It was a compelling round of cricket, the weather playing its part in the drama that would unfold across the country and wickets continuing to fall at a rate of knots. Paul Wood looks back at some of the main talking points.
Finally…Chef delivers an early season treat
While the rain persists and batting conditions continue to ask probing questions of some of the world’s finest batters, Alastair Cook finally got to spend some meaningful time out in the middle against a strong Hampshire attack. Former Test players Kyle Abbott and Fidel Edwards opened up the examination with the new ball and Cook predictably grew in confidence the more time he spent at the crease.
The familiar cut shots were evident, along with the nurdles off the pads, and it’s always pleasing to see Cook moving into the ball and driving through the offside. It’s a big summer coming up for England’s record Test run-scorer and he’ll have two more County Championship games against Yorkshire and Worcester to regain further confidence ahead of facing former Essex teammate Mohammad Amir in the opening Test against Pakistan.
The other rather light-hearted talking point from Essex’s rain-affected draw against Hampshire was the sight of Australian Peter Siddle running in to bowl while sporting a beanie hat! Early in the domestic season we have become accustomed to seeing hand warmers stored away in the fielders’ trouser pockets and several layers being worn in an attempt to ward off any threat of hypothermia, but a beanie? Surely that’s a touch excessive! Ok, this may not be Victoria-type temperatures but a big burly quick should be able to cope with a chill in the air after running in for a couple of overs.
Renshaw shows how to combat early season conditions
There were two contrasting performances from the overseas players at Taunton, where Somerset’s Matt Renshaw continues to capture the attention of the Australian selectors back home following on from his 101 not out in the Cidermen’s first game and his first innings for the club. Worcester were the side put to the sword in that game and this time it was Yorkshire, with Somerset winning their second game to become the only side in Division One with a 100% record.
With plenty in the pitch for the bowlers at Taunton, Renshaw blazed away and reached three figures before the players had sat down to lunch! It was perhaps a premeditated strategy and a hugely skillful attack from a batsman more likely to produce a more traditional and watchful openers’ innings rather than a Virender Sehwag style assault.
If it was a bid to neutralise conditions and assert some pressure back onto the bowlers it certainly paid off and set Somerset up for a 118-run victory despite being bowled out in that first innings for just 216. That Renshaw was back opening the batting for the second time before the end of the opening day’s play (day two as day one was lost completely) says all you need to know about the quality of his innings.
Ball back in the swing of things
After a dispiriting winter for Jake Ball it is heartening to see how he’s bounced back at the start of this domestic season. No bowler has taken more than the 21 scalps he’s claimed with another seven being added in the latest match against Division One strugglers Worcestershire. It was always likely to be a battle for the Pears as they were consigned to another thumping defeat, this time by an innings and 41 runs. This was Ball’s second five-fer of the season, even the usually stubborn and obdurate Daryl Mitchell couldn’t guard against losing his off pole on the final day from a beautiful full delivery from Ball.
There’s no question the Notts quick possesses all the attributes to return to the international scene. His pace and bounce was expected to trouble the Aussies in the Ashes but he wasn’t fully fit in the first Test, before being discarded for virtually the rest of the winter. Ball will have been keen to regain some much needed confidence at the start of the season. He couldn’t have started much more impressively, albeit in favourable bowling conditions, and he will certainly be hoping to make up for lost time.
Things can only improve for Northants
Northants would have been hoping to go one step further this season and make it into one of the top two spots, but the campaign has not started as they may have expected. Tough games against Middlesex and Warwickshire have seen them beaten comprehensively and they didn’t manage a solitary delivery in the recent clash with Durham. A five-point abandonment does nothing to resurrect their season at this admittedly early stage.
Signs are good for Leicestershire’s bid for improvement
Leicestershire continue to threaten improvement and the signs do look good under Paul Nixon’s watchful and enthusiastic leadership, but the weather dashed any hopes of an early season triumph. Colin Ackermann’s good form continued with a brisk 65 against Derbyshire’s more potent attack this year, to go with his opening knock of 186 in a hard fought draw against Sussex in their first game. A reliable presence at number three should give Nixon’s men some solidity at the top of the order.
Heartbreak for TRJ but a new story begins
News of Toby Roland-Jones being out with a recurrence of the stress fracture that ruled him out of the Ashes series was obviously hugely disappointing for all cricket supporters. It has, however, given a chance to the talented Tom Barber to make his first-class debut for Middlesex.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing for the left-arm paceman since appearing for the England Under-19’s (Barber is now 22), he was released from Hampshire at the end of the 2015 season and worked with the former Essex opening batsman Paul Pritchard while representing minor-counties side Dorset. After a spell with MCC Young Cricketers, having no doubt soaked up some more than handy tips from the former fiery quick Steve Kirby, Barber impressed Middlesex sufficiently to offer him a chance last season.
The game in which he made his debut will be instantly forgettable for most, only 58 overs were bowled in the entire game with Glamorgan, Barber delivering five economical overs. He will have learnt plenty from the experienced Tim Murtagh who picked up all four of the Glamorgan wickets to fall, the youngster doesn’t have far to look for county bowling role models.