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Recent Match Report – Hampshire vs Nottinghamshire, County Championship Division One, 2nd Innings

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Hampshire 310 and 3 for 1 lead Nottinghamshire 239 (Mullaney 102, Barker 3-46) by 74 runs

Steven Mullaney first learned about cricket in Golborne, a town which now lies in the Metropolitan Borough of Wigan. The place is no sort of Orwellian wasteland but neither is it Ambridge. And it certainly has next door to nowt in common with the pastoral glory of Newclose. Yet as we watched Nottinghamshire’s captain fight like fury to keep his team in this match it was possible to discern the toughness which still characterises the league cricket he once played. Mullaney’s century here was, among its other qualities, a monument to simple defiance and it should be recalled fondly by all those who saw it.

But let us be crystal on two points: firstly, the resolution Mullaney displayed is not some exclusively Northern characteristic; and secondly, Nottinghamshire’s skipper long ago transferred his absolute allegiance from Old Trafford to Trent Bridge. It is in the East Midlands that he has won all the honours the domestic game has to offer and his loyalty to the place is very deep. So much is clear every time he strides to the wicket and it was plain again when he walked out with Nottinghamshire on 61 for 3 in reply to Hampshire’s 310.

Things became much worse before they got even slightly better. Having beaten Ben Slater outside the off stump and induced a mistimed pull from Chris Nash, Kyle Abbott nipped one back to bowl Joe Clarke for 23. Then Jake Libby was leg before to Keith Barker to leave Nottinghamshire on 72 for 5. And all these ructions, we thought, on almost the first summer’s day of the season.

For there was a Blyton-blue sky and so there had to be hampers. The hospitality was corporate and it was familial. The white Burgundy was chilled this afternoon and the beer needed only gravity to get it from barrel to tankard. Most in the crowd cheered happily either side of lunch as Abbott and Barker put Nottinghamshire in the toils. But then they watched in grudging admiration and near-perfect joy as Mullaney and Tom Moores, scrappers both, set about rebuilding the innings. Men under panamas and women in print dresses agreed that fast bowling looked warm work.

Warm but also productive. Having battled away for 101 minutes to stifle his attacking instincts and accumulate 34 out of a 79-run stand with Mullaney, Moores almost waved his bat at a ball from Fidel Edwards and gossamered a catch to a diving Tom Alsop down the leg side. Luke Fletcher and Stuart Broad followed him back to the pavilion in short order and the visitors took tea on 159 for 8 with Mullaney 43 not out. People wondered how much batting Hampshire might have to do before stumps. As things turned out, by the time Mullaney had near single-handedly reduced the deficit to 71 runs Joe Weatherley and Oli Soames needed to survive six overs, something they failed to do, Weatherley falling leg before to Fletcher when only eight balls remained. We are set for two more fine days on the abudant Island.

During the afternoon, though, spectators who craved warmth had sat in the generous sun; many bared their legs and some were badly advised to do so. Those who sought the shade lounged under the scoreboard on the Medina side of the ground and ate their ice-creams in peace as Mullaney continued his innings. One well-spoken chap licking his cornet was even watched by his envious pooch. On the opposite side of the ground Jack Russell sold sketches and prints.

He, perhaps above all spectators at Newclose, would have admired Mullaney’s refusal to yield in the evening session. Nottinghamshire’s warrior-leader reached his fifty off 113 balls but the deficit was then still over a hundred. So he buckled down again and shepherded Matt Carter through a superb stand of 80 for the ninth wicket. Carter played a fine supporting role as Mullaney took just 52 balls over the second fifty runs of the hundred he reached with a pulled six off Mason Crane.

This was Mullaney’s fourth century against Hampshire and it was nothing like a perfect demonstration of batsmanship. He was dropped three times, most noticeably on 25 when Weatherley put down a two-handed slip chance off Abbott. But faultless 30s matter little when set beside the effort Nottinghamshire’s skipper summoned at Newclose. When he reached three figures he raised his arms to the pavilion as if to reinforce the message that he requires similar effort from everybody in any team he leads. When he top-edged a return catch to Ian Holland, spectators stood to him and many were wearing Hampshire badges. He had played an innings worthy of the day and worthy of the place in which it was played. But they will read about Mullaney’s hundred in places far beyond the Isle of Wight this evening; and they will smile at their warm memories.



