9/3/2018 0 Comments
By Mark Kidger (@MarkFromMadrid)
We end this round of the Championship with just the top three sides still able, mathematically, to be crowned Champions. While Surrey duly wrapped up a huge victory against Nottinghamshire early on Day 3 – an innings and 125 is a comprehensive winning margin – Somerset have been trying to overcome an irritatingly tricky opponent in Yorkshire, although Day 3 ended with Somerset, apparently, finally getting on track for victory in that one. Meanwhile, in the basement duel, Lancashire cruised to what should have been a challenging target against Worcestershire and Essex were making a good attempt to flog their rain-affected match against Hampshire into life, trying for a Route One victory: the only real option available to them if they wished to win.
To find out how it all happened and who was successful and who not… read on!
Lancashire v Worcestershire
Probably even the most hardened Lancashire fans gave their side little chance of chasing 314 to win, with most resigned to defeat against a direct rival, but chase it they did, and they pursued it in style. Yet, halfway through the afternoon session, it looked as if it was just a matter of time before a Worcestershire side, on the up, finished-off another hapless opponent. After the early loss of night-watchman opener Tom Lester, who was run-out by Ed Barnard – hardly an auspicious start – Haseeb Hameed and Rob Jones then fell to Barnard in the space of three balls. At 47-3, the writing was on the wall. Although resistance stiffened, wickets continued to fall often enough that the Worcestershire fans were convinced that they would finish the match off some time in the afternoon or evening. What no one anticipated, from 178-6, was Dane Vilas and Josh Bohanon, would come together and put on 139 runs together in 36 overs when their initial target could only be a desperate attempt to survive for a draw.
Vilas – captain, wicket-keeper and, it seems, super-hero – scored a magnificent 107*, while Josh Bohanon, playing just his second First Class match, added to his burgeoning reputation with a career-best 78*, his second fifty in four innings and is yet to be dismissed in single figures in his First Class career. Life will get harder for him, but he may just have helped to ensure his side’s survival in Division 1. However, despite temporarily lifting Lancashire to fourth in the table, before other games had finished, they are only nine points clear of the bottom-placed rivals, but with other teams below them having two games in hand.
What it means: The bottom of the table is so tight that Lancashire’s win has pushed them up to fifth, but only 2 points clear of the relegation places and nine clear of the bottom team. This campaign is beginning to look like the blanket finish in 2017 that sent down Middlesex. Lancashire visit Taunton next and will have no illusions that they will face a result pitch, although Somerset need big batting points too and will bank on getting them batting first. Worcestershire are eight points behind Hampshire and safety and now play Hampshire in another dog-eat-dog encounter. Again, the loser will be in deep trouble with just three games to come.
Yorkshire v Somerset
Late on Day 3, Somerset had managed to regain some control of a situation that was slipping away from them. With their attempt to set a testing target stuttering, in came Lewis Gregory to join his captain, Tom Abell. The resultant bombardment lasted under thirteen overs, as Gregory scored 6x4 and 3x6 in a 41-ball 57. Craig Overton came in to replace him after a partnership of 93 in 76 balls and produced an 18-ball cameo, adding 62 in 40 balls until Tom Abell declared when his partner was run out. Somerset who, two sessions earlier, had been 29-3, had turned the match around and set Yorkshire a daunting 419 to win or, more likely, a day and a handful of overs to survive. The situation had “draw” written all over it if Yorkshire made any kind-of start.
