A season reviewed
It's hard to conclude that this season was a classic. Watching England thrash the Australians was fun - but it was hardly surprising and was at times less than compelling. The domestic competitions were hard-fought but reached conclusions, rather than climaxes. And the Champions Trophy, while thrilling at times, is a distant memory.
Nonetheless, it is the great joy of the game that even when matches fail to set the world aflame, there is always a spark if you look hard enough. And there remained plenty of highlights from which to choose – even during the last week – in this brief season’s round-up...
Bell’s grace and timing were the true wonders of the summer
Even before Kevin Pietersen began flamingo-flicking length balls through mid-on
in 2005, the MCC coaching book had begun to seem a little behind the times. Now
that T20 is the nursery of cricketing talent, the old manual is more or less
consigned to the library.
Therefore, the greatest joy of the summer was Ian Bell's graceful pursuit of 562 runs against Australia. His off-drives were reminiscent of Michael Vaughan at his peak and the late-cuts that have become such a feature of his batting were Goweresque.
In modern cricket, just as in modern life, there is a great deal of hurly-burly. Bell's zen-like performances were a welcome antidote to the notion that there is no longer room for a classical range of shots in Test matches, and were especially impressive coming as they did after a rotten winter for him. No player on either side came close to matching Bell's Ashes composure.
Durham were worthy Champions – and Mustard’s maiden wicket was the icing on the cake
Durham's County Championship win was inspired by team excellence and was as
affecting - in the context of Geoff Cook's mid-season heart attack - as it was
Paul Collingwood is clearly an inspirational leader, while Graham Onions' ability to counter England rebuffs with endless 5-wicket hauls is remarkable. Scott Borthwick's all-round progress should not go un-noted either.
But there was a particular delight on Friday when Phil Mustard flung off his wicket-keeping gloves and snared Luke Wright lbw in his first ever first-class over after a decade behind the stumps.
There is something quintessentially schooldays about a wicket-keeper bowling, even if MS Dhoni has made it rather more mainstream. Will Mustard become the next Tim Zoehrer, who played on Englishmen’s fear of leg-spin to take 12 wickets at 20.83 on Australia’s 1993 tour? We'll find out next spring...
may herald new growth at the Oval
Last Tuesday morning, writing from the Oval, I noted the decline of Surrey and wondered how the club might rise again. By the end of an afternoon session that had been bathed in sunshine, the county's youthful bowling had given a few clues and underscored the joy of live cricket - even in a dead game in the Championship.
Zafar Ansari turned a beauty past the edge of Kane Williamson's bat to knock back his stumps. Tom Jewell strode in, a modern-day Brylcreem boy, finding a consistent line and length outside off. And Matt Dunn found pace and movement enough to trouble all of Yorkshire's batsmen.
More promise came the next day when Dominic Sibley, briefly removing his nose from his schoolbooks, sniffed the air, decided it was his moment and promptly scored 242, becoming the youngest player to score a double ton in the Championship.
Youth may be the answer for Surrey, although if an 18-year-old plucked from school can step up like Sibley, think what a 34-year-old plucked from the office might achieve. I await Alec Stewart's call.
Will players please stop ‘executing’ their skills?
Amid the highlights there was one particular horror that will probably continue to haunt us: the absolute drivel that is the phrase "executing skills". Its use should indeed be met with the threat of capital punishment.