Notts made to settle for draw after Groundhog Day for Middlesex

Middlesex held on for an unlikely draw in their opening Championship game of the season against Nottinghamshire at Lord’s, following a 36 run eighth wicket stand between James Harris and Tim Murtagh.

Harris and Murtagh picked up where they left off in the last match of 2014 when they combined to save Middlesex from a defeat against Lancashire at Emirates Old Trafford that would have condemned them to relegation. This time the stakes weren’t quite so high, but the odds were probably stacked more heavily against them when they came together with 19 overs left. To further add to the sense of jeopardy, Dawid Malan would only be able to bat in an emergency because of his broken finger sustained on day one.

Harris, deemed to have all-round potential during his early years at Glamorgan but with few major batting contributions behind him in recent seasons, batted for over two hours and faced 120 balls for his 36. On a pitch that offered only occasional assistance to the bowlers both he and Murtagh were able to look comfortable. The latter did get struck on the body by Harry Gurney, but the physio’s appearance afterwards may have been tactically motivated as Middlesex ensured that Notts were not able to squeeze an extra over in on top of the mandatory 96.

“It felt remarkably similar to Manchester”, Harris said afterwards. “When we came together we had the best part of 20-odd overs left in the day and we went about it in the same way. To be honest we didn’t feel under a huge amount of pressure. We’d been there and done it before and we knew what we were doing. Barring any real mishaps or genuine jaffas we felt pretty good about it and it turned out that way”.

Nick Compton and Adam Voges had earlier kept out the Notts attack for a combined 395 minutes to make saving a game that had looked lost on Tuesday afternoon a realistic possibility. Compton looked assured throughout his 217-ball innings of 85, especially before lunch whilst batting alongside his overnight partner Nick Gubbins. Gubbins fell in the final over before the break, popping a Samit Patel delivery to short-leg after facing 159 balls for his 37.

Compton was joined by Voges after the break, and the pair put on 42 before Compton was caught at slip off the excellent Harry Gurney, fifteen short of his hundred. Paul Stirling followed a ball later, also caught in the cordon, to tilt the game back in Notts’ favour, and when John Simpson fell before tea an escape looked very unlikely indeed. Middlesex’s predicament looked even worse when Voges, cleaned up by Gurney for a fluent 72, and Tom Helm departed in quick succession, but Harris and Murtagh had other ideas.

Nottinghamshire’s declaration, made yesterday evening with a lead of 518, is likely to be a talking point. Mick Newell, Notts’ director of cricket, said that they wanted to “bat Middlesex out of the game” and felt that the ease with which lower-order batsmen played out the closing overs suggested that his team “weren’t that close and could have been sitting there in an hour-and-a-half’s time looking for the wicket”, but Compton took a different view.

“It was an extraordinary declaration”, Compton said. “In the first game of the season, with the good bowling attack that they’ve got, and one of the best Test bowlers in the world, I thought 400 was enough. They left it far too long. They should have put us in a long time earlier and we made them pay for it”.

Despite missing out on the win, Notts still take ten points to Middlesex’s eight to sit fourth in the nascent Division One table.

Dent frustrates Northants to secure opening-week draw

Gloucestershire opener Chris Dent hit an unbeaten century  to help his side secure a draw in the LV=County Championship Division Two match at Northamptonshire.

Dent batted throughout the final day to end on 104 not out as Gloucestershire lost only two wickets before closing on 267-2. Will Tavare and Gareth Roderick also made half-centuries as the Northants bowlers offered little threat throughout the day.

Resuming on 35-0, Gloucestershire never seriously threatened the victory target of 454, but on a placid final day pitch at Wantage Road, Dent’s patient innings ensured his side batted out the day with comfort.

The 24-year-old batted for six hours and two minutes, facing 285 balls for his sixth first-class century- his first in the County Championship since Gloucestershire’s last meeting with Northants at Bristol in August 2013.

