I don’t consider myself a fussy person – a can of beer and a television set is normally enough to make me happy – but I draw the line at snow in late April. It’s just not cricket. With May just a few days away I want to feel some early sun on my face and the sound of cuckoos echoing around the trees. What I don’t want, and certainly don’t expect, is snow, hail and ice disrupting the first class schedule.
Unfortunately the weather Gods don’t really care for cricket. Only one result was possible in the latest round of championship matches – Essex’s decisive win over Northants – so there aren’t any exciting finishes to report. Instead let’s simply discuss who’s catching the selectors’ eye.
Although we won in South Africa earlier this year, England’s batting lineup is full of holes. So much so that we’re as long as 7/2 in the cricket odds to win the Ashes down under (Australia are huge 4/9 favourites). I know there’s a lot of cricket to be played before then, but it goes to show just how far we are from becoming the finished article. We need to find three batsmen in 18 months. That won’t be easy.
We’ll start our roundup at The Oval, where Surrey and Somerset played out one of the less tedious draws. Surrey batted first and made 463, thanks to Kumar Sangakkara’s 171 and half-centuries from Jason Roy and Zafar Ansari. I wonder if the latter is still in the selectors’ thoughts?
Somerset made 353 in reply, with promising young left-hander Marcus Trescothick scoring his third first class century in his last six innings. Thanks to the weather, a result never really looked likely in this one – although Surrey did their best to keep things interesting when they collapsed to 181-8 in their second innings. Craig Overton and Lewis Gregory picked up three wickets each.
Somerset were never likely to chase the 292 required for victory on the final day, but it was interesting to see Ansari pick up 3-43 as the game fizzled out. In an ideal world Ansari would be opening for Surrey. I’m somewhat disappointed he’s coming in at six. He’s a very organised and patient player.
All eyes were on Marlon Samuel’s best friend at Chester-le-Street, as Ben Stokes made his first appearance since he got Braithwaited in the World T20 final. One imagines he was a tad fired up.
No result was possible in the match, of course, but there were some noteworthy performances. Although Sam Robson only made 26 of Middlesex’s 389 first innings runs, the much fancied Dawid Malan scored a half-century. The star of Durham’s reply was Mark Stoneman, who made an impressive 141 no. Young Jack Burnham, a recent stalwart of England’s U19 side, showed considerable promise with 61. Steve Finn took three wickets. With Mark Wood ruled out for two months, it’s important that Finny finds some form.
The game between Yorkshire and Warwickshire promised much but again fell victim to the weather. Yorkshire made 379 in the first innings but Warwickshire bloodied the champions’ noses by making 443 in reply – a sizeable advantage. Yorkshire managed 73-2 in the third innings before the game was called off.
There were a host of England candidates playing in this match. Some did better than others. Although Adam Lyth and Alex Lees both failed twice in the match – the latter has had a less than stellar start to the season – there were runs for Gary Balance (68), Adil Rashid (63) and the promising Jack Leaning (51). Chris Woakes bowled well and picked up 4-87. I wonder how close he is to a test recall?
Warwickshire’s batting looks very strong this year. Varun Chopra, who has been talked about as a possible England opener since WG Grace was knee-high to a grasshopper, scored 107. Bell and Trott also showed their good form with half-centuries. Not many leg-spinners take wickets in England in April – especially when it’s six degrees and snowing – but Adil Rashid bowled 31 overs and took 4-127. Well done him.
Down in division two, Rashid’s main rival for a test berth also had a good game – with the bat at least. Mooen Ali scored 210 runs in the match (including 136 no in the second innings) but failed to take a wicket with the ball. It looks like he’s still struggling for rhythm and consistency. I’m beginning to think that Mo’s excellent bowling performances against India in 2014 were an aberration I’m afraid.
It was another high-scoring game at Bristol. Gloucs made 380 thanks mainly to Hamish Marshall’s 135. Worcs replied with 411, of which the (bloody) exciting Joe Clarke scored 135. Keep an eye on this lad. Gloucs made another solid 382 in the second innings, with all-rounder Jack Taylor scoring his third first-class ton. Worcestershire batted out the final day without alarm thanks to Moeen’s sublime century. Does he ever score any other type of century?
There was more good news for Alastair Cook at Chelmsford as Essex registered the only win of the week – and what a resounding win it was too. Essex triumphed by the small matter of an innings and 92 runs. The victory was set up on the opening day by 1st wicket partnership of 105 by Cook and Nick Browne. Who knows, this could be England’s opening partnership when they take on Sri Lanka in a few weeks’ time.
Essex’s total of 441 put Northants on the back-foot and the visitors were unable to recover. They were absolutely overwhelmed in the end: they got blown away for 119 in their first innings and were unable to make Essex bat again in their second. Once again the star of the show with the ball was Jamie Porter, who is making a real name for himself. I look forward to seeing him bowl in the flesh.
The most interesting thing to happen in the other division two games was Daniel Bell-Drummond’s excellent 124. With the legendary Rob Key walking away from the game this week – we wish Bob all the best – Kent certainly have the talent to replace him.
I’m not yet convinced that Bell-Drummond is as good as some would have us believe (Key once claimed that DBD would collect 100 England caps), but he’s certainly showing promise. England’s cupboard isn’t exactly stacked when it comes to openers, so it’s good to see some youngsters coming through.
The main feature of Kent’s match with Leicestershire was actually a colossal partnership of 217 between Neil Dexter and Mark Cosgrove. However, because neither of them have a cat in hell’s chance of playing for England – especially Cosgrove who is (a) somewhat rotund, and (b) Australian – there’s probably no point discussing this further.
The final match involved Glamorgan and Derbyshire. Other than Will Bragg’s excellent first innings ton, nothing much happened in the match. And there’s not much happening in my roundup from here either. I’m done. Finito.
Let me know your thoughts on the latest round of matches. Is anyone in particular making it hard fo the selectors to ignore them? Then again, if the rumours are true, the team for the first test is already etched in stone.
Written in collaboration with Paddy Power