County cricket: Worcs, Surrey and Kent set early pace in T20 Blast


Ball one: Barnard castles Notts’ chance and secures the tie
Worcestershire sit top of the North Group, courtesy of two wins and a tie at home to Nottinghamshire. Chasing 153 after Jake Libby continued his fine Championship form with an undefeated half-century and Ross Whiteley did his thing down the order, Joe Clarke and Alex Hales departed the middle leaving Notts’ remaining batsmen to accumulate 72 runs in 13 overs. It should have been a doddle.

Credit to Moeen Ali’s men then, who squeezed three run outs under pressure, including Ed Barnard seeing off Peter Trego looking for two off the last ball. Fielding has obviously improved enormously in the last 20 years or so, but throwing from deep and the gathering of the ball and removal of the bails is often scrappier than in the days when the stumps were not expected to be thrown down often, if at all. It’s noticeable too, that it’s maybe the one set of skills not practised during the expansive warm-ups all teams do before a match.

On the subject of the tie, would it hurt so much to give the public a super over if the scores are level in the group matches?

Ball two: Parkinson deserves England recognition
Lancashire join Durham and Birmingham a point behind the pacesetters after comfortable wins over Leicestershire and Derbyshire.

Though England stars, Liam Livingstone and Jos Buttler (yes, he’s a Lancashire player), caught the eye with the bat, few Red Rose fans will place their contributions above Matt Parkinson’s, the leg-spinner again demonstrating his consistent ability to take wickets in all formats whenever his captain whistles him up.

For England to rest all of their wrist-spinning on the fragile shoulder of Adil Rashid seems unduly risky, but there’s a wider point that applies to both red ball and white ball cricket in 2021. Parky gets well set batsmen out in conditions that we’re relentlessly told make it difficult for spinners to prosper. It’s beginning to look contrary for England to ignore his claims – that the squad for the Sri Lanka series names 10 bowling options without his involvement just does not stand up to the evidence.

Ball three: Strong Surrey flex their muscles
Surrey, picking up where they left off after a late charge to the final of 2020’s Blast, top the South Group with three easy wins from three.

Even with Rory Burns and Ollie Pope away on England duty and other star names unavailable, Surrey have options all through the XI, from the destructive powerplay hitting of Jason Roy and Will Jacks, to the experience of Laurie Evans and Gareth Batty, to the Curran brothers and Jamie Overton in all-rounder berths, to the huge promise of young spinner Dan Moriarty.

Of course, it’s the nature of the game that off days will come along or an opposition click, but few counties can call upon that quiver of arrows to fire. Beaten finalists last year, they may well go one better this time round.

Ball four: Bell-Drummond rings the bowling changes effectively
Kent might have something to say about that as they are level with the Londoners, also with a 100% record. After swatting aside Hampshire and Middlesex (Oh Middlesex!) Gloucestershire presented a sterner challenge, Daniel Bell-Drummond rotating through seven bowlers to find the combinations to defend 183.

He must have been very happy with that score having watched three quick wickets fall early on before he found a partner in Jack Leaning. The ex-Tyke has looked at home in the south east since his move last season, and his last two scores of 81 not out and 64 will win far more T20 matches than they lose.

As with their co-leaders, options with bat and ball appear to be the key for Kent, eight bowlers having notched a wicket in the three matches to date backed up by a batting order that boasts Darren Stevens at seven and Australian all-rounder, Grant Stewart at eight. With few of his squad likely to be called up for international duty, Daniel Bell-Drummond will look to win plenty more matches – and he might well just do that.

Ball five: Batsman of the Week
Joe Clarke’s career was stalled by his being caught in the backwash of the Alex Hepburn case, though he was not accused of anything unlawful. It is not stalled any more, but it is at a crossroads.

Just turned 25, he has experience of the England development system, county cricket at Worcestershire and franchise cricket in Pakistan and Australia. If we needed reminding of the talent that underpins that CV, putting Northamptonshire to the sword with 136 off 65 balls, while his teammates made 67 off 57, was as clear a statement as can be made.

Unless there are residual reasons to ignore his claims (and if there are, they should be made public), England must surely pick him as part of their re-building after the T20 World Cup in the Autumn. More pressingly, should they continue to ignore his Test claims, since he has a first class average of 38, which compares favourably with many current incumbents? And if England do favour lesser talents with lesser baggage, would Clarke be wrong to build his career around international and franchise white ball cricket, essentially pigeonholing himself? It would be disappointing, but entirely understandable, if he did.

Ball six: Bowler of the Week
In 10 overs across three matches, Gareth Batty has been hit to the boundary just once. At 43, he’s still as ruddy faced, aggressive and keen to win as ever, but he has nous to burn, a commodity increasingly rare in English cricket. Eoin Morgan could do a lot worse in the lead up to the T20 World Cup than inviting the Surrey spinner in to explain how he restricts boundaries, something that would benefit all the bowlers and, no doubt, some of the batsmen too.