Matt Carter rounds up the latest LV= County Championship action after a round which ended with Somerset the latest team to sit atop the standings in Division One.
Whisper it quietly but the manner in which Somerset transformed a treacherous position to see off Sussex was the sort of display you might anticipate from a champions.
Having slipped to 39 for six in reply to 214, Somerset’s unbeaten record appeared to be teetering yet by the close of play they were firmly in the ascendency. Craig Kieswetter sowed the seeds of revival before Craig Overton - ably supported by the tail - produced a wonderful 86.
Marcus Trescothick’s side are clearly revelling in an absence of early-season expectation, induced by a disappointing 2013, and while that lack of pressure is a significant factor in their progress, the rise of their bowlers should not be undervalued.
Somerset have always boasted batting strength but a bowling attack lacking in comparable venom - however that has substantially changed this year with the emergence of several young seamers being complemented by rejuvenated stalwarts Trego and Thomas.
Both Trego and Thomas played key roles in Sussex’s demise. The evergreen Thomas made the headlines by clinching four wickets in four balls as the visitors slipped to 178 all out second time around.
Somerset had been relatively quietly slipping under the title race radar, however performances such as the one showcased here indicate they should not be discussed as anything other than genuine contenders.
It seems almost an eternity ago that Sussex began their season with successive victories and since then they have not won in six and rather than title challengers appear more likely to be relegation flirters.
Without Chris Jordan, Sussex’s attack is one lacking in both depth and bite, as highlighted by their inability to take advantage of Steve Magoffin’s supreme spell which left Somerset reeling. Exacerbating the problem is that aside from Magoffin and Jordan no other Sussex bowler can vaunt more than 12 wickets.
Of further worry is that Ed Joyce is currently having to produce a Herculean effort to prop up an underperforming batting line-up. The Irishman scored another century at Taunton to take his seasonal tally to four at an average of 95 but could not avert two under par totals.
Aside from Joyce only Luke Wright averages over 33 and his average of 49 hugely inflated by a single score of 189 which accounts for 64 per cent of his runs.
There is enough talent within Sussex’s batting to suggest their struggles will not be terminal, however given their bowling plight it is essential those belligerent batsmen hit form sooner rather than later before their situation becomes uncomfortable.
At Canterbury, Essex and Kent were both in need of kick-starting promotion campaigns with the clock ticking – as it was both were left frustrated by yet another draw.
Round 10 Results
Somerset beat Sussex by 6 wickets
Warwickshire drew with Lancashire
Yorkshire drew with Nottinghamshire
Derbyshire beat Leicestershire by 9 wickets
Kent drew with Essex
Worcestershire drew with Hampshire
Third last season, Essex harboured promotion hopes as genuine as anyone but this latest stalemate - their sixth - means they are now without a win since the opening round. The rain has been particularly cruel to the Chelmsford outfit, while a bowling injury crisis has been another huge hole in the road - nonetheless their cricket has unquestionable been behind the pace setters by some margin.
From the opening day that much craved positive result though was always looking an unlikely outcome - a relatively true surface and a losing over a session to rain on day two hardly helped matters, although in reality neither side showcased the spark to generate a victory.
When Jesse Ryder - who claimed ten wickets in the match - reduced Kent to 120 for four day four (a lead of just 67) Essex might have sensed an opening but they lacked the x-factor to force the issue as a stubborn Daniel Bell-Drummond (92) ensured Kent’s safety.
Essex’s bowling attack means stringing wins together should not be beyond them, however with only four wins in their last 23 fixtures promotion is now looking beyond Kent.
At 115 for six in reply to 311 winless Derbyshire were swaying and in dire need of inspiration against fellow strugglers Leicestershire.
David Wainwright would have been relatively low on the list of potential candidates yet the off-spinner might just have rejuvenated Derbyshire’s campaign.
Wainwright’s first superheroic act was to drag his side from the doldrums into a 25-run lead courtesy of a first century for the county – Alex Hughes and Tom Taylor proving able sidekicks as Derbyshire’s last four wickets yielded 221.
Wainwright then starred with the ball removing five of the first six wickets to fall as Leicestershire crumbled to 113 for six. The hosts did recover to set Derbyshire 186 but the pivotal blows had been dealt as the visitors cruised.
Considering prior to this fixture he had claimed only seven scalps in five games, Wainwright’s bowling exploits signified a quite drastic change in fortunes. Derbyshire will hope his colossal effort can act as a launchpad to better things, whereas Leicestershire will now be deeply concerned about the possibility of a second successive winless season.