New Gloucestershire head coach Richard Dawson praised Dent’s ‘outstanding’ innings, and was on the whole pleased with his side’s first outing under his leadership, stating that if they can take their chances if the field, they have every chance of winning games.

“Chris and Will batted like we asked them to and managed to set up a great draw,” he said. “For Chris to bat that long, his decision making was outstanding and at the start of the season it’s an outstanding effort from them.

“The only thing we were thinking about was getting to tea and seeing where we were at. Northants bowled very well, they tried bouncing us, they tried spin, so they were quite proactive.

“Obviously we weren’t in a position to push for the win but that’s not to say when we turned up this morning it was out of the question.

“I think the positives we can take is we produced chances with the ball to bowl them out twice, although we didn’t take those chances. With the bat we fought hard, that’s the one thing we asked for especially in the first innings.

“I know we could have driven the game forward and pushed for the win but that’s what we need to sharpen up on, when we get those opportunities we take them and we can hopefully then just start winning games.”

His only scares in the marathon innings came on 99, when he survived a big appeal for a catch at cover, with umpire Peter Hartley ruling the ball had come off his helmet, and he was almost run out the following ball attempting a single that was never on, before completing his century with another quick single.

Starting the day requiring ten wickets to win, Northants would have fancied their chances of forcing a first Championship victory since 2013, but Dent and Tavare looked at ease throughout the morning, with the only chance of note coming when Tavare miscued a pull just wide of Rob Keogh at midwicket.

The pair reached their half-centuries off successive overs and looked set to bat through the session, only for Tavare to be bowled by Mohammed Azharullah for 66 shortly before lunch.

However, the breakthrough wouldn’t derail the visitors, as Roderick joined Dent in continuing the serene progress after lunch. Roderick had made 56 in the first innings and after a slow start, looked in good touch once more, hitting seven boundaries in completing a second half-century of the match.

The pair added 81 in 30 overs during the afternoon as Gloucestershire decided on the safe approach. However, just as in the morning, a wicket fell shortly before an interval as Roderick as trapped LBW by Rob Keogh.

Northants took the new ball four overs into the evening session, but Dent and Peter Handscomb ensured there would be no late wobbles for the visitors against a tired looking hosts attack.

After five and a half hours of assured batting, Dent reached three figures ten minutes before the sides shook hands on the draw, Northants taking 11 points to Gloucestershire’s 10.

David Willey was the star of the show for Northants on the opening three days, taking four first innings wickets before smashing an unbeaten 104, his maiden first-class century, and Willey admitted they ran out of steam on the final day.

“The game swung back and forth, and on the last day they had the best of the day. Dent played well and we had nothing left in the tank to try and get any wickets.

“Last year was a disastrous year personally and for the team so for us to come out there and play in the style that we did was pleasing. I think there were some difficult times in the game but we fought through.

“On a personal level it’s been a very good game for me, it’s good to be back and fit. I think last year with my injuries and things I fell out of love with the game. I’ve had a break, I didn’t do any cricket up until Christmas, started afterwards and I’ve really found my love for it again.

“I think I’ve had 12 first-class fifties prior to that and thrown them away so it’s nice to get across the line. I’m pleased to get there and hopefully I can score some more for the team.

“We were in a tricky situation in the second innings, but good partnerships from Rob [Keogh] and [Josh] Cobby and then myself and Rory [Kleinveldt] gave us a big enough lead to make sure they couldn’t have a shot at it today.”

Read blitzes ton as Nottinghamshire eye up Lord’s victory

A quick fire century from Nottinghamshire captain Chris Read left Middlesex needing 519 for an unlikely win at Lord’s, a chase that they will resume in the morning one down after Sam Robson fell for a duck.

Read, the former England ‘keeper-batsman, had already played an important hand in the first innings with 62 not out. But this time rather than steadying the ship he came in with the hard work already done and blazed his way to a 76-ball ton, the second half-century coming from just nineteen deliveries. The 36-year-old was particularly feral on Paul Stirling’s off spin which was despatched for sixes over mid-wicket and square leg as an over went for 22 shortly before he reached his century and the declaration was called.

