Roses preview

After a two year wait, there is finally going to be a four day Roses match this week. It has to be said though, that unless Lancashire play a lot better than they have shown for most of the start of the year and especially better than a fortnight ago against Middlesex, the match may not be worth the wait.

The match against Middlesex was not quite a shambles, but our batting effectively failed again. Whilst it was our highest first innings score this season, it was not nearly enough on a fairly flat wicket on which our bowlers toiled. Middlesex admittedly batted well, but it is worth remembering that going into that match they had faired little better than we had with the bat. Even with Kyle Hogg returning, only scoring 266 in a flat wicket in the first innings was simply not enough. Much as I hate to say it, Yorkshire look to be a strong side and they will provide just as much of a test as Middlesex did. The batsmen in particular will have to rise to this challenge much better.

Whether or not that will actually happen, we will have to see. The signs in the three day match against Loughborough MCCU were mixed, but it did seem a bit more of the same: a poor first innings total bailed out by a good performance with the ball and then a better batting display in the second innings. I don’t think that will be good enough against Yorkshire. Unfortunately there isn’t really an obvious solution. Luis Reece and Karl Brown both scored second innings runs, but that isn’t really a cause for optimism as much as it is a reason not to drop them.

If we do manage to get some runs on the board, I would back our bowling to be able to make inroads, but as we saw against Middlesex, that isn’t a guarantee. Jimmy Anderson will be absent again, though an attack of Glen Chapple, Kyle Hogg, Tom Smith (on current form) and Simon Kerrigan should be quite capable. It might be worth playing Kabir Ali as he has looked fairly sharp over the start of the season, but ultimately I would prefer not to weaken the batting any more.

I won’t actually be able to follow this match very closely though; I am currently at a radio observatory in the mountains of eastern California and will be throughout the match. This post was actually supposed to go up days ago, but due to packing and travel I could not quite finish it. I’ll be seeing score updates and my fingers are crossed, but I do worry that the typical turgid draw of a Roses match may be the best case result this time.

Lancashire at Lord’s

Lancashire probably do not quite have everything to play for in these next two days against Middlesex at Lord’s, but they are not far from it. Coming into the match they sit 17 points behind Surrey and safety with a head-to-head match to close out the season next week. But for that match to matter they must stay in touch with Surrey this week and the more they can close the gap now the easier the task will be at Aigburth. Which makes it all the more disappointing that they conceded 446 in the first innings. That’s very much been the story of the season this year, but the match is not over yet. After 77 overs of their reply, Lancs are 236-3 at stumps on day two.

This sets things up all rather interestingly. Lancashire already have four bonus points from the match (three bowling and now one batting) and have almost exactly until lunch tomorrow to see what else they can get. Another two points should be on the cards and a third one (fourth overall) should be just about within reach. One hundred and fourteen runs in a session is certainly possible. But the match is not a guaranteed draw. Lancashire could still certainly lose it and there is even a (very) outside chance of winning. Meantime Surrey have a first innings lead over Notts, but only got five bonus points from that match. So how should Lancs approach things this morning?

My natural instinct is to play it safe. Lancs probably could get to a seventh bonus point tomorrow, but the risk is that they would find themselves 350-8 instead of 325-5 and in a position to lose the match rather than draw it. And there’s little use getting a seventh bonus point if it costs three points that would be earned in a draw. But there is one huge caveat: the second new ball. Twice in this match the new ball has wreaked havoc in the early morning. On day one Middlesex found themselves 39-3 after 11.2 overs with the new ball and on the second morning they went from 389-6 to 427-9 in 12.3 overs against a slightly older ball. Given the way Lancashire have batted this year, there is then every chance that a cautious approach may leave us 325-8 and in the worst of both worlds without both the extra point and the strong batting position.

So I would actually go against my instinct and advise the batsmen to play themselves in facing the three overs of the old ball and then try to get plenty off the new one. One of the advantages of the new ball is that it goes to the boundary easier and by all accounts the pitch is a road. There’s no need to go slogging, of course, but intelligent play and going for runs wherever possible should see Lancashire up past 350 and to a competitive total. Even if we are bowled out shortly thereafter (and even if we are seven or eight down there’s a decent chance the tail will put on a few) we will be within a hundred runs and still have another innings in which to bat. If the bowlers do their job it could yet be game on. More than anything else, however, Lancs must hope that Surrey do not beat Nottinghamshire as that would surely spell the end.

LV=CC week eleven roundup

It seems like it has been ages since there has been any Championship cricket. In fact it has only been a month, but a month of only white ball cricket at both the domestic and international level is a long time. Unfortunately it ended up a fairly uneventful week with all four first division matches finishing as draws and so far two of the three second division matches have also been drawn with Northants’ match against Glamorgan only through the second day.

There has been some movement in the tables, however, with Warwickshire getting enough bonus points to move into the top spot of Division One. The Bears have managed this with a match in hand against second-placed Nottinghamshire. Middlesex also picked up enough points to become the third side to 100 in the year, despite being bowled out for an Australia-esque 98 in their first innings. Whilst still outsiders for the title; they remain in the hunt. There was no movement at the bottom of the table with Worcestershire drawing with Durham and both sides remaining in the relegation zone. Division Two leaders Derbyshire did not play this week but Yorkshire, despite a brilliant 222* from Joe Root, did not have time to significantly close the gap. Their draw against Hampshire coupled with Kent also not playing this week was enough to keep Yorkshire in the promotion zone, though they are not secure there. Kent are only seven points behind having played one fewer match and both Hampshire and Northants (who are 336-5 after two days against Glamorgan) are also within a victory of going second. That should make for a very interesting battle over the last two months of the season.