When a team has come in for such a pounding, there is always a danger that its will to resist has been drained. Somerset could hardly believe their luck when Lewis Gregory removed both openers in his first four overs with the new ball. At 4-2, the Tykes were hanging-on with their fingertips. However, in the morning, night-watchman, Josh Shaw, hung on almost until Lunch, making a career-best 42 and, from 8-2 at the start, added 86 more runs, to leave Somerset increasingly desperate, before that man Lewis Gregory trapped him LBW nine minutes before Lunch. After Josh Shaw’s efforts and with Kane Williamson well set, Yorkshire had a solid platform to save the match and Somerset must have been feeling nervous. What the White Rose got, though, was a post-lunch horror show as the Overtons and Gregory scythed through the middle order. As Sir Geoffrey would have said: “94-2, pretty good, 143-8, not so clever”. The pacemen needed a rest, but Jack Leach was getting nothing from the Headingley pitch, and so, unusually, his introduction into the attack produced some relief. Matt Fisher and David Willey batted together for more than an hour increasing the frustrations as Somerset started to get horrible imaginings of an escape for the Tykes. Jamie Overton though could not be denied, and when Fisher fell to him, Jack Brooks followed quickly too. Jamie Overton finished with 4-25, with 4-33 to Lewis Gregory, leading Somerset to a 224 run win that keeps alive, just, their hopes of a first Championship pennant.
What it means: With four matches left for each, Somerset are thirty-two points behind, meaning that their equation is simple – they need to make up 8 points per game on the Londoners. It is a tough ask, although that Somerset – Surrey game at Taunton still looms in the penultimate round. Somerset will still need to make up significant points different even if they were to beat Surrey by an innings. For Yorkshire, the situation is bleak. The win for Lancashire leaves them bottom but one, albeit only one point behind Hampshire. Yorkshire are one of six sides that can be relegated but are in deep trouble unless they can turn around their recent slump. Such is the log-jam of teams that a win in their next game at Nottinghamshire will give them a real chance of finishing third in the table, but a defeat would be a severe blow to their hopes of survival.
Surrey v Nottinghamshire
Surrey duly completed the last rites of their game against Nottinghamshire. A win by an innings and 125 having scored only 375 is about as one-sided as you can get. Starting the day 83-2, Nottinghamshire should have taken the match at least well into the afternoon but, in the end, could not even survive until Lunch on Day 3. Nottinghamshire went from a comfortable 78-1 in the last hour of Day 2, to a miserable 149ao. The last nine wickets fell for seventy-one, as Nottinghamshire surrendered to Morkel, McKerr and Tom Curran. The manner of their surrender, having been 101ao in the first innings, is particularly alarming now that thoughts of the Championship are turning into a fight for survival. For Surrey, the news that they can demolish a side twice so convincingly even with Amar Virdi taking just a single wicket in the match and with a rookie seamer is an extraordinary guarantee for the last few games of the season. Conor McKerr, in just his seventh First Class match, starred with 4-26, with Morne Morkel taking 3-29.
What it means: Surrey’s demolition of Nottinghamshire has reinforced their claim to the title as Champions-elect and, with Somerset taking the same number of points from this round, their position is significantly reinforced. Depending on results, Surrey could even be crowned Champions before travelling to Taunton. Nottinghamshire are still fourth, but now just twelve points clear of relegation and, like Lancashire, one place below them, have one game fewer to play and are thus now in deep trouble.
Essex v Hampshire
Having lost the whole of the first day, Essex were faced with just one way to win: the Route 1 way of an innings win. For much of the last afternoon, it seemed that Hampshire might just hang on. Starting 17-2, after only three overs they had sunk to an apparently unsalvageable 24-4. However, Hampshire were making things harder than necessary for themselves. Just as Kyle Abbott and Sam Northeast seemed to be adding a little stability, night-watchman, Kyle Abbott, was needlessly run out as he took on the throw from Cover, leaving Hampshire 67-5. Northeast and Tom Alsop were still together at Lunch, 87-5 and held on for nearly twenty overs in all, adding just 28 together, but doing just what Hampshire needed: to use up time; runs were irrelevant. The problem was though that batsmen were getting in and then getting out, as Peter Siddle and Simon Harmer winkled-out batsman after batsman before they could do enough damage to halt the victory charge. With Gareth Berg, no mean batsman, due to come in at ten, Hampshire still had the batting left to salvage the draw, if only someone could play a long innings and give the rest someone to bat around. However, a 41 from Northeast, 51 from Alsop, both dismissed by Harmer just as they threatened to play that long inning, was just not quite enough to stop Essex.
