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9 County Championship Round 20 Talking Points

Chris Rushworth bowls
Chris Rushworth made history by taking 15 wickets in one day for Durham against Northamptonshire
©REUTERS / Action Images

Matt Carter reviews the penultimate round of LV= County Championship which saw some outstanding individual performances meaning there is still plenty to play for next week.

1. Northants hit fresh lows

Northamptonshire could have been forgiven for thinking their car crash of a season could plunge no lower down the nightmare scale, yet defeat at Durham saw them plummet to previously uncharted depths of misery.

Having seen the home side coast to 392, Northants’ bewildered batting would not once but twice crumble inside a period of 40 overs - a second innings run rate of 5.2 in spite of their plight perhaps indicating a complete absence of fight.

The gulf in class between Northants and the rest has been undeniable; nonetheless their surrender in fractionally over a session on Wednesday afternoon simply can’t be excused. The drop was inevitable long ago, however there are serious doubts that a fall in division will represent a substantial changing of the tide given Northants must rebuild from virtual rock bottom in terms of moral.

This latest ignominious defeat means Northants appear destined for the lowest points total since the two-division split, and not since Glamorgan in 2005 has a side lost more championship games.

2. Rushworth feasts on Northants misery as Durham soar

The orchestrater of Northants’ insipid display was undoubtedly Chris Rushworth, with the seamer securing head-scratching match figures of 15 for 95, remarkably captured inside a mere 20 overs.

Rushworth at one stage appeared destined to claim all 10 Northants wickets, yet Ben Stokes stealing the ninth victim meant he narrowly missed out on the feat accomplished by Otis Gibson seven years ago. Nevertheless, his return of nine for 52 signified by some distance the season’s best figures. At the same time Rushworth’s match haul represents the best ever recorded by a Durham bowler.

The victory - Durham’s third on the spin - continues a sensational recent run for Durham, with Paul Collingwood’s side now looking set for a top-five finish which is a far cry from the relegation scrap they were embroiled in just a month previously.

3. Cobb departure compounds Leicestershire woes

A resounding defeat inside two days resigned Leicestershire to a ninth defeat of the campaign and with it left them with just one remaining fixtures to prevent a second consecutive winless season.

A promising start to the championship season, which saw the Foxes navigate their way into promising positions but denied by a of lack belief, has rapidly disintegrated with Leicestershire losing nine of their last 12 fixtures.

The most worrying aspect of Leicestershire’s demise is the lack of evidence suggesting the future will be any different. Last week it was announced both Nathan Buck and Shiv Thakor would be departing Grace Road, with the frustrated Joshua Cobb this week opting to joining the growing exodus. Ned Eckersley is tipped to be next.

Round 20 Results

Division One

Durham beat Northamptonshire by an innings & 219 runs

Somerset drew with Middlesex

Sussex beat Nottinghamshire by 191 runs

Division Two

Derbyshire beat Surrey by eight wickets

Essex beat Leicestershire by an innings and 79 runs

Hampshire drew with Kent

Retaining promising youngsters has been a persistent issue for Leicestershire throughout recent times - James Taylor and Harry Gurney among the most notable - yet the current evacuation is unprecedented. The future represents a dark horizon for a club already in the doldrums, with identifying a road to recovery arguably the most arduous assignment in the county game.

There is nonetheless a minor silver lining of hope given Leicestershire’s second XI have endured a hugely productive season. Transferring those fringe players and their winning ethic could hold the key to a brighter future.

4. Footitt leads Derbyshire surge

In contrast to their East Midlands neighbours the future can be viewed with optimism for Derbyshire for whom success over Surrey signifying a fourth win in five championship outings for Graeme Welch’s side.

Mark Footitt was again fundamental to victory, with nine wickets across the match taking the rapid left armer’s seasonal tally to a startling 75 victims - at the same time Footitt’s strike rate is now also a competition best. His explosive attributes were in full evidence in a spell post lunch on day one which yielded six victims as Surrey slid from 72 for two to 117 for eight.

For all Footitt’s exploits, most pleasing will be the manner in which Derbyshire’s heavily maligned batsmen chased down 251, albeit on a flattening pitch but nevertheless the highest score of the match. Billy Godleman was finally rewarded for several determined showing with a first hundred for the club, while Cheteshwar Pujara produced the type of innings which had eluded him throughout India’s troubled summer.

Realistically Derbyshire can still finish fourth which after a desperate start would represent a satisfactory campaign. The evidence indicates Welch’s methods are taking considerable effect and as a result Derbyshire can look towards 2015 with some optimism.

5. Joyce continues Indian summer

Given his fundamental role in Yorkshire’s first title since 2001, Adam Lyth will understandably receive the bulk of the individual batting credit in the media. Statistically, however, Lyth has been surpassed by the evergreen Ed Joyce, who at 35 is enjoying the most fruitful campaign of his career.

