Thursday 5 June 2014 

11 County Championship Round Nine Talking Points

Yorkshire beat Northamptonshire to cap another good week for them
Yorkshire beat Northamptonshire to cap another good week for them
© REUTERS / Action Images
 

Matt Carter rounds up the latest LV= County Championship action after round nine was, like the previous round, hit by bad weather.

1. Weather continues to dictate

There were once again plenty of reasons to be rueful as the weather heaped yet further disruption on the Championship season.

In spite of several games appearing poised to reach a conclusion heading into Wednesday’s final day, none of the games that commenced on Sunday could produce a positive result as the weather gods flexed their muscle to generate only minimal play across the country.

As it was, only Yorkshire – who will be more than grateful their game with Northamptonshire began on Saturday – tasted victory in the top flight, stealing what could be a crucial march on their title-chasing rivals.

In the second tier the weather seemed destined to deal a second successive week without a positive result, however the season’s first contrived finish saw Gloucestershire upset the elements to clinch victory over a generous Leicestershire.

Durham, Hampshire and Somerset were arguably the counties who had reason to feel most aggrieved by the conditions given the trio were all denied what looked likely victories by Wednesday’s deluge

2. Sunday’s batting paradise

Sunday’s cricket gave little hint of the weather troubles that would hinder the rest of the round as the large part of the country was basked in glorious sunshine and perhaps coincidently it was also the bats most dominant day of the season to date.

Across the seven games taking place on Sunday only 33 wickets fell – 10 of which fell at a trend-bucking Chelmsford. Division One was particularly batting dictated with Durham and Nottinghamshire racking up scores in excess of 400, whilst a lofty six centuries were scored in the top flight.

Undeniably the results of one sun-kissed day don't prove anything, but such a run glut - and one at a flowing rate - might well be concurrent with the arrival of the NatWest T20 Blast.

3. Yorkshire defy the weather

Granted, a clash against rock bottom Northamptonshire was the ideal fixture for a weather ravaged week, nonetheless the manner in which Andrew Gale’s side dealt the Wantage Road outfit their latest punishment – despite being dispatched for just 136 on the opening day – was hugely impressive.

Northamptonshire’s confidence-sapped batsmen failed to take advantage of that first-day gift horse and were ruthlessly punished by their Yorkshire counterparts second time around, as Alex Lees and Adam Lyth - who put on 375 together - belittled the absence of three senior players to push Yorkshire into an unassailable position of strength.

Jack Brooks and Liam Plunkett – first and fourth in the wicket taking charts respectively – did the rest as Yorkshire moved within touching distance of the Championship summit. This was the eleventh straight innings that Northamptonshire have failed to surpass 300, in contrast Yorkshire have now passed 400 in six of their opening seven games.

4. Revitalised Durham halt Middlesex

While Yorkshire underlined their title credentials at Northamptonshire, current leaders Middlesex were left practising rain dances against a resurgent Durham at Chester-le-Street.

The defending champions – winless through the opening third of the campaign – awoke in explosive fashion with Mark Stoneman (187) and Scott Borthwick (216) pulverising Middlesex’s much-vaunted attack to all parts – the pair both boasting strike rates in excess of 70.

Encouragingly, having slumped to 45 for four in response, Middlesex’s much-maligned middle-order displayed the sort of grit that had been lacking throughout the opening furlongs of the season – continuing the improvements showcased against both Northants and Lancashire in recent weeks.

Although the likes of Joe Denly (59), Paul Stirling (55) and Toby Roland-Jones (63) couldn’t avert the follow-on the overs they occupied – in tandem with a final day washout – were pivotal towards Middlesex avoiding defeat.

Despite coming up frustratingly short Durham will hope this improved performance, coupled with the impeding return of Graham Onions, can be the launchpad they need to ignite a season that has been severely lacking spark – so much so they are currently in danger of facing a relegation battle.

Round 9 Results

Division One

Durham drew with Middlesex

Lancashire drew with Somerset

Sussex drew with Nottinghamshire

Yorkshire beat Northamptonshire by 271 runs

Division Two

Essex drew with Glamorgan

Hampshire drew with Derbyshire

Surrey drew with Worcestershire

Gloucestershire beat Leicestershire by 9 wickets

5. Lancashire’s batting woes continue

It might seem harsh to suggest that the elements almost most certainly presented a get-out-of-jail-free card for Lancashire, considering they would have resumed their battle for survival with seven wickets still intact had rain not curtailed the entire final day.

This though is a Lancashire batting line-up who average only 227 in completed innings and have not once surpassed 325, at the same time none of their top order batsmen average in excess of 30 and no less than five players tried in the top six average less than 18 – ample evidence to insinuate Somerset would have gained the seven scalps they required.

Lancashire’s batting plight is nothing new, given that it was after all the significant factor in their 2012 relegation. Further to that the Red Roses’ batting stocks have arguably been weakened since promotion, with the retirement of Simon Katich – who topped their averages in 2013 – a substantial loss, which raises the question of why they have not sought out overseas help in this area. 

Unfortunately with their batting remaining an Achilles heel it is not inconceivable that this flaw will again cost Lancashire their top flight status.

6. Sussex lament lack of bite

Having won their opening two bouts, Sussex’s title hopes have been derailed by a sequence of five games without victory – Nottinghamshire being the latest side to share a stalemate.

Granted they have lost only one of those games and the weather has proven a substantial stumbling block, nevertheless Sussex’s attack has lacked the venom that characterised their early season success.

