3 on 41-2, a lead of 142 in the second innings, Hampshire looked to be positive in the hope that the forecast rain would keep away and a declaration could be made. This was made all the more possible by the injury to Durham's most effective bowler, Callum Thorp, during the 3rd day evening session. Carberry was joined at the crease by fellow run machine Michael Lumb for the start of play and the pair went about their usual business, as if it was the first day again. Carberry started the day on 22 and quickly took another liking to Harmison's perhaps lacklustre bowling as boundaries came in plentiful amounts. Lumb too looked circumspect early on but kept the scoreboard workers on their toes by blasting four sixes in his 50, Carberry also reaching 50 but from 102 balls. The pair brought up the hundred partnership and went into lunch on 150-2. After reaching his 50, Carberry stepped up the pace considerably, and reached his century from 164 balls, moving from 50 to 100 in just 62 balls. Lumb fell for 64 to Blackwell with the score on 191, meaning the pair had put on 150 for the fourth wicket. Amazingly whilst batting together, Lumb and Carberry managed to put on 464 runs in this match. Carberry also lost his wicket to Blackwell, stumped for 107, his second century of the match and his fifth of the season, as rain approached the ground. Blackwell also removed Vince for a duck but a few minutes later the covers were on and the match was called a draw not long after.

It is disappointing that a result could not be forced from the game, for both sides, though the two captains should be congratulated for not letting the game die after all but 11 overs of the second day were lost. Mustard's third day declaration was particularly bold, as he sacrificed batting points in the hope of getting a win. As it was it was not to be for either side, and the rain ruled the match. Terrible news came out of Southend though, as Warwickshire beat Essex in a very low scoring game to drag themselves back into the relegation fight. A few positives though were that neither side picked up a single batting point (155 and 150 were the first innings scores), whilst the defeat also stopped Essex from pulling away, and they have played 2 or 3 more games than Hampshire. Thankfully there have been no reports of injuries from the Basingstoke game from a Hampshire perspective, meaning we will probably go into the Somerset match at Taunton on Monday with the same XI. Inbetween that we have a 40 over match at home to Durham, and Jones and DC have been added to the match day squad. Christian's inclusion could suggest a number of things. Either that Cork will take a quick break, given that a four day match takes place the next day, or that we will look to bolster the batting by bringing Christian in for Riazuddin, batting him at 7 and moving Bates and Cork down one. A third possibility is that Christian may come in as a like-for-like Slug replacement, giving the Zimbabwean a day's rest before the Somerset match. Either way it should be a good match, better than the corresponding fixture, as Hampshire look to continue their limited overs renaissance in time for Finals Day.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Making a game of it

I do hope that those associated with a county based at Old Trafford have been following events at Basingstoke these last few days. Despite pretty much losing the second day to rain and what looks like most of the fourth day, Hampshire and Durham have managed to keep the excitement going in this intriguing contest which, if rain weren't to intervene today, could become an absolute cracker of a finish. After feasting on the Tuesday, then only getting 11 overs on the Wednesday, Hampshire declared overnight on 421-5, and so took to the field after a half hour delay. Things couldn't have gone better with the ball in the first hour, removing 4 of the top 5 to leave Durham reeling at 40-4, Tomlinson especially providing a fine exhibition of swing bowling. However, as is often the case they were undone by a counter attacking partnership between Muchall and the young Stokes, as the pair got Durham out of follow-on danger. Stokes then fell to a brilliant catch by Ervine near the boundary off of Briggs with his personal score on 99. Muchall reached his century though, and following a clatter of wickets, put on a partnership with Borthwick that got Durham up to 320-7. Interestingly, Mustard then declared, meaning about 40 minutes at Hampshire's batsmen before close (which had been moved to 6:30). Blackwell managed to remove the struggling Adams, then nightwatchman Tomlinson. However that was to be the last act of the day as Hampshire closed on 41-2, a lead of 142. Carberry however was not out at the other end on 22 from just 27 balls, having tucked into some dreadful Harmison bowling, who appeared to retire from his bowling duties halfway through his third over, having already gone for 18 runs.

