Round three of the NatWest T20 Blast was most definitely a rare weekend for the bowlers - given that only two of the 10 games completed witnessed a score in excess of 150, while there were four instances of sides successfully defending scores of below 140.
At the top of the miserly list were a Lancashire attack who in consecutive nights defended scores of 133 and 126 - Durham and Birmingham their respective victims.
The win over Durham was perhaps the better spectacle, given Lancashire squeezed home by a single run having extracted the life out of a chase that at 98 for three was looking well placed. Those double wins mean the Lightning now climb to the Northern summit and with Andrew Flintoff’s arrival imminent there is plenty to buoyant about at Old Trafford, although accounting for their miserly bowlers he may not be guaranteed overs.
To their credit Durham bounced back in impressive fashion, producing their own squeeze job to defend a paltry 132 against Nottinghamshire’s intimidating batting arsenal. The Outlaws will however still be wondering quite how they did not get over the line with only five needed off the final four balls.
This represented a second successive defeat for a Notts side who many had outlined as the tournaments standout side and although they are missing the strike bowling of Harry Gurney, their stuttered opening has come somewhat out of the blow.
Worcestershire, already belittling all expectation in the Championship, are now after a stumbling start beginning to showcase signs that they could also be a dangerous proposition in the shortest format – with the infliction of defending champions Northamptonshire’s first defeat vindication of their progress.
As was the case against Notts last Friday the Rapids conjured a superb bowling effort, before their openers somewhat bucked the low scoring trend of the division to coast to a score of 135 with 35 balls in the bank.
For Northants that loss concluded a week of frustration given a night earlier they had seen their game at whipping boys Derbyshire fall victim to the weather which was the only fixture not completed this week.
The Worcestershire defeat should not generate any need for panic, although it did highlight their over reliance on David Willey, whose wicket saw Northant’s innings terminally lose its way.
Stricken Derbyshire’s misery was compounded at Yorkshire where their woefully under par 127 – which didn’t include a single six - was chased down in only 14 overs by a Yorkshire side who in the process picked up their first win.
Another side to get off the mark this week were Birmingham who responded to defeat at Lancashire by comfortably seeing off Leicestershire at a sun-kissed Grace Road on Sunday. Their 179 was the highest score in the division this week.
An opening day defeat at home to Glamorgan had raised eyebrows regarding the credentials of highly fancied Hampshire, however a third successive victory – this time against unbeaten Essex – has seen normal service more than resumed.
Against a side who could boast a run rate of 9.7 across their opening two encounters, Hampshire restricted Essex to just 145 before ruthlessly chasing those runs down with 16 balls remaining, sending down the strongest marker yet that they are well placed to push for a third trophy in five years.
Disparaging the low scoring theme were Glamorgan who produced a supreme showing to chase down Sussex’s imposing 178 – defying the odds to win from an apparent treacherous position in which they still required 103 runs with less nine overs remaining.
There is an undoubted feel good factor surrounding the Welsh county – perhaps not coincidently with the arrival of Toby Radford – and with two wins from their opening three outings a first quarter-final since 2008 looks plausible.
For Sussex, who finished bottom of the South Glast time, this signified a second successive loss and with it wiped some of the gloss from the back to back wins achieved at the beginning of the campaign.
A sparkling display from Kent’s batsmen saw them off to a winning start last weekend and here it was the turn of their bowlers who expertly safeguarded a score of 136. Such was the impressive nature of their showing that Gloucestershire fell a substantial 25 runs short.
This latest victory makes Kent the tournament’s only unbeaten side – although they have played fewer games than the rest.
Not knowing whether to laugh or cry are Middlesex who lost for the fifth successive occasion at The Oval on Friday and as a result they already find themselves occupying a table in the last chance saloon.
Once more their batting failed to click as persistent top order wickets saw them stumble to a minuscule 117 – a total which was never likely to test an improving Surrey side that eased home untroubled in the 19th over.
Unsurprisingly amidst the low scores there were a plethora of excellent bowling returns, none more so than the efforts of Junaid Khan who after applying the brakes to Durham’s chase on Thursday night with three for 21 then went one better with remarkable figures of four for 12 against Birmingham – the Pakistani equalling the best ever Lancashire figures.
Although somewhat less spectacular, Stephen Parry is another Lancashire bowler worthy of a mention given he could boast a stingy economy of just 3.5 across their twin victories this week.
Several other spinners enjoyed an excellent week’s work: Adam Riley’s four for 22 key to Kent’s success over Gloucestershire, while Saeed Ajmal (one for 14), Adil Rashid (two for 19) and Danny Briggs (two for 23) all played significant hands in their sides respective successes.
One more slow man to enjoy a stellar week was New Zealander Jeetan Patel who picked a combined five for 34 from games against both Lancashire and Leicestershire and reassuringly in the second of those games his efforts did not go unrewarded.
The last - but by no means least - bowler to be singled out is Chris Rushworth given that the Durham man returned three for 19 against Notts, the seamer defending nine of the final over having earlier claimed the key scalps of Alex Hales and James Taylor.
Although this was a week where ball very much surpassed bat, there were a handful of batsmen who bucked that trend. Standing on top of the noteworthy showings was arguably Chris Cooke. The Glamorgan man produced a match-winning 65 off 31 deliveries that made light of a required rate that has risen to excess of ten to fire his side to the highest chase of the weekend.
Other prominent performers with the bat this week included James Vince, who belittled the view that there is no place for consistency in Twenty20 with a third successive 50, William Porterfield, whose 64 laid the platform for Warwickshire to beat Leicestershire and Alex Lees, who somewhat overshadowed the arrival of Aaron Finch with an excellent 61.
Shropshire captain Richard Oliver - on a six-week trial with Worcestershire - is also worthy of special praise having produced a sparkling 77 off 43 balls to help end Northants’ excellent start; that innings alone is surely enough evidence to force the Rapids into offering the 24-year-old a more permanent deal.
© Cricket World 2014