The Tale of Two Terriers and the Somerset Cat: The Scrap for Cricket’s County Championship 2016Martin Chandler |
Author: Cawkwell, Tim
Publisher: Sforzinda Books
Rating: 4 stars
In many season long sporting tournaments the ultimate winner is often known well before the last matches are played, and exciting climaxes are the exception rather than the rule. The County Championship is a perfect example. There have been thrilling finishes of course, none more so for this reviewer than the denouement of the 2011 campaign when Glen Chapple’s Lancashire finally ended the 77 years of hurt by lifting the title for the first time since 1934.
As, more than five years ago now, the fortunes of the Red Rose and Somerset ebbed and flowed at Taunton those Lancastrians who had been unable to get to the West Country were on our computers, either listening to the commentary kindly provided by Auntie Beeb or, if commitments prevented that, at least keeping the cricinfo window open. What I don’t recall is the wider cricket world being gripped in the way I was, nor the sporting press making any great fuss about what happened.
In 2016 Lancastrian attention was largely focussed on the foot of the table, but there was half an eye on the top as well as all three of Middlesex, Yorkshire and Somerset went in to the last round of matches with a chance of lifting the prize. To add a piquancy to that round of matches Yorkshire met Middlesex at Lord’s. Perhaps it was the fact that the game looked highly likely to be the decider for some weeks that helped build up the tension. Certainly everything seemed very different from 2011 with, this time, everyone with an interest in the Championship following events at Lord’s and Taunton.
While Yorkshire and Middlesex were slugging it out Somerset were playing already relegated Nottinghamshire. By the end of the third day they had done their job and taken 23 points to head the table. If Middlesex or Yorkshire triumphed in the showdown they would pinch the title from Somerset, but if they drew the famous pennant would go west for the first time. There was much anticipation in Taunton as the draw looked on. With a day to go Middlesex were 81-2 in their second innings, still 39 in arrears.
At lunch on the last day Middlesex had lost one more wicket in wiping out the arrears and taking a lead of 117. It looked for all the world as if the match would peter out into the draw Somerset craved. After lunch however the result of discussions between the two captains became apparent. Yorkshire batsmen Adam Lyth and Alex Lees were given the ball. In six summers Lees’ occasional leg breaks had brought him no wickets at all. Lyth had not been quite so unsuccessful, but 25 wickets over nine years does not an all-rounder make.
A deal had been struck of course – 240 in 40 overs. It was a tricky target in a First Class match given that Middlesex could put their fielders wherever they liked, and a negative line from their bowlers would not attract the same censure from the umpires that it would in a List A game. But it still gave Yorkshire a real chance – a run a ball for forty overs is not the distant target it was a generation ago. History records that the White Rose ended up 61 short, and lost three of their last four wickets to a Toby Roland-Jones hat trick. So the title was won by Middlesex – was it a fair way to decide a title? The debate will doubtless go on until Somerset finally are County Champions.
Tim Cawkwell self-published a book on the subject of the finale of the 2015 season, Cricket’s Pure Pleasure. I have to say this year’s effort is much more enjoyable. He is an experienced writer in fields other than cricket, and I hope he won’t mind me saying that his writing on the game this time is considerably batter than last. He begins with a splendid homily to the County game, from where he moves on to a detailed description of the game between Durham and Somerset in late August which he had the pleasure of attending. He then explains how the story developed between then and that last round of matches.
What then? He was at Lord’s presumably? Actually no. For the first two days Cawkwell was at home in East Anglia getting ready to go on holiday to Italy. On the third day he was travelling, and then on that remarkable fourth day he was enjoying the first day of his holiday. In one sense I suppose that devalues what he has to say about the unfolding drama, but in fact it is his masterstroke – he gives a brilliant description of how the cricket mad amongst us do our level best to keep in touch with the game we love and the talking points it throws up in a way in which almost all his readers will identify with.
For those who have not clicked on the link I concluded my review of Cricket’s Pure Pleasure with the comment that I hoped it would not be its author’s last cricket book. After this one I would be more than happy to read a third effort at some point in the future, but feel bound to make the observation that Cawkwell has raised the bar a long way with this follow up, the quality of which he will do very well to surpass