Halfway through the afternoon session, Liam Dawson fell and, with him, the score now 131-8, seemingly went the Hampshire hopes, but there was still a twist to come. An hour and a half later, Tom Alsop was still there and reached his fifty. With Gareth Berg solid at the other end, the pair had added fifty and hope was beginning to grow again in the Hampshire camp. It was a flame that was cruelly extinguished just when panic could have started to set in. Forty minutes remained until the last hour was due to start and, had the pair still been together then; anything could have happened.
Finally, though, Harmer tempted Alsop once too often, Michael Pepper juggled the catch but held on, and Essex were just one wicket short. Still, Hampshire refused to die as Berg and Fidel Edwards hung on, and the game entered its final hour. Essex took the new ball and watched in increasing disbelief as the last pair gallantly saw it off. Finally, it was the return of Harmer that ended the innings, with Berg LBW for 38. Essex had beaten the clock and won by an innings and 52 and enhanced their chances of some useful prize-money at the end of the season.
What it means: Hampshire, in sixth and Worcestershire, bottom, are separated now by just two points. Worcestershire plays host Hampshire in the next round. This game will be another, colossal battle for survival. The Essex win has lifted them to third, twenty-five points clear of relegation but, they will still need to watch their backs in the run-in: thirty-five points behind Somerset, they are far closer to relegation than they are to the runners-up spot.
The Division Two promotion race looked set to receive a big shake-up today, with Sussex already losing to Middlesex, who are putting in a late charge and Leicestershire on the verge of defeat to Gloucestershire. Kent started the day looking set to do no better than a draw, meaning that Warwickshire and Middlesex started the final day of matches looking set to be the big winners from this round of games. However, Kent had, on Day 3, managed to dismiss a stubborn Derbyshire and enforced the follow-on: could a Kent attack that had spent 157 overs in the field already over Days 2 and 3 and that faced another long day in the field, lift itself and apply the coup de grace on the final day and thus keep itself in the promotion hunt?
Middlesex v Sussex
It is a standard claim in the circus for the ringmaster to cry out that the acrobats are going to try, as their next trick, “something still more difficult”. This is the way that Middlesex are making their promotion push. Suddenly, a little spark that has been missing since early last season, has ignited and Middlesex are looking like the team that won the Championship in 2016; the team that was expected to run away with promotion this season. After defending small totals to turn around their last two games, Middlesex have now produced a devastating performance against a side that has been in supreme form recently. You have to be impressed.
What it means: Middlesex are producing a promotion push that is reminiscent of Surrey’s charge up Division 2 in 2011 to go from bottom in July, to snatching the second promotion spot on the last day, ahead of long-time leaders, Northants, who faded in the final few rounds. Surrey won six of their last eight matches that season. Now up to fourth, Middlesex are still thirty-two points behind Kent with just four games left, but look to be real contenders as the sides above them falter in the run-in. Sussex are third, as Kent’s against the odds win has pushed them out of the promotion spot that they occupied at the start of the day and now lie 9 points behind Kent. In the next round, Middlesex travel to Bristol to play a side that has more than once been their bête noire, knowing that they have to keep winning and hope that Kent and Sussex drop a lot of points. Sussex play the faltering Leicestershire at Hove and need a win to keep up the pressure on Kent and hold off the Middlesex charge.
Derbyshire v Kent
At the start of the day, the Kent attack had spent already 157 consecutive overs in the field. One imagined that they would be feeling so weary that the threat, if any, to Derbyshire, would come from the spinners. The hosts were 82-2 at the start of play and with Hughes and Lace at the crease, both apparently batting soundly, there was little hint initially of the drama to come as the Kent chances of forcing a result ebbed and flowed.
