The Only Win Is Essex – County Championship Roundup (April 28th)

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.

James Morgan

Written in collaboration with Paddy Power


  • Doesn’t it snow in late April literally every year, at least in Durham or Derbyshire or somewhere?

    Its how you know the first class cricket season has started.

  • Doesn’t Newman in the DM say exactly the opposite – that the team isn’t edged in stone? Chucks in Vince for Taylor, which I think likely to replace Taylor anyway (he’s been burning a whole in the selectors policy for a while regardless of Div 2 record), Balance (without much evidence is better technically than before) and Browne, presumably to stir things up.

      • “England already have a firm idea of the team they want to step out at Headingley on May 19” I took this to mean that they already know who they want in the team (unless anything drastic happens). We’ll see. I haven’t seen anything similar written elsewhere. Not that I can immediately recall.

  • Excellent round up James. I’m still unable to select my team, but I expect Hales to open. I wouldn’t mind seeing Bell back at 5 but suspect they will go for the younger option. It’s all up for grabs at 3. No matter what I can’t wait for the day to come. I’m always critising the obscene schedule, but feel lost without a test match in the offing.

  • The Lankans announced their tour party the other day. They’ve recalled Kaushal Silva who played a couple of important knocks in the draw at Lord’s and also the seamer Eranga who bowled well at Headingley but then seemed to disappear.

    The loss of Jayawardene and Sangakkara is almost certainly going to be too much for them. However they’ve selected their strongest hand available. Their seam attack looks quite decent if they can stay fit and their batsmen could give them something to bowl at. Their middle order of Chandimal-Mathews-Siriwardana is quite handy if the top order don’t get knocked over quickly and keep exposing them to the new ball.

  • Moeen ali is a fantastic cricketer who I’d love to see concentrate on his stronger suit – batting. I like to think a test side should have 6 players who’s stronger suit is with the bat and 4 with the ball. Hopefully one or more batsmen can bowl and likewise bowlers can bat. moeen could yet be a top player if given responsibility.

    • Mo’s bowling was a real let down in this match, 16 wicketless overs for 81. I know its only April but if the track isn’t turning, you’ve got to keep it tight and do a job. Barely anytime was lost and Worcester really needed to win this after getting a 1st innings lead. Gaining promotion is gonna be very hard this season.

      Regards England, Mo will be number 8 for SL, but we have to be looking for a specialist with India coming up in the winter.
      Pleased he got runs, he’s a lovely player to watch and it would be nice for people to remember its his main forte.

      • A friend was at the game and said it was a genuine seamer and Ali only really bowled when nothing was happening or to change ends. Moeen has done a decent job for England, rasher wouldn’t do better.

  • Part of the reason Ansari is down the order is that Surrey were asking an awful lot of him to both open the batting and bowl lots of overs in a game and for Surrey his bowling is definitely his more important suit – he keeps things tight for the seamers in the first innings and comes into his own on last day pitches. He was never really a top order player anyway, and back down the order he can focus more on his bowling, which really is coming on beautifully. Interesting that although they didn’t win the games for their side – they couldn’t for snow-based reasons! – both Ansari and Rashid got through a lot of overs in the last innings this round and picked up wickets whilst Mo struggled with the ball in his first outing of the season for the Pears. Wouldn’t be surprised to see a Test cap for Zafar by the end of the summer personally.

    The batting is no clearer, especially as in Hales’ absence every opener in the country has started scoring runs! I make that centuries for Robson, Lyth, Stoneman, Bell-Drummond, Chopra and Nash who could all probably make a decent claim for having next crack at the opener’s spot, although I’d be surprised if there was more than the obvious enforced change because of Taylor’s retirement for the start of the Sri Lanka series (we might see changes for the Pakistan one if Hales and Compton still haven’t nailed their spots down). Probably leaves Ballance and Vince in a straight shoot-out, and with Ballance having been the spare batsman on the South Africa tour he’s probably in pole position unless Vince scores a sackload.

    Seam bowling situation is less confusing obviously. Would expect Ball to be the extra seamer in the squad now Wood’s out for longer than anticipated.

    • Jake ball is a really good bowler and I’d like to see him in the reckoning for both test and 50 over squads. I don’t think Compton is in the top 15 batsmen in the country personally…

      • Have a soft spot for Compo because of his years at Somerset and I’ll always think he wash harshly treated first time round but if I’m being brutally honest I don’t think so either. His game is based around grinding county bowlers down and then feasting on the loose stuff when they get tired, but Test bowlers are fitter and bowl well for longer, and he’s not quite good enough in my opinion to last long enough on a regular basis to get to the same stage. At that point he just becomes a grinder, and that’s only really useful in incredibly tough batting conditions (which come along rarely at Test level) or when batting to save a match. I think Root should be batting 3 personally with Vince and Ballance in at 4 & 5, but as I said I don’t think there’ll be any dramatic changes to the side that won in Johannesburg if everyone’s available, which is also fair enough – would be harsh to jettison Hales and Compton before getting a crack on home soil.

  • enhlands selection is a tricky one. I think hales will be given the series v Sri Lanka as Bayliss wants someone to stand out before kicking hales out. I’d like to think the selectors are trying to choose 2 from ballance bell and Vince for the middle order spots. Of these three and root, all could bat in any position from 3-5 so picking the right man to bat 3 is crucial, my choice would be root. I think after cook and root bell is England’s best batsman still and should therefore play. Choosing between Vince and ballance very tough!

