It was a dramatic fourth round of the County Championship, as the English contingent attempt to put their hands up for Test selection. We take a look at the highlights of the week.
The Comeback Kings
Where else could we start other than with two fantastic backs-to-the-wall performances from Yorkshire and Durham respectively.
Yorkshire were rattled out for just 50 in their first innings on the opening morning against champions Essex down at sunny Chelmsford. That they had somehow mustered a 69-run lead by the close of play on day one was testament as much to the character of the side as it was the loose Essex strokeplay and the counter-attacking half-century of Jonny Bairstow, who was shunted up to the openers spot in their second innings.
It wasn’t one of the plethora of high quality international batsmen that were on show in this fixture that stole the headlines though; instead it was 19-year old Harry Brook who registered his maiden first-class hundred and looked as composed as anyone on a Chelmsford track that offered just enough movement to consistently find the edges of the generally bemused batsmen’s stick.
Leicestershire were the visitors to Chester-le-Street and once again the visitors showed further signs that they have no intention of being the whipping boys in Division Two this season. Having posted 440 they then bowled the hosts out for just 184 and Leicester were eyeing their first Championship win since September 2016. However, that wasn’t to account for a resurgent Durham effort second time around when following-on. Aiden Markram, the hugely talented and exciting South African opener, finally ending his run of ducks (three had been amassed to this point) and he led the way with 94, ably supported by Cameron Steel (86) and the dependable Will Smith (74).
Leicestershire were then set a tricky, but not overly daunting, chase of 148. They subsided to a paltry 101 all out, thanks to an outstanding effort from Durham seamer James Weighell who recorded his career-best figures of 7 for 32. Leicester coach Paul Nixon was left to reflect on the ‘one poor session that has cost us massively’.
England’s Young Guns find their touch
If you were to select a county track in which to find a bit of form as a batsman, then the Oval would have to be right up there.
Worcester’s Joe Clarke had made just 88 runs from his first six innings of the season up to the point when he showed the nation exactly the kind of batting masterclass everyone (especially England’s new selectorial chief Ed Smith) hopes he can replicate on a more consistent basis. Clarke wasn’t content with just getting to three figures but he went on to pass the 150-mark and show the kind of hunger for runs that England seem to be missing in the current set-up. This knock also helped to stop the rot for Worcester as they avoided defeat in this high-scoring draw for the first time this season.
Earlier in the game another potential England player, Rory Burns, opened the batting with current England opener Mark Stoneman and also cashed in on a flat pitch which you feel Surrey may struggle to force victories on. Burns made a wonderfully patient 193 from 408 deliveries and batted for just under nine hours! An innings packed with discipline and patience, two other attributes that have been in short supply lately for the national side.
This fixture, and indeed the season so far, has also highlighted the fact that Ben Foakes would not be out of place in England’s mid to lower order should the temptation to move Bairstow up into the top four and relieve him of the gloves become too much to resist. It does seem a logical step with Foakes currently averaging 60.20 and has 301 runs to his name.
Middlesex captain Dawid Malan found some form for Middlesex albeit it in a losing cause against Jason Gillespie’s Sussex. But it was the form of another England hopeful, Nick Gubbins, in his first outing this season that caught the eye. The Middlesex opener combined with Malan for a 234-run partnership with both players making centuries.
Spinners make early season impression
With winter tours to countries where spin plays a dominant part, England will be looking for county slow bowlers to shove their hands up and demand selection. Moeen Ali isn’t the guaranteed pick he once was and Jack Leach is in the very early stages of his international career. So if Warwickshire’s New Zealand spinner Jeetan Patel acted as the mentor this week to all aspiring spinners, then Lancashire’s Matt Parkinson and Surrey’s Amar Virdi played the exciting protégés.
The hype continues to build around Lancashire leggy Parkinson. His control and threat in equal measures certainly mark him out as one to watch very closely but England will resist throwing him in in a similar fashion to that of Mason Crane. Less is known about Virdi but his has already snared 14 wickets at a time when spinners are barely supposed to be selected let alone actually contributing to their teams’ efforts. Virdi has an effortless action and, as Ben Cox will testify, can get sufficient revolutions on the ball in which to extract sharp turn. Time is required for both these spinners to continue their development.
It would be remiss to finish this article off without mentioning the highlight of the game (if you read some publications) down at Old Trafford. Of course we are not referring to Somerset’s Marcus Trescothick making just his 66th first-class century of his career or George Bartlett’s classy maiden first-class hundred.
Not even Dane Vilas’ highest score of the season by anyone so far with his 235* that almost helped Lancashire to an unlikely win.
We are of course talking about Jimmy Anderson’s new haircut. Last week we mentioned the unnecessary headwear of Peter Siddle and this week it is the eye-catching choice of colour for Jimmy’s new dye! Comparisons with Philip Schofield are not too wide of the mark but I’m sure, like anyone who is wearing the grey look, Jimmy would much prefer to be a George Clooney clone!
— Jordan Clark (@Clarksy16) May 3, 2018