#ProperCricket dominates as 2016 comes to an exciting end

#ProperCricket dominates as 2016 comes to an exciting end

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Image: Scott Hunt

Surely this has to be the greatest last week of the County Championship ever?

Any of three Counties could have won the Division One title, with one gunning for their third in a row, another their first since there have been two divisions and the third for their first ever.

Fair play to Middlesex at the end of the day they played the best cricket over the course of the season and are deserved Champions. Special mention to Toby Roland-Jones who has been superb all season and his hat-trick to clinch the title was a fitting end to the best season of his career yet.

Of course this weeks’ matches decided the destination of the title, but it was Middlesex’s remarkable win in Taunton that was the most impressive of the season, against all odds and ultimately what made it possible for the London club to wrap up the title on this rollercoaster final day at Lord’s.

For those who cannot remember back to the 10th-13th July, Middlesex won by scoring 302 in 45.4 overs in their fourth innings, at 6.61 runs an over.

The most creative author would not have scripted for the players to leave the field for bad light (and then rain) just as Yorkshire needed one more run to earn the fourth batting bonus point that would give them a chance of chasing down Somerset for the title, Somerset who themselves were just closing in on a third day victory in Taunton.

The ever-present Ryan Sidebottom eventually got his side to 350 and then even stuck around for another 40 runs with the almost ever present Tim Bresnan. Bresnan had arguably the match of his life, 3-48, 142*, 0-33 and 55 but still ended up on the losing side.

It has not just been the top of the table where the fixtures happened to pitch two adjacent teams in the table against one another in the final round. Warwickshire played Lancashire with the loser having to hope Hampshire could not win at home to Durham in order to retain their Division One spot.

Hampshire lost by six wickets to Durham so will join Nottinghamshire in Division Two next year, Lancashire were fortunate enough to stay up despite losing to Warwickshire at Edgbaston.

With Notts already down and out, Somerset merely had to fulfil the formalities and pick up as many points as possible in their quickly inevitable win at the Cooper Associates County Ground. At 33-2, with Jake Ball causing all sorts of problems to the Somerset top order, 400 for maximum batting bonus points was looking a long way off.

Yet it was one rather serious, physical problem Ball caused to James Hildreth that ultimately spurred Somerset to 302-3.

Rogers and Hildreth were the men responsible for the 269 run partnership. When on seven, Hildreth wore a full toss on the top of the right foot, what turned out to be a fractured ankle.

The excruciating pain inhibited Hildreth from any proper foot movement, particularly trying to swivel on his back foot to play the pull shot. Tom Abell was promptly called to act as Hildreth’s runner, but even walking to and from the wicket at intervals was causing the ex-Millfield School man sincere discomfort.

When it came to fielding, Somerset’s best fielder and 12th man Max Waller allowed Hildreth to watch on with his foot up, Waller contributing with one of two run outs in Notts’ second innings.

There was no fairy-tale title winning retirement for Somerset skipper Chris Rogers, but he will be leaving the West country with his head held high after centuries in both innings helped take his side perilously close to the title despite them being relegation favourites just a few months back. Nick Gubbins of Middlesex very nearly achieved the same feat, unluckily falling for 93 in the second innings.

Despite all the clichés saying what a wonderful advert for County Cricket this week has been it cannot be denied that the ‘contrived set up’ and ‘declaration bowling’ at Lord’s this afternoon was a complete farce.

Of course one could argue that any counties would have tried to set up a result generating scenario in the game situation, but why let the game meander for ten and a half sessions before injecting any attacking intent into the game?

I will never understand why both teams were happy with such a slow over rate, slow scoring rate and relatively defensive fields when both teams knew from relatively early on that they would need to take 20 wickets to stop Somerset from taking the title.

I do not believe any true sports fan would want to see a side stop trying in any way shape or form. Buffet bowling from Yorkshire to try and get Middlesex to up the ante so Yorkshire had a chance of winning was understandable, but they could have tried harder to get into a winning situation earlier in the match.

The chat between a man who should have been fielding (Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale) and Middlesex captain James Franklin (who was supposedly on the toilet at the time) could have been conducted far sooner in the week when it was clear Somerset were going to win and the Lord’s game was meandering to a bore draw that would be useless for both sides. And for Franklin to chip the ball back to Adam Lyth as if giving the `bowler’ catching practice frankly brings the game into disrepute.

There was absolutely no advantage gain for either side by Franklin embarrassing himself like that, as captain he could have declared at any point whether he was out, not out or still to bat.

Bitter Yorkshiremen complain at Root and Bairstow not being allowed to play, but the White Rose have such a strong squad, on their day they could have beaten Middlesex anyway. It was surprising to see Pattinson come in for Plunkett-the big man’s batting could have been pivotal in the final chase.

Along with Rashid’s lack of heart to want to play one more game, whatever his family situation, understandably leaves the Tykes feeling rather aggrieved.

Their infuriation was added to by Middlesex’s Tim Murtagh being allowed to play when he should have been training 8000 miles away for the One Day International series between Ireland and South Africa starting on Sunday.

Clearly a cricket lover, Murtagh was showering, changing and getting suited and booted in the 30 minutes after the victory was clinched whilst his teammates were still on their victory lap. A brilliant gesture from Cricket Ireland to allow their man to play in such a big game for his county, it should be seen as disappointing for the neutral that the ECB did not have the same attitude for Messrs Root and Bairstow.

No one can deny what a cracking advert for #propercricket (as the tweeters were ‘hash tagging’) this last week has been. The understandable criticisms before this week being that the Somerset game was not also televised and that the duration of the fixtures were played during a working week.

Personally I have thoroughly enjoyed this season of County Championship, particularly the worldwide attention the last week has gained, I just wish the pivotal game at Lord’s could have been played at full intensity with maximum effort from both sides throughout.

Thanks to Harry Everett at Harry Everett Sports Journalism for this contribution

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