Excluding last week’s complete washout against Middlesex, they have conceded in excess of 370 in three of their previous four outings – not coincidental with Chris Jordan’s England call.

For all the guile their current Steve Magoffin-led attack boasts, in the absence of Jordan it is one which lacks the kind of spark that sides such as Middlesex and Yorkshire are able to vaunt and as a consequence Sussex are arguably likely to fall short of mounting a title tilt without Jordan’s x-factor.  

Even accounting for that flaw, Sussex remain an incredibly robust unit, with that facet of their game highlighted here by Ed Joyce’s third century of the campaign – the first player to reach such a milestone – which guided his side past the follow on and with it to the cusp of safety.

7. Patel finally fulfilling promise

A flawless 156 against that Sussex attack means Samit Patel has now become the division’s leading scorer – quite the turnaround for a player who in each of the last three campaigns failed to pass the gold standard 1,000-run marker and whose best seasonal average during that period was a mere 42 in 2012.

Patel’s talent has never been in doubt – few batsmen on the county circuit are quite so naturally gifted – however he has been hindered by consistency problems, with high quality innings often being followed up by a series of disappointing scores.

This year though that trend has not materialised, perhaps courtesy of maturity or the realisation that the door to England recognition has suddenly been opened, with Patel finally producing the regularity of runs to compliment his natural ability.  

Round 10 Fixtures

Division One

Somerset v Sussex

Warwickshire v Lancashire

Yorkshire v Nottinghamshire

Division Two

Gloucestershire v Surrey

Kent v Essex

Leicestershire v Derbyshire

Worcestershire v Hampshire

8. Topley tonic can’t halt another Glamorgan escape

Having gone into their previous two Championship games with a seam bowling unit long past the bare bones stage of injury crisis, the return of Reece Topley – who claimed 48 wickets last term – couldn’t have been more timely for Essex.

To their credit as tempting as it might have been to rush Topley back given their extensive injury problems, Essex have carefully managed the return of their 20-year-old protégé. That cautious approach reaped dividends as Topley returned match figures of 10 for 107 against Glamorgan.

With Glamorgan resuming the final day on 188 for eight and just 152 in front – albeit in a low scoring contest – Essex would have hoped Topley’s return might have coincided with a much-needed victory.

Jim Allenby, however, marshalled yet another Glamorgan tail wag as they again showcased their resilience to survive a pivotal 19 overs; frustratingly the elements decided that what would have been an intriguing chase of 215 never properly materialised.

Crucially for both the top two were also denied victory bids by the showers and with Topley back at their disposal Essex will hope he – coupled with the impending return of several other seamers – can inspire the clawing back of ground lost to the leaders.

9. Briggs completes Hampshire jigsaw

Nobody had reason to feel more rueful than Hampshire this week as the league leaders fell two wickets short of a weather defying victory against basement side Derbyshire that would have opened up a substantial cushion on the promotion-chasing pack.

Concurrent with the theme of their season Jimmy Adams’ side proved a cut above their opponents – such has been Hampshire’s dominance to date that they are yet to have been placed under any serious pressure.

Boasting a powerful deep batting unit and a seam attack which courtesy of the recruitment of Kyle Abbott has been made as strong as any in division two, Hampshire’s only genuine weakness looked to be in the spin department – frontline spinner Danny Briggs offering a disappointing 22 wickets in 2013.

Over the last two fixtures however – incidently his first two of the season – the 23-year-old Briggs has hinted he could be ready competently to fulfil the spinner void. Having picked up five wickets against Leicestershire last time out, Briggs proved a constant menace to Derbyshire’s flaky batting as he clinched a match return of seven for 72.

10. Ansari carries Surrey to safety

Whilst the rain did play a significant part in Surrey escaping with a draw against Worcestershire, the resistance of Zafar Ansari was an equally important factor.

That Surrey survived 87 second innings overs having been asked to follow on is a noteworthy achievement considering the brittle nature of their batting – a first innings capitulation from 162 for two to 206 all out highlighting their plight.

Amidst the carnage inspired by Jack Shantry Ansari offered stoic resistance with an unbeaten 77 from number three which used up 231 deliveries, before following that up with another half-century on the final day which consumed a decisive 158 balls and crucially negated the magic of Saeed Ajmal.

The 22-year-old can now boast an impressive seasonal average of 56 – a return in stark contrast to those of his team mates given that no other Surrey player currently averages in excess of 35. Prior to the commencement of this campaign Ansari had scored only 715 runs in 24 games, yet he has now contributed 335 in just seven games – highlighting the vast strides he is making in 2014.  

11. Sarwan’s commendable gamble backfires

Considering Leicestershire are winless since August 2012, the generous nature of the Grace Road surface and a day of perfect sunshine, declaring and setting Gloucestershire 251 to win inside 39 overs represented a ballsy move from Ramnaresh Sarwan.

Unfortunately there was to be no great reward for his rolling of the dice as Gloucestershire eased home with both nine wickets and ten balls to spare – Michael Klinger regaining his touch at the most pivotal of moments to stroke 129 off just 124 deliveries.

Given the plethora of draws in the division across the last fortnight, the opportunity offered represented a golden one for Klinger’s side and this victory lifts them from the relative doldrums to third spot and firmly back into the promotion picture.

Sarwan might take some criticism for what was a hugely risky move accounting for the circumstances but his positivity should be commended – after all Leicestershire had little to lose and considering just how desperate Gloucestershire were for victory it was not an inconceivable thought to suggest they might have faltered under pressure.

© Cricket World 2014