Warwickshire defeat local rivals for first win of the season

After two frustrating draws on docile pitches, Warwickshire finally got their Championship season under way with a decisive 181-run win over local rivals Worcestershire at Edgbaston. 

Jeetan Patel’s 4/69 included his 500th first class wicket, while he was well supported by Keith Barker (3/42) and Boyd Rankin, whose figures of 2/62 did not give him full reward for some hostile bowling.

For Worcestershire, Ben Cox continued his good form with a stylish 44 and Daryl Mitchell battled hard for almost four hours but no-one else threatened to deny the Bears the victory they deserved after dominating the match from Day One.

After the match, Warwickshire’s Director of Cricket Dougie Brown expressed his delight at having won against a Worcestershire side who had come into the game in a buoyant mood on the back of a victory against Somerset.  “It’s going to be an incredibly competitive Championship this year,” he told Deep Extra Cover.  “All we can do is play solid cricket and see what happens.  It’s bound to be an exciting season.”

Worcestershire started the final day of this match on 89/2, a long way from their notional target of 349 and also many a long hour from the safety of a draw, which was realistically their only aim.

A stiff breeze and a mix of sun and cloud did not promise much swing for the Warwickshire quick men and so it proved.  Nightwatchman Charlie Morris took 19 balls to get off the mark then had a life when he fended off Keith Barker into and out of Ian Westwood’s hands at short leg. Much good did it do him, however, as he immediately edged the same bowler into the safe hands of Rikki Clarke in the slips. The hallmark of a good nightwatchman, as of a true gentleman, is that he knows when to leave and Morris obviously decided that this was a job for the proper batsmen.

Tom Fell played some pleasing shots, stroking two half volleys from Barker for off-side boundaries.  He then cut Chris Wright for another four to raise the thought that maybe 349 in the day might just be possible. By the end of the first hour, Worcestershire were 126/3, having added 38 runs off 14 overs.

Rankin was bowling with much life and energy and when Patel joined him in the attack, it seemed clear that the match was entering a crucial phase. Fell pulled a short ball from Rankin for six but the Irishman, newly-fledged as an all-rounder, got his reward for some wholehearted bowling when Mitchell could only fend off a lifting delivery to give Clarke his second catch of the innings. Alex Gidman almost ran himself out trying to get off the mark and then Fell, having batted so promisingly, spoilt it by playing across a good length ball from Patel to be trapped lbw.  He became the third person in the innings so far to fall for 33. Gidman, still on nought, was saved by a thin edge when plumb in front to another excellent delivery from Rankin so Worcestershire tottered into lunch on 148/5.

After lunch, Gidman’s skittish innings continued with a couple of edges off Patel.  He then tried a clumsy pull to a straight ball from the New Zealander and was lbw for 12.  It was Patel’s 500th first class wicket in a career that, like a sturdy dahlia, remains in full autumn bloom.

Cox struck Patel for two off-side fours. and then swept two more to give notice that he was not going to go down without a fight.  At the other end, though, Clarke, taking over from Rankin, compelled a false shot from Alexei Kervezee and Laurie Evans, falling to his right,took a good two handed catch in the gully.  Worcestershire were now 188/7.

Ben Cox continued his good run of form by playing some decisive shots off Patel but flashed at him and edged to Tim Ambrose.  We then enjoyed a lively last wicket stand of 32 during which the new ball was taken,  Rankin was clubbed for six by Joe Leach and  Patel found himself in the unusual position of bowling the second over with the new ball.  It was too good to last. Sachithra Senanayake edged Keith Barker to Varun Chopra at slip and the Pears were all out for 255, leaving the Bears victorious by 181 runs.

Warwickshire will be delighted with their leap up the table whilst Worcestershire will be worried that maybe the Somerset win was just a flash in the pan.

The Marlborough Express Comes to Town

The Marlborough region of New Zealand doesn’t just export fine wines.  It has also sent  to England Ben Wheeler, known as the Marlborough Express. The young left arm quick bowler starred for the visitors with five wickets for just 18 runs as New Zealand built up a strong position on day two of this four day match. By the close, they were on 149-3 in their second innings, a lead of 182.

