Surrey and Durham consolidate their positions at the top of the two divisions.
These are the middle games of three between the bulk of the T20 competition and the One-Day cup. Most counties now have just four Championship matches left (six have a game in hand) and it is becoming necessary for teams to start making a move if they are to challenge Surrey at the top of Division One or claim the second promotion spot in Division Two.
In the London derby, Surrey made light work of struggling Middlesex, defeating them by eight wickets. Put into bat at Lord’s, the Division One leaders reached 433 thanks to 138 from Jamie Smith and 78 from Jordan Clark. Tom Helm took 6/111. Middlesex’s batting problems continued as their reply reached just 238 thanks to half centuries from Max Holden and John Simpson. Following on they then posted 272, Mark Stoneman making 72 and Ethan Bamber, batting 10, contributing 46 not out (his best first class score). Sean Abbott took 4/60, to add to 3/37 in the first innings. Surrey reached the target of 78 for the loss of two wickets, beating the rain on the last morning and collected one more point from their match than second placed Essex.
Essex had a similarly comprehensive win against Kent. The visitors chose to bat first at Chelmsford and were dismissed for 207, Ben Compton top-scoring with 47. Sam Cook and Jamie Porter each took three wickets. Essex then posted 458/8 declared, with 117 from Matt Critchley and 80’s from Sir Alastair Cook and Simon Harmer. In Kent’s second innings Harry Finch made a stubborn 114, in an effort to hold up Essex’s progress and at the start of day four, Kent stood at 265/7. With rain forecast Essex did not want to hang around and Joey Evison (58) and Hamidullah Qadri held out for just eight overs before Qadri hit Sam Cook to Simon Harmer at square leg. It only took another five balls for the innings to end. Harmer had opened the bowling and finished with 4/72, while Sam Cook backed up his first inning’s performance with 4/46. Essex made a bit of a meal of chasing down the target of just 30 in double-quick time, but got there for the loss of three wickets in 3.5 overs.
Hampshire moved above Warwickshire into third place with a win inside three days against Nottinghamshire. Playing at Oakham School, the first morning was washed out and when Hampshire batted, having been put in, both openers were gone without a run on the board. Nick Gubbins (49) and James Vince (22) halted the slide, but Hampshire were all out for just 166. The Hampshire bowlers, led by Ian Holland (4/19), then fought back and at the end of day one had reduced Nottinghamshire to 87/5. They were dismissed for 100 and Holland then performed with the bat, his 138 not out guiding Hampshire to 344/5 declared. Nottinghamshire survived two overs at the end of day two unscathed, but the target of 410 was not challenged and they were dismissed for 294, James Fuller taking 4/59.
Somerset followed up their success at Blast Finals Day with a win inside three days against struggling Northamptonshire. This is Northants sixth loss out of nine games and it is difficult to see them turning things around now. Having been asked to bat first, Somerset reached 351, five batters passing 40, Sean Dickson top-scoring with 70. Jack White took 5/77. In reply, only three Northants batters reached double figures as they made just 180, Ricardo Vasconcelos top-scoring with 78, while Craig Overton took 4/50. Asked to bat again, Luke Procter made 87 not out in a total of 224, with Matt Henry taking 5/73. Somerset then needed just 54 to win, which they reached for the loss of just one wicket.
The only draw in Division One was at Edgbaston in the game between Warwickshire and Lancashire. Warwickshire chose to bowl first and the visitors were indebted to young all-rounder George Balderson (116 not out) as they posted 327. Warwickshire were 179/5 at the end of day two, Will Rhodes making 82, but they were restricted to 212, losing their last five wickets for 29 runs. Lancashire then reached 182/6 in their second innings before the final day was washed out. Warwickshire still have a game in hand over the teams above them, but Surrey, Essex and Hampshire won their games and the gap to Surrey is now 39 points.