“It wasn’t quite what I was expecting at tea time”, Read said. “We came out looking to be positive for maybe 20 minutes and get as many runs as we could on the board so we could have a go at them. But a few came off the middle of the bat and before I knew it hundred was in range. I stayed out maybe a few overs longer than I would have ordinarily but there were a couple of big overs so the numbers piled on pretty quickly”.

Sixteen years on this was Read’s first Championship century at the site of the moment that defined his international career, ducking a Chris Cairns slower ball in a Test against New Zealand. He has long since more than restored his batting reputation, establishing himself as one of the most feared lower-order batsmen in the country. However, before today he had not reached three figures since April 2013 and so a start to the season that sees his average stand at 227 represents something of a return to form.

Before Read came to the crease Notts had sauntered through the day with few alarms, slowly wearing down Middlesex on an April day so unseasonably warm that the PA announcer relayed a St. John’s Ambulance warning to supporters to protect themselves from the sun. Two of Notts’ legion of internationals, James Taylor and Samit Patel, looked particularly assured during respective innings of 61 and 33 though both will be disappointed not to have gone on to a score of real substance. Alex Hales and Riki Wessels also got in and got out but with the lead already over 200 at the start of play their collective wastefulness had little impact on the state of the game.

Faced with a tough 23 over stint up to the close Middlesex got off to the worst possible of starts, Robson caught on the crease by Vernon Philander and given out lbw. Nick Gubbins and Nick Compton then bedded in, however, to ensure that Notts will need eight wickets tomorrow to wrap up the win given that Dawid Malan is out of the match with a hand injury. There have been some signs of uneven bounce as this game has gone on but Read is taking nothing for granted.

“I think the first hour tomorrow is going to be crucial”, he said. “They’ve got some very fine batsmen that we need to dislodge so first hour, put the ball in the right area and hopefully we pick up a couple of wickets”.

Championship Round-up: Rushworth leads Durham to three day rout

RESULT: Durham 380 (Collingwood 109*; Gregory 5/59) and 150/3 beat Somerset 299 (Myburgh 118; Collingwood 5/57) and 230 (Rushworth 6/92) by seven wickets, at Taunton

Chris Rushworth’s six-wicket haul led Durham to a rampant victory within three days as Somerset suffered defeat at Taunton.

Resuming the day on 54 for four, still 27 runs behind Durham’s first innings effort, Somerset began woefully with Alex Barrow falling in Rushworth’s first over of the day to give the fast bowler his fourth wicket after uncharacteristically going wicketless in the first innings.

The slide continued, until Peter Trego and Abdur Rehman led a slight recovery with a 99-run partnership for the ninth wicket as the hosts looked to up the lead to a challenging total.

Jamie Overton also contributed with the bat at 11, as Durham were set 150 to win, a target they met with few alarms as Scott Borthwick registered his second half-century of the match in a seven-wicket victory.

Man of the Match: Chris Rushworth

 

Stumps, Day Three: Hampshire 231 and 181/4 require another 197 runs to beat Sussex 444 and 164, at the Ageas Bowl

James Tomlinson’s four wickets have given Hampshire a chance of a victory that seemed close to impossible 24 hours ago after the hosts fought back on Day Three against Sussex at the Ageas Bowl.

Harbouring a lead of 213 runs from the first innings, Sussex declined the option of making Hampshire follow-on – a decision which looked skeptical once they were bowled out for 164. The situation could have been far worse for the Sharks at 71 for six, but Luke Wright made 61 from 87 balls, his second fifty in the match, to give Hampshire a target of 378 runs.

The chase started positively with Jimmy Adams and Michael Carberry (79) making it to 76 unscathed, but two wickets in two overs from Ajmal Shahzad, plus one each from Tymal Mills and Michael Yardy, have left the hosts with 197 runs still to ascertain with six wickets in hand.

