Week 1 Vitality County Championship Review

Week 1 Vitality County Championship Review

The Kookaburra ball – love it or hate it?

Not surprisingly the weather had a significant impact on the opening round of the Vitality County Championship as did the Kookaburra ball, in use for four rounds of matches this summer, increased from last year’s two. The Kookaburra ball is being used to negate the excessive movement of the Dukes ball in early season conditions, reducing the effectiveness of medium pace bowlers while trying to encourage the use of spin and it appears to have been successful. There has also been a reset of the points awarded for a draw, reverting back to eight. The bonus points are the same, meaning that sides have to go at a rate of just over four runs per over to get to the 450 needed for a maximum return.

All the counties were involved although the wet weather we have been suffering meant that the games between Durham and Hampshire at Chester-le-Street and Derbyshire and Gloucestershire in Derby were abandoned without a ball bowled. Storm Kathleen also impacted on the first three days of the games played and prevented the grounds men from removing the covers on day three at Old Trafford.

The only positive result was at Trent Bridge, where Essex came out on top in a game in which fortunes moved from one side to the other. Haseeb Hameed won the toss and made the same call as all the other captains, asking Essex to bat first. Two new boys, Dean Elgar (80) and Jordan Cox (84) held the innings together, sharing a 112 run third wicket stand as Essex reached 253. Dane Paterson was the pick of the Nottinghamshire bowlers taking 5/49. In reply the Notts innings followed a similar pattern, dominated by a century from Joe Clarke (104) and 77 from Jack Haynes, Sam Cook taking 4/59. They enjoyed a first innings lead of 40, finishing on 293 and then had Essex 129/5 before a fight back by the lower order batters took the final total to 374/9. They declared six overs into the final day’s play, setting Notts a target of 335 from a possible 88 overs. From that point on it was one way traffic as Cook and Jamie Porter rattled through the Nott’s batters, dismissing them for 80, sealing a win by 254 runs. Cook finished with 6/14 and match figures of 10/73, reminding the England selectors of his presence. The only concern for Essex is whether they will suffer a penalty for a possible bat infringement picked up in their second innings, Feroze Khushi the culprit. In 2022 a similar episode led to a 10 point penalty for Durham.

Plenty of runs were scored in the Midlands derby between Warwickshire and newly promoted Worcestershire at Edgbaston. The match got underway on time and asked to bat first, the Worcestershire batters made a solid start, Gareth Roderick at the top of the order making 68 and Kashif Ali scoring his maiden first class century. At 271/4 they were well placed, but Ali and Brett D’Oliveira were dismissed in successive overs and Chris Rushworth mopped up the tail, the innings ending on 360. Similarly the Warwickshire batters were looking assured and half centuries from Will Rhodes and Dan Mousley and a top score of 89 from Ed Barnard saw them to 289/4, but three wickets each from Adam Finch and Nathan Smith pegged Warwickshire back to 333 all out, a deficit of 27. Worcestershire commenced their second innings just before lunch on day three and following the early loss of Roderick, Jake Libby and Ali settled in, Ali being particularly brutal towards the Warwickshire bowling. He reached his second century of the match off just 108 balls, going to the milestone, as he had in the first innings, with a six. Libby progressed at a more sedate pace, reaching his century on day four, off 177 balls. Only 19 overs were possible on the final day and Worcestershire ended on 295/3.

The match at Old Trafford between Lancashire and Surrey was severely curtailed by the weather, with no play on day one, 77.4 overs on day two, just 3.3 on day three and none on the final day. When the game did start Lancashire included both Nathan Lyons and Tom Hartley, leaving them perhaps a batter light. They posted 202, Josh Bohannon, another player on England’s radar, having led the Lions in India this winter, top scoring with 84. Two leg-spinners did the damage for Surrey, Cameron Steel taking 5/25 and Dan Lawrence 4/91. In reply Surrey had reached 15/0 before the game was abandoned.

In the remaining Division One game at Canterbury rain again prevented any opportunity for a positive result. No play was possible on day one and when Somerset chose to bowl first, they did so without England spinner Shoaib Bashir. Kent were bowled out for 284, the main contributions coming from Joey Evison (85) and Harry Finch (54), the two sharing a 93 run sixth wicket partnership. Lewis Gregory was the pick of the Somerset bowlers, taking 4/66. In reply Matt Renshaw (66) and Tom Lammonby (90) put on 117 for the second wicket while James Rew and Kasey Aldridge both scored half centuries, taking Somerset to 403, reaching a fourth batting point in the 110th over. Kent batted out the remainder of the match, Daniel Bell-Drummond and Joe Denly both making centuries as they declared on 290/4.