  • I really hope Clarke keeps scoring runs, no reason he could t be playing as early as the end of the summer if not the winter tours. A very good all round game. Scores naturally without premeditation (polar opposite to Compton) and has a very good temperament to boot

  • Still early days but this might help the selectors looking at the Middle Order
    Bell 3 innings 247 runs av 82 1 ton 1 50 HS 174
    Vince 3 innings 165 runs av 55 1 ton HS 118
    Ballance 4 innings (last truncated) 105 runs av 35 1 50 HS 68
    Compton 3 innings 82 runs av 27 1 duck HS 44

    But if form doesn’t count and a word in the captain’s ear does then who knows?

    • Since when has Bell ever NOT gone back to county cricket and dominated though? He finds it ludicrously easy, even when in poor form at Test level he’s always scored runs when he’s turned out for the Bears, which means you can’t really take anything from it when he does. Selectors have to take that on board really. I think he’s done personally and that he’ll be talked about more on comment boards like these than when it comes down to selection meetings in the same way that Key, Ramprakash and Trescothick were in that 2008/9 period.

  • I think our problem is that we’ve got several batsmen who could do a decent job at number 5 (Vince, Ballance, Bell), but no-one to bat between Cook at 1 and Root at 4.

    Hales should never have been selected for test cricket (and the same applies to Roy, Morgan, Buttler, etc), and Compton was harshly dropped the first time around but now appears to be struggling.

    Having said that, I would be neither surprised nor particularly dismayed to see them given a fair chance against Sri Lanka, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they scored runs, either.

    I think Robson might get another go sooner or later. Lyth I’m not so sure about.

    • Root could easily slot into no. 3 IMO. None of this nonsense about not moving him, as people said that when he was moved to no.4 in the first place.

      • He is too naturally attacking to be a number 3. It doesn’t suit his game at all.

  • Ansari remains interesting for the same reasons that led to him being picked for the winter tour. His bowling will probably turn out to be his stronger suit, because he has a real body action, that gets a lot of spin on the ball. His wickets against Somerset were really encouraging. But he is also one of the few younger batsmen around who are naturally capable of batting time. So when Hales blows up….

    • There is absolutely no way England are going to consider Ansari as an opening option. He barely scored any runs there when he was doing it for Surrey and on top of that he was having to bowl mountains of overs to boot. Ain’t happening, especially as Surrey have now seen the error of their ways too.

        • Can’t say for sure until he plays obviously but I’d say so, certainly as a lone spinner – can’t really shake the feeling that in an ideal world Moeen or Adil would be the attacking spinner that came in as your second spinner on a turning pitch, rather than your sole one in all conditions (worth pointing out that considering Mo barely bowled until a few years ago that’s still pretty miraculous from him mind). Ansari probably turns the ball less from what I’ve seen but he can keep it tight for the four seamers in the first innings or when conditions don’t favour but he really drives the ball into the surface when it does turn, so he’s dangerous then too. Mo comfortably the better batsman of the two but when you’re talking about your number eight it should really be the bowling you’re focusing on (and it’s not as if Ansari is useless with the bat anyway, although I’m not sure whether he has Test hundreds in him, whilst Mo obviously does).

            • Probably done him a disservice – he’s got a few more strings to his bow than Giles: Ash didn’t really get anymore dangerous when conditions favoured.

              • I see Cook hit Mo for a 6 yesterday, that tells me how much he rates him.
                Meanwhile Rashid bowled lovely on a wicket completely unsuitable.

              • Cook is a very good player of spin of course – but Mo’s early season form for Worcestershire is worrying indeed. There will be a couple of matches, I think before the test series and it will benefit him bowling in temperatures above 10 degrees Celsius but then again his test match form was hardly great last winter, Durban apart.

  • Funny with all England’s opening woes over the last few years that I’ve literally seen no suggestion of Tresco? Presumably he could still play home tests?

    Not saying it’s realistic or a long term solution but just slightly surprised that with all the options put on the table that one hasn’t appeared?

    • Definitely was mooted back in 2009 – there was a lot of talk about recalling Trescothick, Ramprakash or Key for the final Test in the Ashes.

      • Oh I remember that week… I was bellowing “Pick Tres, Pick Trees”. They didn’t…

    • Tres ruled it out himself from what I recall. A might fine player but he preferred to stay out of the limelight.

  • A couple of interesting stories from Nick Hoult:
    1) SL and Pakistan have agreed to using a points’ system this summer. The precise details have yet to be finalised. The article mentions three points for a Test win and two for a one-day win as a possibility (yuk!).
    2) The ECB has emailed all counties that they must not show CC coverage on Twitter because it would be a breach of their agreement with Sky (that’s at all times – not just in the next round of games when Sky are actually going to be broadcasting a CC match for once).

    I won’t try to create links as WordPress doesn’t like them – but both stories are on the DT website.

  • Late again. I have to confess I don’t remotely fancy putting on 3 jumpers and popping along to Hove at the moment. I’m old and delicate.

    Re the holes in the England batting line up, I can’t help but think we’re now over 2 years into the New Era and still don’t know who to select. When I say “we” I of course mean the highly paid geniuses who form our selection team.

  • Root isn’t good enough for a top 3 test spot, simple as that. Sure, he can do it like smith on flat tracks but he’s too loose outside off stump.

    Sadly, given how cook is murdering county bowling and no other opener is regularly (3 100’s in 4 digs rather than one big score and more fails).. Tells me that England are short on genuine top order batsmen.. The fact players like hales open just tells you all you need to know. Lees who is rated looked very loose to me as well in the last game vs Notts


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