Friday 30 May 2014 

11 County Championship Round Eight Talking Points

Rain at the Kia Oval
Bad weather meant there were nothing but draws to report this week
© REUTERS / Action Images
 

Matt Carter rounds up week eight of the LV= County Championship with 11 talking points, although unfortunately, he has to start with the rain.

1. Weather the resounding theme

The elements have been a prominent theme throughout the opening phase of the season; however nothing has come close the deluge which wreaked havoc on this week’s round of championship fixtures, where for the first time this season none of the scheduled games generated a positive result.

As frustrating as that statistic is, it still doesn’t come close to highlighting the full story of disruption. That only two games made it into a third innings offers a greater vindication of quite how influential the weather gods were over the past week.

The wet conditions mean things are very much as they were in both divisions – a few scattered bonus points aside – and perhaps the only side thankful were division two table-toppers Hampshire who in spite of not being in action saw their lead only fractionally trimmed.

2. Glamorgan have reason to be more rueful than most

Such was the intensity of the rain that few fixtures moved even close to completion meaning that amidst the frustration there were few sides that could be genuinely rueful that the weather had cost them a probable victory.

Glamorgan though were the sole exception, with the Welsh county falling an agonising two wickets shy of an innings victory against Leicestershire.

On the surface, that they couldn’t break a stubborn ninth-wicket partnership between NIall O’Brien and Nathan Buck in excess of 20 overs might suggest that much of the failure to get over the line rested with the home side, however, when you account that for the majority of those overs Mark Wallace was only able to turn to his slower bowlers it is hard not to feel some sympathy.

Prior to bad light forcing Wallace’s hand his seamers had picked up figures of five for 15, suggesting had the light held Glamorgan would have secured a second win of the campaign and made pivotal ground on both Worcestershire and Hampshire.

In spite of the weather-induced disappointment, that Glamorgan currently occupy third spot represents an impressive start for Toby Radford. Further to that there were still positives to take from this frustrating draw, most notably Jacques Rudolph (88) finding form which is a huge plus given that Glamorgan’s major limitation thus far has been a faltering top order.

Week Eight Results

Division One

Middlesex drew with Sussex

Nottinghamshire drew with Durham

Warwickshire drew with Somerset

Yorkshire drew with Lancashire

Division Two

Derbyshire drew with Gloucestershire

Essex drew with Surrey

Glamorgan v Leicestershire

Kent v Worcestershire

3. Leicestershire reverting to type?

Much improved competitive showings in their opening three fixtures had indicated that Leicestershire - the whipping boys of last year - would be a substantially different proposition in 2014.

However, a capitulation on the final day against Hampshire last week which saw them crumble to 96 all out, coupled with two miserable batting showings against Glamorgan – that O’Brien and Buck stand excepted – have heightened fears of Leicestershire regressing back to those 2013 struggles.

Given they are winless since August 2012 confidence is naturally going to be fragile at Grace Road, particularly considering the generally youthful make of Leicestershire’s squad. Their decline is far from terminal at this stage and it may well develop this is just a mere rocky patch, nonetheless upcoming home fixtures with Gloucestershire and Derbyshire – both sides who themselves have been scratchy – are pivotal in relation to how Leicestershire’s season will play out.

4. Roses clashes spurs Lancashire

A victory over rock-bottom Northamptonshire aside there has been little for Lancashire to cheer thus far. In theory they could have lost each of their other four outings - as it was, changeable weather meant they lost only two.  

A clash with fierce rivals Yorkshire, whose season so far has been a complete contrast, will have generated plenty to be apprehensive about, however in timely fashion the Red Rose produced some of their best cricket of the season to date – so much so that they can arguably claim a moral victory from the fixture.

Prior to this game Lancashire had only once passed 300 and were averaging just 219 per innings, those stats were belittled though as they reached 325 – their highest score of the season and a hugely impressive effort against a Yorkshire side who had not conceded surplus to 200 on their own patch.

With the ball Lancashire were similarly inspiring, removing the hosts for 243, their second lowest score of the season. Rain inevitably meant any victory push was always likely to be futile but after several disappointing showings this display was one of significant encouragement, although it will still be of concern that the lower order again had to bail the top order out.

5. Smith at the peak of his powers

Following the trend of their season to date, Tom Smith was again at the forefront of Lancashire’s best work. The all-rounder continued his excellent season to date by scoring a half-century with the bat that rescued his side from 155 for five and picked up five for 49 with the ball which included the first three Yorkshire wickets to fall.

That represented Smith’s fourth half-century of the campaign, all of which have arrived when his side have been under significant pressure and he now averages nearly 40 whilst occupying 14th spot in the run-scoring charts.

Smith’s figures with the ball are similarly impressive: He sits sixth on the leading wicket-takers list and boasts an average of 23.

Such has been Smith’s superb form - he is currently Lancashire’s leading wicket-taker and second highest run-scorer - that his name is now being muttered in the same breath as England.

Week Nine Fixtures

Division One

Durham v Middlesex

Lancashire v Somerset

Northamptonshire v Yorkshire

Sussex v Nottinghamshire

Division Two

Essex v Glamorgan

Hampshire v Derbyshire

Surrey v Worcestershire

Leicestershire v Gloucestershire

6. Game-changer Stokes can lift Durham

Without a victory in their opening five games, Durham were a side in serious need of inspiration, making the return of Ben Stokes against Nottinghamshire a more than welcome tonic.

