The ECB is seriously missing an opportunity with the County Championship at the moment. We’ve seen drama, excitement, brilliance and shocks and not any of it is being broadcasted past the individual clubs. Why would anyone prioritise watching old highlights of 90s test matches on Sky Sports Cricket over a current and relevant game?
As you may be able to tell, this week was pretty exciting. Essex pulled off a remarkable comeback, winning after being skittled for 96, while Gloucestershire celebrated an excellent win in the Cider derby. Warwickshire managed an exceptional fourth innings chase and Yorkshire were back to their best.
We were back to more normality this week, with bowling showing itself to be king. Sadly, one of the Championship’s premier bowlers, Ben Coad, was injured this week, but some bowlers pulled off remarkable performances. More will be written below. The standings are also not far off what we might expect. Somerset have been sub-par, only just winning one game and losing another, both to previous Division 2 opposition. Warwickshire have been impressive, as, unsurprisingly, have Essex, and Sussex have shown that they aren’t just a white-ball specialist team.
TEAM OF THE WEEK
- Adam Lyth – Kent have a good bowling attack but Lyth tackled that effectively, scoring 97 and 116 as Yorkshire produced two very solid batting innings. He watched out Darren Stevens, and fell twice to Matt Milnes. His new ball batting was really impressive and was shown by intent that he has failed to show in the past, striking his runs at over 70 over the two innings. The left hander has looked back to his best, and his England hopes may not be over just yet, particularly given Dom Sibley’s injury. Kent bowl well, but they do occasionally bowl too full, which is never a good idea to Adam Lyth.
- Ian Holland – 64 and 140* is a fine set of scores for a Hampshire side that has been struggling for openers since Michael Carberry left and Jimmy Adams retired. Middlesex made a mistake in picking Nathan Sowter over Tim Murtagh after Murtagh bowled well against Somerset. He batted watchfully in the first innings and found his groove in his second innings, attacking Sowter and Martin Andersson as Hampshire found no response to his strong batting. Holland hasn’t always found championship cricket easy, but Hampshire’s batting lineup is greatly enhanced when he’s on form.
- James Bracey – This week has given me no doubt at all that Bracey could be an England player. Somerset and Essex are the strongest bowling sides in the competition, but he scored 83* and 118 against the likes of Lewis Gregory and Craig Overton. His 118 was vital to get Gloucestershire close to Somerset’s first innings 312 and his ability against Jack Leach definitely raised some questions about his lack of inclusion against Sri Lanka and India. He plays a great sweep shot but is a very technically excellent batsman, really difficult to dislodge and able to score. I’m not sure I’ve seen a Gloucestershire batsman quite as good in my time of watching county cricket.
- Ollie Pope – He struggled desperately in the first match, but Ollie Pope seems back to his fluent best. Leicestershire’s bowling is exceptionally bad, but 245 off just 272 balls, scoring 30 fours in the process, shows the comfortable fluency and elegance of Pope’s batting. I have no doubt that Pope will be an England star, and it is innings like this that show his mental strength, particularly after only recently recovering from surgery. He plays the best cover-drive in England (perhaps joint with James Vince) and has genuinely lovely technique. If you ever get the chance to watch anyone bat, he should be a standout option.
- Kiran Carlson – This isn’t a man who I ever expected to be in my team. He averages less than 30 in first class cricket and he doesn’t bowl. Glamorgan are also not a great team. However, despite their loss this week Kiran Carlson shone against the threatening bowling of Ollie Robinson et al (more on that below). The right hander scored 127* then 132 as only two other Glamorgan batsmen did anything of note really, and he showed extraordinary maturity as he guided Glamorgan away from a very embarrassing loss, nearly pushing them to an unlikely draw. He batted for over 500 minutes and was sensible throughout, showing determination in not being drawn into silly shots, something that has definitely been the case in the past. Particularly given how disappointing their star batsmen were in this game (Andy Balbirnie and Billy Root), these were two vital innings as he came in at 23/3 then 46/3. This was a really nice underdog story, and Carlson deserves his place in this team.
- Matt Critchley – Derbyshire aren’t known for their four day expertise, showing more skill in the shorter formats in the last few years, but Critchley looks an absolute gem. They have some serious promise in their ranks in general, but this week Critchley was a star (although Harvey Hosein was unlucky to miss out in this team). He scored 109 and 84 against a very wily and well-designed Worcestershire bowling attack, also taking 8 wickets in the match including a 5fer in the first innings. His bowling has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years, and Derbyshire are continually looking to him as an important part of their side, often using him as the only spinner in the early season. Still, it is impressive for spinners to take this many wickets on the tracks we’re seeing, particularly leg spinners.
- Ryan Higgins – The first player to refeature in my team of the week, and in just his second week! Higgins has been put in this team for his all-round ability, and the quality of his opposition has been taken into account. Higgins is a fantastic player and I don’t know for the life of me why Middlesex let him go. He bowls accurate and probing medium pace and is a very good batsman, batting 6 for Gloucestershire and opening the bowling. He’s mainly in this team for his 4/29, which probably won them the game as Somerset collapsed badly, and he took the key wickets of Tom Lammonby (he dismissed him twice for a duck) and Tom Abell early. He also barely gives a run away. He also provided an important framework for Bracey to thrive with a useful 23. I might be biased, since he is in my fantasy team, but Higgins is a really tough competitor, and will do extraordinarily well this season.
