Warwickshire thwarted after reducing champions to 36 for 5, and face stiff run-chase
Essex 295 (Browne 68, Walter 66, ten Doeschate 56, Stone 4-89, Hannon-Dalby 4-73) and 213 for 9 (Harmer 62*, Lawrence 55, Miles 4-62) lead Warwickshire
284 (Briggs 66, Harmer 4-89) by 224 runs
In normal circumstances – well, circumstances in which Simon Harmer is not involved – you would think that Warwickshire had a decent chance of victory going into the fourth day of this game.
Certainly, in adding 91 for their final two wickets and then reducing Essex to 36 for 5, they had clawed their way back into this match. Even a final-day target of 250 or so doesn’t sound so intimidating for a side who chased down 333 against a Nottinghamshire side containing Stuart Broad only a week ago.
But such has been Harmer’s dominance over the last few years that, in his period at the club, the highest fourth-innings score made to beat Essex is two. With 272 wickets coming at a cost of 19.62 since the start of the 2017 season – and remember, he only played six games in 2020 – he is a giant of the modern county game. If Warwickshire win this game, they will have achieved something no county side has in denying him in a first-class run-chase. You suspect Hanuma Vihari‘s encounter with Harmer may be crucial.
Harmer may already have produced the defining performance of this game. His unbeaten 62 has been the highest score in Essex’s second innings and helped them rebuild from 93 for 6 when he came to the crease.
Warwickshire threw everything they had at him. And while Olly Stone inflicted a thumping blow to his helmet with a sharp bouncer, there was a determination about Harmer’s batting – a sense that Warwickshire were going to have to chisel him out rather than wait for him to play a loose stroke – that has exemplified the uncompromising nature of an outstanding Championship match in which the initiative has changed almost every time you sensed that one side or the other had played the decisive hand.
Harmer’s innings has been every bit as much about what he has not done as what he has. Noting that his colleagues perished by failing to play straight, pushing for the ball or hitting it in the air, he resolved to do none of those things. And while that reduced his scoring opportunities, he pulls and cuts well and is strong off his legs. There may have been moments when the bowlers thought they had the better of him but, with much of the pace having left this surface and the ball appearing to lose its menace after 25 overs or so, he was able to play the ball down so that even when his edge was found, he picked up runs down to third man. There’s nothing pretty about Harmer’s batting. But from an Essex perspective it really is quite beautiful.
It was Dan Lawrence who stopped the rot for Essex. Also adopting a largely risk-free approach, Lawrence demonstrated there was far more to his game that eye-catching strokes. Like Harmer’s, it was a contribution notable for its denial as much as its timing or range. His half-century occupied 100 balls.
But, with much of the hard work done, Lawrence allowed Warwickshire back into the match when he embarked on an optimistic single only to be run out by Craig Miles’ direct hit from mid-on. It left Essex only 148 runs ahead with seven wickets down. They were grateful to Harmer for boosting it significantly.
Warwickshire’s attack looks infinitely more dangerous every time Stone has the ball. Even on this pretty sedate wicket, he has generated sharp pace and looked a class above anyone else on show. You can understand Will Rhodes, Warwickshire’s captain, leaning heavily on him and perhaps these are exactly the sort of trials Stone must undergo to ascertain whether he really can withstand the rigours of Test cricket. But there were moments, when the spells became longer and the gaps between them shorter, when you did worry for him. Stone bowled 21 overs on the day including a final spell of seven. He has now bowled 83 overs in the last 10 days.
That Warwickshire cut the first-innings deficit to just 11 runs was largely due to Danny Briggs. He helped his new side add 91 for the final two wickets and eventually finished unbeaten on 66; the second-highest score of his first-class career and highest in the Championship. A period struggling to win selection in first-class cricket would appear to have led to him working hard in developing his batting and he has re-emerged as a valuable lower-order player. He is currently top of Warwickshire’s batting averages in the competition.