Kent’s final target was 110, which they made with some comfort, although pushed deep into the last hour to obtain the win and having got through some nervous moments as their rivals got ahead and built a lead. Derbyshire know that probably, had they held out another twenty minutes, they would have saved the game. There were two keys to the Kent win. First, the collapse from 99-2 to 137-6, as Matt Henry and Adam Riley seemed to have sealed a winning position then, as Derbyshire built a lead, and every run counted double, the sudden collapse of the tail. It had all looked so different not long before Kent set out on their chase, with Harvey Hossain batting for more than three hours, defying the Kent attack. Hardus Viljoen and then Tony Palladino gave him plenty of support, both batting for more than an hour. At 262-7, Derbyshire were 101 ahead and approaching safety. Kent needed quick wickets and, as on other occasions, this season turned to Joe Denly’s increasingly useful leg spin. Denly had already removed Viljoen and proceeded to dismantle the Derbyshire tail, taking the last three wickets in four overs on either side of Tea, leaving Hossain stranded on 62*. Denly’s 4-36 was a career-best and, as more trust is shown in his bowling, he has responded with some excellent spells and big wickets.
The target was 110, with plenty of time to get them, but it could so quickly have been different if either of the last two wickets had added even twenty runs. Callum Ferguson removed Sean Dickson early, but Zak Crawley and Heino Kuhn, who was particularly severe on the bowling, scored at more than seven an over to ensure that there were no scares. Even if the loss of three quick wickets, as Crawley, Kuhn and Denly fell, slipping from 77-1 to 87-4, must have made hearts flutter a little, there was plenty of time and a lot of batting to come. With just twenty-three more needed to win, Daniel Bell-Drummond and Sam Billings could ease back on the pace and get Kent over the line for a six-wicket win.
The main danger for Kent is the damage that 223 consecutive overs in the field will have done to their attack, with games now effectively been played back-to-back. There will be some tired legs after their new ball attack bowled a total of eighty overs in the match and even part-timer, Joe Denly, bowled more than 41. How well the Kent players recover for their next game may dictate their chances.
What it means: Kent’s win pushes them back ahead of Sussex and leaves them in pole position to accompany Warwickshire back into Division 1. They will play Northamptonshire at home, with the visitors seemingly sinking back into a slump after crushing back-to-back defeats. A win will keep Kent clear of the threat of Middlesex’s late charge and maintain the pressure on Sussex. Derbyshire play wooden spoon favourites, Glamorgan, at home, with a tight battle between a bunch of sides to finish in the top half of the table giving Derbyshire something to play for.
Glamorgan v Warwickshire
Warwickshire’s demolition of Glamorgan gives them both twenty-three points and an extra day of rest between matches. Ian Bell’s match-winning double century and 10-110 in the match for Jethan Patel were the difference between the two sides. Glamorgan made a spirited effort in their second innings, reaching 137-3, but although Brown, Carlson and Lloyd all got starts, none of them could cash in and get past fifty as Hain and Barker had in support of Ian Bell. Glamorgan’s fate was sealed as they fell from 137-3 to 202-9. Even though Smith and Hogan added 63 for the tenth wicket and, briefly, threatened to make Warwickshire bat again, the fact that the only fifties made by Glamorgan in the match came from the #8 and #10 batsmen, illustrates their problems. Glamorgan have tried to resolve this by signing Sam Cook for their last four games, as they try to avoid the wooden spoon.
What it means: Warwickshire’s win leaves them twenty-four points clear of Sussex in third and forty-seven clear of Middlesex. With Durham the visitors next week, Warwickshire can put one foot in Division 1 with another win, although probably they will not be able to seal promotion before the penultimate round. Glamorgan are thirty points behind Northamptonshire and have just one win all season. Another defeat would leave them on the brink of sealing the wooden spoon.
Gloucestershire v Leicestershire
What to make of the extraordinary events at Bristol? Gloucestershire have no overseas player and have a host of bowlers injured, had lost their previous Championship game by a considerable margin and also their last three Blast games yet, came through to win this match against promotion-chasing Leicestershire by a significant margin on the back of captain, Chris Dent’s, first century of the season. What is more, he made into an unbeaten double and looked like the batsman who only two seasons ago, had as good a record as any of the openers picked to tour with either the main side or the Lions. Gloucestershire fans were sceptical that the bowlers could repeat the feat of dismissing Leicestershire a second time, suggesting that the Bristol wicket is usually as flat as a pancake by the last day and pointing to the ease with which the home side had batted, but could not argue with the evidence of seeing the Foxes 24-3 inside ten overs, chasing a nominal 494 to win. David Payne and Craig Miles, who have both come through some difficult times in recent weeks, had done the initial damage before Ryan Higgins got in on the act to leave Leicestershire 52-5 and sinking fast. After some resistance from Mark Cosgrove and Ben Raine, Craig Miles had made the critical breakthrough, ending a fifty partnership just before the Close.