The best finish in Division Two came at Hove, where the exciting young Sussex side pushed hard for victory against Northamptonshire. The game started mid afternoon on day one and Northampton shire reached 95/2 in the 38.1 overs possible before bad lighted ended play. Bad light again ended play early on day two, with 64.2 overs bowled, Northamptonshire still batting on 292/7. Luke Procter was the top scorer with 92, Karun Nair making a half century. When Northants resumed on day three Lewis McManus worked well with the tail to advance the score to 371, before he was the last man out on 50. Overseas signing Jayden Seales showed what he has to offer, taking 4/86, while left arm orthodox spinner James Coles took 3/45. It was also good to see Ollie Robinson bowling 22 overs at a smart pace, taking two wickets. When Sussex came to bat it was the introduction of off spinner Rob Keogh into the attack that brought the first wicket. He bowled the standard “over before lunch” but then returned in the third over after the resumption and dismissed Tom Clark. He then had Tom Alsop stumped, before Oli Carter was bowled by the ever reliable Ben Sanderson. At 94/3 Northants were in the game, but a 137 run fourth wicket partnership between Coles (78) and Tom Haines (133) helped settle the Sussex nerves. However it was the lower order that took the game away from Northants. Sussex ended day three on 351/6, with Fynn Hudson-Prentice on 59 not out off just 41 balls and Danny Lamb on 38 off 43. They pushed on on day four, sensing an opportunity to put Northants under pressure, scoring another 137 runs in just 19.2 overs. John Simpson declared on 478/9, having earned maximum batting points, leaving 76 overs in the game. Northants batting frailties of 2023 then surfaced as they were reduced to 57/4, two wickets to Seales and one each to Robinson and Jack Carson. Procter (41) again came to the rescue alongside Keogh (55), the pair adding 73 for the fifth wicket, before the dismissal of Procter initiated a batting collapse. Carson and Coles took five wickets between them and when Robinson cleaned up Sanderson with a middle stump yorker (his 400th in first class cricket) Northants were 168/9, leading by just 61 runs. However, McManus’ hard work in India over the winter was paying off as he continued to defy the Sussex bowlers and he had survived 45 balls for his 13 runs when the umpires took the players off for bad light. Interestingly Sussex have taken the decision not to use floodlights in Championship matches this season for financial reasons, although it is unlikely that their use would have changed the result. Sussex’s haul of 15 points puts then top of the table, with Northants in joint second.

At Headingley, the Division Two favourites took on Leicestershire. A wet outfield delayed the start of the match, play getting underway at 3:39pm, Leicestershire having been asked to bat first. Marcus Harris was immediately in the runs with his new county, but the remainder of the batters made starts only to succumb to the much vaunted Yorkshire seam attack, in this case Matt Milnes taking four wickets and George Hill three. It was left to the Leicestershire nine and ten to get the team to a respectable total, Ben Mike, back from a brief sojourn with Yorkshire, making 90 and Tom Scriven 56, the innings ending on 354. When Yorkshire came to bat after tea on day two it was Adam Lyth, as so often before, who led the way. Yorkshire finished the day on 72/2 and no play was possible on day three. Lyth resumed on 43 when they got underway after lunch on day four and he was joined by Harry Brook four balls into play. The two showed their international credentials as they each raced to centuries, Lyth’s off 98 balls and Brook’s from just 69, with 14 fours and two sixes. Mike backed up his batting with 4/44 and Yorkshire declared on 264/6 when Brook reached three figures. Rain halted the game just before 4pm with Leicestershire on 26/0.

The final game took place at Lords between Middlesex and Glamorgan, where the Middlesex captain, Toby Roland-Jones asked Glamorgan to bat first. It was the one game to have four full days of play, but it soon became clear that the batters were going to rule the roost. The pitch was surprisingly devoid of grass and just became slower and lower as the game progressed. In the absence of Eddie Byrom, Billy Root has moved up to the opener spot for Glamorgan and after the early loss of his partner, he and the new Glamorgan captain, Sam Northeast settled down to their work. They put on 129 for the second wicket, Root bowled by Middlesex new boy, Henry Brookes for 67. Northeast went to his first century off 146 balls, while Kiran Carlson posted a half century. Carlson went with the score on 321, at which point Colin Ingram joined Northeast. Northeast continued to accumulate and eventually went past Graham Gooch’s 333, to record the highest first class score at Lords, finishing on 335 not out. At the other end Ingram posted his century and they declared on 620/3. When Middlesex came to bat it was much the same story. Mark Stoneman fell just short of a century, out for 97, while Max Holden, Jack Davies and Tom Helm posted half centuries. The big innings was played by Ryan Higgins, recording his maiden first class double century. Middlesex were finally dismissed for 655, the Glamorgan bowlers having put down 211.2 overs. The match finally ended with Glamorgan on 31/2 in their second innings and both sets of bowlers hoping for a bit more help next week.

Obviously it is just the first round, but Essex have shown their ability to grind out a result, while in Division Two, Sussex have demonstrated they are a serious promotion challenger.

Reviewing the impact of the Kookaburra ball on the events over the last four days, clearly the bowlers at Lords and Edgbaston will be keen to get a Dukes back in their hands. However if we look at the bowlers used, it certainly appears to have gone some way to promoting the use of spin. Overall 26.5% of balls were bowled by spinners, 23% in Division One and 30.5% in Division Two, which is more than one might expect at the beginning of April. If we look at the wickets taken, 26.3% were by spinners, with the figure being 20.4% in Division One and 35.5% in Division Two, which compares with the percentage of balls bowled by spinners in the two divisions. It will be interesting to see how pitches might be prepared if counties want to get positive results when the Kookaburra is used in future rounds.


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