By Mark Kidger (@markfromMadrid)
Incredibly, with this round of matches, we will be almost a quarter of the way through the Division 2 programme (16 of 70 matches played at the end of the round) and the Division 2 table will start to show which sides can expect to be in the promotion scrap at the end of the season and which sides are more likely to be planning on spending another season in Division 2. While it is not a surprise to see Warwickshire top of the table at this stage of the season, the identity of their immediate pursuers – Derbyshire and Glamorgan – was not in anyone’s list of candidates.
Warwickshire v Derbyshire
Warwickshire - WMH Rhodes, DP Sibley, CJC Wright, IR Bell, IJL Trott, SR Hain, MJ Lamb, TR Ambrose†, JS Patel (c), HJH Brookes, RN Sidebottom
Derbyshire - BT Slater, LM Reece, WL Madsen, AL Hughes, BA Godleman (c), GC Wilson†, MJJ Critchley, GC Viljoen, Hamidullah Qadri, D Olivier, MHA Footitt
The joker in the pack because, for reasons best known to the ECB, this game starts one day earlier than the rest of the Division 2 fixtures. Top plays second in the division, which is hardly what people would have expected when they looked at this fixture pre-season. The big news is that Derbyshire, who already have a strong-looking four-man attack, welcome back former England fast-bowling hope, Mark Footitt, initially on loan, but with a view to re-signing him from Nottinghamshire where he has been unable to break into the side. The signing of Footitt shows how serious Derbyshire are about gate-crashing the Warwickshire/Middlesex promotion party. Having already claimed the scalp of Middlesex, this match will show just how seriously their bid will have to be taken. This is an important fixture for Warwickshire given that, after a dull draw with Sussex on a seriously dead pitch, in which Sussex were the only side on the last day that could, just possibly, have forced a win, they gave Northamptonshire their second flogging of the season. A good showing is vital against Derbyshire to show that they are genuine promotion candidates and not simply flattered by their win against Northants. After his extraordinary show in the game against Northants, Ryan Sidebottom keeps his place in the starting XI, but Warwickshire will hope for more runs from their experienced campaigners, Bell and Trott.
Durham v Leicestershire
Durham – Paul Collingwood (c), Aiden Markram, Cameron Steel, Will Smith, Gareth Harte, Graham Clark, Michael Richardson, Stuart Poynter (wk), Nathan Rimmington, James Weighell, Barry McCarthy, Chris Rushworth.
Leicestershire – Carberry (capt), Aaron, Ackermann, Cosgrove, Eckersley, Dexter, Griffiths, Hill, Horton, Klein, Parkinson, Raine
Tenth against seventh. Durham, with one defeat (a heavy one against Kent) and a match abandoned without a ball bowled, are still waiting to start their season properly. The reckoning was that against Kent, with almost no outdoor practice at all, the Durham batsmen were completely underdone. Leicestershire, in contrast, have played out two dull, high-scoring, but slow draws at Grace Road. The fact that neither Leicestershire game would have given a result in six days, let alone “four minus rain”, means that we know very little about their strength, although it is true that Leicestershire did get somewhat the better of the rain-ravaged draw against Derbyshire. Paul Coughlin drops out of the Durham squad from last week’s XII against Northamptonshire, with Gareth Harte coming back into the XII to offer a further batting option, while Cameron Steel is set to return after missing the Kent match through illness, having scored 44 for Durham 2nd XI against Leicestershire’s 2nd XI last week. The interesting item from the Leicestershire side is that their new ball attack of Aaron and Raine were both on Durham’s books in the past and know Chester-le-Street well. Expect a result if the weather cooperates, although the surface for the 2nd XI match last week was a good one. Durham will be keen to kick-start their season but, with so little time in the middle behind the Durham players, Leicestershire may entertain thoughts of ambushing them at home. Durham will want to see more from their South African star, Aiden Markham than he has shown so far.
Glamorgan v Kent
Glamorgan – Hogan ©, Selman, Murphy, Marsh, Carlson, Donald, Cooke, Lloyd, Salter, Carey, de Lange, van der Gugten, Smith
Kent – Joe Denly (c), Daniel Bell-Drummond, Sean Dickson, Heino Kuhn, Zak Crawley, Darren Stevens, Will Gidman, Adam Rouse (wk), Matt Henry, Harry Podmore, Ivan Thomas, Adam Riley.
Glamorgan are third in the table after a hard-fought win against Gloucestershire and, arguably, marginally the better of a rain-sodden draw against Middlesex. Kent were beaten by Gloucestershire and then had a comfortable win against Durham. Glamorgan’s pace attack has been in fine form so far this season, although they have not yet had its depth tested properly, while Shaun Marsh is adding punch to the Glamorgan middle order, as hoped when he was signed. Kent expect to name an unchanged XI. So far the Kent story has been Matt Henry, with his nineteen wickets in the first two matches of the season, but they urgently need more players to step up. In particular, of the potential candidates to open the batting for England this summer, Daniel Bell-Drummond has made by some distance the best start to the season but, with three scores of four or fewer so far in five innings, has hardly made a rock-solid case to be named in the squad for the 1st Test. However, he knows that an opportunity is there, with other candidates stumbling so badly that his scores of 4, 61, 0, 45* and 1 look like manna from heaven.
Sussex v Middlesex
Sussex – Ben Brown (capt./wk), Danny Briggs, Michael Burgess, George Garton, Harry Finch, Ollie Robinson, Abi Sakande, Phil Salt, Stiaan van Zyl, Stuart Whittingham, David Wiese, Luke Wells, Luke Wright
Middlesex – Dawid Malan (captain), Tom Barber, Hilton Cartwright, Stephen Eskinazi, Nick Gubbins, James Harris, Max Holden, Tom Helm, Tim Murtagh, Ollie Rayner, Sam Robson, John Simpson (wicket-keeper), Robbie White.
Two of the sides who were expected to challenge for promotion but, whom, for different reasons, have had a stalled start to their campaign and are currently mid-table. Sussex have played out three draws: two of them on flat pitches that probably would not have produced a result even given a fifth day (and, in the case of the Grace Road pitch, even a sixth day did not look likely to produce a result), while the game against Gloucestershire was finely poised when the last day was washed-out, with both sides hopeful of the win. Middlesex have had an erratic start to the season. After swamping Northamptonshire in their opening game, they were well-beaten by Derbyshire and struggled against Glamorgan. For the long-suffering Middlesex fans, the batting difficulties bring back awful memories of the stuttering 2017 campaign. Sussex, without a win so far, are very keen to win this one against a promotion rival, while this is a game that Middlesex cannot afford to lose: one suspects that both sides would be happy to settle for a draw, while hoping to make a big statement with a win. Middlesex welcome back Nick Gubbins who has proved his fitness in the 2nd XI and James Harris, recovered from his side soreness, but lose Paul Stirling, who experienced calf soreness and has returned home to Ireland to recover for his Test debut v Pakistan. Steve Finn bowled in the 2nd XI fixture against Gloucestershire 2nd XI this week, but was carefully handled, delivering just ten overs and did not take a wicket, so is still not ready for his return. Likewise, Sussex have a mixed bag of good and bad news. Inshant Sharma is recovering from his nasty shoulder injury against Gloucestershire, but George Garton and Abi Sakande are included for the first time this season after overcoming knee and side injuries respectively, but Will Beer is still recovering from his side injury.
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