This time of year is, frankly, a very confusing time for the modern cricket fan. As the IPL gets into full swing – with million-pound man Stokes swinging like a 1920’s speakeasy and Tymal Millions steaming in like a locomotive – it’s easy to conclude that this is cricket’s new soul.
And yet, in (normally) damp old England, pockets of dangerously obsessed, statistic-adoring sporting misfits rub their hands together, optimistically pop open the suncream, and blow the dust from their wide-brimmed hats.
Yep, the County Championship is back, and with it come the surprises, skill, patience, occasional boredom, despair and ecstasy that only First Class cricket can serve up. And after a stunning finish to last season, the start of the 2017 edition did not disappoint.
So without further ado, here’s a recap of the winners, losers and I’m-not-really-sure-whats of the opening matches.
Kent’s forgotten men
Just delicious. Can you imagine a 40-year-old in football or rugby serving up the sort of performances that Darren Stevens conjures up every week (especially early in the season)? Here he was in fine fettle, creaming the bowlers to the boundary and making crucial middle order runs before bowling a typically brilliant spell that sent stumps splattering in all directions – a bit like that horrible stuff that comes out of the Ketchup bottle if you don’t shake it well enough.
And up the other end James Harris – once with designs on an England spot, but now cast aside by Middlesex – was reminding everyone what he’s capable of with a virtuoso bowling display and his own important cameo with the bat. Long live the forgotten men.
Nottinghamshire’s international class
As much as we like to champion players that don’t always receive the adulation they deserve, there’s no shying away from just how formidable Notts look in division two. Stuart Broad and James Pattinson put on a superb batting display and then totally annihilated Leicestershire’s batting with 12 wickets between them in the match.
Get used to this for the rest of the season – Notts are just too good for this division.
If you’re good enough, you’re old enough (or so the cliché goes)
You never really appreciate Paul Collingwood until you are older than 21. At least that’s my theory. It’s only when you’re watching England fold like a pack of cards for the millionth time (exciting cricket blah blah blah) that you appreciate what you once had. Colly was brilliant at saving games.
Well, 19-year-old Dan Lawrence might just be the answer to our prayers. He batted out the entire last day against a Lancashire attack including England’s record wicket-taker Jimmy Anderson for a spectacular 141 not out. This lad looks the real deal.
Fortunately for Lancs they have their own batting prodigy. And I don’t mean Haseeb Hameed (who made two starts but fell in the 40’s) but young wicket-keeper batsman Alex Davies, who creamed 21 fours in a brilliant second innings of 140 not out.
Super Stoneman and Fearsome Footitt
Look, nobody likes a know-it-all. But did I put Stoneman and Footitt in my list of players that were unlucky not to be in the England frame just a few weeks ago? Yes, I did. So there (just call me jammy).
Stoneman is surely going to pile up the runs on The Oval tarmac this year, while Footitt is that rare breed that is so dangerous: left-armed and express pace. Surrey look very good…
I bet Jacques Rudolph wakes up screaming every night thinking about the times his team play Northants. They put them to the sword every time they play. And this occasion was no different.
Northants’ bowling line up is disciplined and savvy (as shown by their consistent overachievement in the T20 Blast). Glamorgan’s batting, on the other hand, looks incredibly weak on this showing. Hopefully Aneurin Donald perks up quickly.
Hamp squib for Yorkshire
Hampshire are a funny team. A lot of fans dislike them for surviving relegation last year (poor old Durham) and then there’s their irksome decision to hire Kolpak players like they’re going out of fashion (though I suppose with an impending Brexit they literally might be going out of fashion).
Still, whatever one thinks of Rod Bransgrove and Co it was an astonishing effort to chase down 320-odd in the fourth innings against a somewhat depleted but still more than useful Yorkshire side. Kyle Abbott might be a kolpak import but he’s always looked a cracking bowler. He suits English conditions rather nicely.
Rest of season predictions
Notts and Kent to breeze Division Two. Although Kent will pummel Notts by an innings and 300 runs to clinch the title at some point (not that I’m biased at all).
Yorkshire to crash to a shock relegation. Hampshire to win the thing just to piss everyone off.
Peter Jackson Eastwood