Week 3 Vitality County Championship Review

Week 3 Vitality County Championship Review

Bowlers looked a happier bunch this week with the Dukes ball back in their hands

Perhaps there has been too much chat about the ball over the last three weeks, but clearly the return of the Dukes ball has brought about a shift in the balance between bat and ball, at least at some grounds. The fact that in some games batters were still able to prosper highlights the multiple variables in the equation: the ball, the pitch, the weather, the bowler and the batter and the difficulty in achieving ideal conditions to get the fair contest between bat and ball that we all want to see.

Whatever the solution, we need to try and ensure that the advantage from winning the toss and bowling first is kept under control. The ECB have tried to address this issue by various means, perhaps the most effective being the playing condition whereby the away side could elect to bowl first if they wished, with a toss only happening if they wanted to bat. This was put in place in 2016 and it seemed to be working as that summer 85% of games went into a fourth day, the most since 2009, with spinners bowling more overs and taking more wickets compared to 2015. Average scores and the number of draws also increased. The arrangement continued for four years, but the ECB then decided that it was not having the desired effect and that they would switch to using tougher penalties for poor pitches.

This week the weather was still an influence, probably saving Derbyshire and Glamorgan from defeat, but positive results were achieved in five of the remaining seven matches.

The bat still dominated down in Southampton, where the pitch was reportedly prepared to mimic that of the previous week, offering little to the bowlers. The Dukes ball was of no concern to the Warwickshire skipper Alex Davies, who chose to bat first. He went out with opening partner Rob Yates and put on a century partnership, followed by 174 runs for the second wicket with Will Rhodes; Davies eventually out for 149. There are some concerns that the Hampshire attack has become overly reliant on Mohammad Abbas, with Kyle Abbott and Keith Barker getting towards the end of their careers. Warwickshire were all out for 455 and then centuries from Fletcha Middleton and Nick Gubbins helped take Hampshire to 365 in reply. This was Middleton’s maiden first class century and rewards the faith Hampshire have kept in the 22-year-old opener. Warwickshire’s spin duo of Yates and Danny Briggs took seven wickets between them. Any thoughts Warwickshire might have had of scoring some quick runs and putting the Hampshire batters under pressure were thwarted by the weather and they had reached 205/4 when rain curtailed the final day’s play, Yates ending a profitable outing on 84 not out.

Only 39 overs were possible on day one at Canterbury, Kent ending on 113/3 having been inserted by Rory Burns. Daniel Bell-Drummond was the top scorer with 70 when the innings finished on 244, Cameron Steel again in the wickets with 3/34. The leg spinner currently leads the Championship bowling with 20 wickets, five more than anyone else, having taken just six in his seven Championship games last season. Surrey’s openers then put on 147 for the first wicket before Dom Sibley (150) and Dan Lawrence (112) took the score on to 340, falling just short of a 200 run partnership. They declared on 543/7 and then 3/45 from Dan Worrall had reduced Kent to 120/5 by the end of day three, Zak Crawley scoring just nine runs in his first game since the India tour. Joey Evison (53 from 119 balls) and Matt Parkinson (39 from 147 balls) battled hard on the final day, hoping the weather might intervene, but Parkinson was the last man out with the score on 262, Surrey winning by an innings and 37 runs. Worrall finished with 4/31, while Steel took another three wickets in the second innings. The 24 points Surrey take from this game means they have closed the gap on leaders Essex by two.

Essex chose to field first at Chelmsford and steadily worked their way through the Lancashire batting, dismissing them for 146, Shane Snater taking four wickets and Sam Cook, back having been rested for the last round, three. The Essex top order all made starts, Dean Elgar scoring 79 and Tom Westley 81 as they reached 377. The Lancashire batters then capitulated in their second innings, bowled out for just 107, resulting in a loss by an innings and 124 runs. Essex maintain their position at the top of Division One, while Lancashire have a week off in which to regroup.

Durham came out on top in the battle of the two promoted clubs, registering a 185 run win at Kidderminster, inside three days. The visitors elected to bat first and were reduced to 9/2, before the middle order fought back and took Durham to 244 all out, Ben Raine (43) contributing useful lower order runs. He then went to work on the Worcestershire batting and his three wickets alongside three each from Matty Potts and Paul Coughlin dismissed the home side for just 184, Jake Libby top-scoring with 61. It was easier second time around for the Durham batters, Scott Borthwick (75) and David Bedingham (138) putting on 195 for the third wicket. Ollie Robinson chipped in with 67 not out, his fourth half century in four innings so far this season. Worcestershire were set a target of 458 and despite half centuries from Libby, Matthew Waite and Nathan Smith, were dismissed for 272, Coughlin taking a further four wickets. Durham have the bowling resources to make full benefit of the Dukes ball, while conditions are helpful and would be higher than their current fifth place had their first game not been washed out.

