The second round of the LV= Insurance County Championship gets underway this week with an enticing clash between county neighbours Surrey and Hampshire, both teams harbouring aspirations to claim the Division One title.
Despite this being the first game of the season to be played at The Oval, it is Hampshire who will be brimful of confidence after last week’s resounding innings victory against fellow title rivals Somerset. Their three day demolition was arguably the outstanding team performance of the first round, fully justifying their place amongst the bookies’ favourites. Though Joe Weatherley led the charge with a career best 168, it is the seam bowling attack that hit immediate form, and will now reap the restorative benefits of finishing the first round with a day to spare.
Meanwhile Surrey’s rain-interrupted opener against Warwickshire rarely threatened to deliver a positive result for either side, as both batting line-ups combined to produce over 1,000 runs for the loss of just twenty wickets. Whilst the initial form of Ryan Patel, Rory Burns, Ollie Pope, Jordan Clark, and most particularly Ben Foakes brought reason for cheer for Surrey supporters, the Edgbaston wicket required lengthy bowling shifts from the likes of overseas signing Kemar Roach, and tall left armer Reece Topley.
Many will hope that the combination of an early season pitch and encouraging forecast might counteract recent trends at the Kia Oval, which strongly imply that Surrey’s home ground is the best place in the country for plentiful run making. However a match likely to feature bowlers of such established quality as Mohammad Abbas, Kyle Abbott, Keith Barker, Liam Dawson and the aforementioned combination of Roach, Topley and Clark has every chance of ensuring that the batters do not have it all their own way. If spin is deemed necessary, Amar Virdi or Dan Moriarty may yet get the call away from their current second XI fixture down in Taunton.
There is intrigue too for those with bat in hand. Burns, Pope, Foakes and Jamie Smith for Surrey, and James Vince, Nick Gubbins and Ben Brown for Hampshire will all look to build a compelling case with future England Test selectors, whoever they may yet prove to be.
There is much optimism around the corridors of The Kia Oval regarding the batting prowess of 21-year old Jamie Smith, whose progress was recognised over the winter with inclusion on the Lions tour of Australia. He missed out in Surrey’s season opener, so a return to the familiar pastures of Kennington provides an opportunity to catch the eye of spectator and selector alike.
Whilst team-mates Mohammad Abbas, James Holland and Keith Barker combined for fourteen wickets between them against Somerset last week, Kyle Abbott’s contribution for Hampshire was relatively quiet by his high standards. There is enough recent evidence to suggest that he is unlikely to remain so for much longer.
Surrey squad: tbc
Hampshire squad: tbc
Weather and conditions:
The forecast for all four days looks encouraging at this stage. The first two days are likely to be dry with some cloud cover to encourage the seam bowlers, before giving way to bright sunshine on days three and four. As good a cricketing April forecast as one could ask for…
Date: 14th – 17th April 2022
Ground: Kia Oval
Odds (Sky Bet): Surrey 8/11; Hampshire 1/1