Royals leave it late to seal one-day double
Hampshire 244-5 Warwickshire 244-7: Hampshire win CB40 in close final, but the quality was missing at Lord's
Sunday 16 September 2012
As anyone who watched the rousing finale of The Newsroom last week will testify, seasons need not end with a whimper. Sadly, despite yesterday's cuticle-crunching denouement, the county campaign has forgotten how to sign off with a bang.
The Hampshire supporter threatening to bust every stitch of his AXA Equity & Law League replica shirt may have been pushing nostalgia a tad far, but it was hard not to feel wistful as what was once the climax of the schedule yet again unfolded with HQ half-full and glasses – strictly the metaphorical ones of course - half-empty.
Despite an assured run-a-ball 81 by Ian Bell, the spoils went to Hampshire, who completed the most efficient of muggings when, with seven runs required, five wickets intact and 39 overs gone, Kabir Ali gave up singles to Chris Woakes and Ian Blackwell then bowled the latter.
Neil Carter clubbed a four from the penultimate delivery but Kabir prevented the South African from connecting with the last: the scores were level but Warwickshire, crucially, had lost seven men to the victors' five.
Carter certainly deserved a more satisfying conclusion to his career; besieged by injury for too many years, Kabir will feel the Fates have finally done him a favour.
Sometimes, though, a stirring finish cannot paper over the cracks. Even Alfred Hitchcock would acknowledge that suspense doesn't necessarily signify quality. If much of the contest lacked edge, it was assuredly no coincidence that both teams were pursuing their second pot of the campaign – the Midlanders are county champions, the not-so-soft Southerners the Twenty20 kings. When Bell took guard, the food court was still choc-a-bloc; the stands were as bereft of spice as the pitch.
Let's face it. Forty-over fixtures, a legacy of distant Sunday afternoons when alternatives were few, strikes an unhappy medium between the rigour essential in Tests and the look-ma-no-brakes approach to T20. This will scarcely be the first time you have read a sentence banging on about the perversity of a format lasting 10 overs fewer than the international norm; the chances of it being the last, regrettably, seem too remote to mention unless the marketing survey being conducted by the England and Wales Cricket Board into spectators' preferences leads to a modicum of sanity.
The overture was certainly a throwback, albeit an unwanted one: Carter fired the opening salvo down the legside, sending Tim Ambrose scrambling to turn four freebies into two. Fortunately, and unlike Scott Boswell, the luckless Leicestershire quick whose second over in the 2001 C&G final against Gloucestershire yielded eight wides in a heart-rending attack of stage fright, Carter found his radar, albeit erratically.
A strong showing in the equivalent fixture would once have been perceived as a sign of a desirable temperament and a passport to a winter tour, however irrelevant the format. Michael Carberry, who took guard flexing a CB40 average nearing 94, is one of four specialist openers vying for a trip to India as Andrew Strauss's boot-filler; if he deemed it an audition, a crisp 35 off 31 balls will have left him feeling – as was once nudge-winkingly said of the New Zealand seamer Bob Cunis – neither one thing nor the other.
Throw fielding into the mix and, as Carberry later demonstrated, notably when snaring Bell on the run, the choice between him, Varun Chopra, Nick Compton and Joe Root should be a no-brainer.
Jimmy Adams (66 off 70 balls) supplied muscle as well as spine before dragging on to an out-of-sorts Chris Woakes. Sean Ervine carved and clattered 57, hoarding 69 in seven overs with Simon Katich before mistiming a cut at Darren Maddy, leaving the Aussie arch-competitor to ensure the target, easily the stiffest in a CB40 final (true, this was only the third), exceeded six an over.
Chopra's exit, caught off the brisk left-armer Chris Wood, brought in Bell, who virtually won the trophy off his own bat in 2010 and soon settled into an unhurried groove, but two avoidable dismissals soon followed as Maddy launched Liam Dawson to deep midwicket and Jim Troughton drilled to short cover.
Had Kabir clung on when Bell clipped David Griffiths to fine leg when still shy of 50, Hampshire would have smelled victory; the wait, for team and culprit, was worth every agonising minute.
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