Burns has scored over a thousand first-class runs in each of the previous four seasons but has not yet been give a chance with England despite the comings and goings in the Test team’s top order. © Getty
In the final stages of their careers, players can have vastly different experiences. The lucky ones thrive with the end in sight. Think Kumar Sangakkara’s mountain of runs for Surrey last season or 40-year-old Darren Stevens, still playing at Kent and picking up scalps left, right and centre. Runs and wickets come easily and they hardly miss a beat. For others, though, consistently reaching the heights they once attained is far more of a battle.
Before this round of matches, Warwickshire’s Ian Bell had not scored a Championship hundred for more than two years. For someone of his class and experience, with more than 7,500 Test runs and 118 caps to his name, it was a surprising run of poor form. It seemed that the harder he tried to prove he still had the game, the fewer runs he scored.
The 36-year-old last played for England in the UAE in 2015. He was dropped following a run of poor form which saw him average less than 30 in the previous two years. Since then, batting, which has at times come so ridiculously easy to Bell, has been anything but. He has averaged less than 34 in the Championship over the past two seasons and a miserable stint as Warwickshire captain ended part-way through last year. He was also dropped from the Birmingham Bears T20 team.
Two unbeaten hundreds in the game against Glamorgan at Edgbaston this week was — finally — an emphatic return to form. They were the second and third hundreds in his last four innings after he smashed Durham all over Chester-le-Street in the Royal London One-Day Cup. Bell’s effort against the Welsh county was the first time since 2004 that a Warwickshire player has scored twin tons in a Championship match. The player back then? Yes, you guessed it. It was Ian Bell.
Nobody should get carried away of course. The runs were scored against one of the weakest attacks in division two — and Glamorgan were shorn of their two best seamers Michael Hogan and Marchant de Lange because of injury — but Bell at least looked back to somewhere near his best. It might be more of a struggle these days, but this was a match which proved the class is still there, flickering away, refusing to be distinguished.
Durham Pull Off a Miracle… Again
“It’s unreal the character these lads have. The togetherness is quite amazing and something truly unique. Let’s hope it carries us far.”
Those are the words of Durham’s Will Smith, who spoke to Cricbuzz after the county’s victory against Derbyshire at Chester-le-Street. The 95-run win wasn’t just any old victory; this was a remarkable performance to turn around a game which had looked all but lost on the first day after Durham were bowled out for 96 in their first innings.
But this club, these players, these people simply don’t react to adversity like others do. Where other teams may have collapsed in a heap, Durham fought back through a maiden first-class hundred from Gareth Harte, some stoic defence from their lower order to put on 217 for the last three wickets of their second innings, and then for Chris Rushworth and Matt Salisbury, who took nine of Derbyshire’s wickets, to wrap up the win.
It was Durham’s second consecutive remarkable home victory in the Championship. In the last round, following another poor display with the bat in their first innings, they were asked to follow-on against Leicestershire 256 runs behind but somehow managed to win the match. If some thought that result a fluke, the victory in this round against Derbyshire proves that lightening can strike twice.
Durham now find themselves fourth in the Championship, 17 points off second place. Sir Ian Botham, the club’s chairman, tweeted after the match: “Promotion ????” It’s a possibility and even if Warwickshire look nailed on for the top spot, the identity of the second best team in the division is as yet harder to predict.
There is still a long way to go of course and nobody should forget the carnage that has been inflicted on the squad in large part because of the ECB’s draconian sanctions which followed Durham’s financial difficulties in 2016. Keaton Jennings, Graham Onions, Scott Borthwick, Mark Stoneman and Paul Coughlin have all left the club since then and the current squad lacks depth and experience. They won’t always be able to pull the rabbit out of the hat.
What the club does not lack, though, is spirit as Smith, a man not given to outlandish comments, alludes to. Yet again, that was evident for all to see this week and if Durham can continue to harness that togetherness, who knows what could happen this year. Promotion is certainly not off the table. And after a difficult couple of years, there wouldn’t be many in English cricket who would begrudge Durham that.
Contrasting fortunes in the Midlands
Had Leicestershire lost in the previous round to Glamorgan, their season could have fallen horribly off the tracks. Criticism on social media was starting to build following two losses and a draw from their opening three matches and they had thrown away a dominant position against Durham in a game they had somehow managed to lose. The county’s supporters, well versed in handling disappointment, were probably thinking: “Here we go again”.
