Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

County cricket: Essex and Surrey look to be the teams to beat again | Gary Naylor
Cricket Sport

County cricket: Essex and Surrey look to be the teams to beat again | Gary Naylor

Ball one: Porter and co carry off points

Three rounds in, and Division One has begun to take on a familiar shape, led by the winners of all but one of the pennants awarded since 2016. Essex, the only side to conjure a win from the two Kookaburra rounds, steamrollered a sorry Lancashire team to win by an innings at Chelmsford, their dominance illustrated by the fact that 11 visiting batters had two goes each for a top score of 35 – Essex’s nightwatchman, Sam Cook made 49.

Back in the day job, he led a seam effort that combined to leave just three scalps for Simon Harmer to collect (908 first class wickets and counting). He, Jamie Porter and Shane Snater are at the peak of their powers, experienced, relatively injury-free and unlikely to miss matches due to international call-ups – quite a hand for skipper Tom Westley. With Porter the most expensive of the trio paying 23.6 runs per wicket, Essex are taking the traditional route to red ball success – ie get 20 wickets as soon as possible. They’re top of the table, so who can gainsay them?

Ball two: Surrey still running hot

Perhaps Surrey, the champions of the last two seasons, will. Rory Burns’ men have taken a different approach to winning four-day matches and it showed a little in their crushing victory over a spirited but ultimately outclassed Kent.

Surrey have fine bowlers of their own, a pool of top-class seamers spearheaded by the consistent movement of Dan Worrall at that handy notch above 80mph pace. But the club’s priorities might be indicated by the reluctance to play a specialist spinner. In recent years, Will Jacks has done the job and, this season, another batter who bowls, Cameron Steel, has stepped up to the crease to such effect that his leg-breaks have mustered 20 wickets, remarkably, the most by any bowler in the country.

Nevertheless, Surrey’s strategy, exemplified again in this match, is play solid conventional knocks at the top of the order and then hand over to the smiters from four to nine to pile up the runs that build scoreboard pressure and creates time for bowlers to take their wickets.

Dom Sibley and Dan Lawrence were both past their centuries and Surrey 96 runs ahead by the fall of their second wicket, the base from which the acceleration arrived to drive towards the declaration that left Kent needing 299 to make the champions bat again. To their credit, they came closer than many would have expected, Matt Parkinson, in at a vertigo-inducing number eight, batting nearly three hours for a career-best 39. But the Londoners, the wickets shared amongst five bowlers as they were in the first innings, got the job done, and bagged a full complement of 24 points in the end.

Ball three: Bedingham wide awake after breakthrough

Somebody should tell David Bedingham that the County Championship cannot produce international cricketers. Actually, that’s not quite fair as the 30-year-old South African’s talents were sharpened rather than developed over his now five years playing for Durham.

He looked entirely at home in his four Tests during the winter, a classy addition to his country’s long list of middle-order strokemakers. He was more brutal with Worcestershire’s attack, playing the pivotal innings of the match, his 99 ball 138 sending the home side’s fourth innings target up to a notional 458. He’s one of the form batters in world cricket just now and a player worth travelling a fair distance to see as he might not be playing much longer in this competition.

It’s Worcestershire doing the travelling just now though, forced to decamp from New Road to Kidderminster, which cannot help players nor fans.

Ball four: Clarke rewriting record books

With Jonny Bairstow’s top score in five Tests and one IPL season in India just 42, now is not a bad time to present one’s credentials as a wicket-keeper batter (with due apologies to Ben Foakes who may be considered a subcontinental specialist).

Joe Clarke, now a full-time red ball keeper, has backed up two centuries in the opening rounds with an undefeated 213, part of a 392-run stand with Will Young (174 not out), expunging the county’s third wicket record stand from the books after 121 years. That partnership first hauled Nottinghamshire back into the match against Somerset and then established a strong position, only for it to be rendered academic by West Country rain on the fourth day.

If Clarke’s suspension for bringing the game into disrepute five years ago is to be held against him or if he is deemed not to have shown sufficient remorse for it, that should be made public, as no ban from selection was included in his sanction at the time. If not, he should be considered on merit – and he is building a strong case.

Joe Clarke in action for Nottinghamshire at Somerset.View image in fullscreen

Ball five: Lamb beefs up Sussex lower order

The best match of the week involved Sussex squeaking home against Gloucestershire at Hove. Both first innings followed similar patterns as the visitors’ 218-5 was swollen to 417 all out before the home side pulled off the same trick, progressing from 253-5 to 479 all out. Bowlers stepped forward in the second digs, Ollie Robinson and Jayden Seales showing their Test pedigree with a combined 6-66 from 34.2 overs.

Set an awkward 144 for the win, Cheteshwar Pujara was always going to relish the challenge but, into the lower order, could Sussex find a batter to stand with India’s Wall Mark II? Danny Lamb was the man for the job, adding a crucial 17 not out to his 83 in the first innings and previous scores of 134 and 41 this season to raise his 1000 first class runs at 33.4. He’s a bit of a cheat code coming in six down – how Lancashire could have done with their academy product against Essex.

Ball six: single figures at Lord’s

With the temperature taking the celsius reading below 10 degrees and the wind chill making it feel like it was single figures in Fahrenheit too, I felt for the primary school kids huddled in the grandstand as the rain washed away much of the early play at Lord’s on Friday.

The sun brought a little warmth after lunch, but the single figure theme continued as the two players their parents will have told them to look out for, Joe Root and Harry Brook, mustered five and three respectively, done with balls that pitched up and offered to move away from the right-handers. Those were smacked into the V in the previous two rounds, beating a relentless tattoo on the boundary boards.

Somewhere a rueful Yorkshireman was probably muttering something about “proper cricket” as his team went down to defeat, Middlesex finding enough batting backbone to get over the line, somewhat to the surprise of many supporters.

Source: theguardian.com