While the weather meant he was never likely to get them off the mark, Stokes did show glimpses of the x-factor that has been absent from the defending champions for much of the season.

The most notable showing of that spark came when Stokes changed the complexion of Nottinghamshire’s innings by removing both Samit Patel and James Taylor in quick succession and in the process ending a partnership of 192 between the pair. The England man also showed his batting is in fine fettle with a free scoring 61.

England will undoubtedly be keeping an eye on his progress but before they inevitably come calling Durham will hope Stokes can provide the fire to finally ignite their stuttering season, with the continued absence of Graham Onions – arguably their only other genuine game changing performer – meaning they are more in need of his skills than ever.

7. Westwood and Porterfield offer Warwickshire hope

To cite Warwickshire’s batting as their current Achilles heel is stating the obvious. Throughout the opening skirmishes of the season they have been hugely over reliant on England’s Ian Bell – the fact that only the bottom two have acquired less batting points underlining their toils.

Those woes were brought home to roost by a dismal showing against Yorkshire last time out in which aside from Bell, Warwickshire’s batsmen offered just 188 across both innings.

With Bell absent for the foreseeable future there will be plenty of concern surrounding exactly where the runs are going to come from. So for Ian Westwood and William Porterfield to contribute scores of 99 and 118 respectively against Somerset provides a timely boost. The latter of that pair reached his first century for the county since making the move from Gloucestershire back in 2010.

These performances are unlikely to alleviate the fretting given that they arrived on a relatively flat surface and in a largely pressure-free situation nonetheless considering Warwickshire’s batting strife it can’t be denied that these runs are a welcome boost.  

8.    Surrey lament Smith loss

After several seasons of persistent upheaval what Surrey were really crying out for in 2014 was continuity. However, an ankle injury to captain Graeme Smith - the man Graham Ford was looking to build a young side around - means the disruption is set to persist.

Frustratingly, this latest blow arrives only a fortnight after the South African had produced a typically bullish match-winning century to haul Surrey’s season off the floor.

The swift recruitment of Hashim Amla will more than counterbalance the loss of Smith’s batting qualities, however it is his leadership and experience that will prove irreplaceable to what is a largely inexperienced Surrey side. This represents yet another exasperating stumbling block in a path to recovery that is seemingly littered with them – one which has the potential even at this stage to terminally derail Surrey’s championship campaign.

9. Batty makes spectacular return

Smith’s unavailability leaves Surrey desperately short of leadership, therefore the return of Gareth Batty, who stepped into the captaincy breach following a similarly prolonged injury to the captain last season, couldn’t have been more timely.

In this instance the off-spinner won’t lead the side as that responsibility falls on the shoulders of Gary Wilson but his experience will still be invaluable to Surrey’s young group.

That know-how was in full evidence on the first day against Essex, as the wily 36-year-old led from the front to capture an astonishing career-best haul of eight for 52. Unfortunately that once in a career effort went unrewarded due to the interference of the elements.

There is little to suggest Batty will provide such stunning returns on a consistent basis, however in what is likely to be a testing period for the club's youngsters - they are also still missing the wise head of Vikram Solanki - his advancing years will be a priceless asset.

10. Essex injury issues increase

There are injury crises and then there is the Essex seam-bowling situation. Paul Grayson’s quick bowling stocks have been beyond ravaged - so much so that the seam attack fielded against Surrey could boast only two Championship appearances between them.

David Masters, Tymal Mills, Sajid Mahmood and Graham Napier all reside on the treatment table, while Reece Topley is not currently deemed fit enough for the rigours of four-day cricket following a serious back injury.

To provide a further kick in the teeth Essex also saw on loan Oliver Newby return to Lancashire last week due to injury.

The Chelmsford outfit – third in 2013 – harboured genuine promotion hopes for this season, however their injury problems are threatening to dislocate those ambitions – given that possessing the division’s most potent attack was always likely to be their major weapon.

Taking that into deliberation, Essex might subconsciously be grateful for this week’s deluge, considering it meant their injury plight didn’t cost them vital ground in pursuit of the leaders - regrettably though the injury list is showing little sign of easing quite yet and they are likely to be playing a significant game of catch when their attack is reunited.

11. Elstone brings rare Derbyshire positive

Derbyshire have endured a miserable season to date: that they are the only winless county across all formats highlights their difficulties.

Their batting has been the prominent problem in the championship, with Chesney Hughes, Wes Durston and Billy Godleman the most noteworthy strugglers: all are currently averaging less than 12.

Such a plight left Graeme Welch with little option but to remove all three from the firing line. One of those to come in was Scott Elstone and the 23-year-old - released by Nottinghamshire in 2012 and without a county in 2013 - repaid the faith with a gritty 63 in testing conditions against a Gloucestershire attack led by the imposing Will Gidman, in the process surpassing the seasonal totals of Hughes, Durston and Godleman.

Derbyshire will hope they have unearthed a diamond in the rough and finally found some much needed support for Shiv Chanderpaul and Wayne Madsen.

© Cricket World 2014