Late late show…continues

Pitches at this time of the season are either a bowlers delight or nightmare and we’ve seen both so far. But what’s a bit more unusual is the support from the late or lower order batting.

Leicestershire managed it on Thursday as you, dear reader, will recall and Northamptonshire yesterday. Not to be outdone Essex joined in this morning!

Snater and Steketee added 70 for the 9th wicket and Snater with Cook S added over 40 for the last wicket but still couldn’t quite manage to get Essex over the 200 mark for only the second time this season. Snater making his best first class score of 79no

Steketee swerves a fast one!
Better shot by Steketee

As so Essex follow on…not a phrase you see often! But what a difference a day makes?

Yesterday bitterly cold and cloudy and clearly the ball doing something as nicks and edges were the order of the day but today – nothing! Warmer weather and if you managed to sit in the sun, protection was the order of the day but you needed to find the lee out of the breeze! Little seam or swing or even reverse but it was an old ball to be plundered. How will Essex fare second time around?

Berg – at 40 – still creating havoc!
Procter – in full flow!

Well…by tea they’d reached 69/3, 128 behind with no one looking in any kind of touch/form. Northamptonshire bowled and fielded well, as you expect when you’re so far ahead.

Rob Keogh slightly frustrated!
Vasconcelos (#27) will catch this a millisecond later!
Matt Kelly

The game as I have written many times is played as much in the head as on the field and one wonders if the lack of form is due to off-field matters. They have been well reported but with the latest news that eight of the nine Essex Board members are leaving for a variety of reasons one wonders if the players are worried or affected. Who knows, but unless there’s some kind of extra-terrestrial intervention I can’t see Essex getting out of this match well

Walter in full defence mode!

A wicketless last session! Wow! Both Critchley and Walter press on slowly and add another 80 by the close of play (each close to 40) and Essex less than 50 in arrears. Both showing that with application and hard work it is possible to score on this track – Snater showed how this morning.

Now, dear reader, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves! The new ball is due after an hour or so tomorrow morning and the forecast is for overcast conditions so everything points to bowler friendly conditions or will there be another late late show?

Eight degrees of separation

Cricket is intended to be played when the weather is warm and dry, if not hot and so the nooks and crannies which provide any shelter when the weather is cold, windy or rainy are few and far between on most grounds.

It really felt like minus 8 degrees!

And the CloudFM ground at Chelmsford is no exception today. The temperature is nominally 11C but with a wind chill factor it feels like 8C. There’s next to nowhere on this ground which provides shelter when the wind is from the North or North East.

Having started to physically shake with cold, repairing to the Pavilion to snuggle up to a radiator (on full blast) was the order of the day. The radiator location provides warmth but a poor view of the play, which is just as well as Essex are making heavy weather of this match against Northamptonshire.

From an overnight 233/7 Essex should have been looking to close this out fairly rapidly but with only one wicket before lunch, they seem to have lost the plot. Harmer can’t buy a wicket and the seamers seemed all at sea.

Meanwhile Luke Procter scored his highest score for Northamptonshire (113) and Gareth Berg (at #10) managed 75 and having put Essex to the sword then tried to do more damage but each fell to poor shots. But reaching 390 is far more than they should have got.

This gave Essex an hour of batting before tea.
Browne tried to force the pace and was out for 12 at 12/1 but Sir A and Westley appeared to steady the ship into harbour at tea of 45/2 but a lot of edges to the slips, and through the slips brought the inevitable wicket on the stroke of tea.

The odd ball is doing something and there’s a bit of variable bounce but otherwise it should be a good batting strip. One thing is certain today there’s no best to dry it out!

But what do I know? Essex get becalmed…almost stopped after tea and hardly any runs scored in the next hour but wickets fall at both ends. Edges to slip and the keeper aplenty, some falling short, a lot taken!

By the end of the day as the crowd all but drift away Essex end on 95/8 – way short of the follow on target and bonus point territory. Other than the bore draw against Kent, Essex have struggled to score more than 200 so prospects don’t look good. And Northamptonshire’s record of not having won at Chelmsford for 24 years looks like ending.

All of this observed from behind the glass in the Pavilion giving me separation from the 8 degrees outside!

And apologies for the lack of photos…it may have been 8C but it felt like minus 8 degrees and even gloves were not enough! Perhaps better tomorrow

Impressive Middlesex but Leicester delayed the ‘fat lady’

Before getting down to the matter of the day, let’s resolve the BIG question immediately and confirm that the Danish pastries at Lord’s are the best anywhere!

Division 2 of the County Championship is often more neglected than Division 1 (which is not that well publicised itself) and it’s not hard to see why. To a degree the teams can be seen as the home of the hard-working county trundlers/batters just going through the daily grind of county cricket and perhaps only sparkling when the one day or 20/20 smash and grab raids come along.

That was the feeling I got from the first session of Middlesex v Leicestershire at Lord’s – from the latter especially. That may be due to their lack of recent success and being anchored in the lower divisions for several seasons as they have been; whereas Middlesex have been on a downward trend for a few seasons but have started this season well.

Shah Afridi looks like a inspired signing for Middlesex and on his first appearance at Lords blew the top order away in no time at all – at one point being on a hat-trick. Leicestershire never really got going whilst the Middle’s bowlers exploited the overcast conditions to maximum effect – seaming and swinging as if there’s no tomorrow to leave Leicestershire 63/6 at lunch. Ok, we haven’t seen Middlesex bat yet to be able to form a proper judgment but when a pitch looks beige you don’t expect it to favour the quicks but this one does…at the moment!

Lots of strained expressions today – Luke Hollman

As the afternoon wore on and the sun started to shine (weakly