Friday 25 April 2014 

10 County Championship Round Three Talking Points

Gary Ballance
Gary Ballance scored a big century as Yorkshire beat Northamptonshire by an innings
© REUTERS / Action Images
 

Matt Carter rounds up the action from the round three of the LV= County Championship, which was badly affected by the weather, not that Yorkshire minded too much...

1. Weather gods make their presence felt

With the opening two rounds of the County Championship season passing by with relatively minimal weather disruption, the changeable April climate bit back across the Easter weekend in frustrating fashion.

Only one game brought a result, whilst fixtures at both Derby and The Oval meandered into dull draws - arguably however it was Warwickshire, Gloucestershire and perhaps Leicestershire who had reason to feel most aggrieved by the conditions.

2. Rain fails to halt Yorkshire

As the others floundered in the frustration caused by the wet weather, Yorkshire, despite being hindered themselves by the elements, were still able to wrap up a comprehensive victory over Northamptonshire - impressively with over two sessions to spare.

Gary Ballance laid the platform contributing 174 to Yorkshire’s imposing 459 - an innings which might just ink in his place for the opening Test match of the summer. The bowlers then clinically did the rest, needing only 108 overs to dismiss their opponents for scores of 94 and 245 - Jack Brooks returning to haunt his former side and claim match figures of eight for 112 and the ageless Ryan Sidebottom clinching seven of his own.

After the non-entity of last week’s draw at Taunton, this was just the tonic the White Rose needed to kick-start their bid to go one better than last year’s second - particularly with trips to Middlesex and Durham on the horizon.

Results from round 3

Division One

Durham drew with Somerset

Lancashire drew with Warwickshire

Yorkshire beat Northamptonshire by an innings & 120 runs

Division Two

Derbyshire drew with Hampshire

Glamorgan drew with Gloucestershire

Kent drew with Leicestershire

Surrey drew with Essex

3. Northants struggle to make the step up

As excellent as Yorkshire’s performance was, if Northants were under any illusions regarding the step in quality they were facing then they were most certainly quashed in that defeat.

As Derbyshire learnt last year Division One is an unforgiving landscape, where very rarely do poor sessions - such as the one where Northants capitulated to 94 - go unpunished.

Injuries are hardly helping their course with batting successes of 2013 David Sales and Rob Keogh on the sidelines, nonetheless they must learn quickly if they are to avoid an instant return to the second tier.

Even in these premature stages of the season next week’s fixture against a Lancashire side who themselves are yet to win could represent a crucial few days in Northants’ bid to establish themselves.

4. Gloucestershire’s last-wicket frustration

Not once but twice were Gloucestershire thwarted by Glamorgan’s final pair, firstly Graham Wagg and Michael Hogan combined to add 73 in the first innings before Hogan then joined Dean Cosker to stave off nearly eight overs to deny Gloucestershire’s victory bid late last evening.

In total those two stands accounted for almost 22 overs - in a week where time in the middle was a precious commodity it was a delay that eventually resulted in Gloucestershire falling irritatingly short.

That was despite the best efforts of Will Gidman who excelled to clinch nine wickets across the match, including six for 50 in the second innings - which had it not been for Hogan and Cosker’s resistance would have been match winning.  

5. Compton and Somerset stand resolute

A typically resilient unbeaten match saving century against reigning champions Durham will have provided the England selectors with a timely reminder of Nick Compton’s qualities.

This was Compton at his immovable best, as Durham’s prestigious pace attack were denied a final day victory for the second successive fixture, although Somerset were significantly more comfortable in securing the draw than Northants a week previous - so much so that had there been an extra hour available the Taunton outfit might have claimed a famous win.

Anything other than Sam Robson obtaining the vacant Test opener birth looks a long shot but Compton’s sheer weight of runs - nobody scored more first division runs in 2012 and 2013 combined - mean that he without question deserves consideration.  

Focusing primarily on Somerset, if last week’s dour draw against Yorkshire taught us nothing, the manner in which Marcus Trescothick’s side battled back with both bat and ball here outlines they will possess plenty of character in 2014.

6. Leicestershire worth the wait

Having failed to claim a single victory Leicestershire propped up the rest last season and most have predicted a similar fate for their young squad this campaign.