Up to this point Hampshire had progressed serenely without a hint of significant pressure being placed on Jimmy Adams' side and not since the opening round against Worcestershire had they been dispatched for less than 300.
A visit to the same side - the division’s only other unbeaten county - was always likely to represent their most substantial test to date and so it proved. Just as they had done back in early April, Worcestershire amassed a healthy first innings total thanks in no small part to keeper Ben Cox’s first ever ton before dispatching their opponents for just 219; Saeed Ajmal occupying what is a becoming an all-too-familiar role of chief destroyer with figures of seven for 63.
Asked to follow on and having slipped to 88 for three – still 95 behind and effectively four down will Danny Briggs unable to bat – Hampshire’s mettle was being severely tested. It was an examination they would pass with flying colours as Michael Carberry, perhaps spurred on by his England omission, combined with Glenn Maxwell to all but secure safety. The Australian’s aggression somewhat nullified Ajmal’s magic.
The draw preserves Hampshire’s place at the summit and on this evidence it would take something of sensational proportion to topple them from that perch.
While Somerset underlined their position as genuine title challengers alongside Middlesex and Yorkshire, Warwickshire showcased evidence of why a title tilt looks beyond them.
Just as they had done earlier on in the season against Lancashire, the Edgbaston outfit failed to take advantage of an encouraging final day position.
Round 11 Fixtures
Nottinghamshire v Middlesex
Sussex v Yorkshire
Derbyshire v Surrey
Glamorgan v Kent
Hampshire v Essex
Leicestershire v Worcestershire
After several days of attritional cricket Warwickshire had reduced Lancashire’s flimsy batting to 103 for four early on day four, a lead of just 67. It was an advantage that they simply couldn’t ram home, as Steven Croft, with some degree of comfort led the visitors to security.
Considering they are already playing catch up these are opportunities that Warwickshire simply cannot afford to spurn.
It was not just their bowling at fault though, given their batsmen closed day two having added only 130 in 71 overs, hardly the urgency of champions when time was of the essence, although that caution is perhaps understandable considering their recent batting woes.
To compound Warwickshire’s exasperation, the game concluded with them scrapping for the draw rather than their opponents and were perhaps thankful for Lancashire’s delayed declaration.
As frustrated as Warwickshire will be with their inability to prise out a victory, Lancashire will be delighted by the application of their batsmen. It is no secret that the Old Trafford outfit possess one of the division’s weaker batting units: their average of only 227 in completed innings prior to their trip to Edgbaston evidence of their toil.
In saving the game, Lancashire declared just three runs shy of their highest total of the season to date, while their first innings effort of 286 was their fourth highest. At the same time Croft’s heroics represented his first half-century since May 2013.
In spite of this showing it would be foolish to think their batting issues cured, for there is no escaping that this facet of their game is some way beyond the majority of top tier – this weakness meaning anything other than a relegation scraps looks dubious.
Nonetheless they have showcased here that their batsmen have enough steal to provide their bowlers with the runs required to launch a bid for safety – particularly with a few of the sides above displaying signs of struggle.
Another side who failed to turn a plausible opening into victory were Yorkshire, with their depleted side unable to coax their way through a Nottinghamshire outfit who midway through the final morning could claim a lead of only 112 with just five wickets intact.
The absence of Liam Plunkett’s firepower perhaps proved the significant factor in Yorkshire’s failure to deliver the required critical blows.
His quick bursts have been central to Yorkshire’s charge and while the England call-ups of Joe Root and Gary Ballance were always to be expected, losing Plunkett has come somewhat out of the blow.
This now represents a crucial phase of the season for Yorkshire and how they react to losing Plunkett and their England batsmen will go a long way to deciphering whether they can go a step further than last year’s second place finish.
For a Nottinghamshire side who even at this stage it is difficult to pigeon hole this was a vital fixture and while they didn’t achieve the win they required to force their way into the reckoning at the top, in achieving survival they did display the character to suggest they could yet feature in the title picture.
At the forefront of Notts' resistance were James Taylor and a counterpunching Chris Read, who both hit half-centuries to transform that delicate position into one in which their bowlers could enjoy exerting some pressure of their own in the final session.
Notts had already showcased their fighting qualities with the ball, where having been dispatched for just 205 in their first inning, there were fears of Yorkshire’s ever consistent batting line-up taking the game firmly away - however led admirably by the improving Peter Siddle the visitors ensured their hosts depleted batsmen were kept in check.
To mount a genuine assault on the summit Nottinghamshire will undeniably need to progress on only two wins through the first half of the season - with the bowling the main area in need of improvement – nonetheless whether that push materialises or not there should be not repeat of 2013’s relegation fight.
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