So it leaves the match very interestingly poised. It's frustrating that we managed to let Durham get a competitive score having had them 40-4. However even if we had managed to remove the other 6 wickets for the loss of say another 160 runs and enforced the follow on, Durham's top order would have made a much better fist of their innings and we'd have probably been in a similar position but with Durham ahead. Likewise when I saw Tomlinson had gotten out to the last ball of the day I was annoyed, but he had done his job. He had protected Lumb who will now start his innings this morning, and not with 3 overs left last night. All in all this game has thoroughly impressed, with positive cricket being on show from both sides throughout, with perhaps the Stokes dismissal summing up the approach of both teams to the game.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

The new allrounder and a cloud burst

It's fair to say that James Tomlinson is enjoying 2010 more than 2009. 23 wickets so far will not get him near his country topping feat of 2008, but he will be happy with the haul that puts him second in terms of wickets taken (Cork has 28 at an average of 20.5). What has been perhaps more impressive is Tomlinson's improvement with the bat. Though he has never been a rabbit, batting previously in a side containing Mascarenhas, Tremlett and Tahir firmly made Tomlinson the number 11. However with Mascarenhas out of the side and Cork making the number 8 spot his own, Tomlinson is quickly becoming a firm number 9. With his current innings against Durham standing at 31*, batting at 7 as the nightwatchman, his batting figures for the season currently stand at 159 runs from 13 innings with 4 not outs at an average of 17.67. A career best 42 was scored this season in an innings turning partnership with Slug, whilst he has currently scored 50 runs in his last two innings, with the possibility of more to come today. Hampshire are in a stronger position too. After the wobble on Tuesday night left them 373-5, only 11 overs were possible yesterday but Vince and Tomlinson quickly took the score to 421-5 and maximum batting points. A particular highlight was Tomlinson's cover driving off Thorp to really get the innings motoring as Vince added 4 more boundaries to his total too. Rain in the morning delayed the start until early afternoon, but a thunderous downpour ended all play for the day after the 11 overs, the outfield too wet to get cleared up in time to play again. Apparently some of the rain has managed to get into the wicket, which will be music to Cork and Tomlinson's ears as they go about trying to force a result on a third day that should offer the full 96 overs of play.


Both teams will be hoping for weather similar to the first day (above)

In other news, Hampshire have managed to register Dan Christian for all forms of cricket as our overseas player until September, and he will be a welcome boost to the lower middle order in the one day side. However, I'm not sure if fitting him into the Championship side would be a good idea. Also, there was saddening news that Neil McKenzie will have to return to his South African side the Highveld Lions in order to play in the Champions League. He will miss the last month of the season. This news was tempered though by the announcement that replacing him would be Aussie Phil Hughes, the 21 (or 22, depending upon which newspaper you read) year old who scored runs for fun for Middlesex at the start of last season. He will be a very welcome addition to the side, though Chalky will have some headaches about which order to play a top 4 that is made up of 4 batsmen who all regularly open in various forms of cricket. I wouldn't be suprised if Hughes bats at 3 with Lumb at 4, keeping the Adams-Carberry partnership intact. If he gets going then Hghes could be a match winner, as he not only scores big but he scores quickly too. He'll play in three Championship matches - away to Lancashire, away to Kent, and home to Warwickshire. He'll also play in the CB40 match against Leics at Grace Road. Of course the loss of Macca is a huge one and not one anyone would have done through choice, but I'm pleased, very pleased in fact, with the replacement Chalky and Bransgrove have found. Let's just hope he turns up.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

A lesson in how to bat positively

In an effort to be at the forefront of cricket's development, especially in this country, from Sunday past-time to national sport, Rod Bransgrove has developed The Rose Bowl into one of the best grounds in the country. The latest additions, two stands either side of the main pavilion, have raised the profile of the ground enormously, with 2 ODI's and 20/20 Finals Day being staged there this year. In all of this rush for money and development, a particularly treasured aspect of County Cricket is in danger of being lost. The outground has been the favourite of many supporters and members, a hark back to the older days, though of course grounds such as New Road and Hove still maintain a certain feel of being an outground. The days of playing at grounds such as United Services Ground in Portsmouth are over, but thankfully Hampshire have continued an arrangement with Basingstoke and North Hampshire CC to play a Championship match each season at May's Bounty. Tucked away on the outskirts of Basingstoke, admittedly not the most picturesque of towns, May's Bounty provides Hampshire and its supporters with (usually) 4 days of nostalgia, at least for the older members who fondly recall many games played at Northlands, Hampshire's original home. Even for those who were introduced to cricket after the shift to The Rose Bowl, the ground offers a character that does not fail to charm. Arriving at the ground provides a feeling that you are perhaps entering into a private party, tree-lined on two sides with a classic pavilion and scoreboard. The concrete strip that for 361 days of the year is used as a road from the gate to the pavilion is transformed into a concourse, serving idling members, those with ice cream and club staff frantically carrying shop stock in cardboard boxes.

