Matt Carter rounds up the latest LV= County Championship action in a week that saw Yorkshire take over top spot from Nottinghamshire.
Once more than main benefactors of this week’s action in regards to the title landscape were those sides not in action.
Nottinghamshire - left to spend a week licking their wounds following a hugely frustrating defeat to Warwickshire - enjoyed as pain-free a round as they could have envisaged. The Trent Bridge county were inevitably dethroned from the Championship summit, Yorkshire could only assume a five-point advantage and that represents an excellent outcome for Notts.
At the same time the threat of either Somerset or Middlesex emerging victorious from their respective fixture never materialised which signifies a substantial blow to both sides' title credentials.
Nottinghamshire though were not the only county in the Championship picture to be enthused by this week’s development, with things also aligning in a near-perfect manner for Warwickshire, who revitalised their season last time out by beating Notts.
Victory for Yorkshire might have put paid to their chances and whil they are still outsiders, Warwickshire, with a game in hand on the rest, still have reason to harbour genuine title aspirations.
A month ago Division Two appeared to be meandering towards an inevitable conclusion, with an inconsistent chasing pack showcasing only next to minimal evidence of having the credentials to make things even slightly nervy for Worcestershire and Hampshire.
A rejuvenated Surrey have however thrown any fears of a mundane finish out of the water, with a hugely impressive nine-wicket victory over Glamorgan representing a third win in just four games – all of those victories incidentally being on the emphatic side.
It may well be purely coincidental and more a case of Graham Ford’s methods beginning to take significant effect, however since Gary Wilson was presented the captaincy due to Graeme Smith’s injury - a knock that was meant to be the hammer blow to Surrey’s season - The Oval outfit are unbeaten in seven with three wins to their name.
Their latest success was one built around a superb all-round effort, with nobody in a Surrey shirt failing to make a telling contribution: Zafar Ansari, Rory Burns and Chris Tremlett perhaps the most worthy of singling out for individual acclaim.
Clearly confidence is soaring among Wilson’s men and whilst they remain underdogs in the promotion puzzle, Surrey have suddenly given the top two reason to fret, particularly considering both will lose their bowling spearheads in the coming weeks.
Round 14 Results
Middlesex drew with Somerset
Sussex beat Northamptonshire by an innings & 85 runs
Yorkshire drew with Durham
Derbyshire drew with Essex
Hampshire drew with Gloucestershire
Kent beat Leicestershire by six wickets
Surrey beat Glamorgan by nine wickets
A spirited draw at Lord's last week might have seen despondent Northants fans deem it safe to resurface, however their season nose-dived to yet new depths of despair with defeat to Sussex – winless in eight – that encapsulated just seven sessions of cricket.
Being blown away has become a commonplace for Northants' batsmen. Prior to this fixture they had on eight occasions fallen to a score of below 200 and only three times had they passed 300, however they plummeted to uncharted depths of capitulation here only surviving a combined 106 overs across both innings.
That total could have been even more chastening had Northants’ lower order not hung around substantially longer than their top order counterparts – they were eight wickets down inside just 29 overs at the first attempt and had lost the same number and took just 48 to lose the same number in their second.
In their defence the Hove pitch possesses a fair degree of spice, although that only serves to raise questions of how Sussex were able to amass a score of 405 having been asked to bat first.
When your batsmen are at rock bottom the metronomic Steve Magoffin is always likely to represent a nightmare proposition and the Sussex man made hay against dejected Northants – capturing remarkable match figures of eight for 40.
That return lifts the consistent Australian to the top of the leading wicket-taker charts – where Sussex would be without his exploits doesn’t bear thinking about considering no other bowler has claimed regular wickets at under 30.
Magoffin’s latest exploits have seen Sussex clamber free of the relegation battle and while there remain several clouds hanging over the Hove county – their batting is currently as reliant on Ed Joyce and Luke Wright as the bowling is on Magoffin – the table reads considerably better than it did a week ago.
Nevertheless Sussex’s work towards survival is far from finished and they will be keen to avoid a scenario where they are sweating on the weather come their season-concluding fixture with Northants – the clash with relegation rivals Lancashire a few weeks earlier is likely to be pivotal to preventing such a situation developing.
Having set Kent a testing 306 for victory, albeit on a largely true surface, Leicestershire’s chances of ending a winless run that now stretches 668 days looked plausible – yet not for the first time this campaign the Foxes were found lacking in killer instinct at the crunch.
Leicestershire’s struggles to get over the line are perhaps only inevitable accounting for both the absence of a genuine x-factor bowler and the impact on self-belief such a winless run is likely to instigate. That though will be little comfort for a side who have now lost six on the bounce.
There were individual positives from the defeat, in particular Joshua Cobb and Rob Taylor’s partnership of 175 but it’s hard to escape the disappointment of yet another soul destroying loss and of particular frustration will be the manner in which Kent were able to race home at a run rate of almost 4.5 per over.
The ignominy of a second successive winless campaign is now moving closer to a reality, at the same time with several of their promising youngsters out of contract – Cobb, Angus Robson and Nathan Buck amongst the most notable – there is little evidence to suggest an upturn on the horizon anytime soon.