Although early-season touring team matches can become little more than prolonged practice sessions, both teams at Taunton have reasons for treating this as a serious contest. New Zealand know that they have limited time to acclimatise before the first Test against England. Somerset, languishing in the lower reaches of the Championship’s top division, have plenty of players in need of a change of form and fortune. So we were treated to a keenly contested day’s cricket under increasingly blue skies.  In the first half of the day, the ball swung sufficiently to make batting an occasionally precarious occupation. Later, conditions eased and, in the evening sunshine, the tourists built a good lead.

Speaking to Deep Extra Cover at close of play, acting Somerset skipper Peter Trego remained optimistic of a successful run chase on the last day, seeing a target in the region of 350 to 375 as potentially achievable.  For that to become a reality, however, Somerset will need to improve on both their batting and their bowling performances in the second half of the match.       

In the morning both teams made early efforts to make up for time lost on the first day. B.J.Watling and Neil Wagner played a series of crisps shots on either side of the wicket. Tim Groenewald beat Wagner’s bat several times and then had Watling taken at second slip by Tom Cooper, who did his best to drop the catch before clutching it to his chest. After a first over that seemed to consist of six looseners, Craig Overton came to life and brought the innings to an end by bowling both Wagner and Jacob Duffy.  New Zealand’s total of 237 had taken 71.1 overs.  Tim Groenewald took the bowling honours with 4-71. Scottish international Josh Davey, with 2-51, suggested in this, his debut match for Somerset, that he might have something to offer the county.

Somerset made a dubious start to their reply. Left-armer Ben Wheeler twice hit Johann Myburgh’s pads, succeeding with his appeal on the second occasion with the batsman trapped on the crease. At the other end, Tom Abell edged Jacob Duffy into Luke Ronchi’s safe hands at second slip to leave Somerset struggling on 4/2.  This became 9/3 when Tom Cooper’s leg stump cartwheeled out of the ground before he had opened his score.  When Doug Bracewell replaced Duffy, Jim Allenby struck four deliveries in his first over for off-side boundaries to enliven the Somerset innings.

Ben Wheeler, known to Central Districts fans as the Marlborough Express, bowled a fine spell of left arm pace from the Old Pavilion end, not conceding a run until his fifth over. He deceived James Hildreth who shouldered arms and was bowled for 13 to leave Somerset struggling on 43/4. In contrast to Wheeler, Bracewell’s first three overs went for 30 runs. Wheeler struck again when he got a ball to lift to Allenby, who tried to avoid it but only managed  to steer it inadvertently to Luke Ronchi in the slips. Allenby’s innings of 28 had consisted of seven fours, all struck through the off side off Doug Bracewell.  

At lunch, Somerset were struggling on 54/5. Ben Wheeler had figures of 7-5-6-4.

In the afternoon session, Somerset captain Peter Trego followed his natural inclination to regard attack as the best form of defence and struck a swift if slightly chancy 40.  He then holed out at deep square leg, mis-pulling a short ball from Neil Wagner to Mitchell Santner. 

Wheeler bowled Josh Davey for 15, and though Craig Overton and Alex Barrow raised the score beyond 150 when spin was introduced for the first time, Barrow played all across an off-spinner from Mark Craig to be lbw for a hard fought 32. Somerset were now 165-8, which became 182-9 when Craig Overton edged Bracewell to Ross Taylor at first slip.

The match was skipping along at a good pace with runs and wickets in plentiful supply. Abdur Rehman hit off-spinner Mark Craig for 14 in one over, including a six over mid-wicket. But Neil Wagner had Rehman caught by Luke Ronchi for 19 and Somerset were all out for 204, conceding a lead of 33.  Ben Wheeler took 5-18 in eleven overs. He looked in a different class from his colleagues. The remaining four New Zealand bowlers took five wickets for 175 runs at almost five an over.