 

Stumps, Day Three: Gloucestershire 296 and 35/0 require another 419 runs to beat Northamptonshire 333 and 416/8d (Willey 104*), at Wantage Road

David Willey pummeled an unbeaten century, his first in first-class cricket, from just 83 balls as Northamptonshire set Gloucestershire an improbable target of 454 runs after the third day at Wantage Road.

Willey struck seven fours and six maximums in an excellent display of batting as the hosts recovered from 281 for seven to declare on 416/8. Willey was not alone in his efforts, however, with Rob Keogh (81) and Josh Cobb (58) hitting half-centuries, the latter making his first meaningful score since his move from Leicestershire, whilst Rory Kleinveldt joined in the aggressive scoring with 48 from 52 balls.

Gloucestershire made it to stumps unscathed on 35 for no wicket, and whilst the chase could be an option come the morning, securing a draw will be the first priority from Day Four at Northampton.

 

Stumps, Day Three: Glamorgan 513/9d and 47/3 lead Leicestershire 435 (Eckersley 147) by 125 runs, at Grace Road

Glamorgan secured a first-innings lead after Day Three at Grace Road, but three late wickets may perhaps give Leicestershire hope of avoiding defeat.

A draw seems the most likely outcome from this match, despite all three results being possible, due to the batting-friendly nature of the match and the warm overhead conditions in the Midlands.

Angus Robson fell early for the hosts, but Ned Eckersley became the third centurion of the match, making 147 before Craig Meschede, who also dismissed Robson, secured his second wicket of the morning.

That became three just two balls later as Tom Wells fell for a duck as Leicestershire’s middle/late order, Niall O’Brien (70 not out) aside, weren’t able to contribute enough to give Leicestershire a first innings lead.

Charlie Shreck took two late wickets as the visitors stumbled to 47/3 by the close, but with a lead of 125, Glamorgan still call the shots with one day remaining.

Champions deliver a warning at the expense of hapless Pears

When the intriguing comic book, ‘The League’ by Alan Moore was to be converted to the big screen, there was instant excitement. Worcestershire is no ‘The League’, with many predicting them for a prompt relegation. But the gallantry of their play during the first two days of the season opener against Champions Yorkshire meant that this was expected to be a contest which could go to the wire.

A depressing 35.3 overs later on the third morning they were 100 all out remarkably none of the fighting spirit of the first half of the match visible. The ending turned into as much a disappointment as the finished article of Moore’s novel ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.’ It doesn’t take anything away from the superiority on display by Steven Patterson (5/11), Jack Brooks (4/28) and Tim Bresnan though.

They made the absence of Ryan Sidebottom due to injury barely noticeable, as the ever impressive Brooks, who finished with nine wickets, accounted for the top order while Patterson siphoned the middle and the tail to the dressing room in double quick time.

The romp at the end by Alex Lees (52 not out) and Will Rhodes (45 not out) was the exclamation mark of an emphatic day for the Champions and Jason Gillespie, with the visibly demoralised home side offering nothing in resistance. In fact, the game was gone by then. It was the gone after the moment Gareth Andrew dismissed Tim Bresnan early morning to complete a five-wicket haul.

Bresnan started the rampage by trapping Richard Oliver for one, and then Brooks took over finding the edges of Moeen Ali, Daryl Mitchell and Alex Gidman to leave the Pears at 21/4 and staring at indignity. Mitchell and Gidman, talked up as the seasoned steel in a line-up packed with inexperience, failed to deliver in both innings.

First innings centurion Tom Fell and Tom Kohler-Cadmore belatedly attempted to revive an already broken guard, but the 5th wicket partnership lasted only 27 runs. The dismissal of Fell came three overs before the lunch break and probably the period for best batting conditions to come. Patterson was destructive, picking up Ben Cox in the same over for a duck. Andrew and Jack Shantry fought in unison but a fairy tale wasn’t forthcoming.

You could feel the angst in Shantry’s face when Charlie Morris got knocked over by Patterson, the realization filtering through that they have let down a strong crowd who turned up. Worcestershire will gain six points from this defeat, but what can’t be dispensed is that they could have got much more especially at the expense of a heavy-hitter like Yorkshire.

