Ball one: Bartlett’s century bears fruit for cidermen
Somerset, six points clear at the top of the Central Group, prospered having rustled up a storm of their own to win in quick time. George Bartlett and the Toms, Lammonby and Abell, scored undefeated tons, but the tempest came in the form of Craig Overton (nine for 51) and Josh Davey (seven for 46), who blew Gloucestershire away for 76 and 70 in just 73.5 overs. To collapse in both innings looks less like misfortune and more like carelessness, something that counties with little or nothing to play for in the final round of matches must guard against if the integrity of the competition is to be maintained.
Ball two: Matt Milnes floors Surrey
In the South Group, Kent tucked in behind Essex (who can beat most opponents, but not the weather) with a late win over hapless Surrey at The Oval. After England’s hand sanitiser head honcho Ben Foakes had kept the home side in the game with a welcome century, Kent’s lower middle order proved as brittle in the second innings as they had been resilient in the first, the fourth-innings target a gettable 192. But after Darren Stevens bagged the dangerous Laurie Evans for his fourth wicket, Matt Milnes preyed on winless Surrey’s lack of confidence and Kent had 17 runs in hand when the 10th wicket fell. Six points behind the leaders, Kent have Hampshire at home in the last group match with Essex hosting Middlesex – cue the cliches about abacuses and rain dances.
Ball three: Murtagh kills off Sussex top order
Even with the Harmer and Porter combo to face, Middlesex may take some confidence from a fine win over Sussex at Radlett. Having conceded a first-innings deficit of 90, Tim Murtagh did the Tim Murtagh thing, his three wickets reducing the visitors to four for four, his eventual five-fer supported by Miguel Cummins’s and Martin Andersson’s two and three wickets apiece. There was still 63 to get when Andersson walked to the crease in the fourth innings, but he found the right partner in John Simpson, who has seen it all before, and Middlesex were soon over the line with something to spare.
Ball four: De Lange goes long in ton from No 10
Two also-rans showed that they can still produce a fine game of cricket as Northamptonshire essentially won their match with Glamorgan twice over. They had the game done when Marchant de Lange walked out to have some fun at No 10 with his team still in arrears, an innings defeat likely. He swung and connected, then swung and connected, got to three figures in 62 balls and the target was suddenly a tricky 189. It’s very easy to lose three or four quick wickets after brains have been scrambled like that, but the inexperienced pair of Emilio Gay and Charlie Thurston (the latter backing up a first-innings ton) showed admirable sangfroid in getting Northants to the close just one down with a third of the job done. Gay was still there at the end, another couple of hours sufficient to confirm the points they felt they had earned some 24 hours or so earlier.
Ball five: Batsman of the Bob
Ben Slater was loaned from Derbyshire to Nottinghamshire before that move was made permanent, but then, amid the rubble of Nottinghamshire’s 2019 County Championship campaign, started the Bob on loan at Leicestershire, before being recalled to Notts, where the music has stopped and he is now sitting comfortably. He started the season with 172 and 25, before a pair against old friends Derbyshire suggested they had made the right decision in 2018. Recalled to Trent Bridge by his permanent employers, he must have been delighted to see the Lanky bowlers he had put to the sword a fortnight earlier line up for more punishment and he helped himself to 142. Leicestershire occupied him for nearly five hours in the last round, 86 runs his bounty this time in a weather-affected draw. Now 29, Slater had more to fear than most as the truncated first-class season got under way with dire warnings about county finances, but he got in and got on with it and is the leading run scorer in the Bob with just one round to play. Well batted.
Ball six: Bowler of the Bob
Simon Harmer’s continuing excellence may be remarkable, but it’s also expected, so one looks one below him in the wickets table to find Craig Overton. The Somerset man has 23 wickets, supported by SF Barnesian stats: average 9.6; economy rate 1.9; and strike rate 30. With twin Jamie off to Surrey (presumably on significantly improved terms) and finding himself down the pecking order for England, it might have been easy for Overton to sulk or, at minimum, coast at Taunton his gifts easily keeping him in the side without trying that hard. But they don’t really do that among the feisty perennial bridesmaids in the West Country and Overton has some handy runs to back up his bowling, as if to underline his point. Somerset have five more points than any of the other 17 counties, with the two group winners with most points to progress to the final Lord’s. Can the county that has never flown the pennant become the one and only winners of the Bob Willis Trophy? Over to Overton.