He did not enjoy such joy with the ball. Unable to maintain the line and length that would have allowed his captain to set fielders around the bat, he delivered too many release balls to apply meaningful pressure. He gained little turn from an apparently dry surface, too. It will be intriguing to see what Harmer can get out of it on the final day but Briggs’ relative lack of effectiveness combined with the impotence of Rhodes and Tim Bresnan increased the burden on the three main seamers.
By the time Ryan ten Doeschate was adjudged leg before to one from Stone that nipped back, it seemed Warwickshire had turned this game. At 36 for 5, Essex’s lead was just 47 and the cream of their batting was gone. Alastair Cook and Tom Westley had both fallen to outstanding catches at point and mid-wicket respectively as they attempted to put away loose deliveries, before Nick Browne played slightly across one angled into him and Paul Walter edged a footless drive. Later Adam Wheater, having appeared to play himself in, let himself down a little by pulling directly to the man on the square-leg boundary.
But Harmer was in a less charitable mood. And maybe it is that stubborn nature as much as his talent which has proven such an asset to Essex over these last few years. The county game is played to a higher and more exacting standard for his presence. Warwickshire will have to pull off something special to deny him on the final day.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
Recent Match Report – Kent vs Sussex Group 3 2021
Fast bowler confirms bid for full fitness is back on track after fiery opening gambit at Hove
Sussex 51 for 2 trail Kent 145 (Leaning 63; Robinson 3-29, Garton 3-65, Archer 2-29) by 94 runs
When Jofra Archer last played a first-class match at Hove he was not a World Cup winner nor had he played in an Ashes series. The game took place in September 2018 and was memorable for the final first-class centuries of both Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell. Trott’s hundred satisfied the technicians; Bell’s pleased the aesthetes and brings them comfort still. Archer had played 10 IPL games for Rajasthan Royals and was plainly England’s next big thing. But his four late wickets against Warwickshire hardly disturbed the universe and certainly nobody gave a monkey’s what he did with his fish tank apart, one assumes, from the fish. The age of aquaria had not yet dawned.
That era is upon us now, though, and so Archer is perhaps fortunate that he is based in Brighton, where other-worldliness is an asset and where shredding your finger cleaning up after your piscine pets is something that could happen to anyone. Even more than Britain’s metropolises this city is a shrine to the outré and the baroque. Archer is thus an extraordinary cricketer in a city filled with extraordinary people and maybe he enjoys the camouflage, even if such concealment is not always available. The news that he had recovered sufficiently from a right-elbow injury to be named in Sussex’s squad for this game against Kent brought extra photographers and journalists to the County Ground and in the first half an hour of the day we could all see why.
In Archer’s third over Daniel Bell-Drummond was beaten for pace and bounce; the catch went very fast to second slip where George Garton made it look laughably easy. Next over, though, Archer over-pitched and Zak Crawley helped himself to four runs past wide mid-on. We settled down for a duel between a couple of England’s Test cricketers, only for it to end two balls later when Crawley could do nothing with sharp lift and movement off a length except nick the ball to Ben Brown.
“Usually I bowl to Zak n the [England] nets and I have done that quite a bit,” observed Archer when our day’s cricket was done. “Obviously, you’re never out in the nets so it was good to get him out here, with umpires.”
Thereafter, though, the bowler upon whom some Ashes strategies may rest blended into the background of what became a fine day for Sussex. He bowled two spells of four overs and then one of five that was bridged by rain. The speed and steepling bounce will have reassured the selectors but Archer bowled no better than Ollie Robinson, with whom he may yet open England’s bowling in a Test match during this most unpredictable of seasons. Robinson nags at a batsman’s technique much as an abscess might plague the nerves beneath a tooth; extraction is often the inevitable consequence.
Such relentless discipline appeals to England’s selectors and Robinson was more responsible than anyone else in Brown’s attack for Sussex dismissing Kent for 145 on a cloud-strewn, shower-threatened day when the decision to bowl first cannot have required much thought. In the over after lunch he bowled Jordan Cox through the narrowest of gates for 24 and then returned in the evening to have Kent’s top scorer, Jack Leaning, taken at slip by Aaron Thomason for 63 when nibbling at a ball outside the off stump. “More of a chomp than a nibble,” observed Sam Keir, Sussex’s Media Executive, a man with a good memory for confectionery. One saw his point. It was a thickish edge.