For Lancashire it was another week of disappointment. There was some worry that the month long break may have broken the good form that they had started to show, but fortunately this proved not to be the case. Lancashire put up their highest score of the season with 485-7 against Surrey at Guildford including centuries from Paul Horton and Steven Croft, the latter an unbeaten 154. Lancs made a good start to the bowling as well, with Chapple hitting Rory Burns’ off stump with the first ball of the innings. But with Surrey on 49-2, Lancs ran into Kevin Pietersen. With a fairly flat pitch and small boundaries he hit an absolutely staggering 234* off only 190 deliveries. Whilst Lancashire have had some trouble finishing sides off this year, this time it was not something that can be put at the feet of the bowlers; Pietersen was simply in unbelievable form. It is still a bit troubling for Lancashire, however, that we have now been in very good positions in each of our last four matches and have only managed to win one of them. The weather has been a factor, but our bowling has been surprisingly flat and it has cost us a good chance to move up the table. We still have some good opportunities coming up, but there are now only six matches left in the season and we still sit sixth in the table (and have played more matches than every other team).

KP’s knock was, of course, the highlight of the week, but it was a good round overall for England players. Andrew Strauss scored exactly fifty of Middlesex’s 98 all out in the first innings (the only other double digit score was Gareth Berg’s 32) and 127 not out in the second. Certainly worrying form for the South Africans ahead of the first Test. Ian Bell also scored 57 for Warwickshire.

LV=CC week nine roundup

This was a week of firsts in the Championship as Lancashire recorded their first win in thrilling style and Derbyshire were beaten for the first time this season. Glamorgan had one of their best chances to register their first win of the season as well, but Leicestershire thwarted them in a manner very similar to Middlesex thwarting Lancashire last week. Northamptonshire were also able to hold on for a draw at Headingley despite being 45-5 at one point in their first innings. The results were:

Lancashire beat Durham by two wickets
Middlesex beat Sussex by ten wickets
Worcestershire drew with Somerset
Glamorgan drew with Leicestershire
Gloucestershire beat Derbyshire by seven wickets
Yorkshire drew with Northamptonshire

Lancashire’s victory has seen them jump to fifth in the table, though with a match in hand against most sides. Durham only got three bonus points (all bowling) from that match, but they bowled their overs so slowly they were deducted four points. Losing a point from the match means they are now 14 points behind eighth placed Worcs. With neither Notts or Warks playing this round, the top of the first division is unchanged with Notts on top by a single point. Warwickshire have only played six matches to Notts’ seven, however.

In the second division, Yorkshire just barely got enough points from their draw to stay ahead of Kent and in the promotion zone, whilst Derbyshire are still comfortably atop the table (a 28 point lead) despite their defeat. Glamorgan’s failure to defeat Leicestershire keeps them at the foot of the division and the only side yet to record a victory in the second tier.

Looking ahead to the last round of fixtures before the T20 break: Notts and Warks will both be confident of victory facing Lancs and Durham respectively. Lancashire have now played well two weeks in a row, however, and Durham will be keen to come back from their agonising defeat. Durham’s hopes will be dented by the fact that Onions, the hero of their last match, is unlikely to take part due to being in the England squad for the Third Test. The second division features much of the same, with the top two teams playing the bottom two. Kent will thus likely need a victory against Hampshire to stay near the promotion zone.

LV=CC week six roundup

Another heavily rain-affected week in the County Championship last week finished with only one positive result. That result was in a contrived match at Bristol where Yorkshire managed to chase 400 in just over a day. There was very nearly another, however, as Surrey were forced to follow-on at New Road before managing to set the hosts 260 to win and reducing them to 150-8. There was not quite enough time for a memorable victory, however. There was also a contrived match at Leicester with the hosts nine down when time time ran out. The full results:

Sussex drew with Lancashire
Durham drew with Somerset
Nottinghamshire drew with Middlesex
Worcestershire drew with Surrey
Essex drew with Kent
Yorkshire beat Gloucestershire by four wickets
Hampshire drew with Derbyshire
Leicestershire drew with Northamptonshire

Naturally, there has not been a great change in the table this week with only one result. The fact that Notts played and Warwicks didn’t has put the former on top of the division one table, but given that Warwickshire have two matches in hand I don’t think they will be worried. Yorkshire’s contrived victory in the second division has seen them fly up to second in the table. It is an interesting indication too of just how big of a difference even two victories can still make and one which will probably not be lost on Lancashire or Durham.

