Championship cricket in April usually means one thing: ball dominates bat. The fielding captain tosses the ball to Darren Stevens (or a Darren Stevens clone) and the pitch does the rest. “Use the facilities” is the cry behind the wicket as the prototypical English seamer ambles to the crease with seven slips and two gullies in position.
But it was a very different story at Nottingham this week. It turned into an early season run fest with Joe Clarke, a young man who can’t seem to escape the spotlight these days, taking centre stage.
Clarke made 112 in his debut innings for his new county and then made 97no in the second dig. He was denied the opportunity to score two hundreds in the game because Steve Mullaney, who’s obviously from the Mike Atherton school of captaincy, declared overnight. There’s no room for sentimentality in professional cricket you know.
Being a Worcestershire fan who lamented Clarke’s relative lack of runs last year as my county were relegated, the temptation to do a Nelson Muntz was strong. When Atherton declared at the SCG with Graeme Hick on 98 I cried. When Mullaney declared at Trent Bridge over the weekend I uttered a little “ha ha”.
Clarke wasn’t the only man to score heavily in this game. Ben Slater made 76, Adam Lyth 81, and Chris Nash 75. There were also big runs for Joe Root and Gary Ballance.
Set 447 to win in the fourth innings, Root and Gazza Bazza both made impressive tons to secure the draw for Yorks. Even Stuart Broad was unable to part them. Indeed, the only bowler who made much of an impression in the match was Yorkshire’s kolpak import Duanne Olivier who took 5-96 in Notts’ first innings.
It was a different story at Taunton, however, where Somerset beat Kent by 74 runs and wickets tumbled like Venezuelan bolivar. This was more the kind of early season cricket we’re accustomed to. Wickets fell at regular intervals and yes, some of them were even taken by Darren Stevens. The original one.
It could be a long season for Kent as they were bundled out for 209 and 131. The second innings was particularly disappointing because they only required a smidge over 200 to win. Three wickets apiece for the miserly Lewis Gregory, who took 3-26 in 17 overs, and Craig Overton put paid to their ambitions.
The decisive contribution with the bat for Somerset came from young George Bartlett, who scored a priceless 63 in the second innings to set up what proved to be a challenging run chase. The fact that Somerset’s No.11, new signing Jack Brooks, made 35no didn’t help either.
Bartlett and Brooks, which sounds uncannily like a provincial law firm, put on an infuriating tenth wicket stand of 62. Talk about crucial. The result may have been very different without the tail wagging egregiously.
Hants started their season with a huge win at home against a lacklustre Essex. Hants were always in a strong position after posting 526-8 declared in the first innings. In an innings that will delight the ‘why hasn’t Sam Northeast played for England?’ brigade, Sam Northeast cashed in big time with 169. There were also half centuries for Markram, Dawson, and Rene Russo.
The decision by Essex captain Ryan ten Doeschate to insert Hants was curious to say the least. He probably thought “if the oppo make 500+ then I’m a Dutchman”. One assumes he must have been taking advice from former Essex captaincy icon Nasser Hussain. I wonder if Sir Alastair was tempted to have a word. Speaking of Sir Chef, he made scores of just 50 and 8. Kyle Abbott dismissed him both times.
Down in div 2 it was good start to the season for Derbyshire who beat perennial sob story Durham by 125 runs. Dave Houghton’s side only scored 197 in their first innings but were able to secure a slim first innings lead after Luis Reece’s 5-47 bundled out the visitors for just 171.
Derby made a better fist of their second innings and put 334 on the board. Nobody got a major score but everyone chipped in. Durham never looked like chasing the runs after a bright opening stand between Harte and new signing Alex Lees ended on 81.
I really hope the latter can get his career back on track this year. I remember seeing Lees play as a 21 year old and being incredibly impressed. I saw him two years later and his confidence and technique looked completely shot. It’s a strange game is cricket.
Before the season many were tipping Jason Gillespie and Rob Andrew (what an unlikely sporting combination) to lead Sussex back to the big time. They might want to think again after their piss poor performance at not-so-sunny Brighton this weekend. Leicestershire emerged as comfortable winners by 7 wickets.
Tom Taylor’s 6-47 ran through the hosts on day one and dismissed them for 173. Leics replied with 252 thanks to middle order contributions from Dearden and Hill. Despite an impressive 80 from young opener Phil Salt, who lived up to his name by showing admirable grit in the icy conditions, Sussex only managed to set a target of 230.
The visitors romped home thanks to half centuries from Horton and Azad, plus an unbeaten 53 from Mark Cosgrove, the man with a walrus physique capable of enduring the most adverse weather conditions.
The final fixture of the opening weekend saw Middlesex, who many expect to go up pretty comfortably, play out a bore draw against Northants.
Despite deciding to bowl first on what was expected to be a helpful surface, Middlesex’s much vaunted pace attack of Murtagh, Roland-Jones, Harris, and Finn, bowled a plethora of pork pies which Alex Wakely, Adam Rossington, and Jason Holder gobbled up gratefully. The end result was a highly competitive first innings total of 445.
Fortunately for affable Gus Fraser, however, Northants were unable to press home their advantage. They bowled out the visitors for 271 in the first innings but they struggled badly after enforcing the follow on. Dawid Malan’s imperious 160 saw Middlesex to safety as they amassed 317-4.
Perhaps the most curious incident of the four days, however, involved a rare sighting of Eoin Morgan wearing whites. He must have wondered where the hell he was. Northampton in early April is no place for a white ball specialist with aspirations of winning the World Cup.
How jealous Eoin must feel when he watches his mates – Jonny, Jos, Joe, Ben, Mo, and Co – strutting their stuff and earning shit loads of cash on the big Indian stage.
England’s IPL brigade might be wearing the most hideous shirts imaginable – shirts that look like they’ve been designed by a colourblind badger on LSD – but at least they’ve got short sleeves. I imagine poor Eoin was wearing three or four jumpers as the artic breeze blew in from the English channel.