After a first week which suggested starting the season in early April and all the counties preparing by playing each other at T20 might not see runs scored by the bucketload, the general consensus was that the batsmen would recover some of their shattered dignity during round two. If we’ve learned anything from the past it’s that
Noel Edmonds’ lawyer isn’t a very nice man whenever everyone agrees on anything they will almost certainly be wrong. So it proved again, as wickets tumbled across the country.
We begin our meander around the grounds at HQ, where the greatest of all the 51allout writers showed true dedication to the cause in trekking down to St John’s Wood and taking in the first day’s play in person. Having looked forward to seeing the new and improved Joe Denly, by the time we turned up he was already out and it was the Surrey bowlers who took centre stage. Although reasonably solid in the first session, rain fell during lunch and after the delayed resumption Middlesex’s middle order completely fell apart. Jade Dernbach managed to bowl an entire spell without resorting to a slower ball and, ably supported by Tim Linley at the other end, helped the visitors take 4/22 in an 11 over spell where they were totally dominant. Dawid Malan salvaged the innings with a gritty 88 and took Middlesex to 256, an excellent recovery having been 129/7 at one stage. Surrey’s reply started well, but they too collapsed in a heap and gave Middlesex an unlikely first innings lead.
To this point the match had been played at a fairly sedate pace, but then all hell broke loose. Jon Lewis blew away the home side’s second innings, taking 5/41 as Surrey rolled Middlesex for 106, leaving themselves 141 to get. On paper, their batting line up should have had no trouble chasing that target down but, as we are all fairly well aware, cricket isn’t played on paper because if it was it would be rubbish. Only Rory Hamilton-Brown and Lewis appeared capable of hitting the ball off the square, Tim Murtagh and Toby Roland-Jones took four wickets apiece before Dernbach tried to be a hero with four to get, slogged one up in the air and Middlesex had won by three runs. Surrey then proceeded to whine about the pitch quite a lot. What is it about workmen and tools again?
Notts have begun the season like a side who wants to test just how good they are by seeing how badly they can bat first time around and still win the game. Having managed 118 last week, they scraped to 161 here, thanks to a pretty good partnership between James Taylor (32) and Chris Read (28). After surrendering the initiative they promptly took it back again by blitzing Durham for 129, for whom only Ben Stokes (33) and Calum Thorp (30*) made it past 11. As was the case at Trent Bridge the week before, Notts then batted properly in their second innings as Taylor again made a nice 30, Alex Hales scored 50 and World Cup winner Michael Lumb 131 to set Durham an unlikely 368 to win. All good chases need a solid start, and the top order didn’t quite manage to provide one as they subsided to 54/6. Only Phil Mustard (80) and a last wicket stand of 73 took them to respectability as Nottinghamshire became the only side in Division One to start the season with consecutive wins.
Last year’s champions got their campaign underway by, you guessed it, batting like a bunch of Australians too. 124 in your first innings is never the best way to start a match and they never really recovered; World Cup winner Michael Yardy subsequently making an excellent century as Sussex made 300 to give themselves a big lead. Lancashire’s second effort was almost as bad as their first – only Ashwell Prince (58) and Luke Procter (46) got any sort of score while Australian pace sensation Steve Magoffin (7/34) dismantled the rest of their side. Glen Chapple’s men at least managed to avoid the ignominy of losing by an innings thanks to Gareth Cross’ explosive 18 from 49 balls, which helped them stagger to 176 and set Sussex a tricky 1 to win. Ed Joyce set about the challenge with vigour and thwacked Simon Kerrigan’s third ball to the boundary as his side edged home. Having ridiculed the one amongst our number who predicted the Red Rose’s relegation this year, we hope they improve a little from here on, otherwise we’ll just look like idiots. Er, again.
Not content with allowing Vernon Philander to get used to English conditions before his country’s visit later in the summer, Somerset have also decided to get him used to batting after the top order have totally failed in preparation for that series as well. In Birmingham they again collectively forgot which end of the bat to hold and managed a paltry 147 – a score which would have been even worse had Philander and George Dockrell not put on 47 for the 9th wicket – before Warwickshire themselves only managed 243 to let them back into the game. From there it seemed as though the away side’s strength would shine through; Nick Compton made an excellent 133 and, in a 167 run stand with Jos Buttler (93), put Somerset back into the ascendancy. The Championship has rarely been predictable thus far this season, though, and so it proved again. Set 259 Warwickshire were cruising at 190/3, before losing 5 wickets in 8 overs to find themselves staring down the barrel at 207/8. With the cider on ice, Philander made the fatal error of clonking Jeetan Patel on the head. In a 2012 homage to Devon Malcolm, the off-spinner came out after lunch and smashed three sixes on his way to 43* before Jim Troughton hit the winning runs. With a distinct lack of tournaments to finish runner-up in over the winter, Somerset have now taken to coming second in two-horse races instead.
The only competent batting performance in the country on Thursday was to be found down south, but it didn’t come from the favourites. Hampshire, relegated last season (that buzzing sound you can hear is the Hants fan among us mumbling about pitch inspectors), allowed Gloucester’s merry band of nobodies to make 314 in their first innings. Chris Dent scored a patient 114 and got enough support from those around him, despite David Balcombe’s almost unbelievable figures of 8/71, to take his side to a competitive score. It proved to be more than that, as only Simon ‘Sorry mate, we’d rather have Phil Hughes’ Katich (74) made it past 50 and Hampshire could only muster 199 in reply. Balcombe took three more scalps in Gloucestershire’s second knock as the home side dismissed them for 174 and gave themselves a chance. Unfortunately, they approached that chance with all the gusto of Samit Patel when faced with the prospect of an early morning jog and suddenly found themselves in disarray at 74/6. Excellent efforts from Matthew Bates (87) and Chris Wood (65) gave them a sniff, but it was too little, too late and they fell 34 runs short.
In a round of incompetent batting, both sides managed to reach previously unchartered levels of awful in an extremely low-scoring affair. First Graham Wagg took 6/44 to help bowl Derbyshire out for a measly 130 before Glamorgan made that look like a tour de force of batsmanship by collapsing to a pathetic 95 – the only highlight of which being Jon Clare picking up a 5fer which required no other players to complete. Still the carnage went on; Derby were 37/5 before David Wainwright (51*), Ross Whiteley (39) and Clare (43) took them to 197, an an absolutely mammoth score in the context of the game, to set their opponents a fanciful 233 to win. Remarkably, they were actually going along nicely at one stage, before presumably deciding they had better places to be and lost 8 wickets for 16 runs – Clare taking another 6 wickets to finish with ridiculous match figures of 11/57 – to lose by 131. Oops.
The final visit on our whistle-stop tour is to the biggest win of the week, where Kent, the only side in either division who appear capable of consistently hitting the little red thing around quite a lot so far, crushed an exceedingly rubbish Northants by an innings. The visiting seamers shared wickets around in the first innings, dismissing the home side for 132, before they again put runs on the board when their turn came. 40’s for Ben Harmison and 51allout favourite Brendan Nash laid the foundation for Mike Powell (128) and Geraint Jones (53) to take Kent to 368 and a position of supreme strength. Fans of Alice bands will be pleased to note that Jack Brooks took his second 5fer of the season, following his 5/61 at Derby with 5/98 here. Unfortunately his batsmen failed to back him up; they never got close to making Kent bat again and fell to 116 all out, Matt Coles taking 6/51 which, after his century last week, means he’s had a decent start to the season.