Whilst there was not a lot of time, there were still some very notable performances. Standing out, of course, are the centuries for Phil Jaques (160) and Gary Ballance (121*) in Yorkshire’s improbable victory at Bristol. That match also featured 111 for Kane Williamson and 5-81 for Tim Bresnan in Gloucs’ first innings. The match at Trent Bridge saw 162 from Michael Lumb countered by 143* from Ollie Rayner as the match never came close to a result. Not nearly as large, but still notable was the unbeaten 43* for the England Captain in the second innings. Surrey’s escape/near victory at New Road naturally included some very impressive batting performances in the second innings, including 115 for Rory Hamilton-Brown and 143 for Tom Maynard. Smaller, but again notable, was KP’s 69 after coming in with Surrey on 11-2 after following-on. Kent’s first innings at Chelmsford saw five ducks and nine single digit scores. And 119 for Darren Stevens. He and Geriant Jones (88) put on 196 for the sixth wicket after coming together at 9-5. The main destroyer for Essex was Charl Willoughby who took 5-70 and four of Kent’s top five batsmen. Derbyshire retained their spot at the summit of Division Two in a tame draw at Southampton. Their first innings of 403-9 featured centuries from Wes Durston (121) and Dan Redfern (133). This was after Hants skipper Jimmy Adams scored 122 in the first innings.

LV=CC week five roundup

There was more rain in the LV=CC this week, but not as bad as it was last week and we did have more results than draws this time. (Though this was partly due to a contrived match at Lord’s.

Nottinghamshire beat Lancashire by 185 runs
Warwickshire beat Durham by nine wickets
Middlesex beat Worcestershire by 132 runs
Derbyshire drew with Gloucestershire
Glamorgan drew with Essex
Northamptonshire beat Hampshire by 117 runs
Yorkshire beat Leicestershire by an innings and 22 runs

Of note is that now all of Durham, Lancashire, Worcestershire and Glamorgan have still not won a match this season. Yorkshire’s win at Scarborough was their first of the Championship. Meantime, Warwicks and Notts are each yet to lose a match despite some close finishes for the former and the latter having just a single batting point this season. It keeps Warwickshire on top of the D1 table by four points over Notts, having played one fewer match. Derbys have also done enough in their draw to stay at the summit of D2.

As mentioned above, one of the most notable match of the round was probably at Lord’s where Worcestershire declared before the last day on 45-2 and Middlesex forfeited their second innings. It set up a chase of 283 on the last day, but Worcs did not get near it. It was still an example of good attacking thinking, however. The points allocation system is (rightly, I think) set up to reward victories highly and almost discount draws. Worcs correctly assessed that it was worth going for a win and we got an exciting finish out of a match that looked dead.

This was also the week in which all of the England players were cleared to appear for their counties. Ian Bell rather dramatically returned to form for Warwickshire, scoring 120 after coming in with the Bears 15-3. He this time outshone his England colleague Trott, who could only make two. As Warwickshire do not play next week, Bell will appear for the Lions to get some more time in the middle. Jimmy Anderson bruised his hand and come down with a stomach ailment, but still managed to take 5-82 in Notts’ second innings. In the other dressing room for that match, Swann and Broad took 3-26 & 2-30 and 0-60 & 3-67 respectively. Swann and Anderson each bowled the other in the match as well. Andrew Strauss scored a pretty good 49 in tricky conditions at Lord’s. It was not chanceless, but it was fairly quick and pretty fluent for the conditions. It should ease the silly media speculation about him, however. Steven Finn did not play a large role on the final day, but did take 2-30. For Essex, Alastair Cook’s return to the middle did not last long, as he made only nine and five. Jonny Bairstow made his case to bat at six against the Windies with 182 in Yorkshire’s innings victory, whilst Tim Bresnan took 1-37 and 1-57.

Many of the best performances were not from the England players, or even those on the fringes of the side, however. Andre Adams completely turned the match at Old Trafford with his first innings 7-32 (a career best) and Warwickshire’s Keith Barker took 5-33 in the first innings and 5-37 in the second to ensure that Durham were only briefly in the match. Strauss got the most publicity in Middlesex’s first innings, but it was Joe Denly who put them in a winning position with his unbeaten 134 whilst Alan Richardson tried in vain to restrict the hosts with his 5-89. Derbyshire captain Wayne Madsen hit a century and Tony Palladino took 5-47 as Gloucestershire were forced to follow-on at Derby, but Kane Williamson stepped up for the visitors with 128 (of 409-4) as they secured the draw. Cook failed for Essex, but Alviro Petersen, his South African counterpart, did not and scored 145 at Cardiff. Huw Waters responded for the hosts with 5-47 to restrict Essex in the second innings as the match was drawn. David Willey put in a possibly match-winning effort with the ball for Northants, taking 5-39 in the final innings as Hants could not get close to their target. Finally, Leicestershire had a pair of excellent performances in vain at Scarborough. Wayne White took 5-90 in the first innings and Matthew Boyce scored 122 as Leicestershire tried to make Yorkshire bat again.

LV=CC week three roundup

Unfortunately, this was a very rain hit round of matches. Out of eight matches played in both divisions, only two had positive results. Despite this, some of the draws were quite close run things and we were treated to a handful of very tense finishes. The eight matches, with summaries thereof at the end of the post, were:

Warwickshire beat Lancashire by five wickets
Middlesex drew with Durham
Nottinghamshire drew with Somerset
Surrey drew with Worcestershire
Derbyshire drew with Leicestershire
Hampshire beat Glamorgan by two wickets
Kent drew with Gloucestershire
Yorkshire drew with Essex

Warwickshire’s second successive dramatic win puts them top of the Division One table, whilst Derbyshire’s survival keeps them in that spot in the second tier. It’s still probably too early to draw any definitive conclusions, but it is worth noting that none of Durham, Lancashire or Yorkshire have won a match yet. I was far from alone in predicting those three to finish at or near the top of their respective divisions and it will be interesting to see how they go from here. Derbyshire also looked far from impressive in their match and it will be interesting to see if their good start was due to favourable opposition.