What May's Bounty offers that is not available at The Rose Bowl is a ready access to the outfield. Instead of boundary boards, stewards and announcements to keep off the playing area, the boundary rope sits feet in front of the first row of seats. Intervals allow kids to play on the outfield without being removed from the ground and prosecuted, whilst those with more than a passing interest can get a close up look at the wicket. To compliment such a fine ground, some fine cricket was in order, and that was exactly what Hampshire provided. Having won the toss Cork elected to bat, Carberry and Adams making their way across an undulating outfield and to the middle. Overthrows on the last ball of the first over, bowled by Harmison gave a good indication of what was to come from the Durham fielders. A flurry of boundaries was ended with Adams nicking Harmison behind for 18. Strangely Durham turned to youngster Stokes as first change from the Town End, and after some decent overs, new man Lumb and Carberry began to find the boundary easily. A flying edge off of Carberry entered then exited the hands of Benkenstein for a drop that was to prove extremely costly. There were a couple of lbw shouts but umpire Benson in particular was having none of it. Lumb and Carberry were having none of it either and moved on to 99-1 at lunch. Last week Lancashire did their best to kill off anything and everyone associated with Hampshire. You could say that the afternoon session at May's Bounty was two fingers up at Lancashire, but more likely it was about securing batting points for a match that is heading towards a rain affected draw.

After a drop off Lumb by Mustard early on in the session, Lumb moved to 50 (Carberry had reached that point before lunch) both played a varied game against the pace attack, going through phases of consolidation followed by bursts of boundary hitting. Mustard brought the spinners on but this only served to cement Hampshire's dominance. I was worried about Lumb facing two spinners who turn it in to him, but after a watchful start he unleashed a full range of shots against Borthwick in particular, the cover drives for four and the six over long on particular highlights. Carberry maintained a similar pace at the other end, and despite the edge being beaten a few times neither batsmen looked in any trouble at all. It was as if Durham's bowlers had turned up for throw downs to the Hampshire batsmen and the milestones kept coming - team score 100, Lumb 50, 100 partnership, 150 team score, 150 partnership, 200 team score, 200 partnership, Lumb 100, Carberry 100, 250 team score, 250 partnership. By the time both teams left the field for tea the scoreboard read 298-1, and Hampshire had scored an incredible 199 runs in the afternoon session, at more than 6 an over. Second ball after tea the 300 was up, with the 300 partnership and Carberry's 150 following. Lumb then brought up his 150 before delaying tactics by Durham broke the partnership. Lumb I think called for new gloves and Durham took the opportunity to call drinks for them, as well as have a sit down, a team talk and toilet break for two players, Much to the bemusement of the umpires and batsmen. Benson broke up the team talk like he would a group of youths hanging outside a shop. Carberry must have been bored by this as well as Benkenstein's bowling which was wide of off-stump with a packed off side field. Sadly it worked as Carberry cut to point to fall for 162. McKenzie didn't last long, bowled rond his legs by a ball from Blackwell that seemed to hit a footmark or something. Lumb then fell lbw to Thorp for 158, Ervine the same but for 8 as Hampshire closed on 373-5.

The aim is of course to reach 400 and maximum batting points, and though the weather may be ok at the moment, the forecasts point to a lot of lost play over the next three days so the target will be to get as many bonus points as possible. Durham gave an image of 'we don't want to be here' Harmison in particular, reflective of a team that has been crippled by injuries and in fighting. How they will bat I don't know, as despite Lumb and Carberry's efforts the ptich does have something for the bowlers in it, so scoreboard pressure may play a part and Hampshire ca pick up bowling points too. Lumb and Carberry's partnership of 314 was the second highest ever for the Hampshire second wicket, just 8 runs short of the record.

Monday, 2 August 2010

A lesson in how to kill cricket

This lecture was today delivered by the batsmen of Lancashire who, on a fourth day that still harboured a number of possible outcomes (despite my complaints at the end of day 3), managed to well and truly snuff the life out of the game. What Hampshire needed to force a win was very early wickets, while if Lancashire were hoping to set a target then they would have to get a move on with their two set batsmen. The trouble was, as became so painfully apparent at an early stage on the fourth morning, was that being set at the crease meant simply that occupying the crease was easy. Chilton and Smith removed all chance of being out by not playing positively to what was, when stripped down to the bare bones, a fast medium attack. Conditions again were not exactly bowler friendly, but that didn't stop Lancs from shutting up shop. 22 runs came off the first 10 overs, as Smith made his way towards a century and Chilton crawled towards a 50. There was, amazingly,  brief flurry of runs as Smith hit a few sixes off of Briggs, but such nonsense was quickly stopped and normal service resumed. Thankfully some pain was removed in the form of Chilton's wicket, edging Balcombe's first ball behind to Bates. Smith got his century, whilst Chanderpaul didn't last long, offering a catch to Lumb at short leg off of the ever impressive Briggs. Croft hit a couple of boundaries off Ervine, briefly making him the most expensive bowler in terms of economy, 11 overs for 29. Croft fell the same way as Chanderpaul, giving Briggs another wicket caught by Lumb at short leg. Lancashire continued to kill the game, though at least Cross began making some shots.

