History was made as the umpires and the two captains went out to the middle at 10.30 am. The new regulations set by the ECB meant away sides were allowed to have the option of bowling first without the aid of a coin. Indeed, every captain bar Gloucestershire’s Gareth Roderick decided that tradition should be cast to one side.
Surrey, Sussex, Warwickshire, and Somerset all elected to bowl first in early April conditions with differing success.
We’ll start at Trent Bridge, where Surrey put Nottinghamshire in on a good-looking deck for batting and they were immediately under the cosh as Steven Mullaney flayed the visitors to all parts of the ground. Surrey were relieved to claim the wicket of Greg Smith, who departed for 9 with Thomas Curran claiming his first scalp of the season giving Sangakkara a simple slip catch. Smith’s departure did little to deter the aggressive Mullaney though who continued at a run-a-ball pace and Gareth Batty began to curse his gutsy call to bowl first.
Indeed, Mullaney became the first half-centurion of the day when he reached his 50 finding support from Michael Lumb (24) and Brendan Taylor (20) who fell to Mark Foottit and Curran respectively. But still Mullaney went on his merry way smashing boundary after boundary on his way to a stunning century. He has reached 113 from 114 balls when he slashed at one too many giving Ben Foakes behind the stumps a simple catch off the bowling of Ravi Rampaul. Riki Wessels and Samit Patel continued the onslaught though as the pair took the score past 300. Wessels then became Rampaul’s second victim also finding Foakes behind the stumps to depart for a handy 81. That brought Chris Read to the middle, who looked eager to continue where he left off last summer. He and Patel continued to make Batty regret his decision to insert the host as the duo guided Nottingham past 400 before Patel chipped Thomas Curran to his brother Sam in the deep. Read reached an unbeaten 63, but ran out of partners as Rampaul ran through the lower order to claim 5-93 to help dismiss the hosts for 446. That left the visitors with two tricky overs to see out, which they managed with Rory Burns and Arun Harinath guiding the London club to 7 without loss.
Warwickshire’s decision to bowl was more successful at the Ageas however as the visitors had Hampshire well and truly on the back foot early on. Keith Barker (5-44) had a dream first session of the season as he had the hosts wobbling at 17-3 and later 64-6 as he became the first bowler of the season to claim a five-wicket bag. Ryan McLaren though led the Hampshire fight back alongside the Hampshire tail, with first, Reece Topley who scored 15 – a career-best for the former Essex man and then James Tomlinson who went in unbeaten on 15 at the close. But it was McLaren who was the hero keeping his calm whilst playing some nice shots on his way to an unbeaten 84 to guide Hampshire to 189-8 when the rain and bad light brought an early end to proceedings.
Meanwhile, in Durham, honours are just about even despite a late flurry of wickets for the hosts in the Chester-Le-Street gloom. The day belonged to a View From the Outfield future star, though, as Keaton Jennings got his county season off to the perfect start. The Durham opener struck a century to top score for the host as they were bowled out for 256, Jennings hit 115 of those as he dominated the hosts total. Somerset stuck at their task well as a bowling unit with Lewis Gregory (4-58) the pick of the visitors attack with Tim Groenewald (3-54) and Josh Davey (2-39) also picking up crucial wickets. Gregory though, who, at one point was on a hat-trick after he dismissed Michael Richardson (9) and Paul Collingwood (0) in successive deliveries was the star of the show as his in-swinging bowling justified his skipper's decision to invite Durham to bat first as they dismissed the hosts for a below-par score. What happened next though wasn’t part of Chris Rogers’ plans. Left with a tricky looking 12 overs to see out the hosts went in search of wickets, and they were duly rewarded when Tom Abell and nightwatchman Josh Davey both fell in quick succession LBW to Chris Rushworth. And it got worse for the West Country boys as experienced opener Marcus Trescothick fell before close too, having his stumps rearranged by former England man Graham Onions. It is all to play for on day two but much will fall on the shoulders of the current pair in the middle Rogers, and James Hildreth if the visitors are going to get near Durham’s total.
Sussex followed the fashion of doing away with the coin and inserted Northants at Wantage Road. It was a decision that new skipper Luke Wright will regret as the division favourites endured a long day in the field chasing leather. Take nothing away from the hosts, though, and Ben Duckett in particular who was magnificent. Against an attack who many feel will be too strong for this division, the opener flayed, slashed and carved his way through everything thrown at him. He shared an opening stand of 130 with newcomer Jake Libby (42) before adding a further 123 with skipper Alex Wakely (51). Duckett was the main man though in both those partnerships as he struck a stunning unbeaten career-best 178 to give the hosts the firm early advantage. There was a slight glimmer of light for Sussex as new-boy Danny Briggs collected his maiden Championship wicket for the visitors but in the main this was a day to forget for the bookies favourites as they hosts closed on 296-2.
There was a toss at Chelmsford though, as Gareth Roderick went against the theme of the day and decided to decline to the opportunity to bowl first at the E.C.G. Indeed, the Gloucester skipper won the toss and elected to bat first in the Essex sunshine. Early signs suggested it was to be a good call as the ball seemed to be doing very little off the pitch for the Essex pacemen and both Chris Dent and Cameron Bancroft looked comfortable at the crease. The arrival of Essex debutant Matt Dixon brought the breakthrough though as Bancroft was harshly given leg before to give the Australian his first Championship wicket. That set the ball rolling for the visitors whose batsman enjoyed plenty of starts but ultimately didn’t kick on. Dent was the next to go after making his way to a promising 27, then lost his leg stump to Dixon after inside edging the ball back onto his wicket. More batsmen got in then got out with Cockbain (24), Marshall (51) and Taylor (39) all getting starts before losing their wicket. Only captain Roderick kicked on as he was left stranded on 88 not out as his side were dismissed for 262. The wickets were shared amongst the Essex attack with Dixon claiming 2-64, pick of the bowlers Jamie Porter collected 4-59, whilst veteran Graham Napier produced a crucial spell to put Essex back in command claiming three quick wickets to finish with figures of 3-57, the other wicket went to Jesse Ryder who took 1-36. That left the hosts with an hour of play to see out in the Essex gloom, and they got off to the worst possible start losing Nick Browne for one to the final ball of their first over. But England captain Alastair Cook (17 not out) and Tom Westley (19 not out) saw the rest of the overs through as the hosts finished the day on 39-1.
Meanwhile, it was a familiar story at New Road as weather put pay to proceedings as a wet outfield meant that no play was possible on day one.
Reports by David Bowden (@Bowdenwhu)
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