There were many very good performances this week, but my player of the week this week is Warwickshire’s Rikki Clarke. His innings pained me greatly, but coming in at 81-7 and scoring 140 is very impressive. Given how close the match turned out, if he had scored even twenty or thirty fewer it might have made a difference to the result.

Warwickshire‘s win over Lancashire was a fairly exciting match and not a little bit gutting. It and the ramifications thereof are worth a separate bog post which I will write tomorrow. Meantime, credit must go to Rikki Clarke and Darren Maddy for excellent innings each and a match-winning partnership together.

Middlesex‘s match at Lord’s was most notable for the return of Andrew Strauss to his county as he looked to bat himself into some form. He faced the first ball of the match after Durham won the toss and bowled. It was not until the next day, however, as rain prevented any play on day one. Strauss might have wished it would keep raining: Onions nipped one back in and knocked back the England captain’s off stump. Onions did his Test hopes no harm with an additional nine wickets in the match and whilst Strauss will no doubt be disappointed with his return, he can take solace in the fact that the rest of his batsmen only managed 336 runs between them in both innings. There was, fortunately, an exciting ending to this match. Rain had interrupted the early part of Durham’s chase of 130 to win, but left them 16 overs to get another 122. Happily, they went for it. They lost six wickets en route too, but there too few overs for a proper climax and the match was drawn.

At first glance, it is not too surprising that Nottinghamshire and Somerset combined to score four centuries, one of them a double and three of them unbeaten, in a drawn match at Trent Bridge. They probably have on paper the two strongest batting lineups in the country. The devil is in the deatils, however, and only one side was even in this match. The ten batsmen who were out in Notts’ first innings scored 41 runs between them. The top-score amongst those was ten. Which makes the unbeaten 104 by Chris Read all the more remarkable in comparison. It was still not close to enough, however, as Arul Suppiah scored 124, Nick Compton made an unbeaten 204, and James Hildreth chipped in with 102*. Somerset declared on 445-2, a first innings lead of 283. Notts showed some more fight in the second innings, however, and the intervention of rain meant that Somerset did not get the win that they deserved.

Bowling dominated Worcestershire‘s trip to the Oval. Surrey were bowled out for 140 in the first innings as Alan Richardson took 6-47, but Stuart Meaker returned the favour with 6-39 at Worcs only made 119 in reply. Despite being reduced to 59-5, a solid 79 from Rory Hamilton-Brown helped Surrey set Worcs a tricky 246 to win. The Oval pitch reverted to it’s stereotype, however, and when the rain came at 94-1 it probably denied Worcs a victory instead of Surrey.

Leicestershire dominated the derby in Derby, putting on 324 in the first innings against the hosts including 105 each from Ramnaresh Sarwan and Joshua Cobb. Unfortunately for the prospects of a result, it took them over two days to do so. When Derbyshire just managed to avoid the follow-on it seemed to seal the fate of the match and even a third innings declaration did not threaten to bring about a result.

Hampshire went to Glamorgan for what turned out to be the best match of the round. It was notable in the first innings for the return of the tactical declaration: Glamorgan skipper Mark Wallace declared with his side on 103-9 late on the first day to try to get a Hants wicket before the close. It worked as Wallace’s opposite number departed for just three. From there Hampshire slipped to 156 all out the next day and a century for Ben Wright gave Glamorgan a real chance at their first win of the season. Hampshire needed 204 to win and by stumps on day three they were 112 for four. Cue the rain. For a very long time it looked as though the teams would not even get on the pitch on the fourth day. When they did, however, it was just barely in time and Hampshire won by just two wickets off of the penultimate ball.

Will Gidman had another good match for Gloucestershire at Canterbury, scoring 56 in the first innings and then taking 5-43 in Kent‘s reply. Gloucestershire had a first innings lead of 105, but like in the rest of the country rain had taken time out of the match and Will’s brother Alex took too long in declaring on the last day. Kent were asked to chase a nominal 363, but only 38 overs were ultimately possible and they were comfortably able to draw the match.

Yorkshire were also unable to play on the first day of their match against Essex at Headingley. When they did get on the park, 126 from Phil Jaques saw them at one point reach 184-2. The subsequent collapse quite spectacularly saw them finish 246 all out. It was still a decent total and only Ravi Bopara, as already mentioned, resisted for Essex. It did not leave the White Rose with much of a first innings lead, however, and with time already lost in the match the only way to get a result was for Yorkshire to dramatically collapse again and when that failed to happen it was always going to be a draw.

LV=CC week two roundup

It was another very entertaining week of matches in the County Championship this week. Early season conditions favoured the bowlers, especially on the first day as over 70 wickets fell around the country. This went a long way to ensuring that all seven matches had positive results. The full results were:
Nottinghamshire beat Durham by 114 runs
Sussex beat Lancashire by ten wickets
Middlesex beat Surrey by three runs
Warwickshire beat Somerset by two wickets
Derbyshire beat Glamorgan by 130 runs
Gloucestershire beat Hampshire by 33 runs
Kent beat Northamptonshire by an innings and 120 runs

