6/20/2018 0 Comments
By Mark Kidger (@MarkFromMadrid)
Glory be!!! The ECB’s fixture computer has arranged a game for all eighteen First Class counties. No excuses. No cop-outs. Everyone plays on the same days (although not the same hours, as one Division 1 and one Division 2 game are Day/Night, albeit almost at the summer solstice, when there is still natural light at 10pm). Of course, simultaneous with this round of matches we have the England v Australia ODIs and a tri-series between the England Lions and India A and West Indies A. The result is that many counties are seriously understrength: Yorkshire, for example, contribute SEVEN players to the two England squads.
We also have the rather neat situation where the top four and the bottom four in Division One battle among themselves. This leads to a number of crunch, dog-eat-dog games. At the top, second plays first and third plays fourth. At the bottom, it is eighth against fifth and seventh against sixth in the bargain basement. To the winners, the spoils! To the losers, some heartache come Saturday evening, as this round may well make or break the season for various sides.
Today, we may have seen the mistake that decides the destination of the Championship pennant. Definitely, today has seen things moving, both at the top and at the bottom of the table.
Where do we start? There is only one possible choice. Guildford!
Depending on your point of view, it is either very disappointing, or tremendously exciting that a top-of-the-table clash between two unbeaten sides is being played at an outground. This is the 80th Guildford Cricket Festival and what a game to open it! Somerset head Surrey by a single point, with Essex a further six points behind, having played a game more. This was supposed to be Virat Kohli’s first game for Surrey but, after his withdraw, the patrons delight in the debut of Theunis de Bruyn: even the ever-optimistic Surrey publicity machine has struggled to sell this as a like-for-like replacement.
Surrey were already without a host of big names due to England and to Lions calls and brought in Will Jacks for his debut, while Somerset, who had been relatively untouched, have lost Craig Overton. The Toss was uncontested under grey skies and Somerset invited Surrey to bat, no doubt thinking of the top-order uncertainty in the Surrey ranks and the missing names: the surprise was Mark Stoneman’s late withdraw from the XI for family reasons. The Somerset XI included Leach and Bess, with Tim Groenewald also back from injury, but van der Merwe missing-out. Somerset’s decision to bowl was an interesting one given that they might well have been hoping to bat first, set a big total and then have the benefit of bowling on a fourth day pitch that was taking some turn. As it was, they went largely unrewarded until shortly before Lunch, when Tom Abell pinned emergency opener Arun Harinath after a stand of 83. Surrey went into Lunch at 98-1, definitely the happier of the two sides. After Lunch it was no better: the runs mounted and one wondered just why Somerset had decided to bowl; at these times the Captain’s life must flash before his eyes and he must start to wonder if he has made the mistake that will cost his county the Championship. A measure of how the day going was that the first Surrey batting point arrived well ahead of the first Somerset bowling point: not what you want to see after inserting.
At 246-2, Tom Abell could not have been a happy man, but then Borthwick was bowled by Groenewald for 83 and, just five balls later, debutant de Bruyn fell to Bess: Surrey were 247-4 and Abell must have felt a little better about life. This brought the two twenty-year-olds – Ollie Pope and Ryan Patel – together. If Somerset thought that they were through, they had another think coming: the pair started to add runs quickly, putting on 52 before Patel edged Tom Abell through to the ‘keeper, bringing in another youngster in Will Jacks. Surrey closed on 351-5, four batting points in the bag and will hope to add the fifth, while Somerset have just 14 overs to take a wicket for their second bowling point. Definitely, Surrey have taken the honours and will be looking to consolidate on the second day and convert this into a winning position. Has Tom Abell’s decision to bowl handed the Championship to Surrey? It is early days in this game, but Surrey will be very, very pleased with their position.
In the other big clash, at Chelmsford, Nottinghamshire won the Toss and decided to bat on what looked like a perfect batting track – not a hint of green in it – with Harry Gurney coming in, as expected, for Steven Mullaney, who was off with the Lions. The Nottinghamshire decision to bat may not have looked the best at 60-2, but Chris Nash and Ross Taylor started to put together a good stand at a fast pace and went into Lunch at 109-2 and probably enjoyed their meal more than Essex did. Chris Nash went straight after Lunch but, then, Ross Taylor and Billy Root batted serenely through the session. Taylor went on to his century and his partnership off 122 with Root steadied the innings. The day was one of solid accumulation after the early scare, with the third batting point achieved comfortably, well in advance of the Close, as Taylor batted Essex steadily out of the match, finding fine support from Tom Moores as the bowlers started to tire. However, unexpectedly, just as Essex must have thought that they were going to have a sizeable problem on the second morning, Jamie Porter got Ross Taylor to edge behind: he fell for 146 out of 309-6, severely damaging the hopes of the visitors to get full batting points. 311-6 at the Close though was a quite satisfactory position.
At Worcester, Lancashire opted to bowl and soon had Worcestershire in trouble. Martin Guptil’s debut innings was brief as he edged Onions to the ‘keeper, while Tom Fell played on to Tom Bailey. 15-2 was not the start that they wanted in a game that they dared not lose. Things did not get better as Joe Mennie took two in two to leave Worcestershire staggering to 84-5 at Lunch. However, Daryll Mitchell was still there and went to a superlative century, being the last man to fall as the Worcestershire tail disintegrated around him. 247ao was riches compared to their Lunch situation, but Worcestershire will be frustrated to miss out on a second batting point. Joe Mennie and Jordan Clarke both took 4 wickets. Was this a difficult wicket to bat on, perhaps? Davies and Jennings came out for Lancashire and rattled along at a fair old rate, with Davies particularly severe on the Worcestershire attack before Jennings decided to join the party. Worcestershire may reflect on the fact that their nickname – the Pears – is a perfect fit to the shape of their season. However, the fall of Davies for 43 led to a quite astonishing collapse as Parry, Hameed, Chanderpaul and, to the last ball of the day, Jones, all fell to Barnard for ducks. 77-0 became 86-5 in 47 balls. It seems that Worcestershire do not plan to go down quietly but, then, in various games they have competed strongly before falling away to defeat: this one does not look likely to last 4 days. Tomorrow morning will be extremely interesting!
The final Division 1 game was a day-nighter between Hampshire and Yorkshire 2nd XI. Yorkshire travelled to the Ageas bowl with seven players on international duty and some unfamiliar names in their makeshift XI. The ones who were available though did the white rose county proud. When Yorkshire fell to 21-3 you fell that it could get ugly, but Gary Ballance and Harry Brook stood firm and first stabilised the patient and then got him out of intensive care. It was impressive against a strong, international attack of Edwards, Steyn and Abbott. Ballance went on to make an impressive 109, adding 143 for the fourth wicket with Harry Brook, who made 79. Jack Leaning helped add 71 more before Ballance fell, bringing in the hero of the hour, Jack Tattersall, who ran into an inspired Dale Steyn with his tail up, quickly followed by Edwards dismissing Leaning. Even so, Tim Bresnan and Steve Patterson held firm to the Close and have so far added 38, taking Yorkshire to a third batting point, with the promise of a fourth and a competitive total very much in sight. For Hampshire, Dale Steyn’s figures – 25-9-48-4 – were a reminder of what an outstanding bowler he is, while Fidel Edwards was expensive, but occasionally deadly when he got it right (which was not often enough). The match remains finely balanced going into Day 2, with perhaps Yorkshire slightly ahead on points.
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