Too many soft stays in the middle and no grit insight.

A meek surrender, just like the Alan Quatermain who Sean Connery ultimately gave life to.

Man of the Match: Without a doubt, Jack Brooks is the deserve winner of this accolade with nine wickets in the match. The fast bowler was more than a match for the Worcestershire batting unit, taking the lead in the second innings absence of Ryan Sidebottom.

Championship Round-up: Bresnan leads Yorkshire recovery

Stumps, Day Two: Yorkshire 298/9 (Lees 87; Shantry 4/60, Andrew 4/83) trail Worcestershire 311 by 13 runs, at New Road

An unbeaten 78 from Tim Bresnan led Yorkshire out of danger after an enthralling second day at New Road.

The former England all-rounder struck 11 fours in his 95-ball innings, helping the County Champions recover following incisive bowling from Gareth Andrew and Jack Shantry.

Will Rhodes and overseas star Cheteshwar Pujara were both out for ducks early on, but skipper Alex Lees, who narrowly missed out on a century with 87, and Benefit Year recipient Rich Pyrah began the recovery with a 108-run partnership for the third wicket.

Andrew and Shantry continued to wreak havoc, with the pair both claiming four wickets as the visitors collapsed from 112/2 to 193/7, before Bresnan led the recovery alongside Jack Brooks who knuckled down for 26 valuable runs.

Yorkshire will continue their batting effort tomorrow, with Bresnan and Ryan Sidebottom eyeing up 300 for a third bonus point, as well as hoping they can eke Yorkshire into a slender lead with just one wicket remaining.

Stumps, Day Two: Hampshire 220/9 (Ervine 57*) trail Sussex 444 (Brown 144*) by 224 runs, at the Ageas Bowl

Sussex’s seamers ran through the Hampshire top order before Sean Ervine’s battling half-century led the semblance of a recovery for the hosts at the Ageas Bowl.

With 444 runs behind them, Sussex began on the front foot with the new ball with five wickets in five consecutive overs as Hampshire collapsed from a reasonable start of 47/0 to 95/7 and in serious trouble.

Winter recruits Tymal Mills and Ajmal Shahzad were thrown straight into the Sussex line-up, with Mills in particular bowling at a fair pace, although it was Shahzad who captured the key wickets of Michael Carberry, Will Smith and captain Jimmy Adams, who batted at six.

Zimbabwean Ervine led the recovery, with Chris Wood a willing and able partner as the pair put on 109 for the eighth wicket in less than 20 overs. Ervine will resume in the morning with an unlikely 75 runs needed to avoid the follow-on in their opening Championship game.

Earlier in the day, Ben Brown made his sixth first-class hundred for the Sharks, eventually finishing unbeaten on 144 thanks to some strong lower-order support from Shahzad (35) and Steve Magoffin, who made 41, as Sussex look to turn the screw in their bid for a title push.

Stumps, Day Two: Northants 333 and 68/2 lead Gloucestershire 296 (Jones 80; Willey 4/72) by 105 runs, at Wantage Road

Four wickets from David Willey helped Northants to a first inning lead, as Gloucestershire narrowly missed out on a third batting point at Wantage Road.

Willey followed up his 62 runs with destruction of the visitors’ tail, taking three wickets in four balls as Gloucestershire lost four wickets for no runs with the 300 mark in sight. Geraint Jones’ side had earlier looked set for a narrow first innings lead, with the captain himself making 80 while wicketkeeper Gareth Roderick (56) joined his skipper in making a half-century.

The rest of the middle/late order struggled, however, with only James Fuller making any decent contribution (35) before he became Willey’s second victim after Azharullah removed Roderick to add to the scalps of the openers from the previous evening.