It was a poor start to Lancashire‘s title defence as they were bowled out for 124 on the first day. Whilst this was hardly unusual given the conditions around the country, it still looked like a very bad toss to lose. There was some hope: Lancs had some of the best bowlers in the country last year and they reduced Sussex to 15-3 in reply. Michael Yardy and Ed Joyce but on a stand of 164, however, which probably decided the match. It was an especially good innings by Yardy who not only steadied the ship for Sussex but counterattacked brilliantly. Lancashire have to rue the four catches they put down on the second morning however. Sussex had one other fairly big partnership: 43 for the ninth wicket to end Lancashire’s brief hopes of keeping the deficit relatively in check. Lancashire did not play terribly poorly; credit must go to Yardy and Steve Magoffin whose batting and bowling performances respectively were excellent. Lancs could do with a bit more batting practise, but their biggest area of concern will probably be the fielding. It probably did not decide the match, but they dropped far too many catches. In the end, they only barely avoided an innings defeat. Ashwell Prince’s 58 was the biggest score of the match for Lancs as they only set Sussex a target of one to win.

Notts continued a good start to the season by beating Durham despite being bowled out for 161 in their first innings. Both sets of bowlers made good use of the friendly conditions, however, and that 161 turned out to be good enough for a first innings lead of 32. I think it was not unreasonable to expect more of the same, but instead Notts built an unchaseable total around Michael Lumb’s 131. Given that only three other batsmen in the entire match passed fifty, it was a fantastic innings. Durham started the chase of 368 by collapsing to 30-5 and it was only some good lower order batting that saw them avoid humiliation.

Middlesex‘s derby against Surrey looked like it might be the best match of the round even on the second day and it did not disappoint. It started off as a bit of a slow-burner; batsmen had to play themselves in properly before trying to go on. The top order for both sides did so passably well, though both suffered collapses in the first innings (Surrey’s the more dramatic). Neither, however, resembled the implosions seen in many other matches. It was slow, low-scoring work and very pleasing to see unfold even as I listened to Lancashire’s match. The work of Dawid Malan for Middlesex and Steve Davies for Surrey in getting the only two fifties of the first innings was very impressive in light of the fairly low team totals. The second innings saw the return of the proper collapses, however. Middlesex had a first innings lead of 34, but only set Surrey a target of 141. They needed something special from their bowlers and Tim Murtagh and Toby Roland-Jones just about delivered. It was close though. Rory Hamilton-Brown almost got Surrey across the line after they had been reduced to 22-3 and 68-4. He could not find a partner though and even though he made the second highest score of the match with 63, his departure left Surrey 126-8 and the tail could not quite do enough.

Somerset won the toss against Warwickshire at Edgbaston and chose to bat. Seventeen point four overs later they were 44-5 with Trescothick, Nick Compton and James Hildreth making just 14 between them. Compton at least managed to make his five last 64 balls, which is fairly impressive. I did not think they were going to get to 100, before Philander decided to become an all-rounder and top-scored in the innings with 38. In the end, Warwickshire had to rely on their own tail to get the lead close to 100. Somerset had a chance to set a good total and although they lost their openers cheaply again, they got an excellent hundred (133) from Compton and 93 from Jos Buttler. The pair of them put on 167, but it was a mark of how little help they got from the rest of the batsmen that their joint contribution was over half of the total of 354 all out. With Somerset’s batting, it is probably fair to say that it should have been more. Jeetan Patel’s unbeaten 43 left them rueing that failure. Although Warwickshire had briefly been 190-3, they collapsed in just eight overs to 207-8 and Somerset had a real chance. I think, however, that the more deserving team won.

Derbyshire‘s match against Glamorgan was a case of one semi-competent batting innings winning a match. At the end of day one, Derbyshire had been bowled out for 130 and had reduced Glamorgan to 37-4. They would go on to bowl Glamorgan out for 95 before themselves collapsing (again) to 37-5. Eventually they found some semblance of batting in the lower-middle order, most notably an unbeaten 51 from David Wainwright, and could set Glamorgan over 200 to win. It was not objectively a lot, but in the context of the match all the safe money was on Derbyshire. The extent of Glamorgan’s collapse was still pretty surprising, however. They got off to a decent start and were at one point 92-3. Six overs later, they were all out for 102. Jonathan Clare did most of the damage for Derbyshire, but it was still a spectacular implosion.

Gloucestershire managed comfortably the best performance in the first innings of this round of matches in their trip to Hampshire. They put up 314 all out, thanks mostly to 114 from opener Chris Dent. Despite a solid 74 from Simon Katich, Hampshire’s reply never seemed to really get going and Will Gidman’s 5-48 ensured that they were bowled out 115 in arrears. Gloucs made enough of it, but I’m sure they would have liked to have done more. No one went past fifty in their second innings, and Hampshire were set a not unreasonable 290 to win. Hants’ top order didn’t bother to show up for that chase, however, and found themselves 72-6 at one point. Wicket-keeper Michael Bates and Chris Wood engineered a recovery, but when Will Gidman struck to remove Bates 13 short of the latter’s hundred, the match was all but up.

Kent had the biggest victory of the week over Northamptonshire. Northants won the toss, batted and were bowled out for 132. It was an interesting innings as there were no scores of note and the wickets were shared around the Kent bowlers. Northants possibly scented a comeback when Kent were 35-2, but solid contributions from Ben Harmison, Brendan Nash and Geraint Jones combined with an unbeaten 128 from Mike Powell meant that they trailed by a massive 236 after the first innings. Northants did not make much of an effort to make Kent bat again. Captain David Sales 42 was the highest of only three double-digit contributions to their 116 all out as Matt Coles took 6-51 to achieve the earliest finish (lunch on day three) of the week.

