Matt Carter runs the rule over round two of the LV= County Championship, which concluded earlier this week with plenty of talking points to consider.
Having lost bowling spearhead Alan Richardson over the winter, little was expected of a worryingly thin and youthful Worcestershire side who were hugely reliant on Moeen Ali for runs in 2013 and those expectations were tempered yet further by the news of Saeed Ajmal’s delayed arrival.
Round 2 results
Middlesex beat Nottinghamshire by 10 wickets
Northamptonshire drew with Durham
Somerset drew with Yorkshire
Sussex beat Warwickshire by seven wickets
Essex beat Derbyshire by 53 runs
Hampshire beat Gloucestershire by 8 wickets
Worcestershire beat Kent by 125 runs
Worcestershire’s young side though have belittled such pessimism with an encouraging draw with highly fancied Hampshire being followed up by a competitive victory over Kent.
Satisfyingly this was a win based around an impressive team effort, with success for once being achieved without a significant contribution from Moeen. Gareth Andrew, with eight for 85 led a seam trio that made light of Richardson’s absence, while Ben Cox, who arrived with his side just 108 ahead and with only five second innings remaining is also deserving of special praise for his 89 – the highest score of the match.
Undoubtedly more testing times lie ahead but Worcestershire can only be credited for their response to adversity.
Yorkshire’s season opening draw with Somerset further highlighted Adil Rashid’s current transformation from bowling to batting all-rounder, with the once highly promising leg spinner following up an impressive first innings century with a disappointing bowling return of one for 127.
Granted, few pitches will be as lifeless as the one he encountered at Taunton, yet that part-timer Kane Williamson out bowled him is a clear indication of Rashid’s plight with the ball.
Spin bowling was Yorkshire’s Achilles heel in 2013, with Rashid’s 29 victims costing a hefty 48 runs apiece and to go one step further this year they will need him to either regain his mojo or Azeem Rafiq to enjoy a breakthrough campaign.
Clearly Rashid’s batting is going from strength to strength as an average of 52 in 2013 highlights, but unfortunately his spin bowling that Yorkshire crave so badly continues to disappoint.
After numerous seasons that were typified by inconsistencies, James Vince enjoyed something of a breakthrough campaign in 2013 with the highly rated right hander averaging an impressive 64, a run which included four three-figure scores.
A sumptuous 144 off 184 balls which laid the platform for Hampshire’s win over Gloucestershire outlined that that form was no flash in the pan, while a dazzling unbeaten 58 off just 36 in the second innings further underlined the 23-year-old’s clear natural talent.
The Ashes debacle has opened a series of windows and although Vince may not possess the top flight runs or consistency that certain others can boast, few can match him in terms of x-factor – something England are seriously lacking given the departure of Kevin Pietersen.
Scoring runs was undoubtedly the most significant factor in Derbyshire’s return to Division Two with their 34 batting points the lowest by a significant margin, anyone hoping their batsman would find life more comfortable in the second tier were left bitterly disappointed by a batting induced defeat against Essex.
Despite bowling the hosts out for what should have been a match winning 94 shortly after lunch on day one, Derbyshire’s batsman could muster just 154 in response with only Shivnerine Chanderpaul (75 not out) scoring more than 30.
They were duly punished by an Alastair Cook inspired Essex who plundered 425 second time around, before Derbyshire subsided again to 312 – with that total heavily inflated by some lower-order hitting when the game had all but gone.
In 2013, with the exception of Chanderpaul only Wayne Madsen scored in excess of 650 runs and although only early, signs are that batting frailties could once more halt Derbyshire’s ambitions.
With Ian Bell falling for an opening day duck and Cook also being ousted prior to lunch on Sunday, England were wondering if there would ever be an end to their long suffering bating nightmares.
Yet by the close of day two the outlook was altogether rosier with Cook and Bell both instigating their side’s recoveries from double figure first innings totals – Bell shining with an unbeaten 189 and Cook offering a match winning 181.
Sam Robson, the man tipped by many to partner Cook in the opening Test against Sri Lanka, added further gloss, recovering from a pair of failures against Sussex last week to register a century in Middlesex’s victory over Nottinghamshire.
