County Championship week 3: Gary Ballance saves Yorkshire

County Championship Division One:
Best batsman – Gary Ballance (108 and 203* vs. Hampshire, Ageas Bowl):

This was a difficult decision this week. Apart from Ballance, there were centuries from Vince, Robson, Gubbins, Eskinazi, Livingstone, Elgar, Davies, Westwood, Sangakkara and Stoneman.

For Vince, Ballance, and Robson, it was a timely reminder of their talents, with squads about to be picked for England. For Livingstone, however, there are many making a case for an England debut after an excellent performance against Somerset (see Paul Edward’s cricinfo article: “Livingstone makes irresistible case for England call-up”).

Amongst those who also made centuries this week, a special mention has been preserved for England’s forgotten man, Sam Robson. He was criticised for slow scoring in the England test team, but scored his runs in quick fashion against Essex (match total of 226 off 292 balls). In fact, his strike rate this year is significantly higher than his career strike rate (70.82 vs. 51.28) and the highest amongst batsman this year. It was perhaps a cruel twist of fate that England now seem to value the old school, defend first mind-set of opening batsman. Nevertheless, if he continues to score runs, he can’t be ignored.

The pick of the bunch though had to be Gary Ballance, who scored 313 runs against Hampshire. His 108 in the first innings came amidst a top order batting collapse, in which none of the top 5 (including Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow) got into double figures. Hampshire enforced the follow on, and so, having been 9th out in the first innings, was back at the crease inside 9 overs of the second. To then get a double century, to steer your team away from the clutches of defeat, was truly magnificent. Ballance displayed the type of grit and determination that one might expect from a Yorkshire captain. However, he’s gone one further than any Yorkshire captain before him in scoring a century in both innings of a match. A quite astonishing statistic (thanks to cricinfo’s Vithushan Ehantharajah for this one)! Suffice to say, Yorkshire would’ve lost comfortably this week if it weren’t for their captain.

Best bowler – Ryan McLaren (4 for 76 & 4 for 37 vs. Somerset, Old Trafford):

In comparison to the batters, there were less stand-out bowling performances in Division One this week. The Somerset seamer Craig Overton took 5-47 to stun Lancashire on day one. Over at Lords, it was pleasing to see Steven Finn bowling quickly and economically, and he finished with match figures of 6-90. He will be disappointed to not see his name on the Champions Trophy squad list but more performances like this will see him pushing Jake Ball and Mark Wood for a seamer’s spot. Further, Yorkshire’s new prodigy Ben Coad continued his impressive season by taking 4-71 in the first innings against Hampshire.

However, the honours this week go to Ryan McLaren. The South African all-rounder ended with match figures of 8-113. This was a significant factor in Lancashire’s amazing turnaround against Somerset.

Best all round performance – Gareth Berg (99*, 4-62 and 1-43 vs. Yorkshire, Ageas Bowl):

Had Bradley Wheal managed to stick around for just a little bit longer, it would have been a perfect all-round performance for Berg. Unfortunately, poor Gareth was left stranded on 99 in the first innings, one short of his 3rd first class hundred. Nevertheless, Berg capped a fine performance by taking 4 crucial wickets, including England captain Joe Root, to help bowl out Yorkshire for 231. Although he was slightly less effective on the second innings, he did get Lyth early to put Yorkshire under pressure. Unfortunately for Berg and Hampshire, they came up against an immovable target in Gary Ballance on the last 2 days.

Best team performance – Lancashire:

Lancashire produced an inspired team performance to come back after being bowled out for 109 by Somerset on day one. Liam Livingstone showed why everyone is talking about him, scoring 68 in the first innings to save Lancashire’s blushes, and a fantastic 168 in the second to set up the victory. In the second innings he was ably supported by Alex Davies, who scored his second hundred of the season. There were contributions lower down the order, with Ryan McLaren (45) and Stephen Parry (44) edging them to what turned out to be a winning total.

The bowling was equally as impressive. In the first innings, the bowling attack restricted Somerset to 278, with all the seam bowlers contributing. In the second innings, McLaren (4-37), Clark (3-12), Anderson (2-30) and Jarvis (1-28) combined again to bowl Somerset out for 130 inside 48 overs.

It was a marvellous victory for Lancashire that James Anderson called one of his finest. For a man that has been involved in so many great wins, that is high praise indeed.

Best match – Lancashire 109 (Livingstone 68, C Overton 5-47) and 463 (Davies 130, Livingstone 168, L Gregory 5-74) beat Somerset 278 (Elgar 113*, Leach 52. McLaren 4-76) and 130 (Hildreth 43, R McLaren 4-37) by 165 runs:

No surprises here! The game at Old Trafford was unique in that the game swung so tremendously from Somerset’s favour to Lancashire’s. It provided compelling viewing, unless you were a Somerset supporter.

