With the season ticking away, every game in the County Championship has started to take on extra significance, with every dropped catch or missed runout potentially changing the course of a team’s season. Luckily there were only five games in the latest round, which allowed us to just about keep our composure. Although we did shout at the work experience boy when things got tense at Taunton, leading to him walking out, presumably never to return. Our new plan is to get a work experience girl. So if you’re a sexy 16/17 year old who fancies being letched at while making tea for some fat blokes then please do write in.
During the first half of the campaign Durham were remarkably bad. Relegation seemed inevitable. And yet, under the captaincy of our former favourite ginger cricketer Paul Collingwood, they’ve suddenly become the form side in the top flight. A comfortable six wicket win over seemingly-doomed Worcestershire was their fourth in a row, a run that has taken them into the comfort of mid-table.
This particular win was built on skittling Worcestershire for just 120 on the first morning, Chris Rushworth (5/44) and Graham Onions (3/27) doing the bulk of the damage. In response Durham weren’t overly convincing, but an excellent 78 from Ben Stokes took them to 234 and a significant lead. However, Worcestershire’s opening pair of Phil Hughes (104) and Daryl Mitchell (45) then knocked off the deficit, leaving the game finely poised.
And then Worcestershire collapsed. There’s a reason they’re bottom of the pile. They slipped from 148/0 to 264 all out in the blink of an eye and before they knew it Dale Benkenstein (62*) and Paul Collingwood (53*) were strolling across the finish line.
The defeat leaves Worcestershire bottom of the table, 15 points away from safety, with just three games left to play.
A must win game for both sides as they looked to make a late run towards the title ended in a tense draw as the rain came in with Sussex 115/5 chasing 164 to win. It was a chase set up by a superb performance from Monty Panesar, who took career best match figures of 13/137 (plus made a useful 20 with the bat). But this game will be best remembered for the performances of two of England’s former golden boys, Unlikely Lads Amjad Khan and Saj Mahmood. The former bowled just four overs in the first innings and none in the second, although he did make a splendid 57* with the bat. For Saj Mahmood, his Somerset debut was as impressive as the rest of his season. He bowled 11 expensive wicketless overs in the first innings, made 0 and 13 with the bat and wasn’t called on at all in Sussex’s tense chase.
The draw leaves Sussex in second place, 12 points behind Warwickshire but with only two games left (as opposed to the Midlanders’ three). Their final matches are against Somerset again, followed by a trip to Durham, where it’ll presumably rain loads.
Warwickshire may still be the leaders in the top flight but they were mighty lucky against Middlesex; relying on the rain to save them as they teetered at 152/7, forlornly chasing 367 to win. It was a disappointing end to a high quality match in which four players made hundreds, while Chris Wright and Boyd Rankin both took five wicket hauls as they neatly divided Middlesex’s second innings between them.
In the end Warwickshire were indebted to Tim Ambrose for digging in, the former England keeper finishing on 33* to no doubt rapturous applause from his sexy sisters. Middlesex are in sixth, comfortably clear of the relegation dogfight, in which Worcestershire and Lancashire (both on 87 points) will attempt to haul in Surrey (102).
In the second division, Hampshire’s promotion hopes suffered a blow as they succumbed to that rarest of events; a Leicestershire win. In the end it was comfortable, the home side winning by 126 runs, but that doesn’t really tell the story. The main talking point after the match was a remarkable last wicket partnership for Hampshire, Chris Wood (105*) and David Balcombe adding 168 to briefly entertain the prospect of an incredible victory. In the end though, the huge first innings deficit – Leicestershire led by 175 – was more than enough.
The victory lifts Leicesterhshire to the giddy heights of third from bottom, ahead of both Glamorgan and Gloucestershire. Hampshire stay in second place, albeit now 17 points behind Derbyshire, having played a game more and with only two left to play. One of those two games is away to Derbyshire in what is likely to be a promotion party for at least one side.
There’s always one game which utterly fails to capture the imagination. This was most definitely it; the two sides sharing the points after showing off in their first innings and piling up the runs. The home side made exactly 400, thanks to a century from Rob Newton, Tony Palladino continuing his fine recent run with 5/82. In reply Derbyshire racked up 569, Wayne Madsen making 231* (only the fifth double hundred of the summer) and Tom Poynton 106 from number ten.
159 behind, Northamptonshire wobbled at 32/3 in the second innings before Newton’s second century led them to 212/4 and the draw. It leaves Derbyshire clear at the top and Northamptonshire marooned in fifth.
The hectic nature of the season comes to a head over the next week or so. By the time this article is published, eight more games will already be underway. Unless of course, it’s pissing it down again, in which case Warwickshire and Derbyshire can probably send their work experience boys out to buy some celebratory gin.