For Middlesex that knock and subsequent victory only further highlighted their over-reliance on Robson and they will be feeling tetchy regarding any potential England call.
Without a county in 2013 despite a more than handy first-class bowling average of 32, injury plagued Robbie Joseph was thrown a lifeline by former club Kent during the close season.
The initial signals are that Joseph might just repay Kent for taking a gamble on a man who was part of an England performance squad that toured India back in 2008, as he claimed match figures of five for 92 in the defeat at Worcestershire.
With Doug Bollinger also enjoying an impressive debut, it was in contrast to 2013; Kent’s batsman who let them down in that loss.
Providing that batting capitulation was a mere one off, and Kent can keep Joseph fit and offering solid support to the consistent Bollinger, then improvements on last season’s disappointing eighth should beckon.
With a squad past its bare bones, squaring off against Durham was hardly an ideal scenario for Northamptonshire - tasked with needing to bat out 69 overs to secure a draw the champions could sense blood, albeit on a relatively true surface.
Rob Newton had other ideas, as despite playing in his first competitive match since July 2013, he batted for over three hours to guide Northamptonshire to safety with just one wicket left in the bank – remarkably together with number 11 Mohammed Azruhallah surviving nine overs to see out the game.
After what has been a nightmare off season this was a show of tremendous character and one which hints they will be no pushovers in 2014.
Round 3 fixtures - 20th-23rd April
Durham v Somerset
Lancashire v Warwickshire
Yorkshire v Northamptonshire
Derbyshire v Hampshire
Glamorgan v Gloucestershire
Kent v Leicestershire
Undoubtedly Hampshire have been disappointing in red ball cricket since they arrived in Division Two, finishing fourth in both 2013 and 2012 without mounting any serious promotion bid – an encouraging off-season has however heightened hopes of a better campaign this time around.
Despite the ever-impressive efforts of James Tomlinson Hampshire had lacked a cutting edge with the ball, which led to the overseas signing of Kyle Abbott and the South African duly repaid that faith by triggering a Gloucestershire first innings collapse from a position of strength at 292 for five to 305 all out – Abbott clinching five for 67.
In contrast Hampshire were able to extend their innings from 216 for six to 422 all out, with Adam Wheater who boasts a first-class average of over 40 entering the fold to score 82, highlighting their batting depth.
There are still areas for improvement. For instance, Gloucestershire escaping from 216 for eight second time round to reach 332 and with it set a score, but there are plenty of reasons for Hampshire to be hopeful.
Missing Chris Nash, Luke Wright and Matt Prior, Sussex were somewhat lacking in senior batsman heading into their clash with fellow title hopefuls Warwickshire, thankfully Ed Joyce was able to shoulder the extra responsibility and produce one of the great Championship performances to somewhat mask the loss of those absentees.
On an astonishing opening day in which 20 wickets fell Joyce was seemingly batting on a different pitch, scoring a free flowing 117 when nobody else could pass 37. Joyce wasn’t finished there though, following up that effort with an unbeaten knock of 151 which made light of their 330 target – with it guiding Sussex to their first win at Edgbaston for 33 years and to the summit of the championship table.
After two years where they have been there or there about without ever mounting a significant title tilt, early indications are that Sussex could make the step up and become genuine contenders in 2014.
Unfortunatly their on-fire skipper will miss their next championship fixture due to Ireland commitments, meaning that although Prior could return they will be without their leading three run scorers of 2013.
It was a case of one foot forward and another one back for Nottinghamshire, as victory over Lancashire was followed up by a resounding defeat at Lords.
The bowling which was a key factor in Notts winning just twice in 2013, having looked rejuvenated against Lancashire was back to the toothless form of last year – this despite the arrival of Peter Siddle.
The Australian charged with adding that absent x-factor failed to pick up a wicket and conceded 113 runs off his 29 overs, granted he is still finding his feet and should only improve but this defeat highlights just how much Notts are in need of his wickets.
© Cricket World 2014