By then, though, Leaning’s studious, three-hour innings had become an exercise in damage limitation. In the morning session he and Cox had piloted their side to 68 for 2 only to see such comparative affluence frittered away by the haemorrhage of five wickets for 42 runs in the afternoon. Cox was the first to go but that misfortune was followed by the loss of three batsmen in the space of 15 balls. Garton took two of the three and may even have benefitted from his irritating habit of mixing many distinctly good balls with occasional dross. The saddest departure was that of 20-year-old Tawanda Muyeye, whose maiden first-class innings lasted just eight balls before Robinson’s third leg-before appeal against him in the same over received a grim assent from David Millns, a decision with which Muyeye could have no complaint.
And the debutant had at least got a run to his name, a distinction not shared by Darren Stevens, who flashed at a wide one. The same error was committed in excelsis a few overs later by Marcus O’Riordan and both edges were taken by Thomason at first slip. The showers returned and Kent took tea on 113 for 7. Jack Carson picked up a couple of cheap wickets to end the innings but even that skill adds to a spinner’s growing reputation. Adil Rashid could tell Carson that.
Having been assisted by the relatively dry weather during the bulk of the day, Sussex were helped by the return of bad light when 14.3 overs remained to be bowled. At that stage Brown’s batsmen had reduced the deficit to 94 runs but only for the loss of Tom Haines who feathered a catch behind off Stevens and Thomason, whose booming drive off Nathan Gilchrist was snaffled by O’Riordan at cover point. It was a careless end to what had been a pleasing three sessions for Thomason and his team but Brown would have settled for this state of affairs this morning, when the captain of Sussex arrived at the ground on his scooter and saw a tiny murmuration of starlings feasting on grubs in the wet earth.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications
ICC consider expanding T20 World Cup to 20 teams
Change of attitude from governing body with shorter form seen as vehicle for growth
The T20 World Cup could be increased to include 20 teams as part of the ICC’s attempts to develop the game globally.
While the 2021 tournament, currently scheduled to be played in India, will still feature 16 teams, ESPNcricinfo understands there are plans to increase that number from the 2024 edition. Current thinking suggests that version of the event will feature four groups of five teams in its opening phase.
The ICC has long seen the T20 format as a vehicle for the game’s expansion and there has been previous talk of such an expansion. The ICC have already confirmed their plans to increase the number of teams in their women’s competitions.
But the move sustains a notably more inclusive recent approach from the ICC across formats. This is also likely to involve an increased number of teams (from 10 to 14) in the 50-over World Cup, a more positive attitude towards participation in the Olympics and talk of a return of the Intercontinental Cup (albeit with a different name).
It is, perhaps, the move to increasing the number of teams in the 50-over World Cup which provides the most revealing insight into the changing mood of the ICC. In recent years, the ICC cut the number of teams in the 50-over World Cup (from 16 in 2007, to 14 in 2011 and 2015 and 10 in 2019) arguing that broadcasters preferred the streamlined format with the probability of fewer one-sided games.
There is, however, understood to be a growing appreciation of the need to balance long-term global development with the monetary value of short-term broadcast deals. It may be relevant, too, that since the powers of the ‘Big Three’ were rolled back in 2017, the influence of other nations has grown.
All these subjects have been discussed in recent Chief Executives’ Committee (CEC) meetings and, though no firm decisions have been taken, there has been a notably more positive appreciation of the benefits of this expansion from the more powerful Full Member countries. Indeed, it is understood that the subject of the Olympics was raised at a recent CEC meeting by the ECB’s Tom Harrison. The BCCI have also recently signalled their desire for involvement, albeit with the caveat that they will not tolerate interference from the Indian Olympic Association.
