The Royal London One-Day Cup has seen country sides in 50-over action once again which Matt Carter judges to be a good thing in his first set of talking points.
For all the love there was for 40-over cricket, the now redundant Yorkshire Bank 40 had a significant flaw - the extensive long-winded format of the tournament. Counties played 12 group games which made maintaining interest challenging, particularly with just one side from each group of six guaranteed to progress to the semi-final.
The latest incarnation of limited-overs cricket - The Royal London Cup - has taken a far snappier route, with counties appearing in eight group games. Perhaps crucially though the major enhancement is proving to be the addition of quarter-finals - the top four in each group of nine progressing to the last eight - meaning an inevitable reduction in meaningless fixtures.
Whereas previously opening your account with consecutive losses would have represented the beginning of the end, a similar sequence in this revamped format is far from terminal, which is reassuring news to Lancashire, Surrey and Sussex, given that all have suffered such a fate.
The mid-season arrival of 50-over cricket has afforded several counties the chance to resurrect seasons that were seemingly meandering to a mundane close.
Gloucestershire and Derbyshire are prime examples of counties who find themselves in such a situation. Both have Championship promotion hopes dead in the water and have exited the NatWest T20 Blast at the first hurdle.
Thus far the pair are taking full advantage of their final window of opportunity by occupying first and second spot in group A respectively.
Derbyshire’s hopes of progression had been hit by a two-point deduction – the result of a poor home surface last year – yet with two wins and a no result to their name suddenly a rare knockout appearance appears plausible.
Wayne Madsen’s men have barely resembled the side who tasted victory only once in 14 Twenty20 fixtures and the skipper is leading from the front with consecutive centuries in resounding victories over Hampshire and Gloucestershire.
As for Gloucestershire – a side who a decade ago were once a staple in the business end of limited-overs tournaments - they have bounced back from an opening defeat at Northants with consecutive home victories over Yorkshire and Hampshire.
The Story So Far...
Derbyshire beat Hampshire by 136 runs
Lancashire beat Yorkshire by 47 runs
Gloucestershire beat Northamptonshire by 4 wickets
Essex beat Worcestershire by 8 wickets
Derbyshire beat Leicestershire by 7 wickets
Hampshire beat Lancashire by 148 runs
Worcestershire beat Northamptonshire by 88 runs
Gloucestershire beat Yorkshire by 3 wickets
Gloucestershire beat Hampshire by 35 runs
Worcestershire v Derbyshire - no result
Leicestershire beat Essex by 34 runs
Glamorgan beat Middlesex by 7 wickets
Warwickshire beat Middlesex by 4 runs
Somerset beat Durham by 5 wickets
Nottinghamshire beat Sussex by 29 runs
Glamorgan beat Surrey by 3 wickets
Nottinghamshire tied with Somerset
Kent beat Durham by 2 wickets
Warwickshire beat Sussex by 118 runs
Nottinghamshire beat Glamorgan by 3 wickets
Durham beat Warwickshire by 5 wickets
Middlesex beat Surrey by 6 wickets
Kent beat Somerset by 2 runs (D/L)
Having become accustomed to persistently punching above their weight since the inception of two division Championship cricket, recent years have been disappointing for Kent – the Canterbury outfit lingering in the doldrums of Division Two in the Championship and making next to minimal impact in limited overs cricket.
The last six weeks or so have however hinted at a changing of the tide, with Kent becoming the first side this campaign to win three Championship games on the spin, while they only narrowly missed out on only a second Twenty20 quarter-final spot in five years.
That upturn has been carried into the Royal London Cup, with Sam Northeast’s side winning their opening two bouts – Durham and Somerset their respective victims. Of particular encouragement will be the exploits of their young players with Northeast, Sam Billings and Chris Haggett all making significant contributions towards those twin victories – Billings particularly worthy of praise for a devastating 135 off just 58 balls against Somerset.
It is too soon to be suggesting the corner has been turned, yet the horizon appears somewhat brighter than it did 12 months ago.
Nobody is riding a momentum train in limited-overs cricket quite like Nottinghamshire, with a sequence of seven consecutive Twenty20 victories being followed up by two wins and a tie in the Royal London Cup.
Confidence is clearly soaring at Trent Bridge and that self-belief was in full evidence against Glamorgan earlier this week where James Taylor’s side chased down 227 in spite of being reduced to 137 for seven. Steven Mullaney and Ajmal Shahzad combined for an unbeaten 87-run stand in little under 13 overs.
