11 County Championship Round Four Talking Points
1. Wickets, wickets and more wickets dominate Division One
Despite serious attempts the weather failed to wreak havoc on division one for a second consecutive week, as early season conditions led to a clatter of wickets across the top flight.
On Sunday alone 48 wickets fell in the Division – only three of which came at a heavily rain-hindered day at Hove. In three of these games at least two innings were concluded before 200 had been reached, while particularly spicy pitches at both Northampton and Nottingham generated only one score in excess of 201 between them.
This was most definitely a week for bowling, with the exception of a few quite sensational individual showings with the bat.
Round 4 results
Middlesex beat Yorkshire by 7 wickets
Lancashire beat Northamptonshire by 60 runs
Warwickshire beat Nottinghamshire by 98 runs
Somerset beat Sussex by an innings & 11 runs
Gloucestershire drew with Essex
Hampshire drew with Surrey
Leicestershire drew with Glamorgan
Worcestershire beat Derbyshire by an innings & 64 runs
2. England duo the difference
Both Lancashire and Warwickshire were indebted to pivotal performances from England performers in clinching victories over Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire respectively.
Ian Bell, on a day when 16 wickets fell at Trent Bridge, produced a sparkling 122 which belittled the perceived awkward batting conditions. This was Bell’s second century of the campaign and unlike the previous effort at Sussex which proved in vain, Warwickshire took full advantage to move off the mark at the third attempt.
For Lancashire, James Anderson maximised conducive seam-bowling conditions to clinch match figures of 10 for 81, further to that the seamer also proved an unlikely hero with the bat as his 28 from number 11 represented the top score in Lancashire’s paltry 119.
Unfortunately for both counties they will not be afforded the rare luxury of their prized assets for much longer with the return of England cricket now imminent, therefore they will be looking to gain maximum benefit from the availability they have remaining – Warwickshire will hope Bell can ignite a title push and Lancashire that Anderson can move them closer to safety by inspiring another win or two.
Lancashire were also grateful to another England international, with Jos Buttler enhancing his growing reputation by scoring a rapid second innings 72 that saw him, together with Tom Smith, effectively take the game away from Northants.
3. Trescothick ton caps Somerset success
It was a case of the old and the new combining to propel Somerset to victory over previously unbeaten Sussex.
Marcus Trescothick’s form was quietly becoming a significant concern with the Taunton stalwart having not scored a century since the final game of the 2012 campaign, those worries though were eased by a three-figure score on a Hove pitch offering assistance to the bowlers.
Perhaps inspired by their captain’s renaissance, Somerset’s young seamers then took about twice cheaply removing the table-toppers to seal an impressive innings victory.
Lewis Gregory followed up eight wickets at Durham last week with a further nine here, while Jamie Overton showcased the sort of fire that had tongues wagging last year with the 19-year-old picking up five scalps of his own.
A lack of fast bowling ammunition was identified as a substantial Somerset weakness and although arguably they are still behind certain other counties in this regard, the opening skirmishes highlight their seam threat will be greater than predicted.
4. Close but not quite a cigar for Leicestershire as Glamorgan escape again
After being indebted to two separate final-wicket partnership to steal a draw against Gloucestershire last week, Glamorgan confirmed their title as the early season escapology kings with another fighting showing at Grace Road.
Once again they were forced to grit it out in each innings. In the first dig at 304 for nine and still 46 runs shy of the follow on Glamorgan looked in real danger, only for Graham Wagg to swot 57 and take them clear of that target – the second week in succession the all-rounder has combined with number 11 to thrash a crucial half-century.
To their credit Leicestershire battled to set the visitors a target of 320 off 71 overs and having reduced them to 204 for seven with 18 overs left a first win since August 2012 looked plausible.
On a placid pitch though Stewart Walters and John Glover resisted batting through the remaining overs and preserving Glamorgan’s unbeaten start.
5. Notts escape pitch punishment but with little cheer
That Trent Bridge passed the scrutiny of the dreaded pitch inspector will be of scant consolation to a Nottinghamshire side that capitulated to a second successive defeat.
After a promising opening round victory over Lancashire which hinted at better things there will now be worries of another season of suffering for a Nottinghamshire side who dangled dangerously close to relegation in 2013.
The batting stumbled once more in this latest defeat with only Samit Patel (54) and Phil Jaques (64) able to pass 50, with Nottinghamshire hugely hindered by wickets persistently falling in clusters.
Highlighting their batting strife is the fact that no Nottinghamshire batsman has passed three figures through the early acts of the season; at the same time with the exception of Rikki Wessels who currently averages 38, nobody can boast an average in excess of 31.