New Zealand began their second innings with 36 overs in which to build on their lead. They lost Hamish Rutherford early on when he drove Tim Groenewald hard to cover and departed for 11. Thereafter, Tom Latham and Mitchell Santner batted serenely in the evening sunshine with few alarms, putting together a century partnership. Santner reached his fifty off only 56 balls with ten fours. He then lofted Abdur Rehman for six over long off.

Tom Latham’s fifty was slower but almost equally impressive, coming off 88 balls with six fours. He looked to be in for the duration but managed to play across a straight ball from Jim Allenby just before the close. In the day’s final over, nightwatchman Neil Wagner fell to Tim Groenewald, but New Zealand are still in a strong position to build on their lead tomorrow.

Woakes: I want to be an integral part of the Ashes

Warwickshire all-rounder Chris Woakes, currently sidelined by a foot injury, spoke to Deep Extra Cover‘s Terry Wright about his development as a bowler, his experiences for England and Warwickshire and his hopes for the coming Ashes season.

Deep Extra Cover: How are you coping with the injury?

Chris Woakes: It’s frustrating but I’m trying to use the break to my advantage, to get fit and strong. The foot is healing well, although it’s been a slow process. There’s important cricket to be played so I just want to get out there for Warwickshire.

DEC: Moving onto your development as a cricketer, are you still a bowler who bats a bit or are you a genuine all-rounder?

CW: I definitely think of myself as an all-rounder, though I haven’t had enough opportunity to show what I can do with the bat. I’ve scored centuries and batted as high as six, but at Warwickshire, we’re lucky to have lots of all-rounders, so you have to force your way up the order by weight of runs.

DEC: And as a bowler? How is your bowling now compared with a couple of years ago?

CW: Well, I’ve got more experience which counts for a lot in cricket. You tend to get better as you get older. Also, I’ve put on a yard of pace.

DEC: Is the added pace a result of extra effort or just a natural development?

CW: It’s a bit of both. I’ve tinkered with my action and also I’ve just grown into my body. I know what I can and can’t do. It’s been a gradual process over two or three years.

DEC: Who are the coaches who have helped with your development?

CW: Well, there was Graeme Welch at Warwickshire, who began getting me to make technical changes to my action. Kevin Shine at the ECB helped and, more recently, David Saker. So I have a few people to thank.

DEC: On a Central Contract, is it frustrating when you are told you can’t play for Warwickshire?

CW: Yes it is. [Ian] Bell and [Jonathan] Trott always want to play and give 100% and I’m no different. Once I’m fit, I hope I’ll get the chance to put in some performances for Warwickshire.

DEC: It must be good to be part of a winning culture at Edgbaston?

CW: Yes- we started slowly last year and gained momentum. Having a chance of three trophies was exceptional. That creates pressure for this season because everyone will be expecting similar results. But the guys are ready for the challenge.

DEC: How do you feel about the signing of Brendon McCullum for the NatWest T20 Blast?

CW: What a signing that is! Everyone at the Club is excited. It’s fantastic for the players to have a quality player to learn from as well as for the fans to see a great player in action.

DEC: You’ve also still got Jeetan Patel as an overseas player, who’s just been named as one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year.

CW: He deserves that 100%. His performances over three or four seasons have been exceptional. As a friend of his, it’s great to see the recognition. He does the hard yards, never moans, plays in all formats and never misses a game. Everyone here at Edgbaston knows he’s a great guy and a great cricketer.

DEC: Looking back to the World Cup campaign, what are your thoughts?

CW: I really enjoyed being part of the England team in the World Cup. It’s just a shame that it unfolded as it did. We didn’t perform as well as we can. We were written off early on and we wanted to perform and prove a few people wrong.

DEC: Now there’s the Ashes campaign to look forward to.

CW: The Ashes is what everyone looks towards. It’s the pinnacle of your career. Having had just one taste of Ashes cricket, I want to be a full part of the team this time. I need to put in the performances for Warwickshire and get into the team for the New Zealand series.