Haseeb Hameed also chose to bat first in Nottinghamshire’s game against Somerset at Taunton, only to be dismissed third ball, slashing at a wide delivery from Craig Overton and dragging it on. Overton finished with 3/57 as Notts were all out for 193, Matthew Montgomery top scoring with 48. Overton then led the Somerset batting effort, making 95 not out, as Somerset were dismissed for 454, falling just short of a fifth batting bonus point. Leg spinners are certainly an effective weapon in the Championship early season, Calvin Harrison taking 4/93 for Notts. Nottinghamshire then set about repairing the damage caused by their first innings batting and did it in an emphatic way. The openers again went cheaply, but Joe Clarke and Will Young put on a record third wicket partnership for the county of 392. They were still there when rain took the players off 39 minutes into the final day and the game was abandoned at lunchtime. Joe Clarke’s double century followed centuries in each of the first two matches, while Will Young finished on 174.

In Division Two, Gloucestershire were asked to bat first at Hove, with Ollie Robinson back in the Sussex attack. However he and Jayden Seales went wicketless in their opening spells and it was the medium pace of Danny Lamb that brought the Gloucestershire innings under control. He finished with 3/69, but Gloucestershire posted 417 thanks to sixties from Ben Charlesworth, James Bracey and Zafar Gohar, who put on 86 for the ninth wicket with Zaman Akhter (45*). Runs from Tom Alsop (84), Cheteshwar Pujara (86), John Simpson (78) and Danny Lamb (83) took Sussex to 479 and a useful first innings lead. Robinson and Seales then reduced the visitors to 81/6 by the end of day three. Miles Hammond and Zafar Gohar mounted some resistance on day four, putting on 87 runs for the seventh wicket, but Jack Carson dismissed Hammond lbw for 77 just before the new ball was due, a poor decision with the ball appearing to be pitching outside leg stump. Dominic Goodman fell the same way two balls later and then Seales removed the last two batters with the first two balls of a new spell. Gloucestershire ended their second innings on 205, leaving Sussex a potential 49 overs to score 144 runs, with a threat of rain seemingly the only obstacle. Gohar had other ideas and produced sharp turn to reduce Sussex to 70/4, before Pujara and John Simpson steadied the ship. Two more wickets fell, but Pujara saw Sussex home, finishing on 44 not out. Gohar, in his first game of the season, had taken 5/59 to go with his three wickets in the first innings and 112 runs.

At Northampton, Glamorgan found themselves 27/4 having been put in, before Colin Ingram (82) led something of a fight back, helped by Dan Douthwaite (50) and Mason Crane (61) as they finally reached 271. Ben Sanderson took 5/92 in an attack in which no delivery was recorded as reaching 80 mph. The Northants batters found life a lot easier against some inconsistent Glamorgan bowling, Ricardo Vasconselos making 182, his first century for two years, after a very disappointing 2023. Karun Nair reached 202 not out and Saif Zaib 100 as Northants posted 605/5 declared, a lead of 334. They then had Glamorgan 104/3 at the end of day three, Ingram still there having been dropped by Nair on nought. Northants were then frustrated by the weather on day four as persistent rain prevented any play.

Put into bat at Lords, the much vaunted Yorkshire batting line up was put to the sword in their first innings by Toby Roland-Jones (3/49) and the medium pace of Ryan Higgins (4/31); all out for 159. The Yorkshire bowlers then had Middlesex 136/7 before a 56 run eighth wicket partnership between Joshua de Caires (50) and Roland-Jones (30) helped them to 246 and an 87 run first innings lead. The Yorkshire batters were a little more successful in their second innings, George Hill the main contributor with 75 as they reached 244, the wickets shared amongst the Middlesex seamers, Higgins ending the match with 7/72. This left Middlesex requiring just 158 runs, starting their second innings half way through the morning of day three. They completed the job four wickets down, Leus du Plooy top-scoring as he did in the first innings, ending the low scoring match with 93 runs. The win takes them to second place in the table, nine points behind Sussex.

Yorkshire host Derbyshire in the next round and they too will be hoping for a better batting performance than they demonstrated against Leicestershire this week. Derbyshire chose to field first and it might have paid off if they had held on to their catches. Both openers were put down in the slips in the first half hour of play and while Rishi Patel only made 36, Marcus Harris (who was also dropped on 26) made them pay, going on to score 214, as the visitors posted 574/7 declared. In reply, Derbyshire were dismissed for 167, David Lloyd top-scoring with 54, three wickets a-piece for Tom Scriven, Ben Mike and Scott Currie. The follow on was enforced and Derbyshire were again in trouble at 144/6, still 263 runs behind. Wayne Madsen and Alex Thomson then dug in and batted out the remaining 27 overs of day three, taking the score to 224. Unfortunately for Leicestershire no play was possible on day four, robbing them of the likely win.

The introduction of the Dukes ball has certainly brought about more positive conclusions to games and spinners have still been active, albeit less than in the first two weeks. However there is no escaping the benefit that the Dukes ball brings to bowlers operating in the mid 70’s.

Essex and Surrey are familiar names at the top of Division One while Lancashire will be disappointed to find themselves at the bottom. Sussex look well worth their position at the top of Division Two, while Yorkshire have not made the start they would have wanted. Clearly bonus points are having a significant impact on standings and will likely prove critical at the business end of the season.

We now have three rounds in which counties will take breaks, so relative positions in the tables will be more difficult to interpret until the end of round six.

Current Championship tables:

LV County Championship Division One


LV County Championship Division Two



  1. Good review. Though not sure you can say the weather saved Leicestershire from defeat when they racked up over 550 runs. The weather stopped them winning comfortably!

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