Life in the pressure cooker that is the 51allout team can be pretty stressful. One moment you’re casually strolling down the street, iPod on, enjoying the music of Atomic Kitten and then suddenly there’s an old man tapping you on the shoulder to ask “why did you set up 51allout in the first place?”. Leaving aside the questions of who this strange metaphorical old man might actually be and how he knows who we are, we always reply in the same way: “we felt there was a gap in the market. Cricinfo is great – Statsguru is probably the second best thing ever (after Bieber) – but it doesn’t really speak to us. We wanted somewhere that would talk about cricket the way we did – in a really sarcastic way, obsessing about rubbish England all-rounders from the 1990’s and rubbish Australian all-rounders from 2010/11.”
Having said all that, this week Cricinfo produced a very interesting debate about the future of County Cricket, as George Dobell and Mark Nicholas disagreed with each other (in a wonderfully polite and British way) about the future of the County game.
Regardless of the areas of disagreement (particularly around the appropriate number of First Class counties), there was a clear consensus that County Cricket is a wonderful, under-appreciated thing. We couldn’t agree more. County Cricket is the bedrock on which Test cricket in England is built. Take away that bedrock and what would be left? It’d be like Bieber without the songs – just an annoying whining teenager with a very punchable face.
Anyway, as part of our continuing coverage of County Cricket we’ll be doing a weekly roundup of all the County Championship action in our ‘The Week That Was’ feature. Plus if it rains loads, we can just change it to ‘The Week That Wasn’t’ for maximum lolz from minimum effort.
Where better to start than Trent Bridge, where reasonably-fancied Notts took on relegation-fancied Worcs? A difficult first day saw both teams skittled out – the home side making 118 (with Richard Jones taking 6/32) and the visitors 130. This reduced it to a one-innings shootout and Notts fared an awful lot better the second time around, making 403 thanks to an entrepreneurial hundred from Riki Wessels. Chasing 392 to win, Worcs looked well placed as a Daryl Mitchell hundred and 94 from Moeen Ali led them to 235/2. However, there’s a reason that they’re hotly tipped for relegation and they collapsed to 299 all out.
In terms of potential England players it was a quiet debut for James Taylor, making just 4 and 13.
All the talk at Taunton was about Vernon Philander and Somerset’s high-risk plan to attempt to bowl him into the ground before South Africa take on England later this summer. While he excelled in the first innings, taking 5/43 as Middlesex were bowled out for 243, he was overshadowed second time around by George Dockrell. In the absence of Murali Kartik (who will be turning out for Surrey after the IPL) Dockrell has the opportunity to make a name for himself in the four-day game and he made a superb start, taking 6/27 as the visitors were bundled out for 175. Inbetween Somerset made 350 (thanks to 99 from Nick Compton and 83 from old Iron Gloves Kieswetter), leaving them just 72 to chase for victory, something they did with six wickets in hand after a shaky start.
The final game in Division One saw promoted Surrey take on Sussex. The home side racked up 264 in their first innings, built around 86* from the highly-rated Tom Maynard. Amjad Khan began the long road to international redemption (probably with Denmark rather than England) with 5/57. In reply Sussex made just 196 with Joe Gatting (72*) the only batsman to pass 50.
Surrey looked to make the most of their 64 run lead and racked up 273 (Rory Hamilton-Brown making 89) to set Sussex a daunting target of 342. Despite a hundred from Luke Wells, no other batsman could get going and the visitors were bowled out for 255, losing by 86 runs.
Another one for England watch – Stuart Meaker – took reasonable match figures of 5/133.
Division Two’s game of the week* saw two of the less fashionable sides meet in Derby. It looked like a fairly even contest after the first innings – Derbyshire’s 286 against Northants’ 264 – before the home side ran away with it. Their second innings score of 314/3 declared was built on a massive opening partnership of 224, with Martin Guptill making 137 and Paul Borrington 98. In reply Northants crumbled to 134 all out, losing by 202 runs.
*clearly not true
The hiding of the week came at Chelmsford. Gloucestershire look a poor side this year and they showed it with a rapid innings defeat. Only bad weather prolonged it into a third day with the away side being bundled out for 180 and 146. If you’re bowled out by Graham Napier (5/58) it’s never a good sign.
Essex’s first innings of 364 was built around 130 from Billy Godleman and a rapid 56 from Adam Wheater, two up and coming youngsters. In terms of highlights for Gloucestershire it was much harder to pick any. Presumably the early finish on Saturday gave them ample time to visit Chelmsford Cathedral.
In terms of epic starts to the season, it’s hard to look beyond Leicestershire’s. Having been sent into bat by Mark Wallace they found themselves 0/2 after two balls and 1/3 shortly after. Based on last season’s form defeat looked inevitable. And yet it didn’t quite work out like that. Leicestershire fought back to make 249 before bowling Glamorgan out for 124 (itself a decent effort after being 34/7). The home side then collapsed to 110 all out, leaving the visitors 236 to get. Despite a valiant effort they eventually fell short, finishing on 183 and allowing Leicestershire to equal last season’s total number of wins. In April.
Star of the show was undoubtedly Robbie Joseph, who took six wickets in both innings, finishing with match figures of 12/111.
Despite the whirlwind nature of the game – ‘Super’ Claude Henderson was the only batsman to make it to 50 – both sides still managed to be punished for their slow over rates, Leics losing five points and Glamorgan one.
The final game of the first set of fixtures saw Division Two favourites Yorkshire host Kent. It’s probably safe to assume that the home side’s plans didn’t include watching Kent bat and bat. The visitors’ massive 537/9 declared included half centuries from Scott Newman, Rob Key (run out for 97), Brendan Nash and Mark Davies, plus a hundred for Matt Coles. This despite the latter two players batting at numbers ten and nine respectively, as they added 153 for the ninth wicket.
In reply Yorkshire needed nearly 400 just to avoid the follow on. They nearly managed it, reaching 364 thanks to two potential England players – Jonny Bairstow making 107 and Adil Rashid 58. Kent enforced the follow on but bad weather brought the game to a premature close with the score on 146/4, Joe Root making 76. With the continued travails of Andrew Strauss at the top of the order, Root may find himself around the England squad before too long.
One thing that’s definitely worth commenting on is Rich Pyrah’s brave effort, coming out to bat at number 11 with his broken left hand in a plaster cast. Yorkshire didn’t quite make it and Pyrah was bowled first ball, but it was a noble effort nonetheless.