DEC: Many thanks, Chris, and best of luck for a rapid return to full fitness.

Paul Collingwood relaxes in the autumn of his career

Paul Collingwood captained Durham to a seven wicket win over Somerset in their opening LV County Championship fixture at Taunton. As well as taking six wickets in the match, he scored an unbeaten hundred that gave Durham a vital 81 run first innings lead. 

During the match, he spoke to Deep Extra Cover’s Terry Wright about the team performance and his new, more relaxed attitude to his cricket.

“I’ve spent 20 years of heartaches, ups and downs, analysing my own technique.  Now I’m just trying to enjoy my cricket as much as possible.  There’s no point in worrying about whether or not you’re going to get a good ball. I’m going out there now and whatever happens, happens. I’m just going with the flow and being as relaxed as possible.

“As for the other players in the team, the youngsters these days have been coached and taught all the skills. So my job is just to let them be so they can enjoy the game. I have to create a relaxed climate where they can use 100% of their skills. If they are only using 70%, there’s no point.  I’m not trying to re-invent the wheel, it’s just the way the modern game is going.  I know the Durham lads are all giving 100% so I’m happy to let them make their own decisions.

“As for this game against Somerset, we’ve played on a really good cricket wicket. The ball has been doing stuff if you got it in the right areas but equally, you can score runs.  The pitch has had really good carry in it, so if the ball is swinging and gets the edge, it will reach the slips.

“On the second evening, the pitch seemed to liven up but I think that was because of some superb new ball bowling. When they get it right, they [Graham Onions and Chris Rushworth] are two of the best opening bowlers in the country. They caused a lot of threat.  They got the ball in the right areas and so the chances came.

“I really enjoyed my innings. When I got into the nineties with eight wickets down, I realised that we could be only two balls away from the end of the innings so I decided to go for it. They brought the field up so I went over the top and it worked. I’ve mainly been pretty aggressive in the nineties throughout my career.

“As for my future, this may be my last year. But if I enjoy it, there’s no reason why I wouldn’t play another one. You’re a long time retired.”

Collingwood shines as Durham capitalise at sorry Somerset

At the end of a fascinating second day, Somerset were in deep trouble. Having conceded a first-innings lead of 81 to Durham, they struggled to 54-4. The northern county were led from the front by Paul Collingwood, who followed up his five wickets in the Somerset first innings with an unbeaten century.

Somerset will have been delighted with the whole-hearted bowling performance of Lewis Gregory who took 5-99 but in the evening sunshine, the Durham bowlers found life in what had seemed a blameless pitch and had Somerset tottering like an drunk on a cobbled street. It will require some heroic batting by the middle and lower order to get Somerset back into this game, which could be all over inside three days.

Taunton is always an enjoyable place to watch county cricket. Somerset have worked hard over the last 20 years or so to maintain a sense of the history of the place while creating a ground fit for the 21st century and for staging at least minor international fixtures. Right now, Taunton is a ground in transition. The famous old press box has been demolished and, as if to punish those who complained about its very basic facilities, the gentlemen and ladies of the Press have now been housed in a Portakabin. Never mind, we are promised a brand new press box by the end of the season. It will be part of a new stand that is slowly taking shape.

At the start of the second day, the game was nicely poised, with Durham on 98-2 in reply to Somerset’s 299 all out. The pitch had a slight hint of early season greenness and offered a fair amount of pace and bounce but it also gave the batsmen full value for their shots. The overnight pair of Scott Borthwick and Michael Richardson started steadily and took the score to 157, and the partnership to 144 before the latter fell to a loose shot to give Gregory his and Somerset’s third wicket. Borthwick seemed to be progressing with comfort towards his hundred and played a couple of delightful off-drives. Somerset’s new addition James Allenby noticeably slowed the scoring rate, which was racing along at around 4.5 runs an over.

It was Jamie Overton, however, who made an important breakthrough when Borthwick played slightly across a good length ball and was lbw six short of his hundred.

