6/25/2018 0 Comments
Written by Mark Kidger (@MarkFromMadrid
Day 1 of a new round of battles at the top and the bottom of the table.
After its pause for the Royal London One Day Cup, the frenetic action in the County Championship continued, with another back-to-back round of matches featuring some more fascinating clashes in both divisions.
This was a peculiar round of matches, with just two clashes, one in each division, featuring the traditional 11 am start. The game at Old Trafford started at 12, the one at Derby, at 1:30 pm, with the others at 2 pm.
In Division 1, with a full round of matches, the top clash is, without question, the Essex v Somerset clash: fourth against third. Both sides lost in the previous round, and both desperately need the win to keep in touch with the top of the table. While neither team could afford a defeat, a draw would be of little use to either save as a holding operation, particularly as Nottinghamshire, reinforced by the return of Stuart Broad, would play the bottom side, Worcestershire. Surrey, in contrast, have the tougher job with an away game against Yorkshire at Scarborough.
In Division 2, where Sussex and Gloucestershire are without a game in this round, two interesting clashes stand out. At Canterbury, Kent entertain a Middlesex side who won an extraordinary match against Leicestershire in the previous round. That win has re-awoken their interest in promotion. With Warwickshire’s slip in the last round, Kent suddenly have the top of Division 2 in reach. Defeat for the visitors would undo all the excellent work that Middlesex did at Grace Road and advance Kent’s promotion chances a lot while, a win for the visitors would put them right back into the centre of the promotion battle, so this one really has a lot hanging on it. The other clash that will impact the top of the table is at lovely Chester-le-Street, where Durham entertain Warwickshire – both sides losers in the previous round. A win would put Durham right into the promotion race, whereas Warwickshire need a win to re-affirm their promotion bid. Here too, defeat for either side would severely dent their promotion ambitions, possibly fatally in the case of Durham.
The place to start is, without doubt, Chelmsford, where Essex and Somerset both wanted to close the gap on the leaders with a win. As in almost all the games, both sides wanted to bat, but it was Essex who won the Toss, and Somerset suffered for it. Missing chances did not help. Nick Browne and Alastair Cook put on 151 for the first wicket before Groenewald run out Browne for 66. Cook though carried on and looked set for one of those daddy hundreds that have been his mark when on song: it was a big surprise when Dom Bess bowled him very full delivery which, instead of hitting for the boundary that would have brought him his century, missed it and was LBW. When Tom Westley drove loosely at Jack Gregory, captain Tom Abell took an excellent catch at Extra Cover, the score had slipped from 151-0 to 204-3, and a little of the gloss had come off the day for the hosts. When Dominic Bess bowled the splendidly named Michael-Kyle Pepper, making his First Class debut after playing for Cambridgeshire and Essex 2nd XI this season, it was 212-4, and Somerset were clawing their way back into the day. It could have been even better. At 245-4, Somerset skipper Tom Abell failed to hang on to a sharp caught and bowled chance from the Essex captain Ryan ten Doeschate. That was a costly mistake, as Essex reached the Close on 298-4. Ryan ten Doeschate 46* and Ravi Bopara 37* had added an unbeaten 86 by the Close. Josh Davey had a huge should for LBW against ten Doeschate from the last ball of the day, but it was not to be Somerset's day in the end.