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Recent Match Report – Sri Lanka vs New Zealand, ICC World Test Championship, 2nd Test

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New Zealand 196 for 4 (Latham 111*, Watling 25*) trail Sri Lanka 244 by 48 runs

After a largely rain-free third day, the weather affected play once again in Colombo as the first session on the fourth day was washed out at the P Sara Oval. With time running out in the Test and the weather still uncertain, there is a high likelihood that this match could end in a draw, which will break a sequence of 25 consecutive Tests in Sri Lanka that ended with an outright winner.

On the third day, New Zealand had recovered well through Tom Latham’s composed 111*, ending on 196 for 4, just 48 runs behind Sri Lanka’s first-innings total of 244. Latham shared three significant partnerships that kept New Zealand steady. He put on 50 with Ross Taylor for the third wicket, 42 for the fourth with Henry Nicholls, and his unbroken association with Watling for the fifth wicket has yielded 70 runs so far.

Sri Lanka’s total, meanwhile, was built around Dhananjaya de Silva’s free-stroking century, which allowed their lower order to rally from 130 for 6, and also ensured their innings went on till the third day, with the first two badly hit by rain.



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Kemar probably the bowler of the game – Holder

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In the 45th over of India’s second innings, Ajinkya Rahane, then on 17, was facing Kemar Roach and he closed the face of the bat a bit early while attempting a flick. John Campbell at short extra cover couldn’t hold on to the catch. It was symbolic of the kind of the day Roach had. The West Indies fast bowler ended with returns of 1 for 18 off 12 overs at stumps – following up on his 4 for 66 in the first innings – but the lack of wickets belied how he had troubled Virat Kohli and Rahane, regularly beating the outside edge.

His bowling prompted captain Jason Holder to say that Roach was the bowler of the match, even though India quick Ishant Sharma had taken a five-for in West Indies’ first innings.

“Yes, Ishant got five wickets in the first innings but Kemar is probably the bowler of the game. I am not discrediting Ishant’s performance, I thought he bowled really well as well. But I think Kemar has so far stood out.

“Kemar’s been brilliant. Him, Shannon [Gabriel] and myself, we have done a lot of hard work over the last couple of years. I am not surprised by his performance. He tends to like this ground as well, he’s had quite a bit of success here at Antigua. The thing about Kemar is that he keeps you guessing, keeps you playing and there’s never a situation where he can be predictable.”

Roach dismissed Pujara for the second time in this Test, before returning to trouble Rahane and Kohli just as the pair were settling down. A ball before that dropped chance, West Indies went up in a big appeal for lbw and even reviewed the umpire’s decision but lost a review as ball-tracking showed the ball was missing the leg stump.

Later in the day, the side chose not to review another lbw chance Roach had created against Rahane, who was on 48. Ball-tracking suggested the delivery would have gone on to hit middle stump and a late wicket would have buoyed West Indies, and snapped a solid partnership. As it happened, both Kohli and Rahane finished the day unbeaten, having scored half-centuries, with India’s lead at 260. Despite the missed opportunities, Holder still felt his side had a hand in the game

“We definitely did drop a chance and I definitely can’t control umpiring decisions. We could have reviewed it but at that stage, we felt it was bat as well. Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way that decision. That’s just the way the game is played. The bowlers are doing an exceptional job. India is scoring at 2-plus an over which is good. We’ve missed a chance here and there and obviously the lbw decision there, the game would have looked a lot different. But having said that we are definitely in hand, still in hand, we are fighting today.”



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Joe Root digs in during fight to save Test – and his captaincy

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Joe Root wasn’t just battling to save this match. And he wasn’t just battling to save his side’s hopes in the Ashes. He was, perhaps, battling to save his captaincy.

Few England captains survive two Ashes series defeats to lead their side into a third. Archie MacLaren did so, but that was more than a century ago and he had been replaced in between series. Archie didn’t have Twitter to deal with, either.

But it wasn’t just defeat that threatened Root. It was the thought that captaincy may be getting the better of him. England had been a bit of a shambles at the end of day two and the start of day three. Root himself had put down a relatively straightforward catch at slip – Marnus Labuschagne was on 14 at the time; it may yet prove a crucial moment – they had conceded over-throws and started to snipe at one another in the field. Increasingly it was looking hard to sustain the belief that Root was the man to drive this side forward.

ALSO READ: Labuschagne sets the example for Australia – and England

More than that, Root’s primary problem was the diminishing returns from his own bat. In a side as parched for runs as England, any drop of output from their best batsman cannot be accommodated. Going into this innings, Root was averaging 18.85 in Test cricket this summer having suffered consecutive ducks in his previous two innings. Overall, he averaged 52.88 when not captain and 40.41 when captain. The evidence was starting to suggest he had been worn down by the burden of the role. The whispers were growing that, for his own good as much as the team’s, it might be necessary to make a change.