Calum MacLeod was seeking to set behind him a miserable run of scores for Scotland in the World Cup and hit both Overton and Peter Trego for good-looking boundaries. Abdur Rehman, as befits an experienced campaigner, settled into a good line and length with his left arm spin. Durham went into lunch on 224-4 with MacLeod on 39 and Collingwood on 12, just 75 behind.

After lunch, Tim Groenewald trapped MacLeod lbw for a well-made 44. Durham were 238-5 and the game was back in the balance. In nickname terms at least, the Durham innings was now in the hands of the army, with Brigadier Block, aka Paul Collingwood, partnered by the Colonel (Phil) Mustard. In tune with the theme, most of the Somerset bowling struggled to rise much above military medium in pace. The pair added a useful 42 before the Colonel lost his commission, propping forward to Trego and edging to Alex Barrow.

As Durham approached the Somerset total, Barrow spilt a relatively straightforward chance offered by Collingwood. The Durham captain edged a good length ball from Gregory but Barrow, going across in front of first slip, couldn’t hold on. No disrespect to Barrow but most Somerset supporters would love to have either Craig Kieswetter or Jos Buttler back in the side, both in front of and behind the stumps. Collingwood began to exert a price for the miss by reaching his 50 off 88 balls with five fours. He took Durham into the lead and beyond 300. The new ball was taken in the 81st over with Durham on 335-5 and by Tea Durham were well placed on 347-6.

Paul Coughlin looks a promising young player but, second ball after tea, he played tentatively and edged Gregory to Trego in the gully and was gone for 18. Hastings soon followed, toe-ending an attempted pull that ended up back in bowler Groenewald’s hands – 348-8. Sensing that the end was nigh, Collingwood struck Groenewald for a straight six to go to 97. He then clubbed Gregory to the mid-wicket boundary to being up a splendid 100.

Chris Rushworth was brilliantly caught by James Hildreth, plucking the ball outof the air with his right hand at gully. It gave Gregory his fifth wicket.

When Trego bowled Graham Onions, Durham were all out for 380, securing a valuable lead of 81. Collingwood was left not out 109, made off 145 balls with 11 fours and two sixes. There was just that dropped catch to mark his innings and Barrow’s day.

Somerset made a poor start, Marcus Trescothick leaving a ball from Rushworth that clipped his off stump and sent him on his way for nought. Johann Myburgh soon followed, palpably lbw to Rushworth for 9 to leave Somerset in trouble at 10-2. Hildreth got off the mark with an edged four off Rushworth that flew head-high between the wicket-keeper and first slip. At the other end, Tom Cooper only half played at a rising delivery from Onions and was caught behind for five. Hildreth scarcely profited from his escape by playing an airy shot and being well caught by Borthwick in the slips.

By the close, Barrow and Allenby had taken Somerset to 54-4 but the alternatives for Somerset tomorrow seem to be at best a long struggle and at worst an early capitulation.

Warwickshire Season Preview 2015

Last season, Warwickshire, thinly disguised as the Birmingham Bears, won the NatWest T20 Blast.  That accomplishment, alongside taking second place in both the LV= County Championship and the Royal London One-Day Cup, could give them a claim to be the team of the season in 2014.

Director of Cricket Dougie Brown’s confidence in his squad is reflected in the absence of comings and goings during the close season. The only signing – and it’s a major one – is the recruitment of Brendon McCullum for the T20 Blast.

A big unknown for the Bears is international calls.  If Jonathan Trott is able to resurrect his Test career, then the feeling among all Bears fans will be one of delight, but the team will miss his runs. Chris Woakes (currently injured) is now on a central contract; and it remains to be seen whether or not his and Ian Bell’s international futures have been damaged by having been part of the England World Cup debacle. As usual, William Porterfield will leave the Bears from time to time in order to continue his excellent captaincy of Ireland as they seek a place at the cricketing top table.

