By Mark Kidger (@MarkFromMadrid)
Round 10 of the County Championship started with a bit of a dull squelch, but continued with a bang, as three of the four games had delayed starts due to the rain, but then made up for lost time. Meanwhile, the Essex v Hampshire game at Chelmsford the only non-starter as heavy rain left the bowlers’ run-ups soaked meaning the umpires abandoned play in mid-afternoon. Once again, all eight Division 1 sides had fixtures, with perhaps the stand-out games the one between the bottom two.
Lancashire v Worcestershire
The equation here is simple for both sides: lose and plan for a season in Division 2 next year. With Worcestershire definitely on a rising curve, their situation is less desperate, but having got off the bottom of the table, they can ill-afford to lose to the only side below them in the table. Lancashire, with just three games after this one, all of them away from home, know that a defeat will, quite possibly, be definitive. Both sides made positive noises before the game, but you knew that a draw would not be suitable for either and defeat would be very bad news. While Lancashire played what they hope will be their trump card in the run-in – new signing, Keshav Maharaj – the news that Moeen Ali returns to the England side has robbed the visitors of their talisman. A crowd of 1800 were at Southport to witness the last home game of the season.
This was a day when holding the advantage was rather like an angler struggling to get a slippery fish into his net: every time that you thought that you had the fish under control to biff it on the head, somehow it wriggled away. Worcestershire lost wickets regularly, with Tom Bailey’s 4-41 the star turn for the Red Rose, but 61 from Brett D’Oliviera, supported by thirties from Fell and Clarke, allowed the hosts to reach 222, with 24* from Ed Barnard to marshal the tail, ensuring that his captain’s efforts were rewarded with a batting point. In reply, Lancashire were scarred by Josh Tongue, who reduced them to 4-2 with two wickets in his first over and then 27-3 as Wayne Parnell added Steven Croft. Alex Davies and Dane Vilas initiated a solid-looking recovery, before Davies crashed a drive into Tongue’s boot and on to the stumps, leaving Vilas stranded. Then, just two balls later, Tongue added his third (or fourth) wicket of the day as Davies was adjudged LBW, although the batsman retreated making a meaningful examination of his bat.
Lancashire 96-5 at the Close, 126 behind and this match looks unlikely to go into the last day.
Yorkshire v Somerset
Again, a simple equation for both sides: Somerset need to keep winning and hope that Surrey slip-up; Yorkshire need points increasingly urgently to stave-off the threat of relegation – whisper it softly up North, but there is a real possibility of both Yorkshire and Lancashire going down together at the end of the season.
Somerset have most definitely had the better of the day, which has featured three batsmen reaching 80, with none of them going on to 90. After Somerset crashed to 5-2, thanks to early wickets for Willey and Brooks, Azhar Ali and James Hildreth then put on a merry 137 together and were hammering the attack into submission before Hildreth fell for 81. As Somerset slipped to 229-5, it seemed that the White Rose was hauling itself back into the game. Azhar fell for 89, the top score of the day, but that only brought in Lewis Gregory, who gave the selectors another reminder of his talent with a brutal, 46-ball 65, with 9x4 and 3x6, while Steve Davies accumulated at the other end to the tune of 80. The Yorkshire attack was begging for mercy, seeing the new ball going at around 8-an-over, before Gregory and Davies both fell to Jack Brooks in the same over Brooks has promised the Headingley faithful that his priority in his last five games is helping Yorkshire to stay in Division 1 and seems determined to deliver on that promise. Josh Shaw added Craig Overton just before Stumps, but 374-8 was a pretty good day’s work for the visitors, who will be hoping to squeeze out a fifth batting point in the morning, while Yorkshire will be hoping that Jack Brook’s limp near the end of the day is just a little cramp and not an inhibiting injury.
Surrey v Nottinghamshire
A late start due to the rain means that this game is less advanced than the first two. When Surrey were reduced to 36-3 by Fletcher, Gurney and Wood, the locals must have feared the worst. However, salvation came from an unlikely source, as Mark Stoneman showed that his form is returning slowly. First with Ben Foakes and then with Will Jacks, the innings was stabilised and then made much healthier. Will Jacks must have taken the news that Ollie Pope was on his way from the Ageas Bowl with mixed feelings as Pope will replace him in the XI overnight: had he been on 99* at Stumps, this might have been an awkward situation; fortunately for Pope’s conscience, Milnes bowled Jacks for 48 and so Pope will, presumably, take the field tomorrow, but will not bat until the second innings. At 204-4, it may have looked as if Nottinghamshire were losing the initiative, but two wickets in the last hour have evened the day somewhat, with Surrey indebted to Mark Stoneman, who has fought his way through the day and was 99* at Stumps. At 256-6, Surrey’s priority will be to get to at least the third batting point and to avoid losing the early wickets that might just stop them reaching it. Surrey though are looking at the likelihood of bleeding-off another point or two to Somerset. Whilst, Nottinghamshire will be looking over their shoulder a little nervously wondering if the prospect of a healthy end of season prize-money return could turn into a late relegation scrape with a defeat or two at the back-end of the season.
