After close on two months (46 days to be precise) first class, four day county cricket (or red ball as some like to call it) returns. And with the start of ‘super-September’ as the marketeers would have us believe, so did the start of autumn or something that more closely resembled winter!
And to top it all, it’s August Bank Holiday when there should be some semblance of summer left!
In Division Three Middlesex are playing Derbyshire at Lords with crowds for the first time in nearly two years (the last such match in 2019 was against Derbyshire so that’s a bit of a coincidence), and with overcast and cold conditions (it’s been sunnier and warmer on New Years Day here in the UK).
This strange cricket season now enters the phase of four rounds of county cricket to determine the Championship. In this phase the top two teams in each of the first half groupings form the first division, the third and fourth the second and so forth (try and keep up you at the back! I’ll be asking questions later!)
But what do they have to play for? In Divisions 2 and 3, there’s no prizes available just pride and a bit of cash; so I’m not clear how ‘super’ September will be for those 12 teams!
It’s clear that after such a break, and loads of one day or shorter games, players are rusty, out of form etc. Wickets are falling all over the land at fast rates and I doubt at this stage (part way through day one as I write this) many matches will need day 4 unless it rains. Forty two wickets across eight matches by mid-afternoon Day 1!
And so it is at Lord’s. Middlesex (new signing of Stoneman from Surrey opening with a three ball duck) manage to lose three wickets for 14 in twenty minutes, four for 52 before you can blink but lunch at 85/4 with White and Andersson showing some resistance. All four wickets leg before (two at each end) showing a lack of nimble footwork and a seaming ball in perfect bowling conditions!
I managed to convince two spectators (one Aussie, one American) as we chatted that matches at Lord’s are won in part by the excellence of the players lunch. Sides have often had a very poor afternoon and to see which side over-indulged on the pud after lunch!
Clearly Derbyshire, as they had to toil for over 90 minutes before Andersson fell for 53 after a stand of 105 with White. An early tea/bad light sees Middlesex at 173/5 with White 84no. He clearly has the temperament and talent for bigger and better things but with an England side where it is easier to be dropped than picked…then, of course with so many of the current side, the wrong side of 30, he could have a chance.
The light improved after tea in time for a prompt restart and in 45 minutes before the light deteriorated again, Middlesex progressed to 218/5 with White making his first first class hundred. It’s clear why Derbyshire are here in the lowest division – the bowling lacks penetration and consistency, not enough maidens (less than 15%) to create pressure. This morning’s efforts to create havoc if not panic were not followed through.
On the other hand Middlesex showed character and resolve from their youngsters and I suppose if the batting comes off as it should, and the middle order prosper then there’s a good side brewing. Add in promising young fast bowlers and the odd spinner, then things should get better.
In other words, return to normal for Middlesex, Derbyshire and others just as the day showed that life is returning to what was ‘normal’.