10 County Championship Round 19 Talking Points
Yorkshire won the title with a crushing win, Worcesteshire are promoted from Division Two, but there was plenty more going in this week's LV= County Championship, as Matt Carter explains.
1. Yorkshire worthy champions
In a title race that for such a prolonged period has remained up in the air, the manner in which Yorkshire have romped away with the crown the closing weeks has been almost startling – nonetheless nobody can deny that they have not been by some distance the Championship’s standout side.
Nottinghamshire, widely regarded after Yorkshire to be the second-best four-day side this year, were the latest to fall to an all-too-familiar script that culminated in a resounding Yorkshire victory. Once again the Headingley outfit amassed a mammoth total – Adam Lyth contributing yet another century in a total of 532 - before twice shooting out their demoralised opponents.
A draw would have been sufficient to wrap up Andrew Gale’s side a first crown since 2001, yet the victory secured a fourth win on the spin – an accolade no other county have been able to match this year.
Gale’s side have been the definition of immovable – a freak loss at Lord’s aside Yorkshire haven’t looked close to losing a four-day game – while in the crunch they have showed unrivalled cutting edge.
2. Evergreen Sidebottom orchestrates Notts’ downfall
In 2010 Ryan Sidebottom departed Trent Bridge due to dissatisfaction with the length of contract being offered to him. Four years down the line the former England man can boast 43 wickets at 17 alongside his championship winners medal.
Yorkshire’s bowling success has revolved around a highly efficient complete unit rather than individual stars, with Sidebottom a pivotal cog in their watertight arsenal. The evergreen 36-year-old cruelly returned to haunt his former employers with a second innings six for 30 putting the final nail in the outlaws’ coffin.
Through the final furlongs Sidebottom has proven instrumental claiming 24 wickets in the last four fixtures, his return from injury coinciding with Yorkshire timely unearthing of a ruthless streak to perfection.
3. Notts lament nightmare fortnight
Having traded table-topping blows with Yorkshire throughout the second third of the season, recent weeks have seen the wheels fall off for Nottinghamshire – with this week’s humbling at the hands of the new champions being preceded by a terminal defeat to Durham.
The gulf between Notts and Yorkshire was undeniable at Trent Bridge, with Notts’ lack of bowling spearhead ruthlessly exposed and at the same time their much vaunted batting twice crumbled under considerable scoreboard pressure.
Sandwiched in between respective defeats to Durham and Yorkshire, Notts also suffered further Chester-le-Street disappointment – succumbing to Durham at the semi-final stage of the Royal London Cup.
Notts’ season as a whole has followed a theme of ‘close but no cigar’, with a prosperous Twenty20 group stage showing also going unrewarded. Mick Newell has pointed to an absence of squad depth and Will Gidman will undoubtedly boost their bowling stocks, nonetheless Notts must improve in high intensity situations if they are to take the extra steps to silverware in 2015.
Durham beat Middlesex by 141 runs
Sussex beat Lancashire by seven wickets
Warwickshire beat Northamptonshire by an innings & 16 runs
Yorkshire beat Nottinghamshire by an innings & 152 runs
Essex beat Kent by nine wickets
Glamorgan beat Derbyshire by 106 runs
Gloucestershire drew with Leicestershire
4. Shantry heroics send Worcestershire up
At 171 for seven in their second innings and just 34 in front Worcestershire’s promotion aspirations appeared to be blowing up in smoke, with Essex having already sealed a victory over Kent that had left the stuttering Pears precariously placed.
Worcestershire were in need of a hero, fortunately for them Jack Shantry would step into the revolving door and produce the best Superman impersonation you are ever likely to witness on a cricket field.
The number nine – with a previous high score of 55 – firstly carved out a maiden hundred from just 89 balls – combining with Mitch McClenaghan to leave a stunned Surrey chasing 217 to maintain their promotion tilt.
At one stage Shantry’s heroics appeared in vain with Surrey well placed at 131 for two, yet the unorthodox left-armer would not be denied with two wickets post lunch proving the catalyst for an extraordinary Surrey wobble which saw the visitors lose eight wickets for just 58 runs.
That Shantry-induced capitulation sealed a promotion that appeared to have escaped the long-time pace-setters – an accomplishment which nobody gave them a prayer of back when the season commenced.
Much of the credit will be aimed towards Saeed Ajmal, yet not even he could have matched the efforts of Shantry who in orchestrating Surrey’s second innings demise took his match tally to 10 wickets – the seamer having already kept Worcestershire’s hopes alive on the second day by instigating a Surrey collapse from 373 for four to 406 all out.
5. Essex left to bank on Hampshire faltering
Worcestershire’s sensational victory leaves a nagging feeling that Essex have left their promotion charge too late.
A resounding victory in just over two days against Kent signified a third consecutive success for James Foster’s side – a far cry from a return of just a single win inside their opening nine encounters.
Essex can still catch Hampshire, although with the current second spot incumbents vaunting successive victories there is little evidence they will trip up sufficiently to let the Chelmsford county back.
Kent’s defeat to their neighbours mathematically ended their dwindling promotion aspirations, with the run of three victories on the trot being followed by consecutive thumpings – indicating plenty of work remains for the Canterbury club to become genuine promotion contenders.