- Simon Harmer – It was only a matter of time really. Simon Harmer is a wonderful spin bowler and it must hurt England to see his quality in a South African. He topped the wicket charts last season on a Chelmsford track that naturally suits pace bowlers better, which should speak volumes as to his quality. Harmer turns the ball a very impressive amount for an off-spinner, and he did so against Durham effectively, removing the dangerous Bedingham for a duck in the first innings with a great drifter. He’s terrifyingly accurate and will feature many more times.
- Ollie Robinson – 9/78 is pretty extraordinary, even if it’s against a second-string Glamorgan side. He took 4 top order wickets in the first innings, reducing them desperately before Carlson clawed something back, but he was the only Sussex bowler that carried any threat in the second innings, and boy did he deliver. He undoubtedly won them the game, and Chris Silverwood will have a very sharp eye on him looking forward to June. Robinson’s metronomic accuracy and seam movement remind me somewhat of Josh Hazlewood, and they are similarly tall, and we have seen Hazlewood’s success in the test arena. Don’t forget, also, that he scored a very measured 67 in partnership with the similarly promising George Garton to take the game away from Glamorgan. This could be one of the individual match performances of the season.
- Brydon Carse – Carse bowls with seriously threatening pace, but this week he bowled with much-improved accuracy. Carse is definitely on England’s selection radar, as we see the success of Mark Wood, developed by the same county, and he is very young still. Carse provides the perfect foil for a very medium-pace bowling attack, and batsmen try to knock him out of the attack, but 8 wickets against a strong Essex side shows that Carse, and Durham, out-thought Essex on this issue. Although Durham lost, blame must go to their batsmen, and you can’t help but wonder if Carse would suit a different playing surface, or team, to help get the best out of his game.
- Mohammad Abbas – The most miserly bowler I’ve ever seen. Abbas’ bizarre wrong-foot action seemed so questionable on the first occasion I saw it, but he seems to land the ball in that corridor outside off-stump on a good length. He is more accurate than any other test bowler, and there are statistics to prove it (CricViz released data on this topic during the England-Pakistan test series). The only reason he isn’t heralded more is the disappointing circumstance that is Pakistan’s lack of exposure to test cricket. They have some seriously good players in their ranks, and it’s a shame they seem to prioritise t20 cricket so much. However, back to his performance this week, he completely ran through Middlesex’s top order with the effortless accuracy that we’ve seen before, finding some bite in a kind Hampshire bowl surface. His first innings figures were 6/11, with 6 maidens in 11 overs and that shows just how difficult he is to bat against. He took 3 wickets in the second innings too with a similar miserly economy, and Hampshire will be taking a big loss when he returns to Pakistan for international duty.
It is really nice to see a lot of change from last week’s team, and we saw some really strange changes. Jake Libby, who batted for 11 hours last week, scored a duck on his return to the crease this week, as did David Bedingham. James Vince also scored 9 runs in 2 innings. England seem in need of batting to bolster their test squad, and we can only hope they look to the Championship, rather to excellent t20 players like Jonny Bairstow who struggles against a red ball. 2 of the members of this team have played for England, but that may change (as shown below in my assessment of the England hopefuls…)
- Zak Crawley – Scores of 1 and 4 batting as first drop. Second dismissal was disappointing, first one was very poor indeed. Really needs to find a score.
- Dom Sibley – currently injured.
- Rory Burns – Somehow only scored 36 in a mammoth 672-8. Went LBW again which will cause concerns when you consider his shuffle technique. Not a bad knock, but not a great one.
- Haseeb Hameed – Scored 19 then finally reached that elusive half-century. It seems that as soon as Hameed’s name comes back up in England contention, he stops scoring runs. Let’s hope this 50 powers him to more.
- James Vince – Mentioned above. Also didn’t get out to Middlesex’s premier bowlers. Had big shoes to fill after last week but hope for more consistency.
- Joe Denly – 2 wickets in the second innings and scores of 17 and 30. Needs to improve on converting starts but looked comfortable at the crease.
- Dan Lawrence – Only vaguely good batsman in Essex’s 96 scoring a gutsy 32 as batsmen failed to score around him. Then hit 76 in the second innings, setting up an unlikely victory. Even managed two wickets. Really good day out and unlucky not to be in the team of the week.
- Joe Root – 11 in the first innings got me worried but a good ton in the second at a brisk rate eased the worries. His knock battered Kent into submission somewhat, but a few more runs are still needed to convince me.
- Ollie Pope – Most improved player definitely on the cards for Pope. He batted superbly. Mentioned above.
- Craig Overton – 4 wickets and 56 runs in the match. Just isn’t finding the bite that he found last season but has shown a lot of promise with the ball seaming. Feel like he’d be better used with the old ball reversing.
- Jack Leach – No wickets and not really given the chance to bat (sadly). Played watchfully by Bracey and just couldn’t find enough turn or drift at Taunton.
- Dom Bess – Almost considering taking him off my list of England hopefuls. 0 wickets again and a score of 36. Just seems to carry no threat at all and seems to get his wickets from batsmen playing silly shots. Yorkshire wasn’t the right choice for him.
- Toby Roland-Jones – Just two wickets at a very reasonable economy rate. Still haven’t seen the ability he showed pre-injury. Going to keep faith.
- Saqib Mahmood – Almost a carbon copy of last week, but with a bit more control. More experience should yield more reward.
- Ollie Robinson – We’ve seen all we need to see above really. Will be shocked if he’s not in the squad in June.
- Matt Parkinson – Turned the ball round corners and bowled with excellent economy. I rate Parkinson extraordinarily highly in all formats, and criticism that he’s too slow is ill-judged, since he bowls the same pace as Warne. One superb dismissal and 3 wickets in both innings.
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