Round 5 fixtures
Durham v Yorkshire
Lancashire v Sussex
Somerset v Nottinghamshire
Warwickshire v Middlesex
Essex v Leicestershire
Glamorgan v Worcestershire
Kent v Surrey
6. Super-human Rogers derails blunt Yorkshire
As Gary Ballance smashed a demoralised Middlesex attack to all parts of Lord's to set the home side a mammoth 472, it seemed inevitable that we would be waxing over another ruthless Yorkshire victory - Chris Rogers had somewhat differing ideas.
Granted, the pitch had become unrecognisable from the one which saw both sides removed for first innings scores of less than 200 but the brilliance of the Australian’s unbeaten match-winning 241 at a remarkable strike rate of 82 should not be downplayed – with Rogers’ effort guiding Middlesex to their highest fourth innings chase at Lord's since 1896.
If there is to be a better knock this season it will need to be something of earth-moving magnitude.
In regards to Middlesex this represented a second successive win that should see confidence soar, whereas Yorkshire might be wondering whether things would have played out differently had Andrew Gale been leading the troops during that historic chase - given that the skipper had dropped himself to accommodate the return of Joe Root.
7. The rain victims
Again, rain had a significant role to play in this latest round of games, predominantly in the Division Two where four draws last week were followed up by three further stalemates here.
Hampshire and Surrey were for the second week in succession left frustrated by the elements, with their games ending in the tamest of draws that saw only 138 overs bowled – although there was still time for James Vince to press his England claims with a swashbuckling century.
Gloucestershire, who were denied a likely victory by persistent rain over Glamorgan, lost the opening two days of their clash with Essex to the weather – with this also being the second consecutive fixture that the Chelmsford outfit have seen their contest meander into a draw.
They say such these things do go in swings and roundabouts but without question certain counties have reason to feel more aggrieved than others.
8. Bouncing Worcestershire repel the conditions and Madsen
With the rest left exasperated by the rain, Worcestershire stole a march as they continued to compound the critics and move to the top of the fledgling table.
Once more their young squad produced a display greater than the sum of its parts, while the arrival of Saeed Ajmal provided them with the pivotal x-factor they had hoped. Particularly impressive was the positivity of their batting with Moeen Ali, Alexei Kervezee and Gareth Andrew all contributing swift knocks of differing proportions to lay the platform for success.
That they were able to force victory despite enduring elemental frustrations of their own – virtually the entire first day was washed out – was however partly down to Derbyshire’s tentative batting.
With the exception of Wayne Madsen who scored a defiant first innings century and 56 second time around no other Derbyshire batsman scored a combined innings total of more than 36 - scenes evocative of last season’s relegation.
9. Absentees catch up with Sussex
That Sussex had achieved back to back successes without Chris Nash and Luke Wright who averaged 45 and 56 respectively in 2013, was a more than notable achievement, particularly considering that in the second of those victories they were also without Matt Prior.
Ed Joyce and co were unable to upset the odds for a third time against Somerset, despite the best efforts of the captain himself and fellow opener Luke Wells - the former valiantly batting through the entire first innings for 79.
Thankfully for Sussex good news is on the horizon with the possibility that Nash, Wright and Prior could all return for their upcoming encounter with Lancashire – a more than significant boost considering that outside of Wells and Joyce no other Sussex batsman currently averages over 25.
10. Tavaré and Gidman nullify Essex threat
Essex’s bowlers have been largely rampant thus far and that pattern looked to be continuing as Gloucestershire were shot out for just 134 on the third day of their rain affected fixtures – the evergreen David Masters doing the bulk of the damage with six for 48.
Having then posted a rapid 305, Essex would have backed their bowlers to come at least close to bowling Gloucestershire out with the entire final day at their disposal – especially since that on average they were bowling sides out for 209 runs per innings.
With Gloucestershire reduced to 18 for two another dismantling job looked on the cards; however Alex Gidman and Will Tavaré combined to defy the hosts as both struck unbeaten centuries.
This was the second century of the campaign for 24-year-old Tavaré and he is without doubt a batsman to keep an eye on.
11. Northants rue missed opening
Opportunities for victories are unlikely to be regular occurrences for Northamptonshire’s injury-ravaged squad; they will therefore be hugely frustrated at failing to beat Lancashire having dispatched the visitors for 119 on the opening day.
Even from that position victory was always going to be challenging on a lively pitch against an Anderson-led attack, nevertheless this represented the sort of half chance Northants must utilise if they want to survive.
That in each innings Northants lost four of their top six without reaching double figures was a major factor in this latest defeat, but this was more a case of Northants despite battling hard lacking the quality to win the pivotal moments of the game – such as that earlier mentioned Smith and Buttler stand.
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