Surrey 439 and 11 for 0 lead Kent 294 (Dickson 128, Crawley 63, Batty 3-49) by 156 runs
In deciding on the readiness of young players to compete at the highest level, it is often said “if they’re good enough, they’re old enough”. Seldom though do you hear people opining that “if he’s good enough, he’s young enough”. In the 41-year-old Gareth Batty and the 37-year-old Rikki Clarke, Surrey quite definitely possess two of the more mature players on the circuit; yet they are both very much young enough.
With this match drifting listlessly to what already seemed an inevitable high-scoring draw, Surrey’s gnarled old pros, longer in the tooth than your average walrus, broke the game open with a pair of interventions after tea.
On Monday, it was Darren Stevens assuming the role of Yoda. This time, with Kent cruising comfortably at 227 for 2 on a placid pitch offering nothing to the bowlers since before lunch on day one, it was Batty to whom Rory Burns turned, much as Princess Leia did to Obi Wan Kenobi.
Batty was, it seemed, Surrey’s “last hope”. The pitch was offering little by way of turn, but Batty summoned his most seductive Jedi mind tricks in assuring first Heino Kuhn and then Ollie Robinson the very next delivery that “these are the balls you are looking to edge”. Two arm balls, albeit with a little more bounce than either batsman was expecting, assisted by two very sharp Ben Foakes catches had suddenly thrown this somnolent, soporific match wide open.
Wiaan “agent” Mulder came in to face the hat-trick ball but knew “the truth was out there”, just on a length outside off stump and spoiled the fun with the middle of a stoutly defensive bat.
What Mulder didn’t see coming was the leaping left hand of Will Jacks at gully who dived impossibly far to snatch the ball an inch off the ground to an audible collective gasp from this now thoroughly engaged crowd. Jacks repeated the trick in the first over of a new spell from Clarke to remove Alex Blake, and when Stevens, who had survived two mighty close shouts for lbw off Clarke was finally put out of his misery by umpire Graham Lloyd, Kent had lost five wickets for 33 runs.
All the while, Sean Dickson, who scored 318 the last time Kent played a first-class fixture at Beckenham, was looking on aghast from the other end. Just three hours earlier he and Zak Crawley had been busy compiling an untroubled, and often attractive opening stand of 128.
Crawley really does look the real deal. Against a seam attack of Morne Morkel, Clarke, Sam Curran and the distinctly brisk Conor Mckerr, he appeared to have all the time in the world. Granted, there was little happening off the pitch, and neither did it swing, much to the surprise of the odd luminary in the commentary box, but there are few more testing attacks than Surrey’s and it came as a surprise when he was spectacularly castled by Clarke for 63, pushing out at a ball he should have been defending and losing his middle and off stumps in the process.
Just as Clarke had sprung that first surprise, it was down to Batty to deliver the second when he too removed the middle stump, this time of Daniel Bell-Drummond who was attempting to run the ball down through third man. It was both too close to him and way too full. An ugly drag back ensued. Those Jedi mind tricks again. Frustration, disappointment and unfulfillment again from a player who has promised so much for years, at least since that terrific hundred against the touring Australians in 2015.
The second new ball was taken as soon as it was available. Curran immediately accounted for Dickson, getting him caught strangled down the leg side to end an unspectacular but highly efficient innings from the opener in rather unfortunate circumstances. The last two wickets soon followed, the final one to another quite brilliant catch from Jacks at short leg to give Morkel his only wicket. Surrey’s catching had been exemplary, even spectacular on occasion.
One bad session had produced eight wickets for just 91 runs. What at one time looked like a possible first-innings lead had resulted in a deficit of 145 runs. It is frequently the challenge for promoted sides to maintain intensity across the full duration of a match in this highly competitive top tier. Kent’s squad in large part lack Division One experience. Experience, though, is something Surrey have in abundance, and Batty and Clarke were quite simply the difference. Young enough? You bet.
I needed to prove Ravi Bopara wrong to make him believe, says Simon Harmer
Essex captain Simon Harmer argued that his decision to drop Ravi Bopara for two group games after an argument regarding his batting position was vindicated by his performances from No. 6 during his side’s improbable surge to the Vitality Blast T20 trophy.
