Ball one: Davies cues up easy chase for Lancashire
Lancashire continued their fine season with a crushing win over Northamptonshire to all but secure qualification from the North Group with three matches to spare. Alex Davies steered them their target of 158 with an unbeaten 75, the academy product playing as a specialist batsman since Dane Vilas took captain’s dibs on the gloves. Since he was one of this column’s five county cricketers of the year in 2017, Davies’ form has dipped a little in red-ball cricket, but he enjoyed a good Blast last season and he’s back for more this time round. He’ll be 25 on Friday, still plenty young enough for international recognition, especially with England looking like they might need a little freshening up for the winter tours.
Ball two: If anyone’s game, it’s anyone’s game in the north
Below Lancashire there’s a real dogfight brewing for the three quarter-final places not spoken for, with even bottom-placed Yorkshire not out of it with four matches to play. It might come down to a bit of luck with the weather or a tight run-out decision going one way or the other, but there are plenty of sports that would like to have this level of jeopardy so deep into a season. With the big runs being scored in the South Group, Durham will be hoping that their opening pair, Australian D’Arcy Short and local lad Scott Steel, continue the form that puts them first and fourth among the North Group’s top run scorers.
Ball three: M Klinger M*A*S*Hes Hampshire
In one of only two matches to beat the weather in the South, Gloucestershire eased to a win over Hampshire at Bristol. Veteran skipper Michael Klinger, short of runs this season, anchored the chase with 40, allowing wicketkeeper-batsman James Bracey to tee off, his half-century ensuring that the 140 required was banked with a couple of overs to spare. In these baffling and troubled times, the thought that Klinger is probably making 40 or so at a run-a-ball in Bristol is a comfort.
Ball four: Middlesex bowlers making mayhem
Heading into the Champo break, only Glamorgan appear to be gone in the South Group, with the other eight counties looking to win the key moments and put a run together. If bowlers win matches – less obviously so with white ball than with red but probably largely true – Middlesex look best placed to make the run for the line. In Steven Finn, Toby Roland-Jones, Nathan Sowter and Tom Helm, they have a settled attack which provides half the top eight wicket-takers in the Blast. With Somerset’s gun batsmen leading their comeback and Sussex and Kent with the points on the board, don’t be surprised to see that quartet in with a chance of making Finals Day.
Ball five: Match of the week (North Group)
While batting pyrotechnics captures the headlines and it’s six after six after six in the advertising montages, everyone who loves cricket knows that there’s no thriller like a low-scoring thriller – no matter the format. Worcestershire barely clawed their way to 117-7 at Chester-le-Street, no stand realising 30 runs, so when D’Arcy Short and Scott Steel were still together in the 12th over, 79 knocked off, few would have given the visitors a price. But one wicket brings two and the boundaries dried up – none in the last eight overs – and suddenly Alex Lees and Stuart Poynter needed nine off the last over. Pat Brown allowed just three singles and a couple of leg byes and Worcestershire set off down the motorway for home with a couple of points smuggled from under Durham’s noses.
Ball six: Match of the week (South Group)
In the end it wasn’t much of a match, Surrey seeing off a disappointing Sussex batting effort, but the sense of occasion at the Oval was palpable. Floodlights, a full house – loud but not too rowdy – and a home side playing well in a local derby providing all the atmosphere you need. It was quite a contrast from earlier in the day at Lord’s (read more about my Thursday on either side of the Thames here) and showed that the appetite for the oldest and (for now) the youngest formats of the game remains strong, in the metropolis at least. I’m not sure that the MCC members would have been as enthusiastic as the Kennington faithful when Kiss Cam beamed out of the big screens, but each to their own. And why not?