I love the early championship fixtures. Spring has arrived, the sun is creeping out (well, occasionally), the magnolias are in bloom, and young England hopefuls get the chance to impress the selectors. What’s more, there are no domestic white ball distractions. It’s first class cricket all the way – unless you’re glued to the IPL but that’s another story.
So who impressed the selectors in the first round of matches? Did Haseeb Hameed compile the perfect patient hundred or Joe Clarke dazzle with delightful flicks and drives? Erm. No. I’m afraid not. Most of England’s young batsmen fluffed their lines in seamer-friendly. Instead it was often the influx of overseas fast bowlers that stole the show.
Our roundup starts at Old Trafford where Notts swept aside Lancs by six wickets in what became something of a shootout. Lancs were swept aside for 158 and then a paltry 73 in their second innings. Hameed made just 3 and 19, Jennings made a disappointing 11 and 27, and Jos Buttler made … a lot of money in India.
Although Notts won quite comfortably in the end, thanks mainly to Jake Ball and Harry Gurney (who took 9 and 8 wickets respectively in the game), they managed to lose an astonishing 4 wickets chasing the not-so-challenging total of 10. I bet there were a few anxious looks in the Notts dressing room when they lost three top order batsmen for just five runs.
Because the Yorkshire versus Essex match was abandoned without a ball being bowled, the only other game in division one saw Hants defeat Worcs. Although James Vince’s side came through comfortably in the end they had to battle for the first three days.
Hants were always in a decent position thanks to Vince’s 75 in the first dig, which set up a team total of 290 – a pretty competitive effort in the context of the other early-season scores. Worcs fought hard but could only respond with 211, and Hants were able to build a decisive lead thereafter.
Set a ‘good luck with that’ chase of over 300, Worcs’ young side simply couldn’t cope with the quality and experience of Kyle Abbott and Fidel Edwards. They were dismissed for 127 with only Aussie Travis Head putting up some resistance. Clarke made scores of just 20 and 15 in the game. However, the promising Josh Tongue picked up a few wickets.
Down in division two, Middlesex started their season on a high with a good win over Northants. However, once again it was the more experienced guys who impressed rather than England’s fringe players. James Harris and Tim Murtagh thrive in early-season conditions and they easily out-bowled both Toby Roland Jones and Tom Helm.
Gloucestershire’s win over Kent was also notable for the performances for a couple of older heads: New Zealand’s Matt Henry and Mr County Cricket himself, Darren Stevens. Having said that, a few of Gloucs younger players did put in eye-catching performances.
The wickets taken by young bowlers Matt Taylor and Craig Miles certainly bode well. The underrated Gareth Roderick also made a half-century. He must be one of the most consistent and consistently underrated keeper-batsmen in the country. He seems to score runs every time I look.
Daniel Bell Drummond’s 61 in the second innings was probably the bright spot for Kent. It was notable because none of the other young openers on England’s radar managed to make a good impression. Can you see DBD as an England player in the near future? Personally I’m not convinced but he does seem to have his admirers. And I’m sure they’ve seen a lot more of him than me.
The most exciting performance of the weekend, however, was that of a young English bowler rather than a batsman. The man in question was Olly Stone, a guy mentioned by yours truly as a possible difference-maker in the 2019 Ashes. He took a superb 8-80 for Warwickshire against Sussex and lit up a match that otherwise petered out into a rain-affected draw.
I really like what I’ve seen of Stone. He’s got genuine pace, something England clearly need, and he’s got that aggressive attitude to boot. It’s probably a bit early to claim he’ll be match-winner at international level but the talent is clearly there.
Let’s just hope Stone can stay fit after his ACL injury a couple of years ago. Olly should take inspiration from Pat Cummins, who has done so well for Australia since overcoming serious injury.