It seems a long time ago, but Somerset bowled out Lancashire before the end of the 42nd over on day one. Then, with the help of the superb Dean Elgar, they ended up 169 runs ahead by Day 2. Things started to look even worse for Lancashire after falling to 23 for 2 in their 2nd innings. What followed was an awesome display of skill and concentration from Davies and Livingstone, who put on 245 for the 3rd wicket, to first ensure the draw, and then set up the challenging target of 295. Some brilliant swing bowling from the Lancashire bowlers completed a memorable victory, their first of the season.

Champagne moment – Sean Ervine catches Gary Ballance (Hampshire vs. Yorkshire):

What a catch this was! The Zimbabwean displayed tremendous athleticism to catch Gary Ballance at full stretch off the bowling of Liam Dawson.


County Championship Division Two:
Best batsman – Riki Wessels (202* vs. Sussex, Trent Bridge):

In contrast to Division One, there were only a handful of centuries in Division Two. In fact, 3 of the 5 were in one game, with Selman, Ingram (Glamorgan) and Pettini (Leicesteshire) all notching up tons in their match at Grace Road. Chris Dent also scored a fine century for Gloucestershire in the second innings against Durham.

The batting performance of the week, however, has to go to Riki Wessels, who hit a blistering 202 off 177 balls. Sussex had started very well, reducing Nottinghamshire to 88 for 5. However, they couldn’t dismiss Wessels, who hit 22 fours and 7 sixes. It was a remarkable recovery, notable for the fact that the next highest score was 57.

Best bowler – James Pattinson (4-22 & 3-33 vs. Sussex, Trent Bridge):

James Pattinson’s aggression and pace were too much for Sussex, who were blown away in under two days at Trent Bridge. Pattinson will be delighted that he got called up to the Australian Champions Trophy squad. The prospect of seeing him join Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood is both exciting and alarming! Nottinghamshire, on the other hand, will be less happy. There’s no doubt they will miss the outstanding Pattinson, who has taken 20 wickets at an average of 11.12 this season.

Best all round performance – Darren Stevens (90, 6-47 and 3-63 vs. Derbyshire):

It was another incredible all round performance from a man who turns 41 on Saturday. He was easily the pick of the bowlers in the first innings, taking 6 wickets to help bowl out Derbyshire for 159. After only scoring 17 in the Kent’s first innings, he blasted 90 from 86 balls after coming in at 51 for 5. When he departed, they were 201 for 8 and on their way to a total of 308, thanks to the lower order batting of Adam Rouse (95*). Stevens wasn’t done yet though, and he took 3 important wickets to help Kent finish off Derbyshire before close of play on day 3. The veteran is the top run scorer (296 runs at 59.2) and wicket taker (22 wickets at 11.5 runs per dismissal) in Division 2. Bravo!

Best team performance – Nottinghamshire bowling attack:

Yes, Nottinghamshire were facing a weakened Sussex side, but to win inside two days is very impressive. What would have been so pleasing to Notts supporters is that all 5 bowlers contributed with at least one wicket in the match. The opening pair of James Pattinson (7 for 55) and Stuart Broad (5 for 78), with support from Luke Fletcher (4 for 86), Jake Ball (2 for 109) and Samit Patel (2 for 19), must be one of the best attacks in either division. In that sense, Sussex were unlucky to face them as they’re unlikely to play together again this year. Nevertheless, this was a wonderful performance from the bowlers to gave Notts their third win in three games.

Best match – Gloucestershire 303 (Tavare 61, Rushworth 3-55) and 320 (Dent 101, Onions 4-68) drew with Durham 419 (Collingwood 97, Miles 5-99) and 85-4 (Jennings 30*, Payne 2-13):

Despite ending in a draw, both teams had genuine hopes of victory on the final day.

Durham did well to restrict Gloucestershire to a first innings total of 303, with the ever-reliable Chris Rushworth taking 3 wickets. Keaton Jennings (87) and Stephen Cook (64) gave Durham a solid start. Following their departures, Paul Collingwood (97) and Michael Richardson (57) combined to give Durham a healthy first innings lead.

Starting day 4 on 175 for 3, Gloucestershire looked to have done enough to battle for a draw, but an inspired spell of bowling from Onions had them reeling at 255 for 8 (only 140 ahead). However, some resilient batting from Payne and Liddle, and some bad light either side of tea, lifted Gloucestershire up to 320. Durham may have needed MS Dhoni to help them chase 205 in just over twenty overs, especially with the ball wobbling about a bit under the gloomy skies. Indeed, it was Gloucestershire who had the greatest chance of winning in a frenetic final hour in which Durham went 4 down. Luckily for Durham, Jennings and Steel held firm to secure the draw in this intriguing match.

Champagne moment – Andy Carter lbw bowled Joe Leach (Worcestershire vs. Northants, New Road):

Joe Leach was harshly left out of the best bowling performance for this week. After all, he took 10 wickets in a 2-day thriller, which saw Worcestershire narrowly beat Northants. It was fitting then that the Worcestershire captain took the final wicket to spark the celebrations. Another great captain’s performance this week!