Bopara was left out of games against Hampshire and Gloucestershire after what he called some “very tough conversations” with his captain, and admitted before the quarter-final against Lancashire that he was “still not happy down there”, but produced three consecutive man-of-the-match efforts to take Essex to Finals Day, and made 36 not out off 22 balls to help seal victory in the final.
“That was one of the decisions that needed to be made,” said Harmer after Essex’s triumph.
“In my opinion, Ravi is one of, if not the best, finisher of T20 innings, I felt that in order to for us to win games, we needed him to come in and win [them] for us. [It’s] pointless him walking in at three and getting a good ball and he’s sitting back in the hut.
“Sometimes you need to prove people wrong in order to make them believe and I think that was the case with him. He came back after time away from the team.
“He bought in 100 percent and reaped the rewards. He’s an incredibly talented cricketer, the way he thinks about cricket and the way he bats, the way he bowls, the execution of his skill.”
Bopara signaled in the build-up to Finals Day that he may look to give up red-ball cricket next year and aim to prolong his career on the global T20 circuit, and Harmer suggested that he is most valuable coming in with five or six overs to spare.
“He’s an unbelievable player,” he said, “so I can understand his frustration. But hopefully even if it’s not now, five years down the line he can sit back and realise that he is actually best suited to five or six.”
Worcestershire captain Moeen Ali agreed that Bopara had been “outstanding”.
“In my opinion, he won them the game,” Moeen said. “His experience showed. I’m just disappointed with the result.”
Harmer took over the T20 captaincy from Ryan ten Doeschate this season, and had never previously captained a side for a full season in the format, but said that he had come in with a clear plan of what needed to change and how he wanted Essex to approach the Blast.
“There were some difficult decisions that needed to be made,” he said. “A couple of players got dropped, senior players – not popular opinion in order to drop them – but [it was] what I felt was best for the team in order to get 11 guys on the park who were all pulling in the same direction.
“There were changes, in my opinion, that needed to happen in order for us to move forward as a T20 team. But the South African mindset and the competitive environment that I grew up in – to come over here, you need to understand how things work.
“If you look at some of the South African coaches, or sometimes the players that have come over have clashed heads with English players – I think there’s a certain narrative in terms of how things work and how to get people to buy in.
“For me to come in and just throw out demands and orders and this is how we’re going to play – I was very conscious of that at the beginning – of how I wanted to go about it, of how I needed to get the guys to buy in… that was probably my toughest challenge, but after that things kind of went our way.”
Harmer made his own match-winning contributions in the knockout stages, returning the best-ever combined figures on Finals Day of 7 for 35 across the two fixtures before a game-changing cameo of 18 off 7 balls, and argued that his side’s belief was what got them over the line.
“We have all the tools,” he said. “We have all the players. We have what you cannot buy, which is the camaraderie in the dressing room. There’s a lot of love in our dressing room for the guy next to you.
“In my opinion, you cannot buy that. You can bring in players, you can do what you want, but you can’t buy a bond between people. So that’s why I was quite vocal tonight in terms of how I want people – especially at Essex County Cricket Club – to change the mentality of a small cricket club because we don’t have the money.
“It’s always excuses. In my opinion, those need to go. We have the tools to be very competitive over the next five years in all three formats, but we need to start believing.
“As it works in cricket, when you need to chase down 300 in a 50-over game, people only start to believe when somebody scores a hundred or somebody takes a five-for.”
Essex have the chance to secure an unprecedented T20/Championship double this week, as they travel to Taunton on Monday for a winner-takes-all four-day game, and Harmer said they could take the Blast win into that match.
“Now, with us winning this T20 trophy, I think the belief is there and the players now understand that actually we are good enough,” he said. “All the noise in the background is just noise. Hopefully moving forward, we can be competitive and win more trophies.”
Jack Leach could prove key as Somerset seek elusive title
Jack Leach returns for one of the most important matches in Somerset’s history when leaders Essex visit Taunton for the Specsavers County Championship title decider, starting on Monday.
The hosts must win to secure the pennant for the first time. They go into the match 12 points adrift in second place, but optimistic of making home advantage tell, having won five and drawn one of their six Championship games at the Cooper Associates County Ground this season.