Northants’ reply began with a stutter as Craig Miles continued his excellent performance in the match, removing both openers, Stephen Peters and Richard Levi, to move onto eight wickets in the match. Captain Alex Wakely and Rob Newton saw the hosts safely to the close, and with a lead of over 100 runs, aspirations of an early season win will be firmly on the minds of the Wantage Road faithful.

Stumps, Day Two: Leicestershire 202/1 (Robson 82*, Eckersley 81*) trail Glamorgan 513/9d (Bragg 120, Rudolph 111) by 311 runs, at Grace Road

Runs continued to be on the order of play at Grace Road, as Leicestershire closed Day Two on 202/1 following Glamorgan’s mammoth first innings of 513 for nine declared.

Despite losing Dan Redfern in the eighth over for 24, the hosts enjoyed a profitable, and much-needed, spell in the middle with Angus Robson and Ned Eckersley both closing in on centuries by the time stumps were drawn, although there is still a deficit on 311 runs between the two teams.

The pair played in a similar style, finding the boundary with plenty of regularity on what was undoubtedly another strong day for batting in the Midlands.

Having gotten to his century the previous evening, Will Bragg batted an extra seven overs for Glamorgan this morning before falling to the expensive Atif Sheikh for a career-best 120. Bragg was not the only man to reach a personal best, with David Lloyd finishing unbeaten on 59 from just 65 balls to register his maiden first-class half-century in the process as the Welsh county declared in the afternoon session.

The warm weather and the batting-friendly nature of this pitch suggests the game will fizzle out to an inevitable draw, although if desperation to get an early win hits one or both of these sides, then we could see some fireworks late on the fourth evening.

Middlesex buckle under Nottinghamshire pressure

Middlesex conceded a first innings deficit of 117 as Nottinghamshire had by far the better of the second day at Lord’s.

After losing their final wicket within the first over to be bowled out for 298 Notts had to wait 75 minutes for their first breakthrough but from then on it was largely one-way traffic as Middlesex subsided in a manner frustratingly familiar to the club’s supporters.

Collapses happen in April but this one was particularly disappointing because the ball can hardly have been said to have swung round corners. The top three – Nick Gubbins, Nick Compton and Sam Robson – all missed straight delieveries, the former pair both playing down the wrong line and the latter shouldering arms. Up to his rather humiliating dismissal Robson had looked in good form, getting away six boundaries in his 35.

Adam Voges briefly promised a recovery post-lunch but the new Middlesex captain was trapped lbw by Harry Gurney for 29 just as he was starting to show signs of the Sheffield Shield form that got him a place in the Australian Ashes party. Paul Stirling followed him back to the pavilion in the next over, caught in the slips off Jake Ball, leaving James Harris to walk to the crease at what was 107-5 on the scoreboard but really 107-6 with Dawid Malan out of the match with a fractured metacarpal sustained in the field yesterday.

Harris and John Simpson gamely attempted to build a partnership but with so little batting to come they found themselves unable to find even second gear. They occupied the crease for 17.4 overs but put on just 40 runs before Samit Patel got Harris out lbw, the first of three wickets in a spell largely conceived because Notts were well behind the over rate. Tom Helm followed in identical fashion two balls later.

Simpson fell in the first over after tea, caught at slip off Gurney, leaving last pair Tim Murtagh and Steven Finn to hit out in search of a few extra runs. Murtagh took up the challenge with three boundaries but a shot too many saw him caught in the deep to become Patel’s third victim and wrap up the Middlesex innings for 181.

Notts bowled no better than satisfactorily. Gurney, constantly making the batsmen play, and the ever-reliable Vernon Philander were the pick of the bowlers but all but two of the Middlesex wickets can be put down to batting misjudgement rather than outstanding bowling. Will Gidman hardly threatened on his top-flight debut.

“We think it’s a good cricket wicket,” Gurney said at the close. “If you bowl in good areas for long enough and stay patient you get your reward but at the same time as a batter if you knuckle down and stay out there for a while things get a lot easier.”

