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County cricket: wet weather forces more draws but Surrey march on
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County cricket: wet weather forces more draws but Surrey march on

Ball one: chronicle of a win foretold

Last week, this column suggested that Surrey have a strategy to win cricket matches. This week, to nobody’s surprise, they applied it to beat not just Hampshire, but the weather that consigned the round’s other six matches to draws. It’s a hard-nosed realism that spins its own kind of magic.

Having rolled Hampshire on a green pitch, they were still 28 runs in deficit, five down at the end of day one and it looked like an even match. But Rory Burns had ground out 39 in 49 overs, but would live to fight in the morning. He was to convert that start into his first century since 2022, a seven-hour effort to anchor the innings. He had to wait a while for a smiter to smite at the other end, but Jordan Clark, in at No 9, did not disappoint, his 106 at better than a run a ball securing a 208-run lead.

Hampshire showed some fight but, with Dan Worrall nipping it about and Ollie Pope equalling a Surrey record with eight pouches at second slip, the game was up with a day to spare. The champions of the last two years top Division One.

Ball two: Essex draw level

It would be churlish to say that Essex are hanging on to the Londoners’ coattails as both sides have two wins and 71 points, but it inevitably feels like that when the Surrey steamroller starts to rumble.

Durham’s Colin Ackermann, somehow still only 33, kept Essex’s predatory attack at bay, while David Bedingham and Ollie Robinson continued their strong starts to the season with 52 and 90, both at better than a run a ball. Nick Browne celebrated his recall to the Essex colours with 184, supported well by Feroze Khushi, who also tonned up. The visitors had the home side two down in the second dig at Chester-le-Street and just one run in credit when stumps were pulled, the loss of day three scuppering both sides’ chances of forcing the win.

Sometimes this column criticises captains for lacking imagination and being risk averse in dealing with rain disruptions, but no blame can be attached to Scott Borthwick or Sam Cook, standing in for the indisposed Tom Westley. Nor can the points system be criticised, 12 to Durham, 14 to Essex feeling about right for the balance of the game.

Ball three: to d or not to d?

Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire, and Somerset and Worcestershire, also played out “blameless” draws, the points more or less evenly divided. Each is now wedged into the middle of the table, no win in four, 10 left to play. April can be a tough month to play cricket and this relentlessly cold, wet and windy spring has made it even worse, time lost and not recovered and high-water tables making pitches low and slow, easy to stay in, but hard to score quickly. Can anything be done, as April cricket seems here to stay?

There are certainly better times to experiment with the Kookaburra, as some matches from rounds one and two might still be going on now with the seamless, swingless, dare one say, foreign ball. So is there a radical solution?

Take the Durham v Essex match. With day three washed out, the fourth day started with Essex trailing by 44 with three down, the draw very much on the cards. Would it not be possible – even preferable – for the captains to meet with the referee and agree declarations or even a target should one side prefer to chase and the bowling captain set (say) 350 on the last day for the win?

No doubt there are implications for bonus points and stats, but surely positive cricket should be encouraged, even with artifice involved. After all, I’m not sure the players or the fans wanted this schedule for the only first-class competition of the year. Let’s make the best of a bad job.

Ball four: Fisher to hook England place?

Another smorgasbord of stalemates keeps Division Two shapeless, with little between the teams. The glamour game was at Headingley where the home side’s four Test batters – Adam Lyth 97, Shan Masood 40, Joe Root 119 and Harry Brook 126 – took maximum batting points as Yorkshire charged to 450-5d.

Derbyshire had just one Test player in their ranks, the New Zealand bowler Blair Tickner. They were led by 40-year-old Wayne Madsen, who hit a century and did superbly to recover from 23 for three to go to within three runs of parity. It was always a draw from there.

It was another decent match for Matthew Fisher, who made his county debut 11 years ago, but is still only 26. He has just one Test and only 40 first-class matches to his name, which tells the tale of another injury-hit young pacer’s developing career. It’s a long way back to the international scene for him, but stranger things have happened.

Ball five: batter of the week

Ben Duckett in the zone.View image in fullscreen

Perhaps no English batter gets into a zone like Ben Duckett. There are times when he looks like the kind of slogger you would see in a club match coming in at eight with 40 needed in the last five overs, slashing at everything, trusting an eye like a dead fish. But there are times when he looks very classy indeed.

Duckett goes in first and does it against the new ball, the wearing ball and the old ball and the swinging ball, the seaming ball and the spinning ball. He has fast hands and the short stature that allows width to be cut right up to half-volley length. He drives and sweeps (conventional and reverse) and can drive hard in the V. On his day, there is nowhere to bowl to the left-hander.

His 218, during which eight different Warwickshire bowlers came pretty much as one, was so far out of keeping with his colleagues’ play that the radio commentators ran out of adjectives. Save some for England, Ben.

Ball Six: bowler of the week

Dan Worrall is a perfect match for Surrey. He is patient, resilient and can work a batter out with plenty of nous and no little skill. Is he a Test bowler? He was once (well, thrice) an ODI bowler for Australia, but his British passport and residency qualifies him for England consideration next summer when he will be 33 (and the following Ashes winter, lest we forget).

It seems a preposterous notion – as anyone who has heard his “Strine” shouts at the Oval can attest – but there may be something in it. He is familiar with the Kookaburra, knows Australian conditions and will revel in the scoreboard pressure that England build. Okay, may build.

Could he come in and do a job? Scott Boland, who was 32, did the last time England visited Australia, so why not?

Source: theguardian.com