6. Lancashire left hanging by a thread
In the knowledge that a win would retain a realistic shot at survival Lancashire – having yet again conceded a first innings deficit – were left in a position of whether to stick or twist on the final day at Hove.
The Red Rose were able to muster a target of 251 for Sussex inside 59 overs, but on a true surface securing an essential victory from such a position was always an implausible situation. The home side, aided by a depleted Lancashire attack, were able to coast to their target and with it make certain of their spot in next year’s top flight.
Barring a complete Middlesex disintegration - not a completely inconceivable situation - an instant return to the second tier now beckons for Lancashire, with only a single victory discounting the pair they can boast against basement side Northants it is hard to make substantial excuses for the red rose – although the departure of Peter Moores just weeks into the season was a far from ideal situation.
Through the season the perceived stronger bowling suit has come unstuck – without Tom Smith Lancashire would be long gone – at the same time the much maligned batting has failed to disparage the critics who suggested Lancashire lacked the run regularity to prosper in the top tier.
7. Middlesex continue to crumble
It is now eight Championship games since Middlesex last tasted triumph in four-day cricket, while a poor showing in both limited overs tournaments has done little to lighten the mood at Lord’s.
Durham v Northamptonshire
Nottinghamshire v Sussex
Somerset v Middlesex
Hampshire v Kent
Leicestershire v Essex
Surrey v Derbyshire
Lancashire v Middlesex
Northamptonshire v Sussex
Warwickshire v Durham
Yorkshire v Somerset
Derbyshire v Leicestershire
Essex v Worcestershire
Glamorgan v Hampshire
Kent v Gloucestershire
Defeat to Durham leaves Chris Rogers’ side – albeit with a game in the bank - just 12 points clear of the dreaded relegation zone, with next week’s trip to Taunton now carrying monumental connotations considering Middlesex’s season ends with a trip to Old Trafford: for a side so lacking in confidence a straight shootout would signify a hugely dangerous proposition.
The alarm for Middlesex is their seam bowlers, who were wreaking havoc in the early rounds, have for some time lost their bite, with Steve Finn particularly struggling to reproduce the regular wicket-taking exploits of the season’s opening third.
A high-scoring draw would likely be enough for Middlesex to preserve their under threat status – with Taunton arguably the perfect setting to achieve such an outcome. If Middlesex do complete the anticipated and live to fight another day, questions must still be asked regarding the worrying downward spiral the club has found itself entertaining.
8. Warwickshire target second spot
With Notts deflated, Warwickshire now appear favourites to clinch the runners-up berth and considering their limited overs exploits that would cap an emphatically positive campaign.
Victory over Northants – who after encouraging signs in recent weeks somewhat reverted to type – lifted the Bears into second spot and crucially 15 points clear of their Midlands rivals with just a single fixture for each left to play.
The second half of the campaign has also seen the batting limitations experienced through the initial stages of the season resolved to an extent. Jonathan Trott’s runs are a significant factor in that with the former England man having contributed 516 runs in seven outings, while the emergence of Sam Hain – who at just 19 is currently the county’s leading Championship run scorer – has further enhanced a batting line-up which was previously lacking in a regular supply of runs.
Trott and Hain’s impact was fully felt against Northants, with the pair combining for a 360-run first innings stand, with the latter contributing a career-best 208.
Provided the England door remains shut to Trott, Warwickshire should be there or thereabouts once more next year, particularly considering Varun Chopra is unlikely to experience a similarly barren year.
9. Durham ride wave to safety
Two games ago Durham were at serious risk of slipping out the division they won just 12 months previous.
A win over at Notts eased those concerns, with a victory over Middlesex this week guaranteeing another year in the top flight. Having stuttered for prolonged periods throughout the season as a whole the defending champions appear to have regained their mojo at the most critical time – it is now conceivable that Durham could finish in a respectable fourth spot.
The Chester-le-Street side are riding on momentum currently, with their Championship survival coinciding with earning a Royal London Cup final showing next Saturday. A pivotal factor in that upsurge has been the acquisition of John Hastings, who has clinched 37 wickets in just eight Championship fixtures – that contribution being critical considering Durham’s season has been persistently hindered by bowling injuries.
Hastings' Championship work is now done but he can depart knowing the objective at the time of his arrival has been accomplished.
10. Glamorgan win battle of the bowlers
Predicting the victor of a clash consisting of one side on a three-match winning streak and another winless in six, should have signified a relatively safe bet yet Glamorgan belittled current form to end a torrid recent run by downing Derbyshire at the SWALEC.
Batting woes have characterised their recent slump and in reality this week’s success has done little to temper those question marks – that Glamorgan’s batting proved superior to Derbyshire in reality doesn’t represent a glowing endorsement considering the visitors twice crumbled for scores under 200.
Glamorgan’s bowling artillery has been among the best in the division, yet by comparison they can boast just five centuries all campaign – that deficiency the fundamental factor to why a season that promised so much has ended with the Welsh county battling to avoid second bottom.
Similarly Derbyshire have been plagued by flaws with the blade. Their list of individuals standing at a depressingly low three. If both are to be troubling the promotion chasers in a years’ time, batting advancements are essential.
© Cricket World 2014