Sam Robson chooses the wrong Jake Ball delivery to leave. Pic: Bob Bamber (@CricketFanBob)
Sam Robson chooses the wrong Jake Ball delivery to leave as the slip corden watches on. Pic: Bob Bamber

Given 25 overs to bat before the close Notts raced along 100-2 against an evidently demoralised Middlesex seam attack. However, the openers – Steven Mullaney (bowled by Tom Helm for 44) and Brendan Taylor (caught long-on attempting to hit Murtagh over the top for 34) will have been disappointed to give their wickets away shortly before the close after putting on 77. Tomorrow the aim will be to set up a match-winning declaration but Gurney is not getting ahead of himself.

“First and foremost it will be a case of getting through that first hour,” Gurney said. “If Middlesex come out and bowl well and take two or three wickets then we’re not in a position to set anything. In an ideal world I suppose we’ll be looking to declare at about five-ish and have an hour at them tomorrow with as many runs on the board as possible.”

So early in the season Middlesex will hope that this day is an aberration rather than the poor form from the second half of last summer carrying over into 2015. Either way, they look very likely to open their account with a defeat, extending their winless run to 11 games. It is hard to argue with the many pre-season predictions placing the Londoners as relegation candidates. The overseas player to be announced as a replacement for Voges over the next 24-48 hours is likely to have quite a job on his hands.

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.

Championship Round-up: Fell keeps Yorkshire at bay

Stumps, Day One: Worcestershire 264/8 (Fell 114) v Yorkshire, at New Road

Defending champions Yorkshire find themselves in a strong position after the opening day of their title defence as Worcestershire finished 264-8 at the close of play.

Jack Brooks and Tim Bresnan took three wickets apiece to arrest control back from their hosts after Moeen Ali and Tom Fell compiled a partnership of 118 with the latter scoring his first Division One century and just his third in first-class matches.

Returning from an injury suffered during the World Cup,Ali made 62 and looked in good touch before Bresnan removed the England man which caused a collapse from 129/2 to 216/7.  Fell’s departure for 114 as the seventh scalp wrestled control for Yorkshire, but Gareth Andrew, who continues tomorrow on  42, could build a partnership with the lower order.

Yorkshire are without six players who are away on international duty as regulars Joe Root and Gary Ballance were joined by spinning all-rounder Adil Rashid, opener Adam Lyth, wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow and fast bowler Liam Plunkett – who are all away with England in the Caribbean for the three test series.

Stumps, Day One: Durham 98/2 trail Somerset 299 (Myburgh 118; Collingwood 5/57) by 201 runs, at Taunton

Durham showed off their title credentials at Taunton, bouncing back from a Johann Myburgh ton to bowl the home side out for 299 as Paul Collingwood rolled back the years to be the pick of the bowlers.

The 38-year-old picked up 5/57 as he ran through the Somerset middle order dismissing Hildreth for 53 before removing  Jim Allenby, Alex Barrow and Peter Trego all for single figures as well as getting Myburgh for a well made 118.

It was a day for the former England men as Graham Onions also starred with the ball as he took 4/59 cleaning up the lower order as the home side crumbled from 224-3 when Myburgh was out to their total of 299 all out.

Somerset did get themselves a foothold when they had Durham 13-2 in their reply after Mark Stoneman and Keaton Jennings fell to Lewis Gregory but Scott Borthwick (52*) and Michael Richardson (35*) built a solid platform from which they will look to push on from on day two after ending the day on 98/2.

Stumps, Day One: Sussex 300/6 (Wright 96, Brown 85*) v Hampshire, at the Ageas Bowl

Elsewhere in Division One, Luke Wright fell just four runs short of a century as he was dismissed for 96 as Sussex recovered from three early setbacks to end the day on 300-6.

Playing his 100th first-class match for the county, the 30-year-old combined with wicketkeeper Ben Brown to take his side to a decent score after they were teetering on 22/3 when they lost Michael Yardy for just six to add to the dismissals of Chris Nash (11) and Luke Wells for a duck.