As it was, Leicestershire emerged triumphant in Cardiff — by a heart-stoppingly small margin of three runs — and have followed it up with another victory in this round against the Northants. It was the first time since 2010 that the county has won back-to-back games in the Championship and given they finished bottom of division two without a win last season, two victories already this term is clear progress for new head coach Paul Nixon.
Now third in the second division, Leicestershire are in the unfamiliar position of being at the top of the table rather than at the foot of it. How long that remains the case is anyone’s guess but if they can keep highly-rated young quick Zak Chappel fit — he took 6 for 44 in the first innings — alongside the consistent seamers Ben Raine and Gavin Griffiths, they will cause problems. Whether the batting has enough consistency to mount a serious promotion challenge is the key question.
Conversely, Northants are in the kind of rut that Leicestershire found themselves in last term. Rooted to the bottom of division two with just 19 points from five matches, Northants have been a huge disappointment and they seem unable to shake themselves out of it. Whilst the bowling has been fine, the Steelback’s batting has been woeful.
In eight innings, their highest total is 256. All the batsmen are scrabbling for form with none of those chosen for more than one match averaging over 30 and Ben Duckett, an England Test player just over 18 months ago, is averaging just 12.50. Things just haven’t clicked for the men from Wantage Road and their Royal London One-Day Cup campaign was a bit of a shocker as well. At least the Vitality T20 Blast starts soon, a competition they usually relish.
Rory Burns is a Test player, says Steyn
Surrey’s captain Rory Burns became the first player to reach 500 Championship runs during this round as he made his second hundred (151) of the season against Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl and in the process earned the very highest recommendation from one of Test cricket’s modern greats.
South Africa’s 419-Test wicket legend Dale Steyn is currently playing for Hampshire before returning to the Proteas’ squad for the upcoming series against Sri Lanka and the 34-year-old was seriously impressed with Burns. “Rory Burns batted bloody nicely,” he told ESPNcricinfo. “He looked really good. I think he looks like a Test batsman. And I’ve opened the bowling to a lot of opening batters.”
Burns has scored over a thousand first-class runs in each of the previous four seasons but has not yet been give a chance with England despite the comings and goings in the Test team’s top order. Is an unorthodox technique putting the selectors off? Perhaps, but Burns hardly bats like some alien just landed from Mars. He may exaggeratedly turn his head down the pitch and wave the bat around like someone swatting flies, but so what? His method works.
And if it’s good enough for Dale Steyn, it’s good enough for us.
Ryan ten Doeschate suspended
Essex captain, leader, legend, Ryan ten Doeschate will miss his county’s Royal London one-day quarter-final against Yorkshire on Thursday after accumulating nine disciplinary points over the past 24 months.
His latest indiscretion came in the Championship victory over Lancashire at Old Trafford where he committed a Level 1 breach for “willfully mistreating any part of the cricket ground, equipment or implements used in the match, and using language that in the circumstances, is obscene, offensive or insulting”.
It resulted in an automatic two-match ban which mean he will miss the Yorkshire match and either the semi-final, should Essex qualify, or their next Championship game against Nottinghamshire.
Could this finally be Somerset’s year?
Somerset’s last two Championship campaigns have been, to put it mildly, a mixed bag. In 2016, they suffered the heartbreak of being pipped to the title by Middlesex on the final day of the season when Toby Roland-Jones took a hat-trick to defeat Yorkshire at Lord’s, sealing the trophy for the London club. Last year, they avoided relegation by just one point.
Somerset have never won the Championship and some might have feared that their chance had gone after the disappointment of coming so close in 2016. But after last year’s struggles, things have started well this term and they end round six on top of the table with a one point-lead over Surrey. Australian opener Matt Renshaw was in the runs again as they chased down 248 on the final day against Nottinghamshire at Taunton to register their third win of the season.
After the relative ease with which Essex won the title last season, this year’s Championship race is shaping up to be far more of a dogfight with the top four of Somerset, Surrey, Essex and Notts currently separated by just 13 points. Who emerges on top is anyone’s guess right now but Somerset look well placed and in decent form. It’s all to play for.