Holy Pope! Championship Roundup

Here’s your choice. You can either watch Virat Kohli, the Indian messiah, slog a few in the IPL, or get yourself down to The Oval and see a Pope in person. I’m referring, of course, to young Oliver Pope, the saviour of Surrey’s batting. Hardly anyone had heard of the lad a week ago, but now he’s just as famous (amongst Surrey supporters at least) as his namesake who resides in the Vatican. What’s more, he’s about a hundred years younger.

Surrey’s victory over Hants was encouraging for English cricket because four young English players, namely Pope, Ben Foakes, Sam Curran, and Amar Virdi triumphed over a Hampshire side oozing international pedigree. Kyle Abbott and Fidel Edwards tried their upmost but did not prevail. And even another pretty 30-odd from James Vince wasn’t enough to save the day.

Pope made scores of 34 and 145, Foakes scored 46 and 81, Curran took 4-39, and nineteen year old off-spinner Virdi, who was only playing because Gareth Batty had a back spasm, spun Surrey to victory on the final day with 4-79. Anyone would’ve thought that there’s some good young English talent coming through the ranks after all.

There was also some fine English talent on display in Yorkshire’s win over Notts and Somerset’s victory over Worcs. Young Ben Coad was the star of the show for the Yorkies, taking 4-49 in the first innings followed by an ever better 6-81 in the second dig. Some lad called Garry Ballance also made 81. We’ll ignore his duck in the first innings.

The match at Taunton ended up being a battle between Somerset and Ed Barnard. Somerset needed a spectacular performance from old-timer James Hildreth, who made 48 and 111*, to wrap up the victory. However, one has to feel extremely sorry for Barnard. The young all-rounder scored 50 and 45* and took 5-52 and 6-37 in the match but still ended up on the losing side.

Just returning to the subject of James Hildreth for a second, the veteran batsman (now 33 years young), scored his 42nd first class century in the second innings. He’s also made just over 60 half centuries – which represents a pretty good conversion rate. I can’t believe that any other recent batsman has made this many first class centuries without a sniff of international recognition. My challenge to you is therefore this: name any other modern batsman who has been this productive without collecting a single England cap (in any format). 42 tons is a hell of a lot.

The other game in division one saw Essex see off Lancs. Once again Lancs’ England hopefuls bombed like a diving bomby thing. Jennings and Hameed did nothing to extinguish rumours that they simply don’t want to play for England – they scored a collective 35 runs in 4 innings – and if Liam Livingstone wants to replace James Vince he’ll need to do better than scores of 33 and 23. England already have plenty of batsmen who make starts and then succumb softly.

There was better news on the England front for Essex’s bowlers though. Young Jamie Porter continues to tear up trees with a match haul of 9-80. He might not be particularly quick but the selectors will find it increasingly difficult to ignore him. He’s now taken 218 wickets at an average of 23 in his young career. That’s Glenn McGrath good.

Down in division two there was a huge shock when Derbyshire defeated the mighty Middlesex. There wasn’t much to report on the England front – Derbs victory was down to a huge opening stand between Luis Reece and Ben Slater and 8 wickets for South African Duanne Olivier – but we can’t let a result like this go without mention. It was a terrible few days at the office for the 2016 county champions made worse by an injury to Toby ‘April should be made for me’ Roland Jones.

Unfortunately the most notable performances in division two over the weekend came from imports. New Zealand’s Matt Henry, who I’ve always rated quite highly, picked up 12 wickets in Kent’s win over Durham, and Ryan Sidebottom (no, not the recently retired one) picked up a ten-fer match analysis in Warwickshire’s win over Northants. Some bloke called Shaun Marsh, who I don’t remember scoring any runs in the Ashes (my brain tends to block out painful memories), also scored a ton for Glamorgan against Gloucs.

The limited good news came in the shape of 85 for Sam Hain, and a superb unbeaten 120 for Gloucestershire’s 20 year old batsman James Brady. It looks like the lads from Bristol have found themselves yet another good young cricketer. It’s good to see yet another county giving youth a chance.

Transmission over.

James Morgan


  • Popes innings was the best I’ve seen since last year. Superb knock that had a bit of everything. I know that there is a big step up from Div 1 to Tests but this was better than anything England produced the whole winter. The catch Foakes took to dismiss Northeast (another great inings) wouldn’t have been taken by any other keeper in the country, apart from maybe Hants McManus also playing. F oakes is head and shoulders above any other keeper in my view. Surrey played well against a side that looked the best by some distance on paper.

  • Sam Curran bowled very well at an important stage in the game that gave Surrey their first innings lead and something of a psychological grip and the catch by Foakes to finish it was outstanding. Northeast batted with defiance and durability and looked like he may have enough to put him on the list of England possibles, Virdi certainly has stage presence and bowled well.

  • Was at all 3 days of the Essex Vs Lancs game. Nobody I spoke to was in favour of the 16.4/16.4 rubbish.
    I’d be surprised if there are any county members that back it, which is probably why we’re not asked.
    In the game, none of the 5 England possible batsman, Hameed, Jennings, Livingstone, Westley or Lawrence did much.
    Harmer bowled well for a 1st innings 5 wicket haul, unusual for a spinner to have that success this early on.
    But it was Porter that that was man of the match. 5 in the 1st, 4 in the 2nd. He troubles good batsman, lots of play & missing, then gets them out. He also has the knack of coming back to break stubborn partnerships.
    Long live county championship cricket. (Despite Strauss’ efforts).

  • “Unfortunately the most notable performances in division two over the weekend came from imports.” Really? I could have sworn I watched Michael Burgess & Luke Wells hit unbeaten hundreds for Sussex at Leicestershire; not to mention Bracey’s brilliant rearguard action 140 for Gloucester. are you Andy Flower in disguise, I wonder?

    As for the nonsense in the comment above about Foakes: have you seen Moores catches for Notts v Yorks?

    • I left out Burgess and Wells because they’re not on England’s radar and are very unlikely to ever make the international team. It also came in a drawn game (the only draw from this round of fixtures) so it didn’t really make any headlines. Sorry it wasn’t possible to cover everyone.

    • Moored is good but McManus and Foakes are better. Look at the final catch on the Surrey stream.

      • I reckon there are at least five English qualified keepers who are at least as good as Foakes, if not better, either currently or potentially & McManus isnt one of them.

        The difference is that they dont all have the Alec Stewart/ ECB spin machine working for them.

  • James,

    Taking up the challenge posed, may I offer Peter Bowler? 45 hundreds over a longer career at an average over 40. He had the misfortune also to play for Somerset and earlier another unfashionable county – Derbyshire.


  • Firstly Virat Kohli is no slogger. He is a better batsman than anything we have produced in this country, including Root, as we will find out this summer. The IPL is clearly a more skilled and exciting tournament than the county championship, with an abundance of world class talent inspired by competing with and against each other. There’s nowhere to hide, the pressure’s on all the time.
    Secondly, bearing in mind the consistently bowler friendly conditions in April there is little to be gleaned from any single bowling performance. Wait until wickets flatten out and the sun shines before you find out what bowlers are really made of. Getting 4 wickets in an innings is not a match winning performance at any time.
    I’m not getting at these players, It’s good to have new talent to talk about, just don’t get carried away by potential after one good performance. What England need isn’t talent, but consistent ability to produce under pressure in adverse conditions. That’s what wins you games at international level in any sport.

  • Games over in two and three days. Whilst I really enjoy county cricket it is hard to see where the test match batting talent is gong to come from if nobody can stay at the crease for any decent length of time


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