We feel like we’ve spent the past few months criticising the worst things about the County Championship: the lack of opportunities to watch it on telly, the terrible weather and the death of Jimi Hendrix in 1970 (although the latter could probably also be blamed on Monika Dannemann). This week however, things finally took an upward turn. There was (generally) better weather and, of the eight matches, four made it to an actual positive result. There were four seriously tight finishes, with the drama of these games making a nice distraction from watching England getting battered around the Oval.
Last season’s defending champions have shown a gradual improvement as the season has gone on, following a somewhat horrific start. Unfortunately for them, all that improvement came crashing down around their ears as relegation favourites Worcestershire came to town and delivered an almighty beating, winning by 205 runs within three days.
Worcestershire were indebted to spin twins Moeen Ali (absurd match figures of 12/96) and Shaaiq Choudry (6/54) for bundling Lancashire out for just 162 and 63. No Lancashire batsman made it past 34 in either innings; indeed in their second only Gareth Cross (20) made it to double figures. It wasn’t the easiest pitch to score runs on, but Ben Scott (106 in the first innings), Matthew Pardoe (55 in the first) and Vikram Solanki (50 in the second) all managed to find a way.
Despite the best efforts of Steven Croft (match figures of 9/105, not a bad way to celebrate being included in the provisional England World T20 squad) the defeat leaves Lancashire in sixth place, albeit looking down the table rather than up. They sit just a single point ahead of Surrey and a further four points ahead of Worcestershire. However, both teams have games in hand (one in Surrey’s case, two in Worcestershire’s), which means Lancashire look set for a nervous finish to the season.
A truly remarkable finish at Taunton, almost a mirror image of the last time the sides met, saw Somerset edge to a famous victory that blows the title race wide open. If we worked for Sky we’d definitely have found space for some exclamation marks and capital letters in that previous sentence. Unfortunately the 51allout budget doesn’t extend to such luxuries.
For a long time it looked as if Warwickshire would be comfortable winners. After making exactly 400 in their first innings (Troughton making 132, Woakes 107 and Varun Chopra 93 while Alfonso Thomas took 6/60) the league leaders looked well set to make Somerset follow on, reducing the home side to 227/8. However, a well-crafted 73* from Nick Compton and 17 from Max Waller saw Somerset edge to the relative safety of 254. Jeetan Patel picked up the best First Class figures of his career, finishing with 7/75.
From that position it seemed as if Warwickshire had a decision to make – how many runs would they add before declaring? The decision was rather taken away from them, though, as they were bundled out for just 124 thanks to Gemaal Hussain’s 5/48. This left Somerset a challenging 271 to get to win, something that looked rather unlikely as they stumbled to 15/3. Solid opening partnerships have been in short supply for the men from Taunton, with Alex Barrow looking way out his depth at the top of the order. His duck was his fourth of the season, leaving him with an average of 9.60 after ten innings. The return of Marcus Trescothick has come not a moment too soon.
While the position looked hopeless, Somerset still had two trump cards left to play: Nick Compton and Craig Kieswetter. We seem to spend all day every day arguing about whether Kieswetter is actually any good or not but there was no doubting the quality of his innings here. He made 152 from 170 balls, clobbering seven huge sixes and, with Compton (52) and a cameo from Jos Buttler (24), took Somerset to within 12 runs of their target with five wickets still in hand.
Then the fun really started. Kieswetter holed out before Craig Meschede and Alfonso Thomas were caught in the slips from consecutive balls. Waller followed shortly after and Somerset still needed two to win, with genuine number eleven Gemaal Hussain at the crease. He heroically survived five deliveries from Keith Barker before Peter Trego finally scored the winning runs, driving Jeetan Patel to the long on boundary.
Following Patel’s first innings lead, Keith Barker picked up his best First Class figures, taking 6/40. The game was a fantastic advert for the County Championship and in the end, you could say that cricket was the winner. However, that would just be nonsense – Somerset were the winners, as we made clear in the previous paragraph. The first innings bonus points were just enough to keep Warwickshire top of the table though, a single point ahead of Nottinghamshire and eight ahead of Somerset, with a game in hand on both sides.
A rather less dramatic encounter at Trent Bridge saw the weather take out the second and third days, leaving the sides to compete for bonus points alone. Nottinghamshire made 328, with Adam Voges making 59, Chris Read 98 and Stuart Meaker taking 5/78. In reply Surrey reached 252/6 by the close of play, Rory Burns making 79 and Jason Roy a swashbuckling 83 from 50 balls. Andre Adams picked up four more wickets, taking him to 50 for the season, a whopping twelve wickets ahead of second-placed Keith Barker.
The draw keeps Nottinghamshire in second place, one point behind Warwickshire, as they had been before the start of the round. Surrey remain precariously placed in seventh, with just a single win so far.
Another minor classic down in Arundel which, according to Google Maps, appears to be near Surfers Paradise in Queensland. Quite why Sussex and Durham would play there is beyond us, but they produced another remarkable match.
In a lovely display of symmetry, both sides traded first innings scores of 231. For Durham Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick both made exactly 50, while for Sussex Mike Yardy cheered himself up with a painstaking 66 from 170 balls and Ben Brown made 51. This left the game perfectly set up for a single innings shootout, which is exactly what the two sides produced.
