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County cricket: Essex go top but Surrey may be the real winners | Gary Naylor
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County cricket: Essex go top but Surrey may be the real winners | Gary Naylor

Ball one: Taunton taunts new leaders

As José Mourinho knew, points at the start of the season are worth exactly as much as points at the end of the season. When these cold, wet, uninspiring rounds of matches are forgotten in the mellow fruitfulness of autumn, the table will remember.

In that context, Somerset’s defeat of Essex after two days of seaming skittling may prove to be crucial to either or both counties (and perhaps Surrey too). Twenty wickets fell on the first day, Sam Cook taking guard twice and squeezing in a quick fiverfer in-between. The pitches inspectorate, who never need much encouragement to punch “the County Ground, Taunton” into satnav, must have had twitchy fingers – but Cook and Jamie Porter running through a side will never excite them as much as Simon Harmer and Matt Critchley wreaking havoc.

The carnage continued into the second day and, when the dust (more accurately, the damp) settled, the home side needed 167 for the win – not too daunting but it did represent the highest innings of the match. Much depended on the first hour, the crucial blunting of the visitors’ outstanding new ball attack. It was a job description delivered superbly by Matt Renshaw and Sean Dickson, who played positively, rattling along at five an over leaving fewer than 100 to get when they were separated. From there, a couple of decent knocks and some cool heads will get you over the line, and Andrew Umeed and Tom Banton proved up to the task.

Essex went top on their own but missed a chance to steal a march on Surrey, who found a good week to miss. Somerset went second, but we all know how that tale ends.

Ball two: Lyon’s roar silenced

Kent recorded their first win of the season, while Lancashire slumped to their second defeat in front of Sky’s cameras at Old Trafford.

Credit goes to Kent’s two pacers who grew up in the southern hemisphere, Nathan Gilchrist and Wes Agar, the pair sharing 15 wickets between them. A hat tip also to a couple of this column’s favourite cricketers: the all-action all-rounder Joey Evision and the ever-reliable Daniel Bell-Drummond.

That said, after the home side’s bowlers had done their bit, dismissing Kent for 261, Keaton Jennings having decided to field, it really shouldn’t need all of a dismal first innings of 92 and half of the second innings to overhaul what was only a handy total.

Despite some fight from the lower middle-order, Lancashire’s batting looks callow once the top three (Jennings, Luke Wells and Josh Bohannon) are back in the pavilion. There is no point in selecting Australia’s Nathan Lyon and England’s Tom Hartley if there is nothing on the scoreboard for them to work with.

Joey Evison of Kent bats as Lancashire wicketkeeper Matthew Hurst watches on.View image in fullscreen

Ball three: Seales wraps up easy win

One has the feeling that Cheteshwar Pujara was not callow even as a toddler, so at ease is he with his old-fashioned, highly effective game. He arrived at the crease at Derby (a ground Mohammad Azharuddin described as the coldest he had ever played at) with Sussex 138 in arrears and left it with his team 143 runs to the good, his 64th first-class century banked.

If it’s something of a surprise to see such a classy operator in Division Two, what should we make of the Trinidadian tearaway, Jayden Seales, with 10 Tests to his name already at just 22 years of age? The home side certainly couldn’t make much of a fist of it, his five wickets in eight second-innings overs delivering a crushing innings victory that sent Sussex top of Division Two, with a game in hand on most rivals.

Ball four: Bean jumps into the spotlight

Yorkshire are not shy of sending Test class players on to the fields of the lower division either, but Joe Root, Shan Masood, Harry Brook and Adam Lyth were outshone by the 22-year-old opener Finlay Bean, who top scored with 173.

When the home side declared with a lead of 298, Glamorgan knew they were in for a hard grind to save the match. They got through 138 overs and probably deserved a bit of help from the weather, centuries from Sam Northeast and Colin Ingram securing the draw. They are two of the top three runscorers in the country this season, but a combined 92 overs from spinners, Dan Moriarty and Dom Bess, for just two wickets (Root got a couple) won’t have pleased the members cradling a Bovril in the stands.

Ball five: Du Plooy remains hungry for runs

Leus Du Plooy View image in fullscreen

Sandwiched between Northeast and Ingram in the runscorers list is Leus du Plooy, who swapped Derbyshire for Middlesex in the winter. The move hasn’t held back the Hungary international, who has simply moved last year’s average of 82 on a couple of notches to 84 this season.

There was not much he could do beyond helping himself to a century off Leicestershire’s attack as rain washed away the first and last day at Lord’s, but Middlesex, after the financial woes of last season, have quietly crept up to second in a still shapeless division, level on points with their opponents in last week’s match.

Fortunately, county cricket’s transfer market does not generate as much fuss as football’s, but recruitment is an important element of a county’s success. Tempting du Plooy looked canny a month ago – it looks even cannier now.

Ball six: PCA bowls a bouncer at schedulers

I recall during my decade or so as a union representative, reminding management (and myself) that I was not a neutral party in negotiations. Though there will always be significant overlap between the interests of employee and employer, there are times when it’s more of a zero-sum game.

The Professional Cricketers’ Association (once described as the only union more right-wing than its employers) has surveyed its membership, who want to work less for (apparently) the same reward – well who wouldn’t? That is not to dismiss concerns over player welfare and the promotion of excellence, but surely issues such as late-night driving can be solved with coaches (the Shane Warne, drivable kind), overnight stays and, yes, more sympathetic scheduling. But the precise mix of playing, practice and rest required to furnish an England captain with a fit and firing XI seems as elusive now as it did a quarter of a century or so ago, when central contracts were introduced.

Perhaps there is a more fundamental discussion to be had about exactly how much money the game needs. It will always want more – players, with a short career (though who has a job for life these days?) will chase the best contract, while administrators will want the strongest income streams – and there will always be another development initiative on the table, goals identified, budgets planned.

The hardest thing for go-getting successful managers, of employees or employers, to do is to say no, to admit that it’s a good idea, that it would bring in more money, that it would solve problems, but we’re not going to do it. Far more organisations are harmed by an excess of ambition than by its absence. The reach and the priorities of English domestic cricket could do with a little more definition.

Source: theguardian.com