Their opening encounter against Kent, however suggests that 2014 might not be such a gloomy affair.

The Foxes enjoyed the better of the drawn fixture, so much so that at one stage with Kent stuttering at 36 for four on the final afternoon an improbable victory was looking plausible.   

The bowling stuck to the task throughout, at the same time both Greg Smith and Angus Robson showcased form to suggest that Ned Eckersley might not be left to fight such a lone battle with the bat.

It remains early days and even here there were flaws in Leicestershire’s display, yet they showcased a competitiveness that was absent for the bulk of 2013 - if that can be maintained then they should be a different proportion to the side who were streets behind the rest last year.

7. Lancashire under pressure

Without the evergreen Simon Katich, the pressure has been heightened further on a Lancashire batting line-up which was the significant factor in their 2012 relegation.

Over these early skirmishes the jury remains somewhat out on that line-up – given a current average of 223 runs per innings. Despite stubborn resistance from Paul Horton who spent a combined total of almost nine hours at the crease for scores of 83 and 84, those batting frailties nearly cost Lancashire a second successive defeat - as it was the Manchester darkness somewhat came to their rescue.

Horton’s form, coupled with that of fellow senior batsman Ashwell Prince - who made a century in vein last time out - will undoubtedly be essential to their prospects this season, however together with that the supporting cast must also rise to the challenge.

Round 4 fixtures - 27th-30th April

Division One

Middlesex v Yorkshire, Lord's

Northamptonshire v Lancashire, Northampton

Nottinghamshire v Warwickshire, Trent Bridge

Sussex v Somerset, Hove

Division Two

Gloucestershire v Essex, Bristol

Hampshire v Surrey, The Ageas Bowl

Leicestershire v Glamorgan, Grace Road

Worcestershire v Derbyshire, New Road

8.    Jittery Warwickshire lose ground

The Championship may not be won or lost over these opening miles but playing catch up after a stuttering start can be a futile task. Warwickshire are some way off from such a position, however they can ill-afford their rivals to continue to stride into the distance.  

In defeat against Sussex they paid the price for a sluggish session and although here they rightly will point to the frustration of the Old Trafford weather, their second innings chase did become somewhat messy - so much so that although they were strong favourites when leaving the field for the last time, victory was by no means guaranteed.

Last year a stuttering start saw Warwickshire chasing a losing battle in the title race - the bears must find their stride sooner rather than later to avoid such a repeat.

9. Mills and Dunn light up draw

The weather may have put paid to any possibility of a result at Surrey, but in between the showers two young quick bowlers were able to showcase glimpses of their talents.

For Surrey a beefed up Matt Dunn clinched figures five for 60, amongst his victims was England captain Alastair Cook for 39. Cook avenged that second time round with a second century in successive games, nonetheless the former England Under-19 international is one to keep a close eye on.

Tymal Mills, having travelled with England to Australia in effort to prepare Alastair Cook’s men for a Mitchell Johnson barrage, will not be such an unknown quantity. The opening exchanges of the season though have seen Mills begin to deliver on the talk with a handy spell of 3 for 49 last week against Derbyshire being followed up with four for 45 in this latest contest - again his progress will be monitored with intrigue.

10. Concern for Kent

Opening fixtures against Worcestershire and Leicestershire, two of the divisions perceived weaker sides, had raised hopes of Kent building momentum to force an improvement on last year’s disappointing showing.

Those games though have only served to raise anxiety at Canterbury, with that early mentioned draw with Leicestershire being preceded by defeat at Worcester. Having capitulated with the bat during the crunch of that fixture, a similar scenario looked in the works against Leicestershire, before Daniel Bell-Drummond - the one shining light thus far - combined with Darren Stevens to steady the ship.

The bowling which was timid to say the least in 2013, has been improved by the capture of Doug Bollinger, nevertheless in both games Kent’s bowlers have allowed promising positions to slip away - they will hope that is merely down to a lack of confidence.

With tricky fixtures against relegated duo Surrey and Derbyshire next on the horizon, if Kent are to make progress up the table they must now do it the hard way.

© Cricket World 2014