Week four most definitely represented a significant victory for the NatWest T20 Blast as a sun-kissed Friday night provided the most idyllic setting for a plethora of enthralling contests, which were crucially witnessed – in the majority of cases - by sizeable crowds.
Such was the resounding success of Friday night’s action that not even the bizarre absence of England’s newly selected Test squad could dampen spirits.
Amidst the feel good factor, it is now emerging exactly which counties are likely to be the success stories of the tournament and which are likely to be the stragglers. Making fruitful predictions still remains a treacherous task, but not quite the shooting fish in a barrel scenario it was a month ago.
Old Trafford is the only place to start in deciphering the North Group, where Yorkshire rode on the unpredictable nature of Twenty20 to upset the formbook to win a thrilling Roses contest.
Giong into the fixture off the back of four successive victories, Lancashire seemed set for local bragging rights as Yorkshire began the final over of their pursuit of 180 requiring a further 15 runs – however at that point the fielding side were punished six penalty runs to crucially swing the contest in the direction of their neighbours. It was a gift Yorkshire did not let go to waste as they completed an Aaron Finch inspired chase with three balls to spare.
The East Midlands derby unfortunately couldn’t quite compare in the closely-run stakes as Nottinghamshire made the short trip down the A52 to outclass Derbyshire, Alex Hales helping make light of the home side’s 164.
This was an important victory for Notts’ talent packed side given their form has stuttered since a hugely impressive opening night success over Lancashire, while for Derbyshire defeat to their rivals means they have now lost four on the bounce and already on the verge of writing off yet another Twenty20 campaign.
Nobody has silenced the critics in all forms of cricket quite like Worcestershire this season and Steve Rhodes’ side this week further belittled the views of those who predicted a season of strife.
Successive victories on Friday and Saturday – against Leicestershire and Durham respectively – mean they rise to the summit of the table and can now boast a sequence of four victories in as many games.
That rain-affected defeat compounded a frustrating round for Durham who had already been defeated by Birmingham at Edgbaston on Friday night – curiously the sole game in which the attendance figure was a substantial disappointment.
Leicestershire’s defeat to Worcestershire means they have now lost three in succession and while the congested nature of the table – Lancashire and Worcestershire aside – means the damage is far from terminal they will be looking to buck that trend sooner rather than later.
Huge individual scores were the theme in the Southern Group as no less than five batsmen surpassed 80. Hampshire could not boast any of those individuals but that did not stop them serenely progressing to a fourth straight win on Thursday night – Kent their latest victims.
Impressively James Vince’s side have not conceded higher than 161 in their opening five games, with that in mind Kent were always facing a mountain to preserve the tournament’s only remaining unbeaten record as they pursued 172.
To Kent’s credit they responded to that 22-run defeat in encouraging fashion as they resigned Middlesex to an eighth successive Twenty20 loss in a high scoring encounter, although Middlesex skipper Dan Christian came within a whisker of pulling a rabbit out the hat. The Australian transformed a chase that looked long dead in the water into one that became unexpectedly tetchy for the Canterbury faithful.
Another side to enjoy a weekend of emphatic scoring were Gloucestershire, who racked up 189 against Sussex on Friday night before scoring 207 against Glamorgan on Sunday afternoon - unfortunately their luck was not in for the later of those fixtures as rain denied Glamorgan the chance to respond.
Their Friday night batting exploits weren’t unrewarded as Gloucestershire squeezed home for a four-run victory. That margin might have been significantly larger had Will Beer not plundered 37 off just 17 balls from number nine which nearly snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
At The Oval a substantial audience witnessed Kevin Pietersen’s return on English soil as Surrey met Essex – two sides who could boast records of two wins in three and who both reached finals day in 2013.
Pietersen’s homecoming was somewhat of a low key affair as the ex-England man fell for only five and it was in fact another IPL returnee – Ryan ten Doeschate - who stole the show as the all-rounder fired Essex past Surrey’s below par 151 with seven balls still in the bank.
Few would have anticipated Somerset – at least quarter-finalists in each of the previous five campaigns – to be second from bottom a month into the tournament. Yet defeat against Glamorgan – their third in three games – means Marcus Trescothick’s side are now only propped up by wayward Middlesex.
In contrast Glamorgan who have not negotiated the group stage since 2008 now occupy second spot in the division, courtesy of this latest boundary-littered victory, in which both Jim Allenby and Peter Trego ended their respective innings unbeaten in the nineties.
Even at this early stage of the season it is going to take a remarkable innings to top Christian’s beleaguered 129 - a knock which arrived off only 57 balls and included 10 maximums. Kent were indebted to David Griffiths for ending Christian’s carnage as it was he who removed the Australian with the first ball of the final over which began with 15 required for the most remarkable of victories.
That was one of three final over wickets generated by the seamer’s consistent yorkers as he clinched figures of four for 22 – a supreme return considering this was a contest in which 400 runs were scored.
Griffiths wasn’t the only bowler to prosper in a run glut, as Graeme McCarter snared figures of five for 35 as Gloucestershire beat Sussex – including an excellent final over in which he claimed three victims, including the crucial scalp of the belligerent Beer.
Yorkshire reaped the rewards on their Aaron Finch investment as the Australian cracked 88 off 55 deliveries to propel them to the cusp of victory in that earlier mentioned frenetic Roses contest.
Finch’s exploits were just one of an abundance of superb individual batting efforts across the weekend; Iain Cockbain, who scored a career best 84 off 51 to aid Gloucestershire in downing Sussex, Jim Allenby and Peter Trego, who contributed 96 and 94 respectively in the same fixture, are all worthy of special praise.
With the ball, figures of three for 28 for Danny Briggs against Kent mean the Hampshire man now resides at the top of the wicket-taking charts, at the same time boasting an economy rate of 6.36.
Only six players who have bowled in excess of 10 overs can better that economy rate, with a further miserly spell this weekend from Jeetan Patel of two for 23 seeing the Warwickshire man rise to the top of the charts.
© Cricket World 2014