Ball one: Nottinghamshire score 429/9 in 50 overs to flay Somerset
After a month in cold storage, the Royal London One-Day Cup lurched back into life with an extraordinary quarter-final (well, sort of quarter-final – more on that later) at Taunton. As is the way these days, Nottinghamshire went hard up top in the powerplay overs, kept going hard in the ex-boring middle overs and finished off the innings in a blaze of boundaries and wickets. There were no maidens allowed and the one over that went for a single was immediately followed up with 15 off the next – indeed, apart from overs 10 and 11 going for three each, no pair of overs went for fewer than nine with 21 overs going for double figures – such is the anatomy of a 50-overs innings of 400 or more.
Ball two: Oldest swingers enjoy themselves on a day out
Mapping the route to a big score is one thing, but you have to have players capable of carrying out the plan. Notts’ top five (who collectively scored 385 off 277 balls at a strike rate of 139) comprised: Michael Lumb (37), Riki Wessels (31), Samit Patel (32), Brendan Taylor (31) and Steven Mullaney (30). T20 may have been conceived 14 years ago as family entertainment with the kids giving the old men the runaround but it hasn’t turned out that way at many counties and at international level, as the thirtysomethings struck back with power hitting and imaginative shot-making.
Ball three: It takes two, baby, it takes two to make a dream come true
It’s a cliche to say that partnerships win matches – but they do. Somerset’s Dean Elgar (91) and Peter Trego (66) put on 154, the biggest partnership of the match, to drag their team back into the chase from the mire of 67-3. But the next four largest partnerships in the match were all Nottinghamshire’s, and four usually beats one. The balancing of risk and reward in a long chase is a collective one, not least between the two men in the middle who need to rotate the chancy strokes as much as the strike if they are to wrest the initiative away from the bowlers conclusively.
Ball four: Ravi Rampaul bowls a heavy ball in more senses than one
The second quarter-final followed a similar pattern to the first, with Surrey setting the big score that proved too much for Yorkshire – indeed the margin of victory was an identical 24 runs in both matches. To nobody’s surprise, Kumar Sangakkara top scored for the winners with 121 at exactly 100, getting good support from Ben Foakes, whose 86 rescued the innings from a tricky 70-3 off 14.3 overs. Two forgotten men of international cricket then did a job on the Tykes, with Jade Dernbach and Ravi Rampaul going through their considerable stock of variations to knock over five of Yorkshire’s top six – throwing in a run out each at the death for good measure. Rampaul’s comfortable build makes him a liability in the field, but he still has enough pace to push a batsman on to the back foot if needs be, but delivers most stuff in that awkward 77–81 mph zone that demands that bat speed is required if boundaries are to be struck consistently. He’s proved plenty of Surrey doubters wrong – including me.
Ball five: Samit Patel and Steven Mullaney sprint for the line
The first semi-final, a day-nighter at Chelmsford between Nottinghamshire and Essex, was an example of the kind of thriller that breathes life into 50-over domestic cricket and had cricket fans checking scorecards as they sat outside pubs enjoying a Friday evening scoop or two in the summer sun. After Alastair Cook’s 133 (at a shade above a run a ball) had set up some old-school pyrotechnics from captain Ryan ten Doeschate (102 off 66), the home side must have fancied their chances with 370 on the board. They must still have been confident at the halfway mark of Nottinghamshire’s reply, with the quarter-final hero Brendan Taylor just dismissed and Samit Patel struggling to hit boundaries, just four in his 44 off 54 balls. But Steve Mullaney joined Samit (in cycling terms a domestique and a domestique deluxe) to construct a partnership of 185 in nearly 24 overs, leaving just six runs to be scored off nine balls for the Lord’s slot when they were separated. While Samit has always had an innings of 122 off 123 balls (12 fours) in him, nobody expected Mullaney to make 111 off 75 (eight fours and six sixes). Last season’s disappointments seem a distant memory at Trent Bridge.
Ball six: Surrey suck the life out of Worcestershire in bloodless win
The second semi-final, at a sun-drenched New Road, proved as disappointing as the first was thrilling. Jason Roy must have enjoyed feeling the ball on the middle of the bat as he top-scored for Surrey with 92, though he, like all the Surrey batsmen with the exception of red hot Ben Foakes (86), didn’t appear at his most fluent. With Kumar Sangakkara walking off convinced that he got a rough one on 73, it took a couple of cameos from middle-order teenagers, Ollie Pope and Sam Curran, to get Surrey up to 363, a fine, if not impregnable, score. Worcestershire’s reply, like Baldrick’s war poem, started badly, tailed off in the middle and the less said about the ending, the better. No batsmen was comfortable against Gareth Batty’s wily variations, though his figures of 5-40 flattered him, and it took a bit of long-handle stuff from Ross Whiteley, inexplicably held back at No8, to lift the hosts to respectability. Both finalists benefited from playing a midweek “warm-up” quarter-final: both losers were excused such obligations with byes their “rewards” for winning their groups. That structure might need another look come 2018.