Surrey welcomed back Mark Stoneman on a hot day at Scarborough, with a large and noisy crowd watching. Somerset were without the luckless Jack Leach, who was confirmed to have mild concussion, after being hit on the head batting at the weekend and is rested under the concussion protocols. In the commentary box, Jamie Reid made his debut, sitting in the seat occupied for so many years by the sadly missed Dave Callaghan: his opening shots were secure as he introduced “the legend that is Mark Church” (you could see Churchie’s blush, even on the radio). The pitch looked superb, and both sides wanted to bat, but Yorkshire won the Toss. Even so, Dernbach and Morkel extracted life from the pitch and Lees did not last long, giving a return catch to a lively Dernbach at the end of the first over. For someone rather unkindly labelled “the tattooed trundler” in his ODI days, Dernbach looked pretty sharp. There was a real curiosity in the first hour in that after 13.1 overs, Yorkshire were 27-1, with all 27 runs to Adam Lyth: shades of Ben Duckett last week, with Pujara still scoreless after 25 balls and Lees facing six balls for his duck. The sequence was finally broken when a leg bye was run to the 80th ball of the morning. Pujara finally broke his duck with a boundary from his forty-second ball, all runs in the first 18 overs falling to Lyth, or as extras. Such profligacy could not last, and divine retribution came in the form of Lyth’s dismissal for 42, to a catch in the slips in the next over. Yorkshire got to Lunch 76-2, with honours reasonably even. The afternoon session was all Surrey, with wickets falling at regular intervals. Without Balance’s 54, Yorkshire would have been in dire straits. As it was, they slumped to 166-6 and were in danger of throwing away the advantage of the first use of the pitch. Enter Jack Tattersall, the hero of the Royal London One Day Cup Semi-Final defeat and a partnership of exactly 100 with Tim Bresnan, whose batting seems to get better and better as his career advances. Bresnan fell finally for 48 and Tattersall followed soon after for 70, but Steve Patterson and Jack Brooks took Yorkshire through to the Close and 299-8, with the third batting point almost assured.
At Trent Bridge, Stuart Broad returned to the side after England duty, as he is not involved in the T20s. Worcestershire are without batting all-rounder Ed Barnard, on Lions duty: a significant loss for them given his performance against Lancashire, while fast-bowler Dillon Pennington came into the side for his Championship debut and Ben Twohig replaced of Pat Brown. Nottinghamshire would keep the pressure on Surrey with a win, while Worcestershire know that they cannot afford to lose many more if they wish to stay in Division 1. On the day when fan favourite who is Jack Shantry (son of Brian Shantry of Gloucestershire and brother of Adam (Northants, Warwickshire and Glamorgan), was forced to retire with a back injury, Worcestershire suffered one of their worst days of the season – and they have had a few. A century for Chris Nash, finally trapped LBW by Martin Guptill for 139, 88 for Jake Libby and a 50 for Samit Patel. It was 306-1, and you started to hope for rain or a plague of locusts or anything that would save Worcestershire from taking more punishment. Suddenly, the situation had changed radically. D'Oliviera took the new ball, and Steve Magoffin took three wickets in five balls, without conceding a run as Patel and Billy Root went to consecutive balls. Ross Taylor went for a 12-ball duck as he edged to slip, and Notts had gone from 306-1 to 312-5 just a few overs. Moores and Wessels added 24* to take Nottinghamshire to 336-5 at the Close: still definitely their day, with a fourth batting point close and a fifth possible, but not as one-sided as it had seemed to be.
Similarly, both sides wanted to bat at Old Trafford, but it was Hampshire who won the Toss. Onions took Weatherley for a duck to a catch behind but, after that, it was reasonably steady progress for the visitors. Everyone got a start and, with 103 for James Vince, Hampshire reached 302-6 at the Close and are approaching a very solid position. Lancashire were indebted to Graeme Onions and his 4-64. However, in this bargain basement clash, it was definitely the visitors who will sleep happier tonight, with runs and three batting points in the bank and a real chance of a fourth that should ensure them against a damaging defeat that may prove costly to Lancashire should it come to pass.