Victory for Notts coupled with defeats for Somerset and Surrey mean that Nottinghamshire now top the first division table with 38 points from two matches. In Division Two, Derbyshire are enjoying one of their best starts to a season in recent times; they sit atop the table with 39 points and two wins from two.

Nick Compton would be a dark horse at best for England’s vacant number six spot, but after two matches he leads the first division in both total runs and average. Jos Buttler’s good, but ultimately just insufficient, innings should also keep him in the selectors’ minds.

LV=CC week one roundup

In a pretty good start to the County Championship, six of the seven round one matches had positive results with only Kent’s trip to Headingley ending in a draw. The full results were:
Nottinghamshire beat Worcestershire by 92 runs
Somerset beat Middlesex by six wickets
Surrey beat Sussex by 86 runs
Derbyshire beat Northamptonshire by 202 runs
Essex beat Gloucestershire by an innings and 38 runs
Leicestershire beat Glamorgan by 52 runs
Yorkshire drew with Kent

I mostly listened to the Kent match this weekend (in the hope that the White Rose would lose) so I’m hoping that it is not a sign of things to come as I turn my attention to Lancashire from next week.

The Notts and Leics matches were similar, both times the home side lost the toss and were put into bat (which actually happened in six of the seven matches, Kent winning the toss and batting being the only exception). And in both matches they collapsed dramatically. In Leicester the hosts lost wickets to the first two balls of the season and were 1-3 at one point with each of their top three making ducks. The fact that they made it to 249 all out was a dramatic recovery then. Notts did not start out quite as badly, but they did not recover as well either and succumbed to 118 all out via 34-5. Both sides were able to instigate collapses in their opponents though, Glamorgan were at one point 34-7 en route to 124 all out and Worcestershire simply lost wickets at regular intervals in getting a first innings lead of 12. This is where the matches diverged sharply: Notts proceeded to bat Worcs out of the match with 403, whilst Leics collapsed to 110 all out. Both were enough, however.

Whilst I did not get to watch Yorkshire lose (I would have been pretty surprised if I had) I did get to see Kent rack up 537-9 against them before declaring. Amazingly, that included a ninth wicket stand of 157 after Kent had been 374-8. A century by Jonny Bairstow was not quite enough for Yorkshire to avoid the follow-on (though probably gives him an early lead in the race for number six), but an opening stand of 115 in the second innings mostly ended any hopes of a positive result in that match.

If I had to pick one match that I thought would be drawn, I would have guessed Somerset v Middlesex, after the start was badly delayed by rain. Somerset never let Middlesex build a big partnership in the first innings, though, and then their strong batting order got them a lead of 104. George Dockrell took 6-27 to give Somerset an easy target of 72 with plenty of time. They lost four wickets en route, but made it pretty easily in the end.

Surrey did not get much of a contribution from their batsmen, only three went past fifty in both innings, but a very good group performance from their bowlers made sure it was enough. Sussex were bowled out for 196 in the first innings and the only bright spot as they tried to chase 342 was 108 by Luke Wells. Once again Surrey’s bowlers kept them in check and shared the wickets around and Sussex never really looked like getting the runs.

Derbyshire’s match at the county ground against Northants was very close after the first innings. Derbyshire lead by 22 at that point on the back of 110 by Dan Redfern and 83 by Ross Whiteley. The rest of the batsmen contributed only 87 between them. The second innings was completely different, however. A Martin Guptill 137 anchored a score of 314-3 from Derbyshire and although Northants managed to bat until late on day four, they were bowled out for 134.

The most one sided match of the first round was at Chelmsford. Essex were put into bat and responded by scoring 364. One hundred thirty of those were from opener Billy Godleman and Gloucestershire simply had no response. They collapsed to 180 all out and were asked to follow-on. Second time around Graham Napier took 5-58 as Gloucestershire could only make 146 and succumbed to an innings defeat.

Four sides are still yet to play, but so far Somerset have the early lead in Division One with 22 points from their first match, whilst Essex lead the second tier with 23 points.

2012 LV= County Championship preview

The County Championship is almost here. The traditional curtain raiser (in the decidedly non-traditional venue of Abu Dhabi) between the MCC and county champions Lancashire starts Monday morning at a convenient 08.30 CDT. That handily places it an hour or two after the close of play in Sri Lanka, so I’ll get to watch both. (Though unfortunately it also means that I apparently won’t be sleeping at all next week.) The season proper starts the week after, on 5 April, with three matches in Division One and four in Division Two. Before I get to my team-by-team breakdown, here’s a review of last year’s tables/shameless reminder that Lancs won and Yorkshire were relegated:

Lancashire 246
Warwickshire 235
Durham 232
Somerset 189
Sussex 182
Nottinghamshire 173
Worcestershire 142
Yorkshire 138
Hampshire 127
Middlesex 240
Surrey 227
Northamptonshire 226
Gloucestershire 198
Derbyshire 181
Glamorgan 178
Essex 159
Kent 149
Leicestershire 88

I have written brief previews for each team, but if you prefer you can also skip to the end where I have my predictions for the final table:

Derbyshire‘s biggest change from last year is the loss of their ‘keeper and captain, Luke Sutton, to an early retirement. This is a major blow for them as he had done an excellent job last year in leading a young side and I expect they will miss him greatly. They have the same overseas players as last year, Martin Guptill until the middle of June and Usman Khawaja from then on, and both are good, but not spectacular and I doubt that will be enough to keep them from slipping a bit from last year.