Without the Ireland international’s runs Sussex might have been submerged in a battle for survival, yet his consistent supply has steered the Hove county clear of danger.  A second innings century against Notts this week represented Joyce’s seventh of the summer - in the process pushing him clear of Lyth - and at the same time he has also moved to within 77 runs of the Yorkshire opener despite missing two fixtures through international duty.

Victory over Notts - Sussex’s second on the spin - has lifted them into fourth, at the same time a win over beleaguered Northants in next week’s closer would secure a superb third spot: an accomplishment which would be in no small part down to the ageless Joyce.  

6. Rogers stumbles Middlesex towards safety

Chris Rogers’ supreme unbeaten second-innings 203 after his side had been asked to follow on ensured Middlesex stuttered to the brink of safety, although similarly pivotal was a 130-run stand between Eoin Morgan and Toby Roland-Jones, which helped Middlesex to recover from the desperate position of 61 for seven, in leaving Taunton with a precious draw.

The choppy waters however are not negotiated quite yet, with Middlesex’s meagre bonus points return from their trip to Somerset meaning Rogers’ side will take a catchable 19-point lead to Old Trafford next week.

With no wins in nine fixtures, combined with a run of just five victories in 31 fixtures since limited overs cricket commenced Lancashire would be perhaps justified in perceiving Middlesex as vulnerable.

Confidence at Lord’s has clearly been sapped and while the draw at Taunton - when it looked as though Middlesex were sunk - will restore some of that damaged belief, there will be plenty of reason for apprehension surrounding the do or die trip up North.

Final Fixtures

Division One

Lancashire v Middlesex

Northamptonshire v Sussex

Warwickshire v Durham

Yorkshire v Somerset

Division Two

Derbyshire v Leicestershire

Essex v Worcestershire

Glamorgan v Hampshire

Kent v Gloucestershire

Even if Middlesex do, as anticipated, escape the trap door, questions must be asked surrounding what has been a dramatic tailing off in fortunes.

7. Ervine keeps Hampshire on course

In the face of an opportunity to join Worcestershire in the top tier, Hampshire have suffered a nerve-fraying wobble of a week. Having seen promotion rivals Essex swot away Leicestershire with minimal fuss, Hampshire appeared in danger of following up a mere single bowling bonus point against Kent with few batting points having slipped to 253 for nine.

Sean Ervine had other ideas, and the long-serving Zimbabwean producing a timely 121 to eat up valuable overs and earn his side two unexpected and potentially crucial points.

Ervine’s typically counter-punching effort had seemingly taken the sting out of Kent and with it assured Hampshire a draw, yet the Hampshire ship would rock further on the final afternoon. The long-time promotion incumbents collapsed from 178 for two to 233 for eight and only 52 in front.

Thankfully for Hampshire, while the rest were losing their heads, Will Smith was firmly keeping his, the opener batting through to stumps for a hugely important century - James Tomlinson should also be credited given that for the second time in the match his part in a last-wicket partnership impacted substantially on the outcome.

Hampshire may yet need a victory against Glamorgan when their season concludes next week, but this narrow escape could well indicate a susceptibility to Essex however Hampshire will point to the ultimate character of stealing a draw from a game that on several occasions appeared lost. Further to that seeing the prize almost slip away should only enhance Hampshire’s aspirations to complete their assignment.

8. Essex keep the heat on

Essex would be best advised to avoid scanning the second division table from years gone by given their current win count and points tally would have secured promotion in both 2012 and 2013 - granted relatively dry conditions at the front and back end of the season have influenced an increase in positive results but nonetheless the aggravation is understandable.  

When pinpointing exactly where the group was lost, a run of eight games without a victory through the opening half of the campaign is glaring, although Essex will lament an injury situation during that period which saw their bowling attack reduced to its bare bones.

Jesse Ryder has aided in masking the ongoing bowling problems and he was again pivotal this week with the Black Cap capturing nine wickets that take his total for the season to an impressive 38 at just 19 apiece. By contrast Ryder has struggled with the bat, placing Essex in a quandary regarding whether they should retain his services for next summer.

Hampshire remain favourites for a journey into the promised land - a win of any kind would seal that, however should their faltering persist then a maximum points win would see Essex steal it on the line. Considering Essex’s current run of victories Hampshire would be best advised to leave nothing to chance.

9. Nottinghamshire’s fall to meagre end

A season that for so long promised so much concluded on Thursday evening with Nottinghamshire meekly surrendering to Sussex, Chris Read’s side subsiding inside 60 overs on the final day to gift-wrap Sussex a 191 run success.

The result means Notts are in danger of closing their campaign back in fifth, a substantial disappointment for a side who looked up until a fortnight ago genuine title challengers.

Their demise to Sussex ended a desperate final period of the season which has seen Notts lose three championship fixtures on the spin and crash out of the Royal London Cup – add in the earlier quarter-final Twenty20 defeat at home to Hampshire and Notts fulfil all the criteria of nearly men. Those failures have done little to alleviate criticism surrounding their ability in crunch scenarios, if they are to go better next year those nagging issues must be addressed.

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