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Of those still trucking away in the shires, you could make a decent case for Chris Rushworth, the Durham seamer whose bucketload of wickets don’t look like they’ll be rewarded with an England call. Then there’s Steve Patterson, the lanky, slightly wobbly medium-pacer who has won the title twice with Yorkshire. Or Darren Stevens, the evergreen Kent all-rounder who so many, somehow, still underestimate and has taken all 17 of his first-class five-fers after the age of 35. Perhaps in a few years time, the thick-set, bustling and bafflingly young (his 26 years appear to have been tough ones) Worcestershire skipper Joe Leach and his witty sidekick Jack Shantry, the cack-footed tangle of limbs, might come into consideration. And then you remember the Bulwell Bomber, Luke Fletcher. Fletcher is a throwback: six feet, six inches, close cropped up top, burly and broad of buttock, he just keeps indefatigably charging in, looking more like the doorman at a provincial nightclub with every delivery. There’s a grimace as he bowls, but a grin at all other times. The 28-year-old is as Notts as the Radcliffe Road. He is in his 10th season at the county but before the first he spent time flipping burgers at Hooters up the road from Trent Bridge (the only surviving branch in the country and proud bat sponsors of Fletcher’s team-mate Steven Mullaney), then as a steward at the ground. He has since enjoyed a fine career, with his first-class wickets coming at under 29, and a reputation as one of the best yorker bowlers in the land in T20. Fletcher is the kind of cricketer who gives us all hope: he makes the game look bloody hard work but really great fun, too. Last winter, jolted by the coaching change of Mick Newell to Peter Moores, plenty of Notts players shaped up. Fletcher led the way, shedding three stone while wintering with Buckley Ridges in Melbourne. It reaped instant rewards, as he not only made it into the ultra-competitive bowling lineup but thrived in their romping early season form, taking 36 wickets as an ever-present across Tyler Myers Jersey the first nine Division Two games. In the second of those nine, against Durham, he also equalled his highest first-class score, 92. Having come in as nightwatchman with his side teetering at 92 for four, he batted beautifully until his partner, James Pattinson, pushed to point and Fletcher set off for a run. He made it halfway before being realising he had been sent back and, in the process of turning his truck of a frame, slipped, dropped his bat and was run out, but not without a fight, even dipping his head for the line like a sprinter. Tragic stuff. The love for Fletcher across the circuit was shown when, in July, his first ball of a T20 against Warwickshire was driven cleanly, and straight back at him, by Sam Hain. It struck Fletcher hard on the noggin, felling him, causing bruising and a small bleed on the brain. After eight stitches, he was ruled out for the season. He dealt with the blow in typically good spirits, saying: “In a weird way, I quite enjoyed watching it back ... It was amazing how far the ball went [off my head].” As messages of support flooded in on Twitter, Fletcher sent his condolences to the other victim of Hain’s blow: “Hope the ball is recovering as well as merecharged and ready to go again, Formula One enters the second half of the season with the prospect of the remaining nine races proving just as enthralling as the first 11. Where better to reignite the fight than the magnificent challenge of Spa, where Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel will recommence a contest that is likely to go down to the last race? Vettel has the advantage, leading Hamilton by 14 points, but on race wins the pair are even with four apiece. Vettel deserves his lead. He is always at his strongest when he is confident in the machinery around him and Ferrari have given him a car he can work to maximum effect. It has proved quick out of the box on Fridays, forgiving and easy to set up, while the German has revelled in how hard he can push it through the corners. 广告 Lewis Hamilton adamant that he and Mercedes can still win F1 world title Read more Most important, Vettel has extracted the maximum from his ride and it is a credit to his skill to have done so. Ferrari announced this week that they have re-signed Kimi Raikkonen for 2018, some reward for the Finn after the team have made it clear they are backing Vettel over him for the championship, as was evidenced at Monaco and Budapest. Nonetheless Vettel has still made the most of it given that the Ferrari do not have the raw pace of Mercedes. He also has four second places and, barring his moment of arrant stupidity when driving into Hamilton in Baku, the performances have been everything that would be expected from a four-times world champion. Hamilton, in contrast, has been riding what he described as a rollercoaster. The Mercedes has proved tricky to set up and the team have acknowledged their car has been a “diva”. But when the British driver has put it in the sweet spot he has been imperious and untouchable, as in Canada and at Silverstone. He has been let down by being out of touch on circuits that do not suit it – most notably Sochi and Monaco. He and the team have dropped points where Vettel and Ferrari have minimised their losses and thereby secured their slender advantage. Vettel may not have it for long, however, and for all that he is in second, Hamilton at this stage might be considered the more confident of the two drivers. Advertisement What has made this season so fascinating is how the pendulum has swung between the pair. Ferrari had the upper hand at the last round in Hungary but heading into Spa – a circuit at which Mercerdes first won in 1955, through Juan Manuel Fangio – the German team will expect to be back on the front foot. They identified after Monaco the causes behind the difficulties in setting up the car and have made major strides to solve them. Equally the latest iteration of their power unit is a considerable step forward and they are able to run it at the highest output for longer. This advantage has been proved repeatedly in qualifying, with the team scoring eight of 11 poles. Ferrari have been able to take the top spot only at the tracks where their cars’ cornering negates the power deficit – Russia, Monte Carlo and Hungary. In race pace, speed traps show Mercedes have a clear lead in the second half of straights and this could be crucial. As they have done for the past three years, Mercedes have built a car to be optimal at the greatest number of circuits, which means favouring a high-speed configuration at the expense of being less competitive on the low-speed, heavy-cornering circuits. The results have borne this out and Ferrari’s dominance in Budapest proved they remain ahead through the twisty stuff. In Hamilton’s favour, however, is that the majority of races remaining favour Mercedes. Spa, with its sweeping high speeds in the Ardennes this weekend, is one of them, as will be the next round at Monza. Suzuka will favour Mercedes, as likely will the Circuit of the Americas. Indeed of the nine, Ferrari may well only have a real advantage at Singapore. Worse still, Vettel has already used four turbo chargers, the maximum before taking a grid penalty. It is not out of the question that the Scuderia may opt to take a raft of new components at Spa and take the penalty en masse at a track where they can fight back, as Hamilton did last year. More than mechanical form will play a part in this title fight, however. Ferrari have proved feisty with strategy and are clearly ready to sacrifice Raikkonen for Vettel – a lead driver decision that Mercedes have yet to make. Hamilton ceded three points by returning third place to Valtteri Bottas in Budapest and the team’s executive director, Toto Wolff, has acknowledged that allowing their drivers to continue to race may ultimately prove costly. Yet it might also prove to be key. Bottas, who has two wins and eight podium places, has proved more than adept at making the most of weekends when Hamilton has been off the boil. The British driver’s sportsmanlike gesture in Hungary will not have gone unnoticed either. Raikkonen, in contrast, has been far less threatening. Should the season reach nip and tuck at its end, Hamilton will be far more confident his team-mate can deny Vettel points than vice versa and if Bottas is required to play the team game he has been given every reason to be amenable. The title will not be decided at Spa but it will doubtless see the tension ratcheting up in what promises Authentic Ryan Schraeder Womens Jersey to be a roaring run-in. This rollercoaster ride is far from over