For the second week in a row, with the rest of the nation getting carried away on a high of Olympic fever, we were studiously taking notes on the trials and tribulations of the County Championship. Well, we tried to, but then Victoria Pendleton popped up on our screens and then all conscious thought disappeared into the atmosphere. So, once again, we really have little idea what actually happened. We called up our local county nerd for the low down but even he had spent the week taking in some Greco-Roman Wrestling, which left us in a bit of a pickle. In the end we managed to use our vast array of contacts and secret stash of hallucinogens to piece to together the tale of the Championship week.
Amjad Khan: 14-4-25-5. No, we haven’t even started on the LSD yet, he really did tear Middlesex’s first innings apart. The visitors’ middle order subsided to Amjad’s ferocious assault and they could only muster 170 having been put in on the first morning. Two more England legends of yesteryear; Ed Joyce (68) and Mike Yardy (89) then led Sussex to a lead of over 100 despite the superbly named Toby Roland-Jones picking up six wickets. With their side up against it, Middlesex’s batsmen promptly failed again; Amjad took three more scalps, no one passed 50 and their 211 was never going to be anywhere near enough. Sussex knocked off the 98 they needed just two down to move up into the heady heights of second place. Middlesex aren’t yet completely safe from relegation, but all four teams below them are so abysmal that it would take something special for them to trip and fall through the trapdoor.
Phil Hughes: 517*. Alright, we might have started on the LSD, but he really did carry his bat; just for a meagre 135* rather than a world record. This top vs. bottom clash actually started extremely well for Worcestershire, as they followed their first innings 246 with a demolition job of Warwickshire’s notoriously shambolic top order. Without Chris Woakes to save the day it was Rikki Clarke – continuing with the ex-England stars theme – who stepped in to prevent total disaster; his 61 scraping them to the dizzying heights of 132. Presented with the opportunity for a vital win in their relegation battle as well as the chance to get one over their rivals, Worcestershire went on to blow it in spectacular fashion. Presumably they spent Olympics week watching New Zealand capitulate in their Test match.
They lost Hughes for 0 in the second over of the innings and never recovered; Jeetan Patel took four wickets for the second time in the match and Worcestershire staggered to a pitiful 145 to let the home side back into the game. Even with that collapse Warwickshire were still set a potentially tricky 260 to win and, as George Dobell will tell you, with Alan Richardson in the opposition anything can happen. In this instance, virtually nothing happened; ‘Richo’ took the grand total of zero wickets and Warwickshire absolutely romped home. This win kept them top with a game in hand and left Worcestershire still rooted to the bottom, although they too have played a game fewer than their closest competitors.
It rained a lot, nobody scored any runs, nobody tried to win and it was a draw that nobody benefited from. Next please.
In a mid-table clash so explosive it sent shockwaves through the sporting world, Mike Powell’s 62 helped steer Kent to a solid 226 in their first innings. Essex’s reply would have begun better had the top four all walked out and impaled themselves on their middle stump, but James Foster (76) and Adam Wheater (82) helped them recover from 23/4 to post 273 and give their side a lead. Kent were by no means out of it at that point; less than 50 behind is not particularly critical, but it generally helps not to collapse in a heap from that position. Darren Stevens top scored with a breathtaking 22 and, as if to emphasise how bad this effort was, Harbhajan Singh took three wickets. The best thing to be said about 101 all out is that at least they managed more than 98, but it was unlikely a lead of 54 was going to be a winning one. Essex managed to lose three on the way but triumphed to propel themselves back up above the mighty Glamorgan, while Kent are fourth.
We’ve looked at this scorecard five times and still can’t find anything remotely interesting to say about it. A man called Cockbain scored a century and the match was a draw. Hard to believe there wasn’t 80,000 at the County Ground. Oh, and Hampshire are second.
Shiv Thakor for England! Er, sorry, that slipped out. The world needs an all-rounder to fill Jacques Kallis’ not inconsiderable boots when he skips off into the sunset and, based on this game and this game alone, Shiv Thakor is that man. Northamptonshire flew out of the blocks like a Jamaican 100m sprinter, but unfortunately then pulled up 30m from the line like a Jamaican 100m sprinter as well. Stephen Peters’ 148 was the backbone of their 399 before they reduced Leicestershire to 192/7 in reply. Thakor (61), supported by Claude Henderson (58*) clawed their side away from certain defeat to a not completely disastrous 299.
To stand any chance of victory Leicestershire needed quick wickets in the second innings. They didn’t quite manage it; Peters and Niall O’Brien put on over 100 for the second time and Northamptonshire strolled to 252/5 before declaring to leave themselves most of the final day to bowl the bottom side out. Despite pockets of resistance throughout, Leicestershire were in the deep stuff as they lost their seventh wicket with 25 overs left but that served only to bring Thakor and Henderson together again. The former faced 105 balls and saw it through, while Henderson used up 78 before falling with the end in sight. 16 balls was not long enough for Northamptonshire to finish things off after that and they had to settle for a draw. Not that it really matters that much; the home side are stuck in mid-table and going nowhere, while Leicestershire are still rock bottom having played a game more than everyone else in the division.