At Canterbury, it was almost easier to say who *was* available for Middlesex, with Steve Finn joining the walking wounded with sore knees, to add to all the England, England Lions and Ireland calls, as well as the list of injured. It meant a rare 1st XI appearance for James Fuller. Kent rested Darren Stevens and Matt Henry: Henry who has had a massive load this season, while Darren Stevens took a bad blow to the head in the pink-ball game last season and was not risked ahead of the Royal London One Day Cup Final on Saturday. The Kent innings never really got going: they have struggled to get batting points this season, despite what looks like a power-packed line-up. There were no fifty stands until Rouse and Podmore added 51 for the 8th wicket. At that point, it was 185-8, and there was every chance that Kent were not doing add to their minimal season’s haul of batting bonus points. Podmore and Grant Stewart added 43, to assure at least one batting point for the hosts. The fall of Rouse, though, ensured that there would not be a second and Middlesex finished them off for 241, with James Fuller taking 4-84 from 15.2 action-filled overs. In reply, Stewart got Sam Robson quickly, and Middlesex were 7-1 after just 11 balls. Then Grant Stewart bowled Holden, Middlesex were 19-2, had lost both openers and were in a mess and needing runs from the out-of-form Dawid Malan. Earlier there had been a bizarre hold-up as the setting Sun reflected off windows in the pavilion, briefly leading to “Sun stopped play”, an old favourite in day-night games. Malan was not able to comply with his team’s needs, providing a third wicket for Stewart just three balls later: 19-3 and Middlesex sinking, with 16 overs still to play. It was not pretty against a side that was missing its two best bowlers and who the visitors had hoped to make pay for resting them. Grant Stewart was getting the ball to hoop around corners and Middlesex were not enjoying it. When Stewart had Eskinazi caught by Sam Billings for 25, it was 44-4, and Kevin Hand was praying for the Close. Unfortunately, his prayers were not answered because Middlesex reject Harry Podmore then added Saturday’s hero, Hylton Cartwright and it was 44-5. It got no better: Scott fell to Stewart for 3, and it was 50-6, and Grant Stewart had 7.5-1-20-5. Enough? Not on your life! Thomas bowled Harris and Haggett induced an edge behind from Simpson, and it was 54-8. Thomas bowled Ravi Patel for only the second duck of the innings, and it was 54-9 and Stumps. Yes, Middlesex fans and commentator were not happy with the amount of help that the pink Duke’s balls were giving the bowlers in twilight – however, this was not so much the case in the other games where there was no twilight crash of wickets.
Division 2 also threw up a clash of the bottom two at Sophia Gardens, with Northants knowing that they could shift off the bottom of the table if they dominated the match. The visitors won the Toss and decided to bat, but made a far from convincing start. Ben Duckett fell early to Tom Hogan and, when Luke Procter fell to Rhuaidhri Smith, both openers had gone with just 36 on the board. However, from then it started to turn around. Fifties for Vasconcelos, Wakely and Levi left Northants well-placed at 223-3, with captain Wakely seeming heading inexorably for a century. Just when it appeared that Glamorgan were in for a really tough day, there was an astonishing collapse by Northants, starting with the fall of Wakely for 82, losing 7-58 in 17.4 overs, to be bowled out for 281. After a partial recovery, with a stand of 44 between Levi and Crook, the final five wickets for just six runs in three overs. Tim van der Gugten finished with 5-45. It was hard to believe the turnaround after Glamorgan spent so much of this afternoon toiling to make any progress. Faced with a tricky seven overs before the Close, Glamorgan survived without loss, to start the second day on 21-0.
What about Warwickshire? Was their promotion juggernaut really de-railed? When the top three all got starts, but all fell without pushing on, including Ian Bell, it looked as if Warwickshire might have another off-colour day. Then Hose also got a start and got out, giving Salisbury his third wicket and leaving the visitors 130-4: there was a real danger that Durham could knock them over cheaply. A century from Jonathon Trott, who has re-captured his form batting alongside Ian Bell and 67 for Tim Ambrose, added 135 for the fifth wicket. 297-5 at Stumps, with Trott 119* and Barker 9*: this good Warwickshire position definitely was “hashtag Trott’s fault”! Warwickshire will feel most definitely that they have had the better of the day and that they can push on to 400.
There were no such shenanigans at Derby. Three of Leicestershire’s six completed fixtures have featured heart-stopping finishes. Will we have a repeat here? It seems not if the first day is any guide. Leicestershire put Derbyshire in and, at 93-1, it did not look like the wisest decision. However, three wickets then fell in seven balls for no addition and despite a partnership of 62 for the fifth wicket between Madsen and Critchley, the Derbyshire innings never really got back to cruising altitude. 245ao with four ducks was not quite what they had hoped for after a decent start. In reply, Leicestershire are 82-0, although with Dearden retired hurt on 9. Paul Horten is 48* and Leicestershire will look to push on tomorrow.