Leach’s availability after his Ashes heroics is a major boost. The left-arm spinner, who has just been awarded an England incremental contract, trained with the squad on Friday and could prove a key figure on a pitch sure to turn as the match progresses.
With rain forecast, Somerset will be keen to play on a result wicket in the hope of forcing a victory well inside four days. A gamble on a bowler-friendly surface appears to offer their best chance, even though Essex have two of the most prolific wicket-takers in the Championship.
Somerset head coach Jason Kerr is in confident mood, despite last week’s 136-run defeat by Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl.
“It’s an incredibly exciting week ahead, not just for the players, but for the many supporters, who have taken the emotional journey with us in recent weeks,” he said. “What could be better than the two best teams in the Championship going head-to-head with the title as the prize.
“We cannot control the weather, but I believe there will be enough play to achieve a decisive result and we back ourselves against anyone on our home pitch.”
“Essex have had the distraction of Vitality Blast Finals Day this weekend and hopefully we can capitalise on that”
Somerset head coach Jason Kerr
A packed crowd and large media circus will descend on the County Ground, most of the latter expecting Essex to be crowned champions.
Kerr acknowledges that Somerset’s batsmen will need to raise their game. None of them is averaging more than 33 in the competition this season, whereas Essex have three with an average of more than 40 in Sir Alastair Cook, Ravi Bopara and Dan Lawrence.
“Statistically, our batting looks poor, but we have played on some tough pitches and there have been some fine innings in difficult circumstances that have helped us win through,” said Kerr.
“I am expecting the players concerned to step up on last week when we came across a bowler in exceptional form. Kyle Abbott’s performance was just incredible.”
After discussions with director of cricket Andy Hurry and skipper Tom Abell, Kerr looks set to stick with the same batting line-up against Essex, with Leach’s inclusion likely to be the only team change.
Jamie Overton missed the Hampshire match with a back injury and was sent for a scan on Friday. He was already facing surgery on an ankle spur at the end of the season.
Kerr’s final message to the Somerset players will be to “go out and enjoy the occasion”. While he accepts there is pressure to deliver that elusive first title, he wants his team to ignore the hype as much as possible.
“So much work has gone into getting us this far,” he said. “Now it is important we stick to the processes which have put us in the top two.
“Essex have had the distraction of Vitality Blast Finals Day this weekend and hopefully we can capitalise on that. Given a reasonable amount of luck with the weather, I’m sure we can do it.”
Kerr ruled out a sentimental recall for Marcus Trescothick, who announced some time ago that this would be his final season as a player. Somerset will make a presentation to the 43-year-old at the lunch interval on Monday to mark his 27 seasons of service.
Trescothick will be in and around the dressing room during the game and Kerr said: “I hope he gets around the ground and soaks up the atmosphere. It would be fitting if we could win the title he has dreamt about for so long.”
BCB confirms Under-19s tour of New Zealand
Ahead of the Under-19 World Cup next year, Bangladesh will have an opportunity to gain match time when they play New Zealand in five Youth ODIs. The tour is significant given this will be the first time a Bangladesh team will travel to New Zealand following the terror attacks in Christchurch in March.
Back then, members of Bangladesh’s senior side were “about 50 yards from the mosque” – one of two in Christchurch – where a gunman opened fire. They managed to escape through Hagley Park and the tour was called off shortly after.
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All the matches on the U-19 tour will be hosted at the Bert Sutcliffe Oval in Lincoln. The matches are scheduled for September 29, October 2, 6, 9 and 13. This series was slated for April, but New Zealand Cricket cancelled the tour at the time. They had felt sending an age-group side to the country affected by the tragedy at that point would be “insensitive and inappropriate”.
Bangladesh U-19s, led by Akbar Ali, have had a busy year so far. This tour comes hot on the heels of the Asia Cup in Sri Lanka, where they lost to India by five runs in a low-scoring final.
Bangladesh Under-19 squad: Akbar Ali (capt), Tawhid Hridoy, Tanzid Hasan, Parvez Hossain, Shahadat Hossain, Rakibul Hasan, Asadullah Hill Galib, Shoriful Islam, Mrittunjoy Chowdhury, Mahmudul Hasan, Tanzim Hasan, Avishek Das, Shamim Hossain, Anik Sarker, Hasan Morad
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