2015 will be a key season for several players. Can Anglo-Australian prodigy Sam Hain match or surpass his debut season’s performances in the Championship and maybe begin to make a similar impact in the shorter forms? Will we see the Laurie Evans who was man-of-the-match in the T20 final or the Laurie who struggled for most of the 2014 season and averaged a little over 10 in the Championship? Will Chris Wright and Boyd Rankin be formidable spearheads or suffer from the recurring injuries that have dogged their recent careers?

Varun Chopra
Varun Chopra

Answers to those questions will help to determine whether the Bears can maintain their challenge for trophies in all competitions.

Ins: Brendon McCullum (New Zealand, for the T20 Blast)

Outs: Jim Troughton (retired and now on coaching staff); Shoaib Malik (not re-signed)

Key Player

There is quite a weight of expectation resting on the shoulders of new Warwickshire captain Varun Chopra.  As an opening batsman, he was outstanding in all competitions last year, compiling almost 1800 runs. He also deputised for the injured Troughton as captain with impressive calmness under pressure, not least during the thrilling final over of the T20 final.

Chopra also retains international ambitions that are surely realistic if he can continue to score steadily and heavily. A popular character at Edgbaston, there is no doubt that he will have the full support of the squad as he copes with the pressure of balancing his priorities.

Player to watch

Ateeq Javid is a young player whose career is at a key stage. Aged 24, he has come up through the junior ranks at Edgbaston. He made his mark two years ago with some accomplished innings in four-day cricket. Along with Laurie Evans, he lost his place in the four-day side last year but became a key figure in the one-day set-up, not just as a lower order hitter but also as an effective off-spin bowler.  His dismissal of Kevin Pietersen – caught and bowled – was a key moment in the T20 semi-final. “He hit the ball back at me so hard my hands hurt,” he recalls.  “And KP was grumpy!”

In his transition to an all-rounder, Ateeq owes much to Jeetan Patel who has been his bowling mentor. This year, Ateeq looks to establish himself fully in all forms of the game with both bat and ball.  His motivation is strong.  From a disadvantaged inner-city background, he says that cricket has given him an escape that contrasts with so many of his contemporaries who found themselves on a path that involved drugs and crime.  He freely acknowledges the debt he owes to cricket and to Warwickshire.  2015 could just be the year when he repays that debt with match-winning performances. 

Overseas signings

Jeetan Patel
Jeetan Patel

Jeetan Patel is more a Bear than a Kiwi these days and returns as the main overseas player. Last year, he was an ever-present in all competitions.  He took 107 wickets and won the coveted Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. Recognition as one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year is being proclaimed by everyone at Edgbaston as a totally deserved honour. Chris Woakes told Deep Extra Cover: “He’s a great guy and a great cricketer. As a friend, it’s fantastic to see.”

When you factor in that Jeetan is a total team man both on and off the pitch, it makes him an almost irreplaceable asset. Bears fans will not even want to contemplate the possibility that he might get injured.

Fellow New Zealander Brendon McCullum will have a much briefer stay, playing in most of the T20 Blast games. But his reputation is such that expectations are high that he will have a massive influence both on results and crowd numbers.  The hope expressed by Club Chairman Norman Gascoigne last year was that the presence of Shoaib Malik in the T20 line-up would engage local cricket-lovers of Pakistani origin and boost crowds to between 10,000 and 15,000 for home games. That didn’t really come off, despite the Bears’ success in the competition. McCullum’s appeal is likely to be broader, attracting cricket lovers generally, especially those who like to see dynamic hitting.

How they’ll fare

There’s no doubt that, with a high quality squad, Warwickshire go into 2015 full of hopes that they can challenge in all competitions. At the same time, Director of Cricket Dougie Brown recognises that nothing is guaranteed. The team only just scraped through the qualifying stages of the T20 Blast last year. Although second place in the Championship was a great effort, Yorkshire were the stand-out team in the four-day game and inflicted two defeats on the Bears. “We lost twice by an innings to Yorkshire,” says Dougie, “which tells you a bit about where they are and where we are.”