I think Durham will actually be a bit disappointed with last year’s result. They finished third and competed for the title until the last round of matches, but they did not get the performances from their bowlers that they might have expected. On paper they have possibly the best bowling attack in the country and one which is not disrupted for international duty, but only Graham Onions had a really good season last year. Steven Harmison only bowled 117.4 overs (but took 17 wickets in them) and Liam Plunkett, for the second year in a row, was very poor. They have made very few changes in the off-season and I expect them to be near the top half of the table again, but they will need their big name bowlers to step up if they want a third Championship banner.

Essex have already made headlines this off-season by controversially signing Alviro Petersen for the first part of this season. I don’t have any problem with it (playing in England didn’t help Phil Hughes) and I think Petersen will be a good addition to what is already a reasonably strong batting order. They also acquired Charl Willoughby from Somerset. Willoughby did not have his best season for Somerset last year, but he is a skilled bowler and alongside Ryan ten Doeschate gives Essex a pretty strong attack. I expect them to climb up the table and possibly challenge for promotion this year.

Glamorgan will be boosted this year by the return of former England paceman Simon Jones. Otherwise, however, it’s not great news for the Welsh side: Their top batsman last year was Alviro Petersen and as mentioned above, he is now with Essex. Their primary overseas player this year will instead be Marcus North. The same Marcus North who can’t even get into the Australian side anymore. Glamorgan finished sixth in Division Two last year and will do well to get that high this year.

Gloucestershire are another second division side who may be in for a long season this year. Both their lead run scorer, Chris Taylor, and their lead wicket-taker, Jon Lewis, have left the county. Without those two players they are going to be heavily reliant on the all-round talent of Will Gidman. Gidman had a fantastic season last year, taking 51 wickets and scoring 1006 runs, but it was his first full year at the county level and he may find it hard to maintain that form this year. If he does, Gloucestershire may still finish mid-table. Otherwise, however, I expect them to be very close to the bottom.

Hampshire finished at the bottom of the first division last year, but ended the season in the best way possible (for me). By clinging on for a draw against Warwickshire they sent the title to Old Trafford and have my thanks. They will be without Imran Tahir for this year’s campaign, but Danny Briggs was actually their lead wicket taker last year and barring the possibility of international duty there is a good chance that he can cover for the gaps. The biggest blow for them is that Neil McKenzie, who scored 1120 runs at 43.07 last year, will only be available for the T20 this year. That leaves a hole in their batting, but they have signed Simon Katich as their overseas player. Katich would probably be in the West Indies right now were it not for the very public falling-out with Cricket Australia, so that is probably a good signing. If Michael Carberry and new captain Jimmy Adams can build on good seasons last year then Hampshire should be fighting for promotion come September.

Kent have had a very busy off-season. They are another second division county who lost their lead run scorer to the top-tier, in this case Joe Denly to Middlesex. They’ve brought in a handful of players, however: Charlie Shreck has come in from Notts, Ben Harmison from Durham and Mike Powell from Glamorgan, plus a few from their youth team. Most importantly though, they have signed Brendan Nash as an overseas player. Despite the relatively poor statistics, he does bring some stability to the batting and it is always nice to have someone with Test experience. I think it is a good move. I don’t know that Kent have done enough to make a move up the table this year (though Lancs demonstrated last year that it is not impossible to do so with young players), however they look like they are in a good position to potentially profit from other counties slipping.

Lancashire won the title last year on the back of an unbelievable bowling unit. Gary Keedy took the most wickets with 61 at an average of 23.63, but Glen Chapple took 55 at 19.81 and Kyle Hogg took 50 at 18.80. Chapple and Hogg were the only two bowlers in the first division to bowl at least 200 overs and still have an average under 20. Simon Kerrigan only played four matches and still took 24 wickets at 18.20. Somewhat incredibly, our worst regular bowler last year still took 35 wickets at an average under 30. The questions for this year are a) can we at least come close to repeating that performance and b) can we improve on last year’s pretty dismal batting? The first one is the harder one to answer. We were helped last year by playing home matches at the bowler friendly Aigburth Cricket Club, but we will return to Old Trafford in the second half of this year and we really don’t know how the rotated surface will play. The bowling attack has not been depleted over the winter, however, so there is every chance of another good performance. The second question is more clear cut and we have signed what should be a solid batsman in Ashwell Prince. All told, Lancashire look like a better team than we were last year and are well placed to compete for the title again.

For Leicestershire, the only way to go is up. Only 88 points in the Championship last year left them a distant last in the second division. To make matters worse, James Taylor left in the off-season for the greener pastures of Trent Bridge. On the one hand, it’s hard to see Leicestershire perform as badly this year as they did last year. On the other, they have lost Taylor and made no measurable improvements. I think they will do better this year then they did last year, if for no other reason than the law of averages. Unless they make some sort of change, however, they will not rise up the table.

Middlesex find themselves in the first division this year after a very strong all-round season last year. They were supported then by 1286 runs from their overseas player, Chris Rogers, and an incredible eighty wickets from Tim Murtagh. Both will certainly find it harder in the first division, as will Joe Denly arriving from Kent, however. A player who will be unfazed by the first division is Steven Finn, who should have the first part of the season in which to push for a place against the West Indies. The more he plays for Middlesex, the better they will do. It’s hard to say how they will fare in the top flight, but I would be surprised if they went back down this season.

