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SL vs Ban 1st Test 2nd day – ‘Cut down the runs and fence them in’

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Vishwa Fernando explains how the hosts’ ensured the visitors could score only at 2.66 over the last 103 overs

Upon realising that the Pallekele surface was offering little to the quicks and even less to spinners in the early part of this Test, Sri Lanka changed their bowling strategy. Where they had begun the Test with hopes of bundling Bangladesh out cheaply with their trio of seam bowlers, they decided that instead of chasing wickets, they would look to dry up the runs.

This was what left-arm seamer Vishwa Fernando revealed after play on day two, and the numbers do bear this out. Where Sri Lanka had conceded runs at 3.93 an over in the first session of the match, they had substantially tightened up their bowling by the second day. Since tea on day one, Sri Lanka’s economy rate has been 2.66, over the course of 103 overs.



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Zim vs Pak 1st Test – Fawad Alam

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Pakistan centurion says the slowness of the pitch and the old ball forced the batters to score slowly most of the day

Pakistan have a lead of 198 runs with four wickets in hand in the first-innings exchange with Zimbabwe in Harare, but the scoring rate has hovered between 2.7 and 2.8. Fawad Alam, who scored his fourth Test century on the day, defended the batters’ approach, blaming the slowness of the pitch for the numbers on the board.

“The batsmen know how the pitch is behaving. You must have seen that the ball hasn’t been coming on to the bat, and the pitch is getting slower with every passing session,” Alam said. “The ball was keeping low, but we tried to score as much as we could. They [Zimbabwe] even took the new ball late, and when they did, we scored more freely.

“Credit should be given to the openers [Imran Butt and Abid Ali], the way they played and laid a solid foundation for the others. They might have scored slowly, but it helped us later on, allowing us to dominate.”

Zimbabwe took the second new ball after 105.1 overs. Pakistan scored 59 runs in the first session in 32 overs and even went had a 17 overs without boundary at one stage. They got 99 in the second session, and then 113 in the final one thanks to the 45 runs in the last ten overs, when Hasan Ali hit two sixes.

It wasn’t all Pakistan, though, as two wickets in quick succession – Azhar Ali followed by captain Babar Azam who fell for a golden duck – gave Zimbabwe a lift too. But Alam, in the main, made sure Pakistan came out on top by the end.

“There was a plan to score 300 today but we were 25 runs behind,” he said. “It’s mainly because, when both Babar and Azhar got out, the pressure was on us for a while.

“Scoring on slower tracks is always difficult as we have to create gaps to find runs. But it was a good day overall, and we still have three days in hand and tomorrow we want to add as much as we can to give our bowlers enough to attack. I can’t say how many, maybe another 50 or 100, but whatever we get we will keep them under pressure and wrap them within it.”



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Recent Match Report – Essex vs Worcs Group 1 2021

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Worcestershire 37 for 0 trail Essex 561 for 8 dec (Westley 113, Lawrence 90, Walter 65, Harmer 57*) by 524 runs

You have to be careful what you wish for. Not so long ago, many of us bemoaned these early-season contests as they tended to provide too much assistance for seam bowlers. How were batsmen to learn to play the long innings that define Test matches on surfaces where 200 is par, we asked. And how are young spinners to bowl the volume of overs to gain experience?

The prospect of too much assistance for seamers didn’t seem so bad here. Yes, Worcestershire’s spinner – a leg-spinner, at that – had the opportunity to bowl 46 overs. And yes, several Essex batsmen had the opportunity to build the sort of long innings that define Test cricket.

But in terms of entertainment? Well, for much of the first two days, this game has had all the competitive edge of seal clubbing. And, for a while on day two – as Essex extended their first innings beyond tea and registered their highest score for five years – it wouldn’t have come as a complete surprise if they had used the carcass of a Worcestershire bowler to make a pair of gloves.

None of this should be read as a criticism of either side. Essex were admirably ruthless in grinding out the score that gives them the best chance of victory in this game and, despite not claiming a single bowling bonus point (which means they hadn’t taken a third wicket by the time they had bowled 110 overs), Worcestershire were admirably resilient in making them fight for nearly every run. Only in the last couple of hours of their innings did Essex take the run-rate above three-an-over – a late acceleration took it to 3.22 – and Ed Barnard’s final figures- he conceded 59 from his 30 overs – are testament to the excellent professional that he has become. Worcestershire have now spent four of their most recent seven days of cricket in the field. Barnard will scarcely have bowled a poor delivery in that time.

And maybe the ends will justify the means for Essex. There were increasing signs that the ball was keeping low as the second-day progressed and Worcestershire could struggle against the spin of Simon Harmer, in particular. But just because a rock-fall can be dramatic, it doesn’t mean the 10,000 years of erosion that led to it is terrific entertainment. And the concern here is that such ‘entertainment’, in this day and age, is niche to the point of being an extremely tough sell.

Which leads us to the age-old question: what’s the purpose of county cricket? Because if it’s just to prepare players for Test cricket, you might just about justify this sort of surface. Certainly batsmen learn to graft for their runs and bowlers learn to persist. But if it’s to prepare players for Test cricket and provide entertainment, then they may have to think again. Pitches that lead to big scores don’t necessarily equate to good pitches and there is no incentive here for developing fast bowlers.

Again, there’s no criticism of the groundstaff intended, either. This pitch was under water two months ago. It is remarkable that the teams are playing here at all. But there might be a case for allowing hybrid pitches to be used in such circumstances. Such pitches, with plugs of plastic accounting for around five percent of the surface, promote deeper and stronger grass growth. They are quickly becoming common in limited-overs cricket and might ensure a little more pace and bounce. As a result, they might more closely replicate the conditions found in Test cricket. For while spinners might have been entrusted with lots of overs here, it wasn’t because the pitch was offering them assistance. Rather, it was because it has been harder to score when there has been no pace with which to work. This has been a surface to make fast bowlers wish they had become sewage workers.

Perhaps the extra points awarded for a draw this year are relevant, too. Certainly it feels as if those three extra points (increased from five to eight this season) have reduced sides’ inclination to take any risks. And while the intention behind that was worthy – to encourage teams to fight for draws and incentivise more attritional cricket – you wonder if the outcome is quite what was predicted. Right now, it feels as if the whole of county cricket is being run by Jose Mourinho; defend for days and try and catch the opposition on the break. It might help if these matches were scheduled later in the season when groundstaff have had a chance to inject some pace.



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Recent Match Report – Middlesex vs Somerset Group 2 2021

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Robbie White falls eight short of maiden first-class ton as game remains in balance

Somerset 178 for 4 trail Middlesex 357 (White 92, Davey 3-33) by 179 runs

James Hildreth became the fourth-highest first-class run-maker in Somerset’s history on the second day of the LV=County Championship match with Middlesex at the Cooper Associates County Ground. The 36-year-old batsman went past Bill Alley’s tally of 16,644 while contributing 39 to his side’s first innings total of 178 for 4 and now lies behind only Harold Gimblett, Marcus Trescothick and Peter Wight.

Earlier, Middlesex had moved from an overnight 308 for 6 to 357 all out, Robbie White falling for 92 and Josh Davey claiming three of the wickets in the space of an over.



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