The snow showers across the UK this weekend could mean only one thing: the start of a new domestic cricket season. What better way to prepare our aspiring youngsters for Test cricket than to play in freezing temperatures?
However, it seems churlish to complain in the circumstances. The return of the county championship is always something to savour. Therefore, without further ado, let’s look at who caught the eye in the first round of matches. We all know that Ed Smith was keeping one eye on proceedings. It’s just a shame that his other eye was firmly fixed on the IPL.
We begin at Leicester where some fella called James Vince scored a glorious 231. In normal circumstances, one might expect the national selector to ignore these runs completely. However, the fact they were made off just 220 balls (an IPL-esque strike-rate) might have piqued his interest. Then again, Smith is pretty good at ignoring Vince’s runs. After all, he made 85 in his last Test innings before Ed dropped him. Not a lot of people remember that.
The other standouts in this game were Tom Alsop, who made 119, and Liam Dawson, who made 152*. He’s a strange cricketer that Dawson. Nobody can work out if he’s really, really good or not particularly good at all. And talking of the strange and mysterious, Mason Crane took 6-151 in the match. Are these the most wickets ever taken by a leg-spinner in early April?
Over at Nottingham the hosts started the season as they probably mean to go on: by unfulfilling their collective potential. A top four boasting Haseeb Hameed, Ben Duckett, and Joe Clarke is just crying out to underperform. And so it came to pass. A bore draw was the result.
Durham, on the other hand, have an interesting looking XI this year. The returning Scott Borthwick (now captain) could make a big difference. Having said that, all the big names were outshone in this game by Dave Bedingham’s 180* and Ned Eccelscake’s 113.
Things were pretty uneventful over in Brum too. Liam Norwell took 5-32 in a low scoring affair but neither team could force a result – no thanks to the weather. Matt Critchley made 64 and 83, which was a pretty useful effort in the conditions.
More play was possible at the traditionally balmy Headingley. However, once again neither team was competent enough to secure victory.
Having said that, the match did provide an interesting talking point: the tail-enders managed to score most of the runs in the first innings. Indeed, the scoreboard looked completely Dutch at one stage: Glamorgan’s Timm van der Gugten, an opening bowler by trade, scored 85*. Even Michael Hogan, another fast bowler, made 54.
Sadly there was little for Yorkshire to celebrate in this game. Adam Lyth secured the draw with an admirable 115*, and Ben Coad took 4-94, but the sight of Billy Root making 110* for the Welshies would’ve stung a bit. Chris Cooke also made an unbeaten ton.
Thankfully, the watching millions at The Oval were actually treated to a result – albeit not for the home side. Despite fielding a star-studded lineup that included 6 full internationals (Burns, Stoneman, Amla, Pope, Foakes, Topley) not to mention the highly rated Jamie Overton and Amar Virdi, Surrey got stuffed by plucky underdogs Gloucestershire.
Seeking 225 for victory in the 4th innings, Gloucs romped home by eight wickets thanks to 110 from Graeme van Buuren. The main bright spot for Surrey was that Ben Foakes proved once again that he can’t bat for toffee by scoring 133 in the second innings. Now there’s another innings for Ed Smith to ignore.
If you like unpredictability and profuse dice-rolling, with both teams gambling in the quest for success, then the game at Northampton probably wasn’t for you. However, it did show the value of nous, experience, craftiness and canniness. I’m referring, of course, to yet another standout performance by high-roller Darren Stevens.
The toast of Kent just keeps going and going. He made 116* despite the fact that he’ll turn 45 years old in a couple of weeks. The only surprise is that he didn’t take ten wickets too. Well, we did suggest that it was an uneventful affair. Bat dominated ball in this one with Ricardo Vasconcelos and Rob Keogh also scoring centuries.
There was another high-scoring affair at Chelmsford where Essex couldn’t get past a defiant Worcestershire. Despite scoring freely in their first innings, with Tom Westley scoring 213 – we can neither confirm nor deny that all 213 of these runs where scored through midwicket – the hosts found themselves on the receiving end of an innings for the ages from Jake Libby.
The admirable Libby, also known as the corpse with pads on, made 180* off the small matter of 496 balls. Dom Sibley eat your heart out. Ed Barnard made a slightly more entertaining 128.
It was fairly dull in Manchester too. And this referred to cricket as well as the weather. Home-grown Tom Haines made 155 for Sussex, and Lancs captain Dane Vilas scored an mighty 189, but there was very little else worth mentioning in this one.
Thankfully, however, the game between Middlesex and Somerset finally provided the dose of drama that all opening week of the county championship deserve. This one had more twists and turns than a game of Twister, with Somerset edging home by four wickets.
Everything was dandy for Middlesex in the first innings. Sam Robson made a highly impressive 165 out of a competitive total of 313. Lewis Gregory took 5-68 but the visitors seemed to be on the back foot.
Somerset could only muster 172 in reply but it could’ve been a hell of a lot worse. They were 89-9 at one stage before a big last wicket stand between Marchant de Lange and Jack Leach made the score respectable and turned momentum on its head.
Sensing an opportunity, the Somerset bowlers came out firing in Middlesex’s second innings and fired them out for just 142. Craig Overton, Josh Davey, and Leach all contributed 3 wickets each. This left Somerset the not-so-small matter of 285 for victory.
Although they lost wickets at regular intervals, and found themselves 187-6 at one stage, a captain’s knock of 84 from Tom Abell, followed by 76* from George Bartlett and 62* from Gregory saw the visitors home by 4 wickets. Cue the cider-drinking celebrations.
Who caught your eye in the first round of championship fixtures? Feel free to mention which players failed miserably too.
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Was there any good reason why Tom Banton didn’t play in any of the recent white-ball matches in India? He seems just the sort of player they should have been looking at. Notice how James Vince scored his runs batting at No.5? He was never a No.3 but was a round peg battered into a square hole by England.
Most importantly, the ECB have joined a number of other sports’ governing bodies in backing vaccince passports for sporting events. That’s the end of my cricketing watching then. How sad I can’t give those bastards any of my money.