5/3/2018 0 Comments
By David Bowden (@Bowdenwhu)
With the weather set fair, international star aplenty, it would be rude to not spend your Bank Holiday weekend at the cricket.
We’ll start at Chelmsford where perhaps the most intriguing battle of the game week will take place. Former England Captain Alastair Cook takes on his successor Joe Root as Essex take on Yorkshire at the Cloud FM County Ground. Root will be joined by fellow England internationals Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance to give the White Rose battling line-up a much-needed boost. The Tykes fell to a humbling defeat at Taunton last week with the batting desperately letting the visitors down so seeing the current England captain at the crease will be a welcome sight for the Yorkshire faithful.
Despite their 118-run defeat in the West Country in Game week three there were still some positives to take from their encounter, Ben Coad continued his fine form and another impressive display in the East of England will further boost his chances of gain a place in the England Test side, particularly after the news of Toby Roland-Jones season-ending injury. Indeed, he will be involved in the second interesting little battle that’ll take place in this fascinating clash. With Root, Cook, Bairstow, and Ballance on show in the same match you can be sure that new England selector Ed Smith will be in attendance and that gives both Coad and fellow England hopeful Jamie Porter the potential stage to shine on.
Cook impressive in Essex’s limited game-time in Southampton looking back to the sort of form we are used to seeing. The England opener struck a fluent 84 in the Eagles one-innings bonus point shootout draw with Hampshire. He will be keen to feel some sun on his back and continue to enjoy some time in the middle ahead of the summer tour starting this month. After seeing a complete washout in the reverse fixture both sides will be keen to avenge wasted time as they look to pinch vital points off each other and separate themselves from the bottom end of the league.
Essex remain unchanged with Porter, Harmer, Sam Cook and Peter Siddle tasked with upsetting the Yorkshire party, whilst Alastair Cook, Nick Browne, Tom Westley and Dan Lawrence will all be hoping to impress to watching England selectors.
For Yorkshire, as previously mentioned Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow come in to replace Alex Lees and Andrew Hodd.
Team News in full:
Essex: Ten Doeschate ©, Foster w/k, Beard, Bopara, Browne, Chopra, A.Cook, S.Cook, Harmer, Lawrence, Porter, Siddle, and Westley
Yorkshire: Ballance ©, Bairstow, Bresnan, Brook, Brooks, Carver, Coad, Leaning, Lyth, Patterson, Pujara, Root and Shaw
Weather watch: Largely sunny with highs of 23.
Where to follow: Live streaming service provided by Essex Cricket TV with Commentary from BBC Essex.
Elsewhere, perhaps the surprise package of the division, Somerset travel to Old Trafford looking to make it three wins on the spin. Many tipped the West Country boys to struggle but some shrewd arrivals have made all the difference early on in the season. The signing of Matthew Renshaw, in particular, appears to be inspired, the Australian, who was a late replacement for Cameron Bancroft has looked in great touch in early season and his magnificent pre-lunch century on the opening day against Yorkshire all but led the way to victory in tricky batting conditions. He, again will prove important for the visitors who’s batting has improved of late with Tom Abell and James Hildreth amongst the runs too. The bowling speaks for itself with the spin twins Dom Bess and Jack Leach always likely to cause problems even in these early season conditions being well backed up by some more than useful pacemen in the Overton brothers and Lewis Gregory.
Their hosts, however, have enjoyed a less than stellar start to the season, but they began to show signs of life during game week three, they finally remembered how to bat with half-centuries for Liam Livingstone, Shiv Chanderpaul, Steven Croft, Jordan Clark, Tom Bailey and Joe Meenie in their mammoth score of 439-9 declared against Surrey last week. There is still the worry that the top three (all tipped for relatively bright England futures) still struggling to make any serious runs but if they do start to fire there are signs that they can be the dangerous side everyone thought they would be. There bowling is probably their strong suit and it fired against a very strong Surrey batting line-up at Old Trafford failing an agonizing four-wickets short of victory as time caught up with them. The Red Rose bowling attack will be boosted further by the appearance of England bowling superstar James Anderson, the Lancashire faithful will be hoping the extra class of the Burnley express will help turn the frustrating draw against Surrey into a fabulous win against Somerset.
