Away from the impending thrills of the Hundred, Cumbria’s homespun youngsters take on Lancs
Lancashire 383 for 7 (Jennings 103, Wells 86, Vilas 82, Jones 56*) beat Cumbria 174 (Boyce 107, Wells 3-16) by 209 runs
And so we have returned to Sedbergh. For a few days this week at least, one of cricket’s caravans will rest in the shadow of the Howgill Fells. At distant stadia gaudier pantechnicons will roll up, filled with noise and novelties, but it was easy to forget such things on a summer morning in England’s North Country, when the heat lay like a cloak on one of England’s finest grounds.
Today Cumbria hosted Lancashire in what was classed as a warm-up game for the Royal London Cup, which begins here on Friday when Sussex are the visitors. And the irony of ‘warm-up’ games was plain on a day when drinks breaks were frequent, ambitious shorts revealed unfortunate legs and spectators hid like bitterns in the shadiest spots. Yet none of the folk who ringed the ground this morning or sat under the trees on the Loftus Hill side thought they were missing out on anything except sun cream.
The last time Lancashire visited this ground, a World Cup was being played and we were looking forward to an Australian summer. As though to mark that moment, James Anderson bowled Cameron Bancroft for 77 in the first innings before injuring his calf in the second and leaving the Durham captain to secure the draw with 92 not out. This occasion was different, more parochial in the very best sense. Most of Cumbria’s players represent clubs within the county boundaries and on Saturday they will compete against each other in league matches. Today, though, the rivalries between Cockermouth and Carlisle, Workington and Furness were forgotten and eleven cricketers came together in a side only three of whose members play for clubs outside the county boundary.
“Ben and Liam are obviously two notable players but you’ve also got Jordan and Graham Clark and Liam Trevaskis,” Atkinson pointed out. “So to a certain extent we might be punching above our weight in producing first-class players. And these games are an invaluable opportunity for youngsters who aspire to playing first-class cricket to see the sort of standards involved.”
Viewed in that context, a game that might have seemed little more than a one-sided hammering attains a wider significance. Yet the problem for the national counties is that professional batters play with less fear than they did a decade ago and have added new shots to their repertoire. The put-it-on-a-sixpence line-and-length that might once have been enough to avoid dismemberment now only invites a scoop, a ramp or their reversed first cousins. It’s not that national counties cricketers do not know these strokes; some of them have played first-class cricket. But they rarely see them utilised with such freedom against balls that in almost all other games would require respect.
As seems the norm during such gourmandising, someone has to go without and this afternoon it was Steven Croft, who was caught at the wicket first ball off Sempill. Just as he had done on this ground two years ago when bowled by one that kept low, Croft tossed his bat in the air and it performed a somersault before he caught it again. The fathomless charms of Sedbergh may be lost on him.
For the rest of us, they hit the mark as accurately as ever, and Lancashire’s later batters also savoured this true pitch. Dane Vilas, who has hardly been in his best form, made 82 off 46 balls and Rob Jones helped himself to a half-century before we settled down to consider one of those over-limit matches in which the second half bears limited relation to the first.
No one should blame Lancashire for this. People may blather on about the Royal London Cup being a development competition and for some counties it probably will be. But the resolve of the Old Trafford coaches was made clear when they took seven of Saturday’s T20 side to Sedbergh and their success in dismissing Cumbria for 174 in 43.3 overs was hardly a surprise. One of the newcomers, Jack Blatherwick took the first two wickets in four overs before being forced from the field with a back injury.
Regardless of Blatherwick’s injury, though, Vilas would have thrown the ball around. It was no surprise that eight bowlers were used with both Liam Hurt and Jack Morley getting eight-over spells in advance of the Royal London Cup programme. Luke Wells ended the game when he took his third wicket and Cumbrian supporters had to take what comfort they could from the gritty 35 made by the skipper, Gary Pratt, and the 38 compiled by Michael Slack, who had also picked up a couple of wickets. Pratt’s younger players, on the other hand, have seen what the first-class game is about. It is intriguing to ponder what they now make of it.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications
(With Inputs from ESPN)
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