Notts are a side firing on all cylinders, with coach Mike Newell in the enviable position of boasting a squad of personnel currently functioning at near-peak level - even those with mere supporting roles such as Mullaney and Shahzad are producing match-winning turns when called upon to do so.
Last season’s limited-overs trophy winners vaunt realistic trophy credentials on three fronts – in the form they’re in it will some special performances to deny them.
Glamorgan’s run to the final of last year’s competition was considered by many to be a plucky effort, however there is now ample evidence to indicate that was no flash in the pan.
Progression to the last eight of the T20 Blast for the first time since 2008 was vindication of their growing limited-overs prowess, further to that two wins from three in 50 over cricket suggests they will be a force once again in this format of the game.
Their twin victories showcased different facets of their game, with an opening success over Middlesex built on a supreme bowling display before a successful pursuit of 307 against Surrey highlighted Glamorgan’s batting proficiency, at the same time outlining their ability to get over the line in tight situations.
The defeat from a seemingly winning position against Notts will have been a point of significant frustration, nonetheless, there remains substantial evidence to suggest to Glamorgan’s vastly experienced group will be key players in the tournament’s business end.
Anyone in search of guaranteed entertainment would do well to follow Somerset’s progress – at least if their opening two encounters are anything to go on.
Having seen Durham rack up 311 – Paul Collingwood rolling back the years with 113 – it appeared an opening defeat beckoned when Somerset slipped to 106 for five – yet James Hildreth and Lewis Gregory had other ideas. The pair combined to produce a remarkable unbeaten stand of 209 in just 24.1 overs - both scoring centuries with Gregory bringing up his maiden ton from a mere 70 balls.
If that wasn’t dramatic enough things were taken up a notch further at Canterbury on Wednesday, where Kent were able to amass 383 – Sam Billings’ earlier mentioned century arriving off just 46 balls – before Somerset fell agonisingly just three runs short.
That the visitors got so close was extraordinary in itself considering they had slipped to 268 for eight before Tim Groenewald and Alfonso Thomas combined to almost snatch the most unlikely of victories – as it was the required boundary off the last ball never materialised.
After a promising opening third of the Championship campaign - Chris Rogers’ side winning four of their first six - there has been little reason to cheer for Middlesex.
They have failed to record a victory in their six subsequent Championship fixtures, at the same time their Twenty20 campaign unfolded into something of a nightmare as they finished bottom of their group with only two wins.
The new avenue of the Royal London Cup has unfortunately for them not had the same effect as it has done for several other struggling sides, with a resounding defeat to Glamorgan being preceded by a narrow loss against Warwickshire.
Eoin Morgan’s sparkling hundred to down Surrey on Wednesday indicates it is premature to write off his side just yet, however progression and with it the end of a hugely disappointing recent sequence of limited-overs failings is likely to require plenty more stellar efforts from the England international.
For Lancashire and Hampshire to be among the Group A strugglers signifies a noteworthy surprise – considering Lancashire’s Twenty20 exploits and that last year Hampshire were semi-finalists in the Yorkshire Bank 40.
The Red Rose remain winless in two and of most concern will be that they have already shipped 684 runs in the process and an opening defeat to Yorkshire will be particularly hurtful.
Hampshire were also humbled in their first outing where they lost to rampant Derbyshire and while they recovered to record a Glenn Maxwell induced pounding over Lancashire - the Australian firing 146 from only 96 - that was only followed by defeat at Gloucestershire.
Essex, the other highly fancied side in the group, fared somewhat better in their tournament bow as they comfortably beat Worcestershire, however they were then chastened by Leicestershire when the Foxes defended a paltry 145.
There is plenty of time for fortunes to transform with as little as four wins offering a chance of qualification but nevertheless Lancashire and Hampshire must live up to the hype sooner rather than later before they face an early exit.
That Warwickshire advanced to the quarter-finals of the Twenty20 blast was in no small part down to the efforts of the unheralded Jeetan Patel, the New Zealander boasting the tournament’s lowest economy rate and claiming the title of leading wicket-taker.
That form has seamlessly transferred into the longer format with Patel having already taken eight wickets in three games and vaunting an economy rate of just 3.67.
That, coupled with the excellent form of both Jonathan Trott and Varun Chopra, has propelled Warwickshire to two wins in three, giving them an excellent platform to register another knockout appearance.
Further to that their main Twenty20 limitation – a lack of genuine power-hitting – is less likely to be a substantial issue in 50-over cricket, making them a hugely dangerous proposition in this form of the game.
© Cricket World 2014