Ideally, the County Championship will go right down to final day, but with the end of the season approaching fast, things look to be rather straightforward at both ends of Division One.
It was runs galore in Birmingham as Warwickshire held on to their top spot. Their first innings total of 504/6 was a collective effort, including half centuries from Ian Westwood, Chris Wright and Ian Blackwell, but the star performer was Tim Ambrose who made 151*, presumably all of those runs being scored somewhere between wide third man and square cover. In reply Alex Hales made 155* (very timely given that England are suddenly on the look out for an opening bat) and Chris Read 95 as Nottinghamshire reached 356/8d (declaring as soon as they’d reached the follow-on target, purely to deny Warwickshire an extra bowling point). The rain had robbed the match of a day, so a result was unlikely: Warwickshire reached 86/3 on the final day. With just two rounds of games to go, the trophy looks destined to be heading to Edgbaston, with Warwickshire 22 points ahead of Sussex and 28 ahead of Nottinghamshire.
Surrey’s 317ao included 163 runs from the blade of the man who finds it very tough to be married to a scorcher, has probably earnt more from cricket through salary and endorsements than any other England player and who has rare audacious talent. Saj Mahmood took four wickets, doing our campaign for an England recall no harm, but at an uneconomical rate. Some things never change. Somerset then made 294, with Peter Trego (92), James Hildreth (85) and Chris Jones (50) all contributing. However the headlines were grabbed by Murali Kartik who not only took 4/70, but also claimed the run out of Alex Barrow in an episode of ‘Mankading’. There has been plenty of guff written about the wicket, mostly quoting the spirit of cricket, but Kartik had already warned Barrow (something he’s not required to do) and really the question being asked should be what was Barrow thinking? And if the spirit of cricket does come into it, surely trying to run a steal a yard from the start of a run is also contrary to the spirit?
Once the brouhaha had settled down, Surrey made 360/5d, thanks in part to some declaration bowling from the likes of James Hildreth and Jos Buttler. Rory Burns made 60, Arun Harinath 105* and Pietersen 58. As much as we love declaration bowling, it was too little too late and the match finished in a draw. Somerset sit comfortably in mid-table, no doubt thinking of an end of season piss up on the promenade at Weston-Super-Mare, whereas Surrey are in seventh, desperate for points to ensure their safety.
Day One was again the Graeme Onions show as the home side were 11/4 from 10.3 overs before recovering to 262ao, Onions finishing with 6/41. It was only the lower order of Tom Smith (91), Gareth Cross (57) and Kyle Hogg (60) who helped Lancashire reach a somewhat respectable score. Durham’s season has turned around since Paul Collingwood became captain and it was his 114 that formed the centrepiece of their 416. Keaton Jennings with 70 and Scott Borthwick with 60 also made handy scores. Simon Kerrigan was the pick of the home team’s bowlers, with 4/128.
Sadly, the match finished tamely in a draw with neither side batting again. The home team lie in eighth, seventeen points behind Surrey; Durham now look safe, despite only having one game left to play.
At last, a result! Worcester batted okay first time of asking, with Daryl Mitchell carrying his bat for 133 out of a total of 323ao, Alexei Kervezee also contributing with 55. Notably, Toby Roland-Jones picked up five wickets. In response, Sam Robson scored 72 and Neil Dexter 90 as Middlesex were bowled out for 306. Alan Richardson’s 4/62 ensured it was party time in the usual places.
However the party didn’t last long as Roland-Jones picked up another five Worcestershire wickets to finish with 10/118 in the match. Only Kervezee reached the half-century mark and the total of 186ao left Middlesex a target of 204. They reached this within 46 overs (with 11 balls to spare), for the loss of five wickets. Ninth in the table, Worcestershire look like they’re up the Severn without a paddle, meanwhile Middlesex are in a decent fourth.
In Division Two, there is still much to play for, even though the leaders have a 19 point cushion above their nearest rival. Also, there are three teams battling like wounded ferrets to avoid coming bottom of the pile.
What should have been a close game was scuppered by the dastardly weather at Derby. David Wainwright took four wickets as Essex were bowled out for 245, with everyone’s favourite six-hitting 90mph+ speedster Graeme Napier top scoring with just 42. Derbyshire scraped to a first-innings lead, thanks to some lower order runs from Ross Whiteley (56) and Tom Poynton (55*). David Masters excelled as ever, taking 5/51.
Second time around, Essex batted with considerable purpose. Tom Westley top scored with 82, but there were also rapid contributions from Ryan ten Doeschate, Mark Pettini and James Foster, all of whom made at least 50. Declaring at 294/5, Essex probably had enough runs on the board to feel safe. And so it proved, with Derbyshire struggling to 173/7 from 52 overs. More rain prevented the final six overs being bowled, thus helping the home side cling on for a crucial draw, Wes Durston top scoring with 60. Derbyshire lead the table and look good for promotion.
Niall O’Brien 182, yawn, nine bowlers used, rain, Northants 432/8d, sigh, Glamorgan 302/5d, Walters 98, North 57, yawn.
The man who absolutely no-one predicted would be a flop this season, Brendan Nash, made 119 for Kent as they compiled 350/8 against Leicestershire. Sam Northeast, Geraint Jones and Rob Key all made 50s, whilst Robert Taylor took 5/91 with the ball. Given the amount of rainfall, a couple of friendly declarations were required. Leicestershire stopped their reply at just 171/3 (Matthew Boyce 78*), before Kent added a swift 103/2. The home team were thus presented a target of 283 runs, which they utterly failed to get close to: Darren Stevens, once suggested by a friend of 51allout to be “within nine injuries, two retirements and one untimely ban of a place in the England squad” took 5/35 to help wrap up a 147-run victory. Kent are third in the table, still in the promotion race. Leicestershire, with a total of 109 points, have just Gloucestershire and Glamorgan beneath them.
The visitors got off to a terrible start, losing four wickets for nine runs. Somehow, the lower order added enough runs to take their side to 215ao, with Yorkshire 61/2 at the end of play on day one. They remained on 61/2 at the end of day two and day three as well, leaving Hamish Marshall and Andrew Gale to discuss contriving a possible result. The Yorkshire captain promptly opened the bowling, Adam Lyth sharing the new ball with him. Twenty four minutes later, Gloucestershire were able to declare on 159/0 (Rob Nicol 75 from 26 balls, Benny Howell 83 from 34).
In a close finish, Yorkshire scored 316/8, admirably chasing down the target in 81.2 overs. Phil Jaques and Antony McGrath made 79 and 76 respectively to help Yorkshire remain in second place, looking forlornly up at Derbyshire but with breathing space between them and Kent and Hampshire below.