After what has been a relatively resounding success thus far, the latest weekend of NatWest Twenty20 Blast action was on the more frustrating side with a variety of external factors proving detrimental to this round’s output.
For all the rebranding and marketing of the ECB’s latest reincarnation of domestic Twenty20 cricket, its success is always going to be heavily influenced by the elements. Having been dealt a more than generous hand throughout the opening half of its inception, the weather Gods sent a gentle reminder of their power to hamper this latest round of T20 Blast games: four games in total failed to produce a positive result.
Whilst the conditions are beyond the ECB’s control, ensuring the best players in the country are made available wherever possible is a factor they are able to influence. With that in mind the decision to mark all - Moeen Ali aside - as unavailable remains a bizarre decision, particularly considering the ECB’s apparent enthusiasm for this tournament to revitalise interest in the domestic game.
The final point of contention resides with the surfaces games are being played on, with several reports of pitches that are not conducive to the attributes of Twenty20 cricket that attract the masses.
If counties are genuinely committed to utilising the potential of Twenty20 cricket then sluggish slow pitches such as the one found at Lord's on Thursday night must not become commonplace.
Pitches at The Oval have been among those to receive criticism, however the relatively slow surfaces are doing Surrey little harm with a demolition job over highly-fancied Hampshire representing a fifth win in six games.
Surrey’s attack was at its miserly best to restrict Hampshire’s much vaunted top order to just 131 – the fifth time in six they have conceded less than 150 – before their batsmen belittled the perceived testing conditions to reach home with six overs still in the bank.
Keeping Surrey from the Southern summit are Essex, who in recording a rain-affected victory over Somerset reached a fifth win on the spin and at the same time this was their seventh consecutive successful chase of the campaign.
Considering during that run they have on three occasions gunned down scores in excess of 180, a revised target of 125 in 18 overs was always likely to prove insufficient for Somerset and so it proved with Essex easing home with six balls in hand, with it resigning Marcus Trescothick’s side to a fifth defeat in eight.
Although the top three - Essex, Surrey and Hampshire - appear destined for the knockout stages, the outcome of the final qualification spot remains very much up in the air. The rest of division, excluding stragglers Middlesex, are very much in the mix. Sussex - who last week reversed a run of five straight defeats - became the latest side in possession of that coveted fourth spot courtesy of a routine victory against a Middlesex side who will already be longing for the finish line.
Gloucestershire will feel frustrated that their Thursday night clash with the basement club was ruined by persistent rain, however they responded in superb manner to squeeze out fellow fourth spot contenders Kent – a game which went down to the very last ball. In pursuit of 151 and 45 short with only 24 balls and four wickets remaining Gloucestershire, who prior to this point had only won twice, looked to be heading for a critical defeat yet youngsters Jack Taylor and Adam Rouse combined superbly to revive their campaign.
Another contest to go down to the wire was Glamorgan’s clash with Hampshire, as the Welsh county fell short of Hampshire’s 170 by just six runs. Chris Wood’s superb 19th over - which cost just five runs and included the crucial scalp of Darren Sammy - arguably proved to be the turning point in Glamorgan falling to a second consecutive defeat that leaves them narrowly shy of the qualification zone.
Rain was particularly prominent in the Northern group, with three of four Friday night fixtures in the division being abandoned – including the Roses clash at Headingley and an intriguing contest between hotly tipped Nottinghamshire and soaring Worcestershire.
The only game that beat Friday’s deluge occurred at Derby, where Derbyshire belied their winless start to superbly chase down Birmingham’s total of 189 with six balls to spare. Having slipped to 144 for six - albeit still with six overs left - a confidence-sapped Derbyshire might have crumbled, however some lusty blows down the order ensured a rare memorable night for the long suffering County Ground faithful.
For Birmingham this signalled a wasted opportunity to cement a top four spot, with their bowlers’ struggles coming somewhat out of the blue considering that up until this point they had been the significantly stronger facet of Birmingham’s game.
Derbyshire’s joy was however short-lived as they were brought back down to earth with a rather emphatic bump at Durham where the home side cruised past the visitors 125 with no less than 40 balls to spare.
In truth it was a fixture that was all but concluded as a genuine contest even before Derbyshire had passed halfway in their innings given that in the ninth over they had slumped to 63 for six. The win was imperative for Durham to keep themselves in the qualification shake up accounting they had won only one of seven previous games, while Derbyshire’s hopes now look to have completely sailed.
The only other concluded game in the division took place at Trent Bridge where Nottinghamshire strengthened their grip on a qualification spot with a routine win over Yorkshire. This was Chris Read’s side's third win in succession and they appear to have firmly weathered their recent stuttered patch.
Perhaps surprisingly, considering their imposing batting stocks, it was a victory masterminded by the Notts bowlers with Yorkshire falling 22 runs short of their 143 run target.
Jason Roy has been receiving glowing praise in recent weeks and he again showcased his best attributes to plunder 63 off only 25 balls - an innings which made light of Hampshire’s earlier troubles with regards to keeping the scoreboard moving apace. What has been so remarkable regarding Roy’s season to date is the consistency of his brutality - together with sitting second in the run scoring charts the 23 year old can also boast a strike rate of 149.
Bizarrely two of the three highest individual scorers of the week both saw their innings tarnished with defeat: Sam Northeast and William Porterfield both contributing scores of 74 that would eventually go unrewarded.
Northeast was somewhat upstaged by Adam Rouse, with the 22-year-old - only in action due to Gloucestershire’s torrid run of wicket-keeping luck - clubbing 36 off just 16 balls including three fours off the final four balls of the innings to take his side to an unlikely victory. Rouse is only with the county on a temporary deal due to Gloucestershire’s injury problems behind the stumps but innings such as this will only heighten the chances of a permanent deal.
Joining Northeast and Porterfield in hitting 74 was Chris Nash, however unlike those batsmen his efforts proved more than enough to secure victory for his side. That Nash’s innings didn’t go to waste was in no small part down to Will Beer and Luke Hatchett who each clinched three scalps to ensure Middlesex were kept to a measly 109.
Arguably the bowling performance of the week however went to Luke Fletcher who clinched hugely impressive figures of three for 19 to squeeze Yorkshire – two of those miserly overs bowled at the death.
Wes Durston provided the spark for Derbyshire’s long awaited fist victory, with the opener smacking a half-century from only 20 balls to end a frustrating run of form. Unfortunately Durston could do little to deny John Hastings and Ben Stokes two days later – the former taking four for 26 before the latter continued his injury comeback with two wickets and an impressive 49 off just 26 balls.
© Cricket World 2014