Sport

County cricket: Lancashire and Surrey on top as T20 Blast delivers thrills

Ball one: Roses match provides treats for everyone
Lancashire stayed top of the North Group after a Headingley Roses match that (not for the first time) showcased exactly why the ECB was lauded for its imagination when it invented – OK, adapted from recreational cricket – the Twenty20 format in 2003. There was a big crowd, bright lights, star cricketers, pulsating play, a last-ball finish and, I almost forgot, clubs with decades of history and longstanding, committed fans, institutions that are embedded in their local communities – for all the work still to be done. No amount of marketing and branding can deliver that heady brew.

The visitors posted 93-2 at the halfway mark, twin 40s from Steven Croft and Keaton Jennings building a platform for the big hitters to come. Liam Livingstone was snared early, but Tim David and Dane Vilas smashed 10 sixes in a stand of 96 in 7.2 overs and the Tykes were asked to chase 214 for the win.

Even the reddest of Red Rose supporters would have welcomed the sight of Tom Kohler-Cadmore back at the crease after his recent concussion issues, but they had probably had enough of him by the 12-over mark, when Yorkshire needed just 63 off 48 balls with eight wickets in hand.

The underrated Tom Hartley bagged Kohler-Cadmore and the sunshine came back into the hearts of the band of fielders operating in hostile territory. David Willey kept his side in the game as wickets fell around him, but when Dominic Drakes’ fat outside edge spiralled towards deep point, Hartley knew he had to catch the ball and stay inside the boundary sponge to win the match. He did, and the points went west across the Pennines by the width of a dozen blades of grass.

Ball two: Cobb’s bread well spent on Lynn
Northamptonshire occupy a somewhat surprising second place in the North Group, and not just because one hardly thinks of Northampton as being in the north. But two wins in a week will elevate any side and Josh Cobb’s men are on a run of three in a row as the Blast takes a short break.

Chris Lynn is leading the way, his 113 not out against whipping boys Worcestershire was his second ton of the tournament and one wonders how the richer clubs missed out on the Brisbane Heat’s biffer. Lynn has 81 more Blast runs than any other batter this season and is repaying the faith shown in him by Northamptonshire, who will reach the knockout stage if their fine form continues.

Ball three: New ideas at New Road
Worcestershire were beaten again on Friday evening. They were skewered, as many have been in the last couple of months, by Shan Masood.

More notable was the match played earlier. In the first double-header of its kind, the England Physical Disability team beat the Lord’s Taverners by 60 runs. Perhaps there is an opportunity for more afternoon games before the main attraction. After all, the infrastructure is in place, with stewards on site, concessions opening up and gates staffed. If crowds are not at capacity, does it really matter? The engagement and the exposure must make it worthwhile and county cricket needs all the help it can get these days.

Ball four: Rum do for Overton after Morgan is bounced out
Surrey continue to cut a swathe through the South Group. Chris Jordan’s team are now the only unbeaten side in the country. The local derby at Lord’s showed one reason for this success, particularly in how Jamie Overton was used. In at No 7, he smashed a 12-ball 27 to get the visitors above 200 and then had to bide his time waiting for a bowl.

Cleverly introduced just as Eoin Morgan was looking to increase his scoring rate, he bounced the England captain, the big man’s extra pace inducing the miscue, the plan succeeding first ball. Overton conceded just the one run in the over and was not required again. That’s Surrey’s strength in depth right there.

Ball five: Hammond pulls out stops but Somerset cruise home
The slide rules (ask your grandad) were out at Bristol in the West Country derby after Miles Hammond, perhaps having an eye on his weather app, had smashed four sixes in the opening over of the Gloucestershire innings. After a rain delay, the home side’s innings resumed and, when the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern smoke changed colour, the calculating cardinals pronounced that the home side’s 101-7 in 10 overs had generated a target of 112 off the same number of deliveries.

At 55-7 with Somerset needing 57 from four overs, Gloucestershire were big favourites, as they deserved to be having been ahead in the match since Hammond’s opening salvo, but Roelof van der Merwe had other ideas. The veteran teed off and, four sixes and four fours later, Somerset were home with half an over to spare. It’s a funny old game, but I suspect not many Gloucestershire fans were laughing.

Ball Six: Hants no longer pants
Hampshire are the form team in the South Group. Their run of four straight wins has balanced out the four defeats in a row that launched their campaign.

On a challenging surface at Cardiff, James Vince’s men could hit just the one six on their way to a total of 134-4, a score that will be chased down far more often than defended. But the left arm/right arm seam of Chris Wood and Brad Wheal got the ball in good areas and the Welsh county went from 63-2 to 98-7 in 6.4 overs of sustained pressure, Wood and Wheal bagging eight wickets between them. Hampshire have been inconsistent in both formats this season but they are irresistible at times – a trait their captain personifies.