Northamptonshire can probably consider themselves desperately unlucky to still be in the second division after missing out on promotion by a single point at the end of last season. Their batting will be slightly improved this year with the addition of Kyle Coetzer and Chaminda Vaas returns as their overseas player after taking 70 wickets last season. Most of the team is the same as last year, however, and can challenge for promotion again with another good performance.

On paper, Nottinghamshire look like the team to beat in the Championship this year. After winning the title in 2010, they were not really in the race last year, but have made improvements in the off-season. The biggest was the acquisition of James Taylor from Leicestershire, but they have also brought in Michael Lumb from Hampshire. Their biggest loss is probably Charlie Shreck who has gone to Kent. Overall they look a very strong side, but ironically might be a bit too strong. Taylor will certainly have commitments with the Lions and there is still a reasonable chance that he will bat at six against the West Indies. They face a similar problem with Alex Hales, their lead run scorer last year, and even Samit Patel. They will be a good side no matter what, but how much of a title challenge they can make will depend a lot on how many of their players they lose to England/Lions duty.

Somerset will, of course, be finishing second in some competition this year, probably losing a limited overs final. This is a preview of the Championship, however, and in that they have far and away the best batsman in either division in Marcus Trescothick. He scored a mind-boggling 1673 runs last year at an average of almost eighty. Eighty! He is not the only batsmen at Taunton either: Nick Compton averaged 56 last year. The problem for Somerset has been their bowling, however, and that has got worse with the departure of Charl Willoughby. Last year only Alfonso Thomas averaged under 30 with the ball and only Willoughby and Steven Kirby took more than 40 wickets. They will be better for the first half of this season, having signed Vernon Philander through May, but I don’t think it will be enough. I think they will play well this year without really challenging for the title.

Surrey are the other team newly promoted to the first division this year. Jade Dernbach will reportedly be using the first part of the season to try to establish his Test credentials. (He’s going to fail, but the fact that he will be trying will be a good thing for Surrey certainly.) If fit, Chris Tremlett will be trying to do the same thing as he competes with Tim Bresnan and Steven Finn for the role of England’s third seamer. Jon Lewis also joins from Gloucestershire, making for a very strong looking attack. Jacques Rudolph will be the overseas player for the first part of the year and should provide good support in a batting order short on Division One experience. Like their neighbours, they should avoid going back down.

Sussex have had a very quiet off-season. They have made no really big moves and at least so far signed no overseas players. To an extent they don’t need to. They have a pretty good side already, finishing solidly in the middle of the table last year. Murray Goodwin and Ed Joyce are both skilled batsmen who had good seasons last year and Monty Panesar and James Anyon have had consistently bowled well. With most of the other first division sides having improved, however, I think Sussex will be moving the wrong direction on the table and likely face a battle to avoid relegation.

The biggest thing on which Warwickshire need to work this year is the breaking of stubborn middle order partnerships on the last day of the season. Apart from that little hiccup, they have a very good bowling attack: Chris Woakes and Boyd Rankin both represent their countries in some form and both took more than fifty wickets last year with averages in the low and mid-twenties. In an ideal scenario, there would be no reason why both should not do the same this year as well. Unfortunately for Warwickshire, Woakes injured his ankle in the pre-season and will miss the first six weeks. That will be at least a quarter of the season and that will hurt. On the bright side, they will have Jeetan Patel all season this year. Their batting is rather weaker; Varun Chopra was their standout performer last year with an average in the forties. That was comfortably the best year of Chopra’s career, however, and there is no guarantee that he can replicate that form next year. Warwickshire might finish near the top of the table again, but I don’t see them winning.

Worcestershire are probably a bit lucky to still be in the top flight. They had a poor season last year and were really only saved by that memorable two-day win against Lancashire. (I can laugh about it now.) They have a pair of good bowlers in Alan Richardson and Gareth Andrew, but not a lot of support for them. Their batting begins and ends with Vikram Solanki. They are trying to shore it up this year with the addition of Phil Hughes (from late May) as an overseas player but if one is desperate enough to sign Phil Hughes, well… I would expect them to be relegated this year.

Yorkshire are in the second division this year. I like to repeat that as often as possible and almost as often as I like to repeat that Lancashire are County Champions: Yorkshire are in the second division. Unfortunately (but not too unfortunately since I do like having Roses matches) I think it will only be for this one season. Whilst they played hilariously badly last year it was very much a surprise. They still can’t afford an overseas player, but Phil Jaques will play with a UK passport and there is plenty of talent in the side regardless. Only Ryan Sidebottom really stood out last year, but Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow are both very good and if they are not playing for England they should fill their boots in the second division.

Given all of the above, this is my prediction for the table come September:


I think the title race will be very close again. Notts are the stronger team on paper, but they have some pretty big vulnerabilities if they lose players to international duty. Lancashire, meanwhile, are almost certainly a better team than the one which won ten matches and the title last season, but the players all turned in unusually good performances last year, and it’s hard to think they can fully replicate them this year. There is also the uncertainty of the new surface at Old Trafford. Ultimately, I’m a bit of an optimist (especially at the start of the season) and I’ve tipped Lancs to repeat.