Team News in full:
Lancashire: Livingstone ©, Anderson, Bailey, Chanderpaul, Clark, Croft, Davies (w/k), Haseeb Hameed, Jennings, Mennie, Onions, Parry, Parkinson, Vilas
Somerset: Abell ©, Bartlett, Bess, Davies (w/k), Gregory, Groenewald, Hildreth, Leach, Overton, Renshaw, Trescothick, van Meekeren, van der Merwe
Weather watch: Largely sunny with highs of 22.
Where to follow: A live stream will be available with BBC Lancashire commentary.
Table toppers Nottinghamshire will be looking to stretch away from their visitors to Trent Bridge during game week four by collecting their third success of the summer when they face Hampshire. It is their first time on home soil this season and they will be hoping to prove that Don Topley’s comments about them being ‘lucky’ is a load of cobblers. Topley tweeted in the week that Nottinghamshire have been fortunate that the fixture gods were smiling on them having played away from home during their opening three games. Of course, there is some logic behind it, it has given them the opportunity to insert their opposition in every encounter in favourable April conditions but Topley’s comments were disrespectful nonetheless.
The Outlaws have adapted very well following their promotion back to the top flight and with players like Jake Ball and Harry Gurney in fine form, it is little surprise to see them sitting pretty at the top of the Championship after winning two from their first three games. They need more from their batting line-up though to help their talented bowling attack as they cannot keep relying on being ‘got out of jail’ by the likes of Ball, Gurney and Fletcher.
It will be interesting to see how they fair back in familiar surrounding and how they will react to being asked to bat first against a very talented Hampshire bowling attack.
For Hampshire, they will just be hoping for some sunshine after freezing during their weather-affected encounter with Essex last week. Images circulated around Social Media of a very cold looking Hashim Amla donning a woolly hat and about 18 sweaters.
They have enjoyed an indifferent season with one win, a loss and a draw from their opening three fixtures of the season. They will be without Sam Northeast again who is continuing his recovery from a broken finger suffered whilst practising slip catching prior to their match last week.
In the cricket that was played in their one-innings bonus point frenzy against the Eagles, they looked decent. Runs from Amla, Jimmy Adams and Kyle Abbott propelled them to 351/7 against what is thought to be one of the stronger bowling attacks in the division. They also enjoyed some success with the ball before Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara stemmed the momentum the hosts had built up when they had reduced Essex to 61/3.
It is widely expected that Hampshire will start this encounter in the Midlands with an unchanged team, whilst Nottinghamshire have Stuart Broad still available in a team that will also likely to be unchanged from their stunning 5 session success over struggling Worcestershire.
Team News in full:
Nottinghamshire: Jake Libby, Chris Nash, Steven Mullaney (c), Stuart Broad, Riki Wessels, Harry Gurney, Matt Milnes, Luke Fletcher, Samit Patel, Tom Moores (w/k), Ross Taylor, Jake Ball, Billy Root.
Hampshire: Adams, Wood, Dawson, Vince, McManus, Weatherley, Amla, Rossouw, Abbott, Edwards, Wheal, Berg and Sole
Weather watch: Largely sunny with highs of 22.
Where to follow: A live stream with BBC radio commentary will be available through TrentBridge.co.uk
Lastly, Worcestershire travel to London looking to show they are worthy to be in the top flight after a woeful start to their season.
Following promotion from the Second Division the Pears have suffered a defeat in five sessions to Nottinghamshire, and two heavy defeats to Somerset and Hampshire respectively. It is safe to say this isn’t the dream return the Midlanders had hoped for. Just when they would have been looking for some kind of respite they travel to the Oval to face a Surrey side sure to be on the buzz after the news broke of Virat Kohli’s impending arrival in June. Kohli will add to an already stacked side that will be sure to cause Worcestershire all sorts of bother. A bowling attack that will be keen to make amends following a disappointing display by their high standards last week against Lancashire. The batting is more than solid with Ben Foakes in the form of his life as he eyes an England call-up and young Ollie Pope also impressing with the willow.