Essex v Hampshire
With any of the bottom six in the division potentially threatened by relegation, both sides will be looking for points. This game though will be reduced to three days after the first day has been lost. The rain that swept across the country overnight did not clear Chelmsford until after the scheduled start and left the outfield so soaked that, despite multiple inspections, the run-ups were deemed to be unsafe. With better weather promised, this one should get underway tomorrow but will need to play catch-up.
Another full round of matches with all the top five looking at the enticing prospect of Division 1 cricket next season. With Middlesex and Sussex on a roll and Warwickshire winning in the last round, to get their season back on track, Kent and Leicestershire know that they need a win in this round. Here, the stand-out game was undoubtedly the Middlesex v Sussex clash that could help define the season for both teams.
Middlesex v Sussex
The clash between the Middle Saxons and the South Saxons is deliciously set-up by the table. Sussex have come from some way back to gate-crash what looked like a Warwickshire and Kent promotion party, while Middlesex have just produced two extraordinary wins against the odds and are trying desperately to reach the top two. Were Middlesex to win this one and other results to go their way, they would be right in promotion contention. While the day started depressingly badly for the hosts, it took an unexpected late turn and Middlesex will feel that they are, if not favourites, looking at a very surprising, potential, small first innings lead tomorrow.
With heavy cloud overhead, both sides wanted to bowl, so there was no question of a Toss and Sussex took full advantage of the conditions. To the surprise – probably more like, amazement – of patrons, Middlesex have dropped their specialist ‘keeper and given the gloves to Steve Eskinazi, as well as re-calling Ollie Rayner, with the aim of lengthening the batting without reducing the potency of the seam attack. It was easy to reach snap judgements as four of the top five fell in single figures, as the batsmen struggled in the morning session. Nowhere was this more epitomised than by Eoin Morgan’s crawl to 1* from 57 balls. From the relative riches of 99-4, Middlesex subsided to 169 all out, with Max Holden’s 50* holding the innings together: apart from Holden, only Nick Gubbins with 29 and James Fuller with 17 reached double figures. While Archer with 3-34 and Jordan, with 3-26, had the stand-out figures, all the four seamers took at least two wickets.
Middlesex needed a devastating response but, at 87-2, scoring at 5-an-over, Sussex seemed to be setting the basis for a really solid reply. Middlesex though are rarely dull and, in the last forty minutes of play, suddenly roared back into the match. Two wickets for James Fuller and two for James Harris have turned the scoreboard around. Ben Brown and Chris Jordan held on until Stumps but, from 120-6 overnight, will have a big rebuilding job to do in the morning. Middlesex, in contrast, can look forward to the possibility of a small first innings lead or, at worst, only conceding a small one in the morning.
Derbyshire v Kent
The message for Kent is clear: just three times this season they have reached 200 in the first innings, and they have accrued only six batting points – do better or resign yourselves to Division 2 cricket next season. Kent’s response has been to experiment with the batting order – Zak Crawley was moved up to open, and Daniel Bell-Drummond pushed down to the middle order – and the result has been that there is an excellent chance that, in this match, they will almost double their total of batting points for 2018.
When Sean Dickson fell in only the third over of the morning, it looked as if the new batting order was not going to work either. However, Crawley and Denly set about the bowlers with a will and the score mounted apace, as they added 170 at 4-an-over. With Crawley just four short of a maiden century, Tony Palladino beat him and won the LBW appeal. This brought in Heino Kuhn to support Joe Denly. Kuhn saw Denly to his century and then brought up his own fifty. With the partnership on 99, Paladino, who today fancied himself as the fun police, removed Kuhn with another successful LBW appeal after a period when both batsmen were becalmed, and Viljoen then added Denly for 106. Although Sam Billings and Harry Podmore also fell before the Close, Kent are 365-6, with Bell-Drummond 41*, being well-supported by Gavin Stewart (14*) and will be very disappointed if they do not reach the fifth batting point in the morning. Kent have built themselves a pretty good position to get their campaign back on track and will be watching events at Lord’s with great interest.
Glamorgan v Warwickshire
Bottom v top and everything seen so far on the first day indicates that Warwickshire will leave Sophia Gardens with another big haul of points and will make the Glamorgan crisis a little deeper. However, Warwickshire have not had everything their own way on the first day and will be looking to Ian Bell to push on to a decent score, having slumped to 43-2 in reply themselves.