Durham’s second innings was an absolute trainwreck, being skittled for just 93, mainly by Aussie seamer Steve Magoffin, who lived up to his name, proving to be a plot element that catches the viewers’ attention or drives the plot in taking 6/22 to finish with match figures of 9/50. This left Sussex needing just 94 to win, a task that they made incredibly hard work of, collapsing to 50/7. Magoffin (23*) and James Anyon (15*) eventually scraped the home side over the line, Sussex winning by just two wickets.
The victory moves Sussex up to fourth place in the table, 14 points behind third placed Somerset. For Durham, their fifth defeat in ten games leaves them adrift at the bottom and staring relegation right in the face. Their total of 47 points is (a) rubbish, (b) 23 behind second-bottom Worcestershire and (c) probably not what Matt H and Editor Steve had in mind when they predicted Durham to win the title.
Like a teenage boy with a bucket on his head climbing into a polystyrene well, we now descend to the second level, where Gloucestershire and Leicestershire had to settle for a draw when the home side, chasing 222 to win, finished on 209/8. At 148/2 with 14 overs still remaining a home victory looked likely, before a quick collapse left them rather nervously hanging on for a draw in the final overs.
After the first day was entirely washed out, Leicestershire racked up 162 in their first innings, a decent effort by their standards but a rubbish one by everyone else’s. Ramnaresh Sarwan again topscored, making 50, while the remarkably ginger Ian Saxelby picked up 6/48. In reply, Gloucestershire looked set for a similarly rubbish score, wobbling at 132/7 before James Fuller bashed a quickfire 57 to see them to 229.
Leicestershire’s second innings was surprisingly competent, reaching the heady heights of nearly getting to 300, being bowled out for 288. Yet again Sarwan was the key man, making 93. That left Gloucestershire with 222 to win in 53 overs. Despite a good start, Alex Gidman making 62 and Dan Housego 50, they had to settle for a share of the points that leaves them on 84 points, trapped in the mediocrity of sixth place. Leicestershire sit five points below Glamorgan, clinging desperately to their hopes of becoming the second worse side in the country like it’s something to be proud of.
As if to remind everyone that she’s still around, Mother Nature chose to wreak her vengeance upon the top of the table clash at Chesterfield, wiping out the last three days of play. Yorkshire made 219 in their first innings, thanks to 61 from Phil Jaques. We thought he’d retired, but that must have been a different Aussie that wasn’t good enough to get into their Test side.
In reply Derbyshire reached the rather precarious position of 135/7 before play was ended. Steve Harmison picked up three wickets, but the calls for an England recall were muted somewhat by the fact that he went at nearly a run a ball and conceded ten wides and two no-balls in his nine overs. The draw leaves Derbyshire 22 points clear at the top, while Yorkshire slip to third.
Another remarkable finish, this time at Chelmsford, saw Hampshire squeak past Essex by just two runs. After the second day was washed out the teams colluded to set Essex a target of 360 on the final day. They made it to 357/9 thanks to a superb innings from Adam Wheater, who was 98* at that point. With three needed to win, he attempted to do it by hitting a six over long on, only to hole out. With hindsight, it probably wasn’t the most sensible thing to do.
Hampshire’s first innings total of 323 was mainly down to Neil McKenzie’s superb 139 and 55 from Sean Ervine, with Graham Napier picking up four wickets, presumably by bowling at more than 90mph. Essex’s new overseas player, Harbhajan Singh, failed to make much impression, taking 1/76. In reply Essex seemed a little confused about what they were supposed to be doing, grinding out 18 runs from as many overs before declaring. Hampshire added another 54 in their second innings (albeit at just 3.64 runs per over) before they declared, setting up the chase for the final day.
At 222/7 it seemed as if the game was up. However, Wheater added 68 for the eighth wicket with Harbhajan (who made 40), 27 for the ninth with Masters (6) and then 40 for the tenth (of which Craddock didn’t contribute a single run). He’d hit four sixes, before that fateful attempt to hit a fifth that, for a brief moment, left the BBC Essex radio team almost speechless…before they continued with commendable professionalism.
The defeat leaves Essex third from bottom, with their faint promotion hopes all but extinguished for another year. Hampshire move up to second place, 22 points behind Derbyshire.
Last but not least to Canterbury, where a mixture of unsurprisingly indifferent weather and surprisingly competent batting lead to something of a bore draw, that did few favours to either side. Kent racked up 456/9 in their first innings, thanks to a sprightly hundred from Darren Stevens and a slightly more mundane one from West Indies legend Brendan Nash. Geraint Jones also contributed, making an unbeaten 69.
The main point of note was a five wicket haul for James Harris, once on the fringes of the various England sides but now somewhat forgotten, due to a mountain of injuries. His 5/118 was his first five wicket haul for (roughly) ages.
Glamorgan’s batting has been awful this year, but they finally got themselves into some sort of decent shape in their reply, not only avoiding the follow-on, but also reaching the lofty heights of 389. They looked rather wobbly at 167/5 but Jim Allenby (86) and Mark Wallace (111) saw them to safety, assisted by 47 from Dean Cosker at number ten. Darren Stevens followed his first innings century with four wickets. Kent’s second innings was little more than a formality, notable only for a very good hundred from Sam Northeast. As soon as he reached his century, from 159 balls, the teams called it a day and headed to the pub.
The draw saw Kent drop a place, down to fourth, while Glamorgan edged slightly further away from Leicestershire in their duel for the wooden spoon.