In the final round of matches before the T20 break, Division One managed one positive result. Division Two managed a grand total of zero as the weather completely obliterated the entire programme. The lack of any real action of interest at least gives us the chance to reflect on the season so far.
We start with the early kick off in the Midlands. Derbyshire were well on top in this game from the off, as Tony Palladino took the first hat-trick for the county since Kevin Dean did so on the same ground 12 years ago. Michael Thornely, Ned Eckersley and Ramnaresh Sarwan fell to successive balls in the fifth over and although Matt Boyce (50) and Kadeer Ali (48) managed to save Leicestershire from total humiliation they could only scrape their way to 177. Despite a few wobbles Derbyshire were comfortably ahead in reply, before the clouds in all their majestic glory rained down life upon the earth and wiped out the final day entirely. Dan Redfearn (81*) and David Wainwright (45*) sharing an unbroken century stand was the highlight of their 259/5.
The eight points Derbyshire took back with them along the M69 keeps them in top spot, a position precisely no one expected them to be in at this stage. Whereas the teams around them have drawn almost all of their games, Derbyshire have managed to force results despite the weather – only Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire have managed to win as many matches so far in the entire County Championship. This is mainly thanks to their bowling attack; they have four bowlers with more than 24 wickets, no other county in the division has more than one. As for Leicestershire, well, we haven’t been less surprised by a performance since Ian Salisbury took 0/117 in 20 glorious overs against Pakistan back in the red hot summer of ’92. Two of the top three averaging less than 15 and just 10 batting points picked up all season tell their own story. Thank God for Glamorgan, as the patrons at the G have taken to chanting these days.
Derbyshire’s (joint) closest competitors hosted Hampshire in a game which could have seen the visitors overtake Kent with a victory, such is the bunched-up nature of the division. As it was, despite the efforts of both teams to engineer a result on the final day, there was little anyone could have done to defy the weather. Hampshire’s first innings lasted until the fourth morning as they compiled 303/8 declared, thanks largely to Liam Dawson’s first century of the season. There’s been a lot of mutterings amongst the Hampshire contingent among us about Dawson’s batting position – along the lines of ‘why the bloody hell’s that buffoon still opening?’ with a few more expletives thrown in – so the fact that he was moved back into the middle order and finally got some runs has made them even more smug than usual. After a couple of forfeits Kent were set 304 to win in 70 overs, a target they got nowhere near as they wheezed their way to 220/6 before the captains shook hands.
Kent will be reasonably pleased with their season so far. A combination of the weather and a lack of cutting edge means they’ve drawn six of their eight games but whereas Derbyshire have played Glamorgan twice, Kent are yet to meet them at all. The batting has looked solid and everyone has contributed runs while Matt Coles has had an excellent start – taking 30 wickets at a shade over 19. Their huge squad overhaul in the winter could have gone either way but the signs are positive and they’re well positioned to go for promotion once the Championship resumes. Hampshire, meanwhile, have had a mixture of washouts and ridiculously tight matches. They’re by no means out of the promotion picture but they’ll be frustrated by defeats to Gloucestershire and Northamptonshire which were largely down to dire first innings performances. On the plus side, David Balcombe, a man we wouldn’t be able to pick out of a lineup even if he was wearing a bright pink morphsuit with ‘I am David Balcombe’ painted on the front, has been in sensational form; having taken 34 wickets, the most in Division Two.
Although this was another game never in danger of producing any sort of result, it did at least provide the odd talking point. Essex won the toss, batted, and by midway through day four had managed to pick up maximum batting points. Ravi Bopara made a selector-nudging 174 while James Foster scored 135 out of their 400/6 declared, with the amusingly named DJ Willey picking up 3/74. In reply Ben Howgego took 10 overs to score one run, James Middlebrook picked up another century, Northamptionshire made 200/3 and that was that.
The sheer lack of results so far mean either side could yet mount a promotion challenge, but Northamptonshire will be happier with their first half than Essex. Nobody ever expects them to do anything – mainly because they lack, er, any decent players – but last year they came within a point of second place and they’re just seven behind as it stands this time around. James Middlebrook has been their star, with almost 500 runs at 41 and 12 wickets to boot, while Jack Brooks put in a string of good performances in the opening few weeks of the season as well. Essex will be much more disappointed with how it’s all panned out; a crushing opening week win is their only success of the year so far but they’ve been badly affected by the weather, more so than any other county. They need an excellent end to the season if they are to return to Division One and they’re probably desperately hoping England don’t pick Bopara. So that makes 60 million of us, then.
There was even less point in anyone bothering to go to Wales this week, as just 34 overs were possible in our final match of the round. Glamorgan made 117/3, which constituted a roaring success with the bat for them, and then it urinated groundwards for three Earth rotations.
Let’s not beat around the bush; Glamorgan are hopeless. They have fewer batting points than Leicestershire, a statistic which probably deserves a medal, more defeats than any of the other 17 counties and haven’t won at all. Marcus North has improved things in the four games since he arrived, but the most worrying aspect is the early season conditions were so bowler-friendly that they acted as something of a leveller. To be so bad during that part of the season means the sunshine and flat tracks of late summer must be a truly terrifying prospect to the good folks of South Wales.
Yorkshire almost deserve a review all to themselves, as they have done their level best to keep the neutral observer entertained while vast areas of the country were being washed away. First the county and Ajmal Shahzad had the most public of public spats, causing the (former?) England man to pack his bags and chunter his way across the Pennines. Just as that was dying down their overseas player flew in from Australia, only to be promptly turned around and sent back whence he came. To cap it all, when he finally arrived he sent everyone into fits of hysterics by conceding 174 runs in his opening over of a one day game live on Sky. In amongst all that they sit joint second in the division, level with Kent, and have turned in some pretty impressive performances thus far. Jonny Bairstow forced his way into the England side and Joe Root has set people talking as well but, to be honest, it’s much more entertaining to ignore all that and just laugh at them instead.
The county who didn’t even have to bother with the charade of turning up for a game only to watch it rain for a week were Gloucestershire, whose main success has been off the pitch at the start of this season. Finally they managed to get planning permission for improvements to the County Ground, having had the initial application rejected earlier this year. It’s a fight that meant they couldn’t afford to keep hold of the likes of Jon Lewis, who tore his colours from the mast and fled to Surrey at the first available opportunity, and were having to seriously consider leaving the place that has been their home for well over a century. As it is, this decision means building work can begin and should safeguard their future in the long term.
On the field they are yet another team who could mount a promotion charge, although they probably don’t have the squad to manage it. The positives are that Kane Williamson looks an excellent overseas signing – averaging over 50 in the four games he’s played so far – and Will Gidman has led the attack superbly. This will probably end up being little more than a season of consolidation, but the important battle has been won.