In Division Two, Worcestershire made a jump up the table following a win over Leicestershire, who occupied second place at the start of this round of matches. In a low scoring encounter at Oakham School, Josh Tongue finished off the Leicestershire second innings, taking 5/29, having joined the match on day two following his release by England. Worcestershire were asked to bat first and reached 178, the wickets shared amongst the Leicestershire seamers. Leicestershire then found batting equally problematic and were all out within 40 overs for just 110, Dillon Pennington taking 4/36. With the first half century of the game, Jake Libby (67) helped Worcestershire to a second innings total of 169, setting a target of 238. Leicestershire were all out for 137, giving Worcestershire their third win of the season. The two sides are now both on 111 points, two points behind second placed Sussex.
The remaining games in Division Two ended in draws, the weather taking its toll. Leaders Durham were held up in their pursuit of a sixth win by Brooke Guest, as he posted a career-best 197 in Derbyshire’s first innings total of 443. Scott Borthwick has not felt the need to bowl himself very much this season, having taken just one wicket from 19.2 overs, but he made a significant impact in this game, taking 4/25 off 6.1 overs. In reply, Durham’s batters continued their profitable season as they piled on 575 runs, centuries from Alex Lees (171) and David Bedingham (138). In the process, Lees became the first batter to reach the 1000-run mark for the season. Matty Potts (64) and Brydon Carse (80) also contributed half centuries, while Sam Conners ended with figures of 5/115. Derbyshire finished on 89/0 at the end of day three and rain then washed out the final day.
A similar fate befell the game at Leeds, where choosing to bat first, Sussex finished a curtailed day one on 120/6. They reached 216 all out just before lunch on day two, Fynn Hudson-Prentice making 73 and Matthew Fisher taking 4/69. Adam Lyth then notched up his second century of the season as Yorkshire declared on 364/8, sacrificing batting points for an opportunity to pick up a win inside three days, given the forecast for Saturday. Their intent was evident from the start of day three as Dawid Malan advanced from 51 to 92 in only 20 balls, while captain Jonny Tattersall supported him by completing a brisk 41. There were 84 overs left in the days play when Sussex started their second innings, trailing by 148. At 48/3 after 20.5 overs, Yorkshire had some hope of forcing a result, but Tom Clark and Ollie Carter dug in, both making half centuries and at the end of the day Sussex were 236/7. Unfortunately for Yorkshire, no play was possible on the final day and the seven points gained by Sussex kept them in second place.
The game at Cheltenham College between Gloucestershire and Glamorgan started a day after the others and it was the third day that was washed out. Glamorgan batted first and amassed maximum batting points, taking advantage of the short boundaries as they reached 450/6 off 92.5 overs. Kiran Carlson made 76 from 70 balls and Chris Cooke reached 86 off 93. Billy Root (98) just missed out on a century. Paul van Meekeren was the pick of the bowlers, playing his first first-class game for over five years, taking 3/92. In reply, Chris Dent made 113 and James Bracey 60 not out as Gloucestershire made 402/6 from 108.3 overs. At that point they declared in order to have enough time to correct an over rate deficit of minus four from Glamorgan’s first innings. This they achieved and the players shook hands with Glamorgan on 62/0. Although Glamorgan dropped one place, they closed the gap on second place from 13 points to six.
Surrey have re-established their winning ways this week and now have a 14 point lead over second-placed Essex. Surrey have four remaining matches, three against counties in the top five and a home game against bottom-placed Northamptonshire. Essex have games against Northamptonshire and Middlesex and two against Hampshire. Hampshire have the toughest run-in, with these two matches against Essex as well as games against Somerset and Surrey. Warwickshire have five more fixtures, including two against struggling Middlesex and one against Northamptonshire, so have an opportunity to close the gap on the leaders. At the bottom of Division One, Northamptonshire look doomed to relegation with Middlesex likely to join them, unless they can get their batting in order and put pressure on Kent above them.
Durham look untouchable in Division Two, now with a 54 point lead at the top. The remaining counties are evenly matched and the strength of the batting line-ups in comparison to the bowling means that any wins will see a team make a significant move in the battle for second spot. This week it was Worcestershire who made that move and they have jumped up to third place, but only six points separate second and fifth. Yorkshire, with a game in hand, have also joined the scrap and it looks likely that the identity of the county that finishes in the second promotion spot will not be known until the last day of the season.
Current Championship tables:
LV County Championship Division One
LV County Championship Division Two