That would be a nightmare for England’s team management. There are few obvious alternatives for the role – Ben Stokes, perhaps, or, maybe Stuart Broad for the rest of the summer – and it would spell defeat in England’s rebuilding efforts of the last few years. But, tough though the decision might have been, it was increasingly looking as if it might appear necessary.

Moments after Root came to the crease, England subsided to 15 for 2 requiring 344 more for victory. It looked a hopeless task. No England side has ever made such a total to win a Test and there’s not much about this side – the team that have lost 10 wickets in a single session four times in the last three years – to suggest they will be the ones to change history.

But, at last, they found some resistance. Not swashbuckling, counterattacking, blistering resistance. The more substantial kind. The kind that is prepared to wait and leave and take blows to the body. The kind that reminds us that batting isn’t just about eye-catching shots, but tight defence and well-judged leaves. It’s about hours of careful accumulation.

Root was beaten at times. Josh Hazlewood, in particular, bowled beautifully and might, with a slice of luck, have won the battle. But while England pushed and prodded at deliveries in the first innings, here Root defended with bat in front of his eyes, played the line and refused to be lured into jabbing at the ball as it left him. His first three boundaries were all the result of soft hands combatting well directed deliveries and guided – sometimes with more than a hint of edge about them – to third man.

As his innings progressed, there were one or two more expansive shots. When Nathan Lyon over-pitched, for example, Root leaned into a cover driven boundary that registered his half-century from 120-balls. The next delivery, Lyon dropped short and Root turned him to fine leg for four more. And when Lyon removed his slip, Root responded with a reverse-sweep for another boundary.

But he had earned the right to those strokes. He had seen off the bowlers at their freshest and the ball at its hardest. He had forced them into third and fourth spells and, for perhaps the first time this series, exposed the limitations of Australia’s three-man pace attack. This is how Test batting used to look.

One of the more remarkable moments in Root’s innings came when he had scored 59. It earned no applause and will probably not feature on any highlights package. But his ability to keep out one delivery from Hazlewood – a ball that jagged in and kept horribly low – was remarkable; a testament to the batsman’s hand-eye coordination and the manner in which he was keeping his eye on the ball.

It was, for the most part, good old-fashioned Test batting. There was none of this nonsense about needing to be positive or putting the pressure back on the bowler by hitting them for boundaries. Instead it was about the importance of remaining compact, the importance of wearing bowlers down and the importance of selling his wicket for the highest price possible. It was, in short, the innings of a leader.

He received admirable support from Joe Denly. There have been times in this series – really quite long times, not least in this game – when Denly has looked some way short of the standard required to sustain success at this level. Even in this innings, there were times when his most productive shot was the leave; so late was he on some leaves, that the ball flashed away off the face of the withdrawing bat to the boundary.

But there should be no doubting his toughness or determination. The Australian bowlers gave him a wonderfully sustained examination against the short-ball and, while he rarely looked anything other than hugely uncomfortable, he never took a backward step and he never gave it away. Eventually, he too produced a cut, a clip and a drive or two that suggested this attack could, in time, be overcome. He earned this half-century through bravery, bruises and bloody-mindedness.

And then there’s Stokes. Forget, for a moment, the fact that he reached stumps having batted 50 balls for 2. That’s an admirable demonstration of restraint, for sure. But it pales into insignificance beside his effort with the ball. Had it not been for Stokes’ incredible spell – his 24.2 overs, every one of them dripping with pace and hostility, were broken only by night and four balls from Jofra Archer – this Ashes campaign would have been decided already. Not for the first time, his figures – 3 for 56 and 2 not out – provide little insight into the enormity of his commitment and contribution.

Australia remain overwhelming favourites for this match and this series. With the pitch exhibiting signs of uneven bounce and a new ball due after eight overs on the fourth day, Root may consider that his work has hardly begun. It would be little less than a miracle if England pulled this off.

But Root has, at least, shown that he has the character and skill to perform under pressure. And he has shown the leadership qualities to coax performances out of his team. Maybe, just maybe, Root can lead his side through such hardships in the manner in which Allan Border did so when captaining Australia during the defeat of 1985 and 1986-87. Border, after all, then went on to lead his side to success in the next three Ashes series. There were moments, at least, on Saturday when Root suggested he had the skill and the fortitude to do something similar.



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