A Cricket First

25th July 2017

I was present at Headingley on Sunday when a piece of English cricket history was made. In a T20 match, Ross Whiteley of the Worcestershire Royals – a Yorkshireman, as it happens – struck 6 sixes in an over from the Yorkshire Vikings left-arm spin bowler, Karl Carver. It was the first time that this had occurred in a senior cricket match in England – Gary Sobers’s famous achievement in a CountyChampionship game in 1968 took place in Swansea – and only the fifth time anywhere, the last example being in 2007.

I hesitate to say that I could it coming. But I could – sort of – see it coming. At the beginning of the over – the 16th of the innings – Worcestershire required 98 to win from 30 deliveries, a near-impossible task, so some extraordinary striking was required. It was a good batting wicket with the shorter boundary favouring the left-hander’s shots to the leg side. I knew that Whiteley is a renowned powerful hitter, who has a track record against Yorkshire – he hit 11 sixes in an innings of 91 not out on the same ground two years ago. Moreover, he had had a sighter with the last ball of Carver’s previous over, which he also hit for six. (The unfortunate bowler was therefore dispatched over the ropes for 7 consecutive legitimate deliveries; he also bowled a wide, so that his fateful over cost 37 runs). When the second six landed in the Western Terrace, I did begin to wonder.

The Yorkshire crowd acknowledged the achievement with polite applause, no doubt whilst also doing the mental calculations as to whether their side’s apparently impregnable match-winning position was about to be lost. (It wasn’t. Whiteley was out in the next over and the home side went on to win by 37 runs). At the same time, there was undoubtedly a general feeling of sympathy for Carver; even from my distant perspective in the East Stand, it did seem that his shoulders visibly sagged as he walked away to his fielding position at the end of the over.

Earlier, David Willey had struck 118 from 55 deliveries – including 8 sixes – in Yorkshire’s total of 233 for 6: the county’s individual and team records in this form of the game. Willey and Whiteley are similar types of player: left-handed with aggressive stances at the wicket and the ability to hit cleanly, especially in the arc from long-off through to mid-wicket. Willey had warmed up for his innings by scoring 70 (from 38 deliveries) in Yorkshire’s 29 run win over the Birmingham Bears on the previous Friday evening; only 6 sixes on that occasion, but some of them massive blows, including one that disappeared over the top of the Western Terrace and out of the ground.

There were 44 six-hits over the course of the two T20 matches and these accounted for over one-third of the total number of runs scored. This suggests that there isn’t too much room for subtlety in this form of the game but, in fact, all is not lost. On Sunday, I was impressed by the range of shots played by Joe Clarke, the controlled slow bowling of Mitch Santner and Adil Rashid and the excellent “death” bowling of Steve Patterson. In both matches, the quality of the fielding and catching in the deep reflected the skill and athleticism of professional cricketers in the modern age.

And – within the broader landscape of bat versus ball and the pendulum’s swings between the one and the other – I continue to be attracted to the fine detail. At the end of Carver’s over, a number of Yorkshire’s players went over to offer support. Likewise, when Ed Barnard finally took Willey’s wicket, after the Worcestershire attack had been flayed around the ground, the bowler graciously shook his tormentor’s hand as he departed for the pavilion. Good for him, I thought.

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