Hold on to your panama hats folks. It’s time for our weekly championship roundup. Sod the IPL. We all know this is the stuff that really matters. Who cares about Ben Stokes’ match turning performance for the Rising Prune Superlaxatives when Darren Stevens has taken another five-fer at Canterbury? Ahem.
We start our exciting journey at Old Trafford, the theatre of creams, where Liam Livingstone continues to dazzle. Lancs were skittled for just 109 on the first day (Livingstone made 69 of these) and looked in real trouble when Dean Elgar’s 113 gave Somerset a first innings of 169. How nice of Somerset to give South Africa’s key man at the top of the order the opportunity to acclimatise ahead of July’s test series.
However, Lancashire staged an amazing comeback with Livingstone making the small matter of 168, and young keeper Alex Davies scoring 130. Methinks Jos Buttler should start looking for a new county. Somerset seemed stunned by their opponent’s resolve and slumped to a dismal 130 in the fourth innings. The locals were ecstatic and danced in the aisles to Lancy Lancy beat.
The big question is whether Livingstone can force his way into England’s plans? The 23 year old now averages 52 in 22 first class matches with five tons and eight fifties. He’s also a rather handy limited overs player.
Livingstone’s rise to fame has happened very quickly. A year ago he was considered a very raw talent with a preference for the white ball stuff. But he’s developing so quickly, and his talent is so prodigious, that he seems capable of anything. There’s a genuine excitement around the shires that he could be the next big thing.
His 168 in the second innings came off 306 balls, which shows he can apply himself as well as attacking with his trademark biffs. He also bats in a style of his own (which isn’t necessarily straight from the MCC coaching manual). Indeed, his approach seems somewhat reminiscent of a young Kevin Pietersen. I look forward to seeing more of him this summer.
The other big news from the latest round of matches came at the Bransgrove Bowl where Yorkshire drew with Hants. Although the match ended in a draw, Gary Ballance continues to demonstrate that captaincy rather suits him. He scored a ton in each innings – remarkably the first Yorkshire captain ever to do so.
I wonder what the selectors make of Ballance’s resurgence? Last year they picked him when he was struggling for form. Therefore it seems entirely predictable that they’ll completely ignore him now that he’s batting like Lara (well, maybe not quite like Lara but you get my point).
Talking of finding form at the wrong time, James Vince scored a fine 147 in the same match. Well done him. I should also mention the remarkable Ben Coad who just keeps taking wickets. This time he registered 4-71 in Hants’ first innings. Who needs international stars when you’ve got a good young’un from Harrogate?
There was another run-fest at Lord’s where Middlesex informed newcomers Essex that division one isn’t a bed of roses after all. The champions made a mammoth 507 in the first innings, with their top three of Robson, Random Paraphernalia and Eskinazi all making centuries.
Essex flopped to 295 all out in their reply and were forced to follow on. There were no heroics from Alastair Cook this time as Steve Finn claimed 4-51. It’s nice to know that big Steve is still alive.
Luckily however Essex were saved on the final day when bad light intervened. They were staring into the abyss at 168-8 when the dark clouds rolled in and play was ultimately abandoned – good karma for their opposition to Harrison’s Harebrained Have A Hit I reckon.
The final game in division one saw Warwickshire finally recover their dignity against Slurry at Edgbaston. It was a high-scoring match which saw three players reach centuries: Ian Westwood made 153 in Warwickshire’s first innings of 332, and Mark Stoneman and Kumar Sangakkara made 123 and 105 respectively in Surrey’s reply.
Although they were under pressure in their second innings, runs from Ian Bell and Tim Ambrose helped the Bears to safety. I doubt the Sherminator will mind that he missed out on a century too much (he was dismissed for 99). He desperately needed a score in this game and his side desperately needed to find some form. Mission accomplished I’d say.
Down in division two, Worcestershire narrowly beat Northants in an old fashioned New Road shoot out. The heroes for the pears were Moeen Ali, who made a crucial 50 in the first innings, and captain Joe Leach who took 10-122 in the match.
Northants shouldn’t be too downhearted about losing though. Shit often happens in April at New Road. There were encouraging displays from Ben Duckett, who made 47 in their first innings, and seamer Nathan Buck who continued his good form with seven wickets in the match.
Fortunately (but perhaps less excitingly) the games at Bristol and Grace Road lasted a little longer. Although Durham registered a useful three figure first innings lead against Gloucs they couldn’t force a result, despite the best efforts of Chris Rushworth, Keaton Jennings, and the evergreen Brigadier Block himself, Paul Collingwood MBE.
The primary thorn in Durham’s side was Will Tavare, who made a typically soporific 61 off 158 balls in the first innings and then a comparatively electric 55 off 77 balls in the second. Mark Wood only took one wicket in the match.
There were plenty of runs in Leicestershire’s draw with Glamorgan too. Selman and Ingram both made three figure scores for the Welshies, and Mark Pettini made a second innings ton (to go with a first innings half-century) for the hosts. Ned Eckersley also continued his rich vein of form with 73. The highly promising 20 year old Aneurin Donald secured the draw with 66 not out on the final day. He’s definitely one to watch.
In the final match – and you’ll be delighted to know that I’ve saved the best until last – Kent beat Derbyshire at Canterbury in a game that will warm the hearts of forty-somethings everywhere. That’s right folks, Darren Stevens just keeps getting more remarkable every week. What on earth are they putting in his pies?
After Kent had made 259 in the first innings, Deadly Darren’s 6-47 routed the visitors for just 159. He then scored a crucial 90 with the bat as Kent rammed home their advantage in the second dig. Keeper Adam Rouse also made 90 odd.
Derbyshire were unable to recover and were bowled out for 239 in the final innings despite Gary Wilson’s defiant 97. The only slight blemish for the Kentish Gentlemen was the performance of Sam Northeast, who made just 32 and 11 in the match. Well, it’s probably wise to ration one’s brilliance from time to time.