Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Glamorgan make strong starts with Lancashire and Warwickshire looking like contenders
We have reached the end of the first week of the Royal London Cup and getting a clearer picture of the relative strengths of the counties as a result of player availability. While some squads have been decimated by call ups to the Hundred, others are largely unscathed and others have been boosted by recruitments of overseas players for this part of the season. Most teams have played two games and the current standings are:
In Group A, it is Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire who have made the best starts, although Warwickshire have also won their only game so far. Nottinghamshire, despite losing ten players to the Hundred, are still able to field a strong side under the leadership of Haseeb Hameed. They beat Sussex in their first outing, posting 290/7 in their 50 overs, thanks to 87 from 22-year-old, ex-South Africa under 19 captain, Matthew Montgomery, who already averages 56.44 from his 14 List A appearances, having originally played for KwaZulu-Natal. He has a German passport and is living in the UK on a Limited Leave to Remain Visa, while studying at Loughborough University. Liam Patterson-White also chipped in with 62 not out. Sussex were then bowled out for 225 in 44 overs thanks to 3/24 from Brett Hutton.
In their second game Notts crushed Somerset, who started the competition as one of the bookies’ favourites, although they have lost much of their top order batting. Somerset were put in on a pitch with a green tinge and dismissed for just 119, the wickets shared between the four bowlers used. Openers Ben Slater and Sol Budinger then knocked the runs off inside 12 overs.
Leicestershire meanwhile opened their campaign with a seven wicket win against Surrey at Guildford. Opting to bowl first, they restricted Surrey to 246/8 from their 50 overs, thanks to 1/38 from Chris Wright off his ten overs and 4/39 from their South African overseas seamer, Beuran Hendricks. This is a welcome return for Hendricks, who had been omitted from their red ball team following a poor start to the season. The chase was led by Zimbabwe-born batter Nick Welch, who finished on 127 not out, supported by Leicestershire’s other South African overseas player, Wiaan Mulder with 71 not out. Surrey have a very young side in this competition, with 14 of their squad involved in the Hundred, at the last count. They are captained by 21-year-old opening batter, Ben Geddes, who should take credit for turning things around two days later to beat a strong Durham side containing Test players Alex Lees, Nic Maddinson and Scott Borthwick, by nine wickets. Durham have had a miserable two months, not winning a game in any format since 10th June.
In their second game, Leicestershire beat Middlesex in a high scoring encounter. Leicestershire were asked to bat first and amassed 359/8, thanks to an unbeaten century from Mulder and half centuries from Lois Kimber and 21-year-old Nathan Bowley, in just his second List A game. Mulder then starred with the ball taking 4/47 as Middlesex fell just 15 runs short.
Warwickshire look to have a strong team in this competition, despite the players they have lost to the Hundred and this was demonstrated in their one outing so far against Gloucestershire. Gloucestershire are a county on the back foot at the moment with injury setbacks and the announcements of the loss of Benny Howell and Ryan Higgins next season. They have also had call ups to the Hundred, which has left their seam attack stretched. They were asked to bat first and were bowled out in the 49th over having reached a sub-par total of 264, given the conditions at Cheltenham College. The wickets were shared around one of the stronger bowling outfits in this competition, with the likes of Liam Norwell, Oliver Hannon-Dolby, Craig Miles, Will Rhodes and Krunal Pandya. Warwickshire reached the target in the 39th over for the loss of just two wickets thanks to an unbeaten century from Dom Sibley.
In the remaining Group A game, Sussex overcame Gloucestershire at Hove. Sussex were put in and reached 334/9 thanks to 91 off 61 balls from Delray Rawlins and half-centuries from Cheteshwar Pujara and 17-year-old Lancastrian, Danial Ibrahim. Paul van Meekeren bowled some pacey deliveries to end with figures of 5/48. In reply Gloucestershire looked as though they might go close while James Bracey (87) was at the crease and Zafar Gohar also reached a half-century, but they were bowled out in the 45th over, still 51 runs short. Rawlins took three wickets, as did Aristides Karvelas, finishing with 3/35 from his seven overs.