Starting the day on 117-6, 367 short, with only four wickets left, only an astonishing partnership could salvage the draw but, despite some substantial tail-end resistance, wickets fell at regular intervals. Seventeen-year-old Ben Charlesworth, playing in only his second First Class game, who earlier in the season was playing for Oxfordshire, came on for his first bowl of the match and duly dismissed last man, Mohammad Abbas with his first delivery to seal a win by 328 runs and, in the process, obtain his maiden First-Class wicket. For Gloucestershire, the bowling honours went to Ryan Higgins, who added 4-28 to add to his first innings 4-26, produced his career-best match figures and took his fiftieth First Class wicket in the process. Higgins has only played fifteen First Class matches, but has taken his 51 wickets at just 19.2 apiece in his career. Still only 23, Higgins is England-qualified as his family moved to Berkshire from Harare when he was a child and worked his way through the Berkshire age-group sides, before playing for Middlesex U-17s and winning his England U-19 cap. In him, it looks as if Gloucestershire have finally found a replacement for Wil Gidman.
What it means: Consecutive defeats to Kent and Gloucestershire now have ended any real hope that Leicestershire had of promotion. They now drop to fifth, behind Middlesex, thirty-nine points behind Kent. Gloucestershire, in contrast, leap from ninth to sixth and are breathing down the neck of Leicestershire in the table. Just eight points separate sixth from ninth, so there is a formidable log-jam in the lower part of the table and sides can rise or drop several places easily. Just nineteen points behind Leicestershire, a top-five finish that would be a remarkable result given the wild changes of fortune that they have suffered is not impossible.
Durham v Northamptonshire
With only pride to play for, it was a matter of who wanted it more. The game ended well inside two days, as Durham’s Jekyll and Hyde season continued with a script out of the Hammer House of Horror: it would have been wholly appropriate if a sinister Peter Cushing had been the umpire at the Pavilion End. With Northamptonshire starting the second day 189-6, already ahead, Durham needed quick wickets and much better batting second time around to make a game of it. The quick wickets came, as the last three batsmen all made ducks and Northamptonshire slumped from being 189-5, just before the Close on Day 1, to 198ao. The last five wickets fell in 22 balls for only 9 runs: Northamptonshire’s fragile batting has got no better. However, this time they did not have Middlesex in front and would not be punished for their profligacy. Chris Rushworth and Matt Salisbury, with 4-52 and 4-44 respectively, must have gone back into the dressing room anticipating putting their feet up for the rest of the day and then coming out to defend a target. Little did they imagine that they would be bowling again less than three hours later and defending only a token chase. The only time when it looked as if Durham might just fight back was when Paul Collingwood joined Cameron Steel. Durham had already lost four wickets clearing the deficit of 69 and were soon to become effectively 4-5, as Sanderson and Gleeson swept all before them. When Collingwood and Steel fell in successive overs for 27 and 50 respectively, Durham resistance was all but over: they slipped to 133ao, leaving Northamptonshire just 65 to win, which was just too few to entertain any hope of defending. 4-34 for Sanderson, 3-26 for Gleeson and 3-15 for Buck ensured Northamptonshire, barring catastrophe, a third win of the season, which duly came by seven wickets. At 45-3 there was just the chance of a real wobble, but Wakeley and Levi added the last few runs, and a sigh of relief will have fallen over Wantage Road, while at the Riverside, the patrons will reflect on a season of three steps forward and two back.
What it means: Northamptonshire’s win pushes them back thirty points clear of Glamorgan and leaves them at the back of the tight group that extends up to Gloucestershire, in sixth. Durham are one point and one place ahead. With Durham travelling to Edgbaston and Northants to Canterbury, both have tough games to come in the next round against opposition desperate to win, so they may find themselves more adrift of the top half of the table by the end of this next round.
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