Round 15 Fixtures
Durham v Warwickshire
Lancashire v Nottinghamshire
Northamptonshire v Somerset
Essex v Hampshire
Gloucestershire v Derbyshire
Worcestershire v Leicestershire
Leicestershire’s lack of finishing ability ensured Kent ended a frustrating sequence of their own, with victory at Grace Road representing their first consecutive victories since 2012.
At the same time Robert Key’s side have equalled their win total from 2013 with six games still to play – nevertheless gauging whether they have made genuine advancements remains difficult. As encouraging as clinching long-awaited back-to-back wins is, those victories have arrived against the division’s bottom two sides with success over Leicestershire being preceded by Derbyshire.
There have been significant individual positives for instance the all-round skills of skills of the evergreen Darren Stevens and the impact of youngsters Adam Riley and Daniel Bell-Drummond, but there have also been disappointments such as Rob Key’s form.
Deciphering exactly where Kent are remains difficult considering their topsy-turvy campaign but the final third of the season however might just give us the long awaited answer.
If Middlesex are to miss out on the title – which is looking increasingly likely – they may well look back on their last two fixtures with a feeling of 'what if', given that for the second game running they could be accused of being overly cautious in relation to the timing of a final day declaration.
Having last week used up unnecessary critical time in a determined bid to set demoralised Northants 300, which left them just 56 overs to secure victory, Middlesex batted almost the entire morning session to set Somerset an unrealistic target of 390 in a mere 72 overs.
There was simply no carrot there even for a side who themselves were in need of reigniting a title bid, as a result the game meandered into a stalemate. Chris Rogers will point to being burnt by Nottinghamshire several weeks back – who chased down 387 – yet Notts boast unparalleled batting talents, whilst such is the state of Middlesex’s dwindling title hopes that a gamble considerably outweighed the risks.
In reality as frustrating as their risk-averse approach was Middlesex are hardly showcasing the form of champions, with this latest setback now meaning they have not won in five games. The biggest issue in that tailing off being that their bowlers look a far cry from the devastating unit that tore sides apart through the tournament’s opening rounds.
For Somerset a draw is hardly ideal either, nonetheless with two fixtures against Northamptonshire still in the bank their challenge is still intact.
Back in May Yorkshire left Chester-le-Street exasperated by a stoic Durham side who survived a combined 193 overs to ensure the spoils would be shared.
Paul Collingwood’s men this week proved resolute tormenters once again for Yorkshire’s bowlers as they achieved their survival target of seeing out the final day, doing so with two wickets remaining intact and as a result denying the hosts what would have been a crucial victory.
As was the case in the reverse fixture Yorkshire’s platform to push for victory was based around Adam Lyth who top scored with 143 – his third century of a hugely productive campaign – while keeping in trend with the similarities Michael Richardson proved the most robust of Durham’s resilient batsmen.
There is no denying Yorkshire’s ability to mount imposing totals – in only two games have they failed to surpass 400 at least once – however there is a nagging feeling that Andrew Gale’s men lack the extra spark to prize open staunch batting line-ups. At the same time there will be frustrations that again Yorkshire failed to string together consecutive victories, something they are yet to do in this campaign.
However, Yorkshire’s strengths arguably outweigh their blemishes by a greater proportion than they do for the majority of their rivals.
For the first time, in the form of Surrey, there is suddenly pressure being mounted on the long-term occupants of the division two promotion slots – Hampshire and Worcestershire.
Many will anticipate Worcestershire to be the most likely side to crack, particularly accounting for Saeed Ajmal’s impending exit but it is Hampshire who have in successive games been forced to batten down the hatches in order to preserve their unbeaten record.
Having scrapped past the follow-on against Surrey last week in order to attain safety, things were somewhat more twitchy this time around as an impressive Gloucestershire established a 207-run first innings lead – which would have been substantially more had David Balcombe and James Tomlinson not combined for a last-wicket stand of 115.
That deficit meant Hampshire were left with the task of batting for the bulk of the final day and while they did with four wickets still protected, it wasn’t a survival mission without alarm – at one stage they slipped to 138 for five with fractionally less then a session left to play.
All things considered Hampshire will point to this being another showing of their robustness – this the closest they have come to losing – at the same time the odd minor dip is natural over the course of the season.
It is nevertheless plausible that their batsmen may need to showcase similar levels of staunchness through the coming weeks, considering bowling spearhead Kyle Abbott will be absent through international duty.
Another captain who appeared set to face substantial questioning in regards to an overly careful declaration was Wayne Madsen – the Derbyshire skipper offering Essex precious little by giving them just 61 overs to reach 367.
Accounting for the fact that Derbyshire had little to protect in regards to league standings, it made for baffling viewing, however come the shaking of hands the home faithful were perhaps thankful for Madsen’s safety-first approach.
Initially it appeared the declaration timing might become irrelevant as Mark Footitt clinched three early wickets in four balls, however that only resulted in bringing Ryan ten Doeschate to the crease and the Dutchmen made light of a shoddy run of form by producing a swashbuckling 104 from only 116 balls.
Derbyshire were arguably grateful for the draw given that when they were eventually put out of their misery Essex had moved to within 124 of their target and with eight overs still left. Had Madsen taken more of a risk the home side might have been sentenced a chastening defeat.
For all ten Doeschate’s exuberance, the real star of the show was Nick Browne, who having carried his bat for a maiden first-class century in Essex’s first innings then doubled his career tally with an undefeated ton in the second – meaning he was on the field for every ball delivered in the match.
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