At 38-3 – all three wickets catches to Tim Ambrose – Glamorgan must have been fearing the worst. Useful runs from Kiran Carlson and Chris Cooke helped stabilise the innings, though neither could pass the thirties. That Glamorgan reached the comparative riches of 203 and a batting point was all down to Craig Meschade, who shepherded the tail with 53*, while no one else in the Glamorgan bottom five could pass 5. Star turn with the ball for Warwickshire was Ollie Stone’s 4-28. In reply, Dom Sibley fell quickly to Meschade and, when Graeme Wagg added Will Rhodes, there was a chance the Warwickshire would fritter away the advantage. Bell and Trott added 63 before Ruaidhri Smith removed Trott but, at 106-3, Warwickshire still had some work to do. Bell and Chris Wright have taken the score to 116-3 at Stumps, but will look to their batsmen to bring in a decent haul of batting points tomorrow; in particular, they will hope that Ian Bell can move on from 43* to a match-defining score.
Gloucestershire v Leicestershire
Having suffered three depressing defeats in their last three Blast games, to bring the T20 to a disappointing conclusion and been utterly destroyed by Warwickshire in between times in the Championship, the hosts must have looked a tasty morsel for a Leicestershire side that is seeing its promotion bid start to flag badly. Gloucestershire pulled a surprise by playing Jack Taylor in the XI when he had not even been named in the 14-man squad – how much this is due to fan-pressure is uncertain, but the fans had been calling loudly for his recall to an inexperienced middle order that has been crying out for a senior batsman to shepherd it.
The Gloucestershire innings followed a familiar pattern for suffering Gloucestershire fans. Hammond and Dent started with a fifty partnership, scored at a crawl. Of those 50, just thirty-five were scored by the batsmen and Hammond’s share was a mere seven from 60 balls (shout out to Fred Boycott that Miles Hammond is a worthy candidate for the prestigious “Dig-In Trophy”), as the bowlers lent a significant hand in the quest for runs. Then, as has happened a few too many times for the liking of the fans, the fall of Chris Dent after getting a start, led to a house-of-cards collapse. 50-0 became 50-3 in 17 balls as Dent, Hammond and Howell fell in quick and bewildering succession to Gareth Griffiths (Dent) and Mohammad Abbas (Hammond and Howell). At this point, Gloucestershire fans usually pull out the tin hats and hide under the bed. Bobby Bracey and Gareth Roderick, though, batted through past Tea to the tune of a century partnership. At 150-3, the home supporters were emerging from under the bed, blinking with surprise. Even the fall of Gareth Roderick, to give Mohammad Abbas his third wicket, did not bring about an immediate capitulation as Bobby Bracey and Jack Taylor pushed on. With two balls until the new ball, it was 191-4, and home fans were wondering how many bonus points would be attained, not whether any would be. Alas, this is Gloucestershire, and we may expect the unexpected. The fall of Jack Taylor to Colin Ackermann for 21 to the penultimate delivery with the old ball propitiated the most horrific collapse. You feel for Sir Robert Hunt who has to commentate on these events. 191-4 became 202 all out in just 46 balls. James Bracey fell LBW to Mohammad Abbas for 76 as the innings imploded around him. Abbas finished with 5-30 and Ben Raine with 3-43.
In reply, Harry Dearden fell to the first ball of David Payne’s third over. Payne has had a miserable time with the ball recently but is a handy bowler, and one hopes that this does something for his morale. 11-1 in reply, Leicestershire will want to avoid losing early wickets in the morning.
Durham v Northamptonshire
Last and, probably, least, as it is the only game with nothing really to play for, for either side, was the game at the Riverside. Both teams now know that they will be playing their cricket in Division 2 next season. You only had to look at the grim face of Martin Emmerson as he gave his summary of the morning session at lunchtime to know that things had gone pretty badly for the hosts. Subsequent events have cheered him up slightly, but Durham are playing catch-up here.
No one reached thirty as Durham fell to 102-8 at Lunch. It was pretty grim stuff, with the top score Alex Lees with 25. After Lunch, Stuart Poyner added some useful runs with the tail, until Brett Hutton bowled him for 28, but 129 all out did not give much hope to the loyal home fans. The brutal truth was that 5-33 for Luke Procter simply dynamited Durham. Northamptonshire’s batting though has also been fragile for the last two seasons and, although every batsman who has come to the crease has reached double figures, they have closed in 189-6, held together by Alex Wakeley’s 60. The fall of Zaib to the last ball of the day has given Durham some hope that the damage can be limited if they can remove Adam Rossington – 40* overnight – early. However, in a low-scoring game, a lead of 100+ will almost certainly be decisive. If Northants avoid early losses, they know that they can bat Durham entirely out of this game.
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