In Group B, last year’s winners Glamorgan have made a fast start with two wins. In their first game they dismantled the Derbyshire batting after winning the toss and bowling in seamer-friendly conditions. Derbyshire were dismissed for just 110, Dutch international Timm van der Gugten taking 4/41. Glamorgan reached the target for the loss of two wickets, captain Kiran Carlson scoring an unbeaten 54. In their second game, they looked to be losing out to Kent who had posted 304/8, thanks to 109 from their new recruit, Joey Evison. Kent then reduced Glamorgan to 107/5, at which point Tom Cullen joined Colin Ingram at the crease. Cullen had been a late call up when first choice wicket keeper, Chris Cooke had pulled out with a calf injury. Ingram has had a fine season in all formats and was already on 46 from 40 balls, but with 198 still needed, Kent looked to be favourites. However, Cullen and Ingram added 186 for the sixth wicket, off just 168 balls and by the time Ingram was out for 155, the game was won. Cullen finished on 80 not out.
One of the favourites, Lancashire, suffered a washout in their first game against Essex, but then overcame Yorkshire. An inexperienced Yorkshire team made 224, bowled out in the 49th over. Lancashire reached the target in 41 overs for the loss of three wickets. Luke Wells top scored with 88. Lancashire have an experienced batting line up including Keaton Jennings, Josh Bohannon and Steven Croft. The bowling includes the overseas duo of Will Williams and Washington Sundar, although Williams might be at the end of his stint with the county.
Hampshire have the potential to progress in this competition, but interestingly they did not field Kyle Abbott or Keith Barker in their win over Worcestershire. Hampshire were asked to bat first and reached just 236, bowled out in the last over. No batter reached 50, although Ben Brown, Fletcha Middleton and Scott Currie reached 40. When Worcestershire came to bat Ian Holland took three quick wickets and the visitors were soon 37/5. A sixth wicket stand of 130 between Ed Barnard (who finished on 85 not out) and Taylor Cornall gave the score some respectability, but Worcestershire fell short, ending on 192 all out.
Kent and Yorkshire have each had a win and a loss. Kent chased down 352 at Worcester, with 31 balls and five wickets to spare. Ollie Robinson scored an unbeaten 206 from 131 balls, with 75 from Ben Compton. In the Worcestershire innings Kashif Ali top scored with 114. He is a product of the South Asian Cricket Academy and has been given a two year contract by Worcestershire. Yorkshire’s win was against Northamptonshire in a rain affected match. Asked to bat first, Yorkshire reached 353/5 off 46 overs, with Will Fraine making 143 from 107 balls and Harry Duke 111 in an opening partnership of 209. Northamptonshire fell 34 ruins short of their target, despite 91 from Will Young and 82 from Lewis McManus.
The other game in Group B was the only day/night game so far. Derbyshire were asked to bat first at Chelmsford and they put in a much improved batting performance from their game against Glamorgan earlier in the week, reaching 318/6 thanks to Brooke Guest (88), Mattie McKiernan (72*) and Luis Reece (52). Essex omitted Nick Browne from their starting eleven and it was 18-year-old Jamal Richards who top scored on debut with 46 having come in at ten. Overseas signing, Grant Roelofsen made 43 but Essex were dismissed for 226. The wickets were shared among the Derbyshire bowlers, but Ben Aitchison was the standout performer with 2/21 from his eight overs. Derbyshire will be boosted by the return of Shan Masood for their next game, the player not being selected by Pakistan for the upcoming Asia Cup or the ODI series against the Netherlands.
The one surprise at the top of the standings after the first few games is Leicestershire and it will be interesting to see if they can maintain the winning formula. At present the form counties appear to be Lancashire, Glamorgan, Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire and with only eight group games it is important not to slip up too often.