Perhaps the most exciting prospect coming out of Surrey at the minute though is Amar Virdi. England have been crying out for a genuine turner of the ball and in Virdi they hope they have found their man. The right-arm off break bowler is currently the ‘Reys top wicket-taker with 8 and has already been likened to Monty Panesar thanks to his elaborate celebrations. He is another man that Worcestershire’s fragile batting line-up will have to look out for.
The Pears much break the 250 mark at the bare minimum as they have far too frequently been blown away by sides, to give themselves any hope of victory in this one they will have to hope they bowl out Surrey cheaply and capitalise on one of the best batting tracks in the country. This is the opportunity Joe Clarke has been crying out for as he looks to stake a claim for a chance in the England set-up.
Team news in full:
Surrey: Burns, Batty, Borthwick, Clarke, Curran, S. Dernbach, Foakes, Mckerr, Meaker, Patel, Pope, Stoneman and Virdi
Worcestershire: Mitchell, D’Oliveira, Fell, Clarke, Head, Cox (w), Barnard, Leach ©, Tongue, Morris, Magoffin and Twohig
Weather watch: Largely sunny with highs of 25.
Where to follow: Live stream on the Surrey cricket website with live BBC London radio commentary.
4/25/2018 1 Comment
By Mark Kidger (@MarkfromMadrid)
Just two games were left on the last day. Both were so far advanced that there was every possibility that there would be no Division 1 cricket after Lunch. Instead, though, patrons got a pleasant surprise – and it was not that Andrew Strauss has resigned and that the 100-ball competition has been consigned to a dustbin in St. John’s Wood.
Starting in God’s Own Country, also known as the Leeds Lido, Yorkshire duly finished off their hapless opponents within an hour. After the Nottingshire Hari-Kiri the previous evening, this game could easily have been over in two balls. Instead, the ninth wicket pair of Tom Moores and Jake Ball entertained the patrons for around forty minutes, adding 57 runs and taking their stand to 66. Jake Ball must have been entertaining fond thoughts of a maiden First-Class fifty when Ben Coad decided to put an end to the fun by bowling a straight one at him. Two balls later, while Tom Moores watched helplessly at the other end, one short of equalling his career best, Coad got an outside edge from Harry Gurney. Coad finished with 6-81, 10-130 in the match and will be starting to check potential tourist destinations in Sri Lanka for the winter, ready for the days when he isn’t in the England XI.
Moving to South London, we had another game that looked a pretty open and shut case to the judge in the morning and ready for sentencing at Lunch. Hampshire started at 141-4 with their last two specialist bats together. After a little more than an hour, they were 163-6 and Surrey must have been anticipating an early Lunch. What happened was drama to match anything in Division 2 – Nay! That is hyperbole! NOTHING could match the drama in Division 2. However, with the pitch easing and Sam Northeast not inclined to follow the lead of the top order and surrender tamely, the game continued far into the afternoon. Surrey took wickets seven and eight without too much bother, although both Abbott and Wood showed the sort of stubbornness that the top order could have imitated. Where things got seriously weird was thereafter. Brad Wheal has no pretensions as a batsman – a career average of 6 testifies to that – but hung around as Sam Northeast got going. The new ball was seen off. Rikki Clarke bowled his heart out to some seriously funky fields – what do you call having three men just wide of square leg? Three square mid-wickets? It sounds like a serious medical condition! It was one of the oddest fields ever seen but, try as Rikki Clarke might (and he put in so much effort that he could easily have done himself a serious mischief), Wheal saw off everything thrown at him for an hour and a half and accompanied Sam Northeast to his century. There was never a realistic danger that Surrey would not win but, as the partnership ate up the afternoon session, there were not many neutrals around the country who were not rooting for Hampshire. Finally, Jade Dernbach pinned Wheal LBW and Fidel Edwards came in.
Now, the fairest thing that you can say of Fidel Edwards as a batsman is that he comes in after Wheal (career average 6) on merit. He is the sort of #11 who inspires the captain to declare pre-emptively at the fall of the ninth wicket. Even dear old Fidel hung around and the tenth wicket partnership started to prosper too to the delight of thousands following the score – updates were being fed into the commentary in other games as Surrey’s frustration grew. Yes, we all love a hapless tail-ender who somehow survives to the utter disgust of the opposition bowlers. Unfortunately, Matt Dunn is a spoilsport and got Sam Northeast to edge through to Foakes for a magnificent 129. The scorebook will say that Surrey won by 139 runs and they thoroughly deserved the win, but they were made to sweat a bit for it.
