County cricket: Lancashire and Sussex lead the way in T20 Blast

1) Wells give Lancashire’s bowling depth

Lancashire have won just one match in the Championship all season, but four wins out of five in the T20 Blast takes them to the top of the North Group. Last week brought two solid victories, one chasing (against Nottinghamshire) and one defending (against Birmingham). Luke Wells played a key role in both.

After 10 years at Sussex, Wells joined Lancashire in 2021 as an opening bat and that is probably still his day job, as his fine 66 off 32 balls in the Birmingham game attests. But he’s at least as valuable these days for his bowling, a skill his adopted county has come to rely upon to stifle hitters in the middle overs. His one for 25 and two for 25 last week, both off full allocations,gives him seven wickets in the tournament at just over a run a ball.

Can other batters who bowl just a little with the red ball work on their secondary talent in order to bowl to a field and then use experience and nous to hurry through a spell without travelling? With a sixth and even a seventh bowler vital to a fielding captain who is required to think quickly under pressure, Wells is proving a valuable asset this season – as is Adam Lyth at Yorkshire, albeit with the red ball.

2) Lyth slims down target to provide easy win

Speaking of the White Rose, they sit second in the group, having knocked over Derbyshire in a textbook example of how to chase down a stiff target of 180.

Lyth and Dawid Malan led from the front, the openers both the wrong side of 35 these days but with well over 500 T20 matches between them. Only two of the first 17 overs did not feature a boundary and the required rate was never allowed to reach double figures. And, when Lyth was dismissed for 84 with 43 required, in walked Joe Root.

Control in white-ball cricket is usually talked about with reference to the fielding side, but it is just as desirable for the batting XI. Keep the scoreboard ticking over with one eye on Duckworth-Lewis-Stern and do not allow a bowler to settle, as you aim to reach the target with about 10 balls in hand in case of the occasional mishap. Not every county will have four Test batters at the top of their order as Yorkshire do, but accumulating resources is one thing; using them is another.

3) Saif makes it safe

Northamptonshire sit third in the table on net run rate with an identical record to the Tykes.

Having set Worcestershire 170 at Wantage Road, the home side, led by David Willey in his second spell at the club, never allowed a partnership to blossom, continually taking wickets when needed.

It was another left-arm all-rounder who caught the eye, Saif Zaib catapulting Northants to 169 for four by adding 79 in six overs with Sikandar Raza, then picking up three of the top six for just 20 runs with his spin.

It represents a welcome bit of form in an inconsistent season for Zaib, an exciting but high-risk cricketer who is always looking to make things happen. If he clicks for the rest of the Blast, he and his captain will make a formidable combination with bat and ball.

Saif Zaib was in form for Northamptonshire this week. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

4) Big Basher proves a big noise for Sussex

Sussex picked up a couple of away wins to go top of the South Group ahead of last week’s first victims, Surrey, on net run rate. Both victories followed a similar pattern: bat first, make well over 200 and then squeeze the reply.

Daniel Hughes proved the key man, hitting a brace of 65s and setting what proved to be insurmountable targets. He has spent his career in domestic cricket and is in his mid-30s now but his success shows the value of a worldwide scouting network and, possibly, an agreeable location for a summer’s work.

But never mind all that. In an increasingly frightening world, it’s comforting for fans of a certain age to see the name DP Hughes on a scorecard with a few sixes hit to boot.

5) The hits keep coming

Somerset joined the logjam behind Sussex and Surrey on four points after taking Hampshire’s experienced attack for 241 for five, a total that was to prove well beyond James Vince’s chasers.

It’s no surprise that the home side can score runs at Taunton, a fast-scoring ground with fierce local support where they have the talents of Tom Banton, Will Smeed and Tom Kohler-Cadmore available to tee-off in the powerplay. It does raise an eyebrow to find that the key partnership, 144 in 11.2 overs, was between Tom Abell and Sean Dickson. They are both good batters, but neither has a reputation for launching it over the pickets on a regular basis.

That makes me think of a comment my father made years ago when a golfer was described by Peter Alliss as “a good bunker player”. “Who isn’t?” he remarked. Given how fit and well-drilled players are these days, most of them find boundary-hitting easy once their eyes are in. The truth is: I rather wish it weren’t.

6) Crane’s heavy lifting comes to nothing

Two of the other five teams locked on two wins from four played out a topsy-turvy match at another tight ground whose crowd can lift its players, Essex rescuing a win from the jaws of defeat at home to Glamorgan.

After Mason Crane’s four wickets had continued his splendid Blast season, the visitors looked home and hosed, Essex needing 44 with just two wickets in hand. Time was on their side with a run-a-ball sufficient to meet the target.

Also on their side was Luc Benkenstein, a teenager who is more a bowler who bats than a genuine all-rounder. He is steeped in the game through his father Dale’s three decades as a coach and player. At the other end, lurking at No 10, was the Dutch international Shane Snater, a canny late-order batter who was made for an equation like that.

They ticked over largely in singles, waiting for the one big over. As it happened, it was two halves of two overs – they hit five boundaries off the seven balls that straddled the 16th and 17th overs. From there, it was plain sailing.

Essex had lost six wickets for 16 runs in three overs of middle-order mayhem, but a cool head or two down the order was all they needed.

The Guardian

Leave a Reply