It was a tweet from Paul Franks, the former Nottinghamshire and England all-rounder who has been assistant coach to Paul Collingwood during the second North-South Series, that best summed up the events of the last 10 days in Barbados.
“Job Done #upthenorth,” was Franks’s five-word message, posted from the team bus after leaving the Three Ws Oval – where Joe Clarke’s century, followed by a fine collective bowling performance in which Matthew Parkinson’s figures were outstanding, set up a 92-run win to complete a 2-1 series victory.
Things weren’t looking good when the South reinforced their dominance with a 63-run win in this year’s opener at the Kensington Oval last Sunday, set up by an irresistible century from Nick Gubbins.
But the North held their nerve to hit back in game two, also at Kensington, with Clarke and his Worcestershire team-mate Brett D’Oliveira scoring 70s, Mullaney and Matt Critchley adding key contributions with the bat, and Richard Gleeson producing arguably the turning point of the series when he yorked Gubbins for another three-figure score.
The focus then switched inland to the beautiful Three Ws Oval on the Cave Hill Campus of the University of West Indies, where a Hall of Fame for West Indies cricket has been set up in tribute to the great trio of Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott and Sir Frank Worrell.
We’ll take a bit of time to speak to everyone involved and review this year’s series, but we’ve got an opportunity to think about it creatively – whether as a way of ensuring our leading white-ball cricketers have the stage to play some high-quality 50-over cricket after the introduction of our new domestic structure from 2020, or maybe taking this North-South rivalry into red-ball cricket..Andrew Strauss
Mullaney won an important toss on a used pitch, chose to bat – and Clarke then produced the decisive innings of the match in the first 32 overs.
Alex Davies, after sharing explosive opening partnerships with Clarke in each of the first two matches of the series, fell cheaply this time, bowled behind his legs by Tom Barber – the little-known Middlesex left-arm quick whose performance offered genuinely exciting potential, for county and country.
But Bears batsman Sam Hain joined Clarke to play a sensible and stylish supporting role in a second-wicket stand of 143.
Hain was bowled shortly after reaching a 66-ball half century by Jamie Porter, the Essex seamer who battled back admirably after an expensive opening over.
But by then Clarke was well on his way to an 89-ball century – and the South had suffered a huge blow when Gubbins hurt his hamstring as he made a sliding stop on the boundary.
The Middlesex man had to be helped from the field by a combination of North and South physios – the ECB’s Ben Langley and Glamorgan’s Mark Rausa – and there was never any question of him being able to bat.
Clarke was run out by Laurie Evans’s direct hit for 112, but Mullaney made his third canny middle-order contribution of the series with 52 from 45 balls, and the North were quietly chuffed with their total of 296 for eight.
Surrey youngster Ollie Pope, who was again preferred to Middlesex’s John Simpson as the South wicketkeeper, was promoted to open instead of Gubbins, and played the lead role in a stand of 87 with Daniel Bell-Drummond.
But the early introduction of Parkinson followed by fellow leggies D’Oliveira and Critchley sapped their momentum. Bell-Drummond was bowled by D’Oliveira, Northeast lofted Critchley to long-off, then Mullaney nullified the dangerous Delray Rawlins after a cameo of 23 from 16 balls including a huge straight six.
Saqib Mahmood then struck a huge double blow by bowling Evans for a duck and winning an lbw decision to dismiss Pope for a battling 68 – and now it was a question of when, rather than if, the North would seal the series.
Clarke was unable to field after suffering a hamstring injury during his innings, but is confident he will be fit for their return to Division One of the Specsavers County Championship next month – and must now be marked as a man to watch in the 2018 summer, having made such an impression on the watching selectors Angus Fraser and Mick Newell, plus rival coaches Collingwood and Mark Ramprakash.
Gubbins will have a scan on Monday, but may miss the start of Middlesex’s Division Two campaign.
Andrew Strauss, the ECB’s director of England cricket, paid special tribute to the coaches – including Franks and the South assistant Andy Flower – before presenting the Man of the Series award to Clarke, and the North-South Series Trophy to Mullaney.
“The coaches play a big part in setting the tone for what has been a seriously hard-fought series, and I’d like to thank them and all the players for that,” said Strauss.
“There was a real feeling of taking a step forward this year in terms of the way the rivalry had become established between the teams, and also in the level of media interest in the series.
“Barbados has proved an excellent venue, most importantly for the quality of cricket facilities but also in encouraging some spectator interest and creating a bit of a buzz at the grounds.”
Strauss confirmed that the North-South Series is unlikely to return in this form for 2019, when England’s focus will be even more sharply on hosting the ICC World Cup early that summer – meaning that the link with the MVP Rankings run by the Professional Cricketers’ Association will not return for this season’s Royal London One-Day Cup.
But he added: “I really think we’ve got something to build on here – and in my mind this North-South rivalry has a really strong future.
“We’ll take a bit of time to speak to everyone involved and review this year’s series, but we’ve got an opportunity to think about it creatively – whether as a way of ensuring our leading white-ball cricketers have the stage to play some high-quality 50-over cricket after the introduction of our new domestic structure from 2020, or maybe taking this North-South rivalry into red-ball cricket.”