Up to the fall of the eighth wicket, the biggest takeaway of the match was the sight of a beturbaned spinner weaving magic. The sight brought back memories of a young Northants bowler nearly fifteen years ago: Monty is now gone, if not completely forgotten, a sad case of what might have been, but to see nineteen-year-old Guramar Singh Virdi, playing just his fourth First Class match, twirling like a demon, was to evoke memories of Bishan Bedi and of Monty Panesar at his very best. Amar Virdi did not get a bowl in the first innings, but he made up for it in the second, bowling 33 overs, taking 4-79 and showing a lot of skill. Of course, young players have shone and faded, but if this lad gets some turning pitches, he will be worth paying the price of entry to the ground to see him. Somerset play Surrey at Taunton on September 18th and, on this showing, Virdi versus Leach and Bess will be a wonderful contest to watch.
Where does that leave us after two rounds of games (which are really a bit more than one and a half rounds, but why make it simple for the fans)?
Popular legend has it that the human race split some time back into two species: Yorkshiremen and everyone else. In fact, anthropologists have suggested that there is more in common between your average Lancastrian and his daily routine and a bushman of the Kalahari Desert (I assume that our highly cultured readers need no explanation of where that is) than there is between a Yorkshireman and a Lancastrian (or a Yorkshireman and anyone else for that matter). It is not only in this anthropological sense that Yorkshire and Lancashire are divided: after two games, Yorkshire are top of Division 1, Lancashire are bottom and there is already a significant gap between the bottom two – Worcestershire and Lancashire – and the rest of the table. It is the sort of situation to make Fred Boycott drool with pleasure… which he duly did in a celebratory Twitter post. Despite the opening game wash-out at Headingley, as any Yorkshireman will tell you: the natural order has been restored (Fred Boycott may just have made that point for them) and Yorkshire’s twenty-one points for the crushing victory over Nottinghamshire has trumped Essex’s nineteen for their own narrow win over Lancashire.
While it is not yet time for panic stations either at Old Trafford or at New Road, the bare facts are that six of the eight teams in Division 1 have won a match in the first two rounds, while Worcestershire and Lancashire have lost both. Worcestershire have looked so far off the pace in both games that it comes as a surprise that they are not bottom, thanks to their solitary batting bonus point obtained against Hampshire. Thanks to their near miss against Essex and the frenetic finish against Nottinghamshire, the Lancastrian struggles have passed under the radar, but they have so far managed totals of 158, 73, 144 and 288.
Even with Surrey and Somerset having played just one game, the gap between Yorkshire – top – and Surrey and Somerset in joint fifth, is just six points. It is far too early to draw conclusions apart from the fact that the bottom two are going to have to improve a lot if they are to avoid having a long and very hard season. In contrast, Surrey looked very good in their win against Hants and now play Lancashire (away) and Worcestershire (home): given the struggles so far of their opponents, it might not be a bad moment to invest the few million that you made from Bitcoin, on a Surrey Championship win, before the odds crash. It is not impossible that, if weather and good fortune are fair for the South Londoners, that they could be sitting pretty at the top of the table with three wins from three on the evening of May 8th. Another game to look at that may be a pointer to the title race is Essex v Yorkshire on May 5th. Lest we forget, on May 8th we will have completed more than a quarter of the Championship and the table will, at that stage, start to be highly significant.
Three thoughts to take away from these games:
• Sides will be checking the fixture list eagerly to see when (and where) they play Lancashire and Worcestershire and will go into the games thinking that they are “must win” to keep up with their rivals.
• Ben Coad will, if he stays fit and maintains his form, tour with England this winter (a couple of injuries and he may even debut v India)
• And, long-term, maybe the most important takeaway – Amar Virdi really looks promising and we may even have the luxury of some stiff competition for the England spin spot(s) in a couple of seasons… I hope!
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