For some teams, this week saw them reach the halfway stage of their County Championship fixtures. Even though a number of them have spent most of that time watching endless re-runs of Noel’s House Party as the rain poured down outside. It’s all downhill from here. Metaphorically, of course.
We’ll begin our tale up north, where the Riverside ground hosted a game which probably counts as a relegation battle already. It was also undeniably the tie of the round. In helpful conditions Lancashire won the toss and put their opponents in. Durham’s batting has been utterly appalling all season and they didn’t disappoint here; collapsing to 102 all out having lost four wickets in the first half an hour. Luke Procter was the destroyer-in-chief with 5/17 while only Paul Collingwood (25) and a brief rearguard action from Extras (21) contributed anything of substance with the bat. With the division’s bottom side in deep trouble, Graham Onions (5/43) destroyed the Lancashire top order and single-handedly reduced them to 19/4 in reply. Opener Paul Horton tried to anchor the innings and carried his bat for a rather measly 49*, but it was Kyle Hogg’s 33 at number ten which gave his side a crucial 68 run lead.
Durham improved in their second innings; Collingwood made 50 and Ben Stokes an excellent 121 to steer the hosts to 267, setting Lancashire exactly 200 to win. Horton, inspired by his first innings effort, promptly fell LBW to Onions first ball but Stephen Moore (28), Karl Brown (42) and Ashwell Prince (51) helped them cruise to 156/4 before everything went crazy. Five overs later the score read 168/8 with Hogg and Ajmal Shahzad together and just Simon Kerrigan left in the hutch – Onions again was the main man, taking 6/52 to claim 11 wickets in the match and further press his claims for an England spot. From there the game swung again, the fast men taking their side towards the victory target and suddenly they needed just eight from Steve Harmison’s final over of the day. Who won? Well, the clue was in the previous sentence. Three no balls to start, a single and then Shahzad struck a boundary to finish things off. Not only did Durham remain rooted to the bottom of Division One, they were then deducted four points for a slow over rate, taking their total from the game to -1. Ouch.
Middlesex have started the season fairly well, and their good run continued with a comprehensive, weather-defying victory over Sussex. Michael Yardy elected to bat on the first morning, a decision straight out of the Ricky Ponting captaincy handbook. A disastrous start saw them collapse to 33/4 before Ed Joyce (77), Ben Brown (70) and some gritty work from the lower order took them to 283. When their turn came Middlesex batted their opponents out of the game; a total of 491 saw no centuries but contributions all through the order, particularly from Chris Rogers (98) and Eoin Morgan (71). From that point on it was Middlesex versus time, and the former won comfortably. Steve Finn and Gareth Berg took three wickets apiece and, despite more hard graft from the Sussex tail they could only muster 225. The home side knocked off the 18 required for victory without any trouble to move them 4th and potentially into title-challenging territory, while Sussex sit 6th, nowhere near title-challenging territory.
Having won the toss and batted, a decision which presumably pissed the stattos eager for Nick Compton to make the 1,000 runs target in the first two days right off, Worcestershire serenely wandered to 302/3 thanks to fifties from Daryl Mitchell and Australian ace Phil Hughes and 106 from Vikram Solanki. From a position of supreme strength they suddenly collapsed to 340 all out, a score which was little better than par. At last the stage was set for Compton, who was soon in and had made his way to 9* before, with tension rising and the cricket world tingling with anticipation, it hurled it down for the rest of the day.
Denied his landmark in time, Compton reached it on the third day en route to 108. Jos Buttler supported him well for 85 but Somerset could only reach 298, giving Worcestershire a reasonable lead. Unfortunately, more inclement weather meant the final day was a mere formality, notable only for a couple of wickets taken by none other than Craig Kieswetter. Matthew Pardoe and Gareth Andrew the men weeping with shame on their way back to the pavilion. Worcestershire had reached 129/7 before the captains shook hands on a draw. They remain in a relegation spot, Somerset are 3rd.
Onto Divison Two, where table-topping Derbyshire are the surprise package halfway through. On the back of some good press over the past week, they won the toss, batted, and were bowled out for 95 by a rampant Gloucestershire on the first day. Will Gidman (4/29) and David Payne (3/23) did the damage and not a single Derbyshire batsman made it past 18. Alex Gidman’s 129 formed the backbone of Gloucestershire’s innings as they built a substantial lead; Kane Williamson’s 51 offered good support and the home side made 294. From there it was only a matter of time. Derbyshire’s second effort was considerably better than their first – Wayne Madsen and Dan Redfern scored 70’s to help their side to 283 – but it wasn’t enough to make a game of it. Gloucestershire knocked off the 85 required without too much trouble and eased home by seven wickets. Derbyshire are still top, although both Kent and Yorkshire have a game in hand, while Gloucestershire are 6th.
Speaking of Yorkshire… They were another county who made substantial inroads on the first morning. Batting first Northamptonshire were reduced to 45/5 before they realised where they were. They fought hard from there; Andrew Hall made 79 to lead his side to 253, a score which looked a pipedream at lunch on Wednesday. It still wasn’t anywhere near enough as Joe Root kicked off a good week for the little man with 125 and Jonny Bairstow made a steady 68 as Yorkshire steamed ahead. With a 163 run first innings lead they were never going to lose, but the weather combined with a reasonably solid batting effort second time around meant they didn’t have enough time to win the game. The draw moves Yorkshire 2nd and Northamptonshire 4th.
We end with perhaps the most ridiculous match of the week. As much as it pains us to say it, Leicestershire and Glamorgan are awful. Truly, undeniably awful. They are particularly awful at batting. Keep that in mind.
Choosing to make first use of the pitch, Ramnaresh Sarwan’s side batted for the draw from the outset, making 271 in 119 painful overs. Michael Thornely made 97 on his Foxes debut but they scored so slowly they only managed a single bonus point. Glamorgan weren’t about to make the same mistake as they scored at over four an over and piled up a mammoth 558/9 declared, with Marcus North (116) and Mark Wallace (118) making centuries. Supporting contributions came from all over as everyone cashed in on an attack seemingly incapable of bowling at the little wooden things behind the batsmen on a regular basis. Maybe we’re being harsh*; by this stage the pitch must’ve been flatter than the atmosphere in Noel Edmonds’ house the day after the Late, Late Breakfast Show was cancelled. Inspired by the fact that being 287 runs behind was actually an improvement on last week Leicestershire, unbelievably, proceeded to bat out the match without any alarms. A 245 run stand for the second wicket between Thornely (131) and Ned Eckersley (137*) was the highlight. We’re still not entirely sure it actually happened, to be honest. Anyway, the draw keeps both sides safely ensconced in their positions as the two worst teams in the country.
*We aren’t being harsh.