Two of the areas on which the coaching staff have focused in the close season are fielding and  power at the top of the order. “We are a steady fielding side, but there is scope for us to be better,” says Dougie. The recruitment of Jim Troughton as fielding coach can only help in this respect.  As for the power hitting, the squad have worked hard on this and the addition of McCullum should make a difference.

Overall, the Bears have a well-motivated and skilled squad and can realistically expect to be highly competitive in all forms of the game.

Whether or not all of this translates into trophies for Varun Chopra and his team is where the luck of the game comes in. It was the late and much-lamented Richie Benaud who said that success as a cricket captain is 90 per cent luck and 10 per cent skill. But, said the inimitable Richie, it’s best not to attempt it without that 10 per cent.

Opening fixture

v Hampshire, Sunday 19th April, Edgbaston

Season Odds (via SkyBet)

LV= County Championship Division One:  9/2

Royal London One-Day Cup: 12/1

NatWest Twent20 Blast: 9/1

Front loaded County Championship schedule makes fast start essential

The most obvious point to note about the pattern of matches in the County Championship for 2015 is that there are no major changes from last year.

Starts will mainly be on a Sunday so there will be little Saturday Championship cricket; and the competition is still very much front loaded. The majority of games will be played by the end of June.

To take Durham as an example, they will have played nine of their 16 games before the start of July, which is before the Ashes series begins. The Championship holds sway until May 22nd when the Natwest T20 Blast starts, keeps going in combination with the shortest form until July 19th and then pretty well stops until mid-August.

Then it’s a late cavalry charge for the finish at the end of September. Is that good or bad? As Abraham Lincoln is supposed to have said, for those who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they will like.

Both of the newly promoted sides have tough debuts at the higher level. Hampshire make an early start on April 12th when they entertain Sussex who finished third last year. The following week, they travel to Edgbaston to take on last year’s runners-up, Warwickshire. On those same dates, Worcestershire meet the Champions, Yorkshire, at New Road and then travel to Hove to play Sussex. Welcome to Division One!

There are other early season games that will go into many diaries. Still in April, on 26th, Yorkshire take on Warwickshire at Headingley. Last year, the Tykes defeated the Bears comprehensively home and away, so this match should provide a pointer towards the relative strength of the two teams who are already installed by the bookmakers as 2015 title favourites. On the same date, in Division Two, Surrey take on Essex at the Kia Oval in a clash that should test the promotion ambitions of these South-East rivals.

For folk who like to take the road less travelled and watch their cricket at outgrounds that are sometimes beautiful and always quirky, there are still plenty of options. It is true that you can no longer see Glamorgan at Abergavenny, with the Sugarloaf mountain in the background. Somerset, like the Romans before them, have abandoned Bath. And Weston-super-Mare, once the haunt of Viv, Joel and “Beefy”, is now given over to retired Brummies, Peaky Blinders or not, taking their grandchildren for donkey rides.

But there is still Arundel, where Sussex play Durham on June 15th and Colwyn Bay, the venue for Glamorgan against relegated Lancashire on July 19th.

You can even see Saturday cricket at occasionally sunny, often windswept Scarborough, where Yorkshire take on Durham starting on Friday August 7th.

And then there is that truly special event, the Cheltenham Cricket Festival at the historic College Ground. Gloucestershire play two Championship games there, entertaining Northants and Leicestershire in early July, both Wednesday starts.

The list of matches seems endless. But experience tells us that the clock will keep on ticking and, all too soon, the final round of matches will be with us on Tuesday September 22nd. Will Yorkshire v Sussex at Headingley be the game that decides the title or could it be Somerset v Warwickshire at redeveloped Taunton?

In Division Two, will the winner of Surrey v Northants at the Kia Oval gain promotion? Might interested spectators be shuttling between there and Chelmsford, where Essex take on Lancashire? There will suely be some surprises. What will they be? Yorkshire for relegation, Leicestershire for promotion? Probably not. But you never know.