The year has only just reached Whitsun but already its week seven in the County Championship. Even though it feels as if the season is still in its infancy, the table is beginning to take shape. So let’s start at the top.
For some reason, these two started their game two days after everyone else. Maybe it was just delayed because Michael Lumb was doing some antiquing in Brighton’s Lanes. Sussex started with a reasonable looking 309ao; Chris Nash starring with 128 and Luke Wright impressing with 81. For those interested in England’s fringe players, Samit Patel took 4/67, no doubt between trips to the promenade for large haddock, double chips, peas, pickled egg and curry sauce (plenty of vinegar and a light sprinkle of salt – lo of course). Nottinghamshire had a splendid first innings, mostly due to their openers: Alex Hales scored 80 and Riki Wessels a career-best 199. Nash continued his good match with 3/20, whilst Monty Panesar had to make do with just 1/88.
Despite half-centuries from Wright and Murray Goodwin, Sussex were bowled out for an inadequate 263, Andy Carter taking four wickets in the process. This set the visitors 145 to win. They lost just three wickets along the way, conveniently allowing Samit Patel to score 50 to accompany his seven wickets. In the process they overtook Warwickshire, whom they lead by a single point. Sussex are sixth with just a solitary win to date.
It was a belter of a game in south London, with the sides looking closely matched for the first three days. Surrey amassed 223ao, with Chris Woakes picking up 2/53 on his Championship return. Varun Chopra top-scored with 78 in Warwickshire’s reply of 247ao while ex-England star Gareth Batty took 6/73. Second time around, Surrey faired similarly; their 245 included 71 from Jason Roy. Meanwhile Jeetan Patel somehow took 6/95 with the ball. Presented with a target of 222 the visitors stumbled to 37/4, but William Porterfield (66), ex-England star Tim Ambrose (89*) and ex-England star Rikki Clarke (40*) steered them to a clinical victory by five wickets. Ex-England star Batty captured four more scalps in a lost cause. With that win Warwickshire are second in the division, thanks to four wins out of six. Surrey are comfortably mid-table in fifth.
Down at Taunton Durham batted first and got off to a good start, with Michael di Venuto (96) and Will Smith (100) putting on 154 for the first wicket. Ben Stokes added a welcome 60, but overall their 384ao was a tad disappointing. Somerset declared their reply soon after passing their opponent’s score: their 400/9 included more runs for Nick Compton (64) and some lower-order hitting from Peter Trego (89), but was most notable for both Steve Harmison and Liam Plunkett conceding more than five runs per over. The inadequacy continued when Durham batted again, with three wickets falling for zero runs on two separate occasions. George Dockrell starred with 6/29. The home team never looked in too much danger in chasing their target of 152, which they reached for the loss of five wickets. Durham are firmly bottom of the table, having not won a match. Somerset are third.
Lancashire are another county to have started the season badly, but they had the better of this drawn match. Ashwell Prince made 144 and Steven Croft 78 as the home team made 392ao. In Middlesex’s reply Ajmal Shahzad continued his rejuvenation, taking 4/40 as they were bowled out for 230. Lancashire batted positively to extend their lead; Paul Horton scoring 89 and Karl Brown 76 along the way to 266/8. Dawid Malan had season figures of 0/37 before this match, but managed to pick up 5/61 (from nine expensive overs). The target of 429 was always going to be too much of a challenge and Middlesex opted for some time in the middle for their top order rather than risk defeat: Sam Robson (50), Joe Denly (61*) and Chris Rodgers (138*) eased them to 265/1. The champions look likely to be in a relegation struggle (currently seventh), whilst Middlesex should be delighted to be fourth.
Derbyshire are the surprise county this season, at least as far as we’re concerned. Indeed, we haven’t been this surprised since the Mirror’s cricket blog worked out how to use properly punctuated paragraphs. They bowled the home side out for just 182 – David Wainwright bagging another five wickets along the way – before Wes Durston made 116, supported by 50s for Wayne Madsen and Tom Poynton. Trailing by 141 runs on first innings, Essex were always under pressure, which was amplified when they lost their first two wickets for three runs. Although Owais Shah (sorry, ex England star Owais Shah) made 75 and James Foster (ex-Eng…oh forget it) 96, a total of 234ao was never going to be enough. Martin Guptill hit 66 from 52 balls as Derbyshire won by 10 wickets and a day. Maybe he had tickets for the Searchers at Derby Great Hall on the Saturday. Derbyshire extended their lead at the top to 26 points, Essex sit in sixth.
Matthew Hoggard’s career lowlight must be having Peter Moores choose Darren Pattinson over him. But captaining Leicestershire in the County Championship must run it close. He won the toss, he batted first, he watched his side fluff their way to 66/6. Not even Wayne White’s 38 could inspire them to a challenging total and they were ‘eventually’ all out for 141. Matt Coles took another five wickets and any Papua New Guinean readers will be pleased to see that Geraint Jones held five catches. Kent soon breezed past Leicestershire, making 533ao. A long list of handy scores were posted, including Rob Key (85), Brendan Nash (76), Pippa Powell’s husband (134), Coles (47) and even James Tredwell (87). As if that weren’t bad enough for Hoggy, he was forced to have a pensioner bowl 50 overs, although Claude Henderson did reward that faith with five wickets. Leicestershire’s second innings was actually worse than their first and they were dismissed for a rotten 113; Tredwell (3/38) and Darren Stevens (4/24) starring with the ball. Kent lead the pack chasing Derbyshire, Leicestershire fans need to start supporting whomever Glamorgan are playing.
Speaking of which…Hampshire’s first innings total of 316ao included 109* from Sean Ervine in the face of four-wicket hauls for John Glover and Will Owen. Glamorgan somehow managed to take a lead, with William Bragg and Ashes Hero Marcus North both posting half-centuries. David Balcombe continued his impressive start to the season with 4/91. Jimmy Adams’s 72 was the top score in the home team’s second innings, in which they were bowled out for 273. The target of 263 looked to be the sort of total that would generate a close finish and so it was; following 69 from North, Glamorgan were on 212 when the 7th wicket fell, but Kabir Ali and Liam Dawson shared the final wickets and the Welsh side succumbed 31 runs shy of their target. Hampshire moved up to third in the league whilst Glamorgan are rooted to the bottom with five losses and no wins.
A century from James Middlebrook (121) and 96 from Kyle Coetzer helped the home team to a comfortable 411ao. In reply Gloucestershire folded for 268 despite 117 coming from the bat of Hamish Marshall. Next time around, Coetzer again made a good score (86), Stephen Peters contributed 58 and Northamptonshire were able to declare at 246. Gloucestershire’s target of 390 looked daunting and so it proved. Only Benny Howell and Marshall scored more than 50 and the last man was out with the score on 268 again. Were such awards made, Middlebrook would have been man of the match, taking 5/63 to go with his century. Northamptonshire are now fifth in the division, Gloucestershire uncomfortable in seventh.