Smith hit Briggs into the deep, but Adams held onto the catch as the allrounder departed for 128 from a mere 306 balls. Sutton was next to go, scoring 2 at an impressive strike rate of 6.45 to keep the game alive... his wicket taken by Carberry and his offspin, caught by Balcombe. You suspect that the delivery was better than his first one on the first day, a waste high full toss that Chanderpaul must still be kicking himself about for not sending into orbit. Cross however continued on his way, scoring at an acceptable rate, reaching his hundred from 134 balls and taking Lancashire to 351-6, a lead of 267 with an hour left of scheduled play. Perhaps finally realising that those still left at the ground should not be put through any more pain, Chapple put Hampshire out of their misery too, shaking hands with Cork. And so brought to an end a game that promised so much at the end of day two, but provided very little in terms of points. Lancashire will of course be pleased that their unbeaten run continued, however 7 points are more than they deserve for such a negative approach to a game as I've seen. Hampshire came away with 10 much needed points, but will be frustrated at how the game died. So it's onto Durham at May's Bounty in Basingstoke tomorrow, and Hampshire will be hoping that the pitch will offer more assistance in the last two days. No injuries have been reported so I expect the same team to start the match as started against Lancashire. A win is a must but the weather is not looking great for Wednesday or Friday, so again there may be frustrations come Friday. Durham however will still be dangerous, despite the upheavals of the last few months. This is a game that Hampshire can not take lightly.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

From intrigue to snooze fest

What promised to be an eventful, perhaps tense day sadly turned into a turgid affair where the leave just outside off stump ruled as king. Hampshire began the day 4 ahead with 4 wickets in hand, though Bates and Balcombe quickly succumbed to Chapple, Cork still not out having got Hampshire past 300. Rain delayed the start and so lunch was delayed too. I decided on attending the rest of the afternoon session and the evening session, and to my amazement on my arrival, Lancs were not batting, but instead Cork and Tommo still occupied the crease! Even more, the pair had gotten Hampshire past the invaluable (ok, valued at 4 points) 350 score mark, within the 110 over limit. A beautiful cover drive from Tommo a highlight, as Cork reached 50 for the second time this season. Tommo edged Keedy to slip but it was agonisingly late for Lancashire, who missed out on the third bowling point by just 2 balls. Briggs came to the wicket and scored a run before a frankly lucky but impressive one handed tumbling catch by Chapple ended the innings on 369, a lead of 84. Lancs opened again with Horton and Smith, whilst Hampshire again opened with Cork and Tommo to start off the third innings. Like the first, Lancs were very circumspect in their approach to the game, Horton cutting Cork for 4 in the first over but little else followed. Infact nothing else followed as Smith and Horton insisted on leaving the ball at every opportunity. This eventually bit back at Horton, as a superb ball from Tommo nipped back on Horton who had shouldered arms, and the off-stump was knocked back.

Sadly at this point, the game as a contest died. Chilton joined Smith at the wicket and a few overs later the sun dominated the sky for the first time in the match, rendering the pitch useless and removing all swing and seam help. This basically left us with 4 fast medium bowlers whose only tool was now accuracy. At this stage it might have been expected for Lancs to step up a gear in the face of severely restricted bowling. However Lancashire, ever since Chanderpaul's dismissal on the first day, have displayed the image that they are not interested in anything except a bore draw. Smith reached his century, playing a few shots in anger early on against Briggs, before getting back in line and leaving/blocking the ball. Smith reached his half-century whilst Chilton must have done something bad in the changing rooms as there was no way he was going to risk doing anything of any kind in the foreseeable future that might result in something that isn't a dot ball. The pair were the very epitome of aggressive batting as they put together an unbroken partnership of 98 from about 48 overs. It wasn't suprising that with still 10 overs to go in the extended day, nearly the entire crowd had gone home to prevent any suicidal thoughts. Claims that the remaining supporters had all died of boredom were flatly denied.

So with the fourth and final day due to begin in about half an hour, barring a monumental Lancashire collapse in the morning session, or a monumental Hampshire collapse in the evening, this game is hurtling towards a draw. There is some cloud cover at the moment, which should at least make bowling less of a chore than it was yesterday evening. I expect half a mind will now be on the Durham match at Basingstoke which starts on Tuesday.