Matt Carter reflects on the opening week of county cricket in the UK, picking out a number of talking points as the LV= County Championship got underway.
Life in Division One was always going to be tough for Northamptonshire, a challenge which has been heightened by a seemingly never-ending injury list.
Division One results
Nottinghamshire beat Lancashire by 45 runs
Sussex beat Middlesex by an innings & 127 runs
Division Two results
Hampshire drew with Worcestershire
Glamorgan beat Surrey by 10 wickets
Limited overs skipper Alex Wakely was the first to go with a ruptured Achilles which has cruelly robbed him of the entire campaign, that was followed by news that overseas player Jackson Bird will not make it, before salt was rubbed further into the wounds with news that both David Willey and Rob Keogh have been ruled out for the opening section of the encounter.
The club were dealt a further hammer blow earlier this week as Rory Kleinveldt, the man brought into replace Bird, followed the Australian in being forced to cancel his stint with the county. Replacing the wickets of Trent Copeland, a key factor in their promotion was a major objective in the off season, that they still remain without an overseas source of wickets although through no fault of their own is a huge concern.
2014 promised to be a season of exciting new challenges for the county yet this injury crisis is threatening to derail the campaign before it has begun.
The major problem for Middlesex in 2013 was scoring consistent runs, with only relegated Derbyshire gaining less batting points.
Anyone expecting an instant remedy to those toils will have been left bitterly disappointed as Middlesex were shot out for scores of 105 and 154 on their way to a thumping innings-and-127-run defeat against Sussex.
Last season the county were indebted to opening pair Chris Rogers and Sam Robson who both passed 1,000 runs, however they were severely hampered by nobody else averaging clear of 32.
Neither Rogers nor Robson passed 50 against Sussex and once again with the exception of Dawid Malan’s 35 and 36 the rest of the line-up failed to overcome that setback, highlighting the over-reliance on the opening pair.
Not even the availability of Eoin Morgan could lift Middlesex and if they are to challenge in the upper reaches of the table the supporting cast must stand up, particularly if Robson earns England selection.
Upcoming Fixtures - 13th-16th April
Middlesex v Nottinghamshire
Northamptonshire v Durham
Somerset v Yorkshire
Warwickshire v Sussex
Essex v Derbyshire
Gloucestershire v Hampshire
Worcestershire v Kent
Nottinghamshire incredibly won just two Championship games in 2013 – less than relegated Derbyshire. Encouragingly a 45-run success over Lancashire means they are already halfway to that paltry total, whilst what was particularly impressive was the victory was achieved without their best batsman in James Taylor and overseas strike bowler Peter Siddle.
That win was also achieved despite being asked to bat first and falling to 20 for three on a testing surface, with a refreshed James Anderson causing significant problems. Samit Patel, who endured a frustrating 2013, came to the fore with a century-deserving 93, his form is likely to be essential this year especially with Taylor believed to be near the England fold.
Another issue for Notts in 2013 was a bowling attack lacking bite so for Luke Fletcher and Harry Gurney to both be in the early season wickets, albeit against a depleted Lancashire is another significant boost for a season in which the opening signs are, will be a vast improvement on the previous.
If Graeme Smith and Graham Ford had any doubt surrounding the challenge they faced at Surrey, those illusions were quashed by a sobering final day defeat to Glamorgan.
Surrey had arguably been in the driving seat for the opening three rain affected days, yet in the face of probing bowling from seamers Michael Hogan (four for 31) and Graham Wagg (six for 29) they capitulated to a total of just 81 on the final morning.
Glamorgan then belittled any supposed demons in the pitch as Gareth Rees and Will Bragg hit unbeaten half centuries with the Welsh county coasting to a mightily impressive 10-wicket victory.
For all the perceived talent Surrey possess they enter that contest with a heavily inexperienced side, especially in their batting with only Smith and Steven Davies recognised seasoned campaigners – a dangerous recipe on a green early season track, especially with Hogan and Wagg ruthlessly utilising such conditions.
Last season’s top scorer Vikram Solanki remains on leave and Surrey are in dire need of his experience.
Glamorgan could in Hogan boast the leading 2013 wicket taker with 67 victims, however their second best effort was Dean Cosker’s mere 37 – which heavily influenced the county’s total of just three wins.
Wagg’s exploits against Surrey came something of a shock given that last year he could claim only 18 victims and those at a disappointing return of 54 runs apiece. Having impressed at Derbyshire Wagg has been a relative disappointment at the Swalec, with 33 wickets his best return since debuting in 2011.
Nonetheless at 30 Wagg still arguably has his best years in him and if the initial indications are anything to go by, the all-rounder could go some way to relieving the pressure on Hogan.
In 2013 Moeen Ali was fighting a lone battle for Worcestershire, as whilst Moeen’s 1375 championship runs surpassed any other player in the country no other Worcestershire batsman could average higher than 33.
Daryl Mitchell was by a significant margin second to Moeen in the Worcestershire run scoring charts, however an unbeaten 172 in the season opener with Hampshire, his first ton since May 2013, suggests that gap should diminish considerably in 2014.
For a Worcestershire side who picked up a measly 29 batting points last term despite Moeen’s exploits, to see their captain in such fine fettle is a huge early bonus.
The opening days of the season were tarnished with sadness, given that Derbyshire wicket-keeper Tom Poynton was involved a car crash which resulted in the devastating death of his father, Keith.
With Tom having been with Derbyshire since the tender age of 11, Keith was, as the outpouring of goodwill messages on social media sites indicate, a significant presence around the AAA County Ground.
So it was understandable that the club was hit hard by the news – as a result their scheduled clash with Leicestershire was postponed, credit for which must go to both Leicestershire and the ECB.
Our thoughts remain with the Poynton’s during this difficult time.
© Cricket World 2014