Ed Joyce and Craig Cachopa both made 40s (42 and 41 respectively) before Wright and Brown came together at 128/4. When Wright was out the pair had put on 146 for the sixth wicket and repaired much of the damage which was done by Hampshire debutant Gareth Berg, who impressed taking 2/47 having made the move south from Middlesex.

Brown ended the day on 85* batting with Ajmal Shahzad looking to build on a good position they found themselves in against the newcomers to the division Hampshire.

Stumps, Day One: Glamorgan 294/2 (Bragg 113*, Rudolph 111) v Leicestershire, at Grace Road

While in Division Two, Glamorgan look to be putting together a mammoth first innings score thanks to hundreds from captain Jacques Rudolph and William Bragg as they ended the day on 294/2 against last year’s bottom side Leicestershire.

The pair tumbled records as they racked up a partnership of 227 beating the previous second-wicket stand against Leicestershire of 173. This all came after the loss of an early wicket as Atif Sheikh picked up the wicket of James Kettleborough.

Rudolph made the most of the lives given to him when on nought and 68 to score 111, making him the scorer of the earliest century in Glamorgan’s history beating the record set by Mark Wallace in 2004. While his partner Bragg went on to record his highest first-class score as he ended the day 113* beating his previous best of 110, which also came against the home side.

It leaves the host and new captain, Mark Cosgrove staring down the barrel of what could be another defeat as they look to end a run of two years without a single win in the County Championship.

Collapse ensures honours even at Lord’s

Nottinghamshire collapsed from 180/2 to 298/9 against Middlesex at Lord’s on a topsy-turvy opening day of the new County Championship season. 

The game changed six overs before tea when the rusty James Taylor tamely pulled James Harris to mid-wicket. It was a needless shot that came totally against the run of play. Buoyed by breaking a 108-run partnership, Harris then found some more swing than he had earlier and proceeded to take three more quick wickets for three runs in the space of three overs, all lbw including the key scalp of Brendan Taylor for 106.

Harris finished the day with 4/75, equalling his best haul for Middlesex. The ex-England Lions seamer struggled during his first spell but there were enough signs to suggest that he has benefited from a winter working with bowling coach Richard Johnson. Having been pursued by all nine Division One counties when he signed in 2013, this is a big year for Harris who took just 12 Championship wickets at an average of 55.50 last year.

James Harris
James Harris

“We’ve decided basically to almost go back to go forward”, Harris said at the close when asked about what changes he had made under Johnson’s tutelage. “We went back to what I do naturally – both arms go together – instead of the split we tried to get going last season to bowl faster. As it happened with a winter in the gym I’m feeling a bit more comfortable with my bowling action again and it’s probably coming out a little bit quicker than it was before I started fiddling around with things. I’m feeling pretty good at the moment”.

After tea, a punchy 62 not out from Chris Read including eight fours and a six over the short leg-side boundary averted a crisis but the close of play scorecard still looked very different from what might have been imagined at half past three.

Read had won the toss and after some hesitation decided to bat first under cloudless skies. In April that is always a risky move but it looked to have been a good one after they survived the first session for the loss of only Steven Mullaney, bowled by Tom Helm after being spilled in the slips twice off the same bowler, and Alex Hales who was run out after being sent back by Brendan Taylor as he attempted to get off the mark.

Taylor starred with what was his fourth hundred in five hits since making 121 for Zimbabwe against Ireland at the World Cup. Now a Kolpak player and retired from international cricket, he followed up his century against Lougborough MCCU last week with an innings that hinted at a productive county career to come.

He nudged and nurdled his way to his first fifty – totally understandably in April – before freeing up to the extent that he was prepared to loft Paul Stirling over his head for four. Despite managing 216 international appearances, Taylor is only 29 and so could well become a long-term feature of an already strong Notts batting line-up.

The collapse that followed squandered much of his good work but so early in the season Notts will feel that they have enough to put Middlesex under pressure, especially as the hosts could well be without Dawid Malan for the remainder of the game after the latter was sent for an x-ray after hurting his finger attempting a tough slip catch.