The Intercontinental Cup has, in the past, provided an opportunity for Associate ICC nations to play a good standard of first-class cricket. It is likely, however, that the revamped tournament, which will almost certainly carry a different name, might provide opportunities for at least some of those nations to play more Test cricket. That could well mean more nations being permitted to play the format and might effectively introduce a second division in Test cricket.
A return of cricket to the Olympics would provide a financial and publicity boost to areas of the global game which have traditionally struggled for both. While the most influential ICC Full Members have, in the past, resisted such a move as it would reduce their window for bilateral series, there is a growing appreciation of the benefits of inclusion in the event. An ICC sub-committee has been set up and will report back to the CEC. Ian Watmore, the ECB chair, is on the sub-committee and is known to be a supporter of cricket’s inclusion in principle, believing it will help develop both the men’s and women’s game globally.
As a result, there is a growing likelihood of inclusion in the 2032 event (which is likely to be held in Brisbane) and a possibility of a bid for the 2028 version (which is scheduled to be held in LA). The number of teams involved and the version of the game to be used remain undecided, though there is growing support for exploring the T10 version, which would probably allow more nations to be involved and enable the event to be included within the small window available.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
Recent Match Report – Middlesex vs Hampshire Group 2 2021
Handscomb’s woeful form continues with first-ball duck after late-afternoon start
Middlesex 90 for 4 (Abbott 3-21) vs Hampshire
When the Lord’s media centre was still in its infancy, those working within were served tea and coffee in the most magnificent mugs – unbelievably tall, well insulated with a perfectly balanced handle and, best of all, decorated with a sketch of the building in celebration of its love-it-or-hate-it design.
Those mugs were solid too, with evidence suggesting they could survive numerous moves across the world (you were allowed to take just one as a souvenir, right?) until the inevitable happened.
After a long wait to begin their match, Middlesex started solidly enough against Hampshire, too. Play didn’t begin until 4.15pm after two false starts when the covers were removed and players began to warm up, only to be forced back inside the Pavilion when the rain returned.
Jack Davies, playing just his second first-class match and his first of the season after replacing fellow left-hander Max Holden in the hosts’ line-up, and Sam Robson saw their side into the 18th over as they worked their way to 33 without loss.
That was in the face of some class bowling from Keith Barker and Mohammad Abbas, who conceded just 16 from the first 10 overs without getting the rewards they were really after when Hampshire won the toss.
It was Kyle Abbott who cashed in instead with three quick wickets to shatter Middlesex, leaving them 90 for 4 at the close and the not-out Nick Gubbins and John Simpson with a serious mending task.
Abbott replaced Abbas from the Nursery End in the 14th over and, while Robson helped himself to a couple of boundaries in Abbott’s second, one of those was in fact very nearly a breakthrough for Hampshire when Robson sent the ball airborne towards point and rocketing through the hands of a leaping Tom Alsop.
It would have been spectacular had Alsop managed to pull it down, and perhaps it was a breakthrough of sorts because, a short time later, Abbott made good on the threat he had posed, drawing Robson forward on an off-stump line and finding an edge which went straight to Liam Dawson at second slip.
Brad Wheal also bowled well – he beat Gubbins’ outside edge three times in one over – and removed Davies after a composed 24, edging towards the slips, where Dawson took another catch.
In the next over, Abbott had Peter Handscomb out first ball with a gem that angled in slightly and clipped the top of off-stump. That continued a wretched season so far for Handscomb, the Middlesex captain who now has just 31 runs from six innings, including three ducks.
But Abbott’s next wicket was even more of a beauty with the perfect line, length and speed beating everything as Robbie White pressed forward only to hear the sound of his off-stump being knocked out of the ground.
Abbott, now an overseas player for Hampshire after the end of the Kolpak era, missed all of last season’s Bob Willis trophy due to travel restrictions between the UK and his native South Africa.
“I’ve been fighting myself a bit – the body’s just getting used to these long spells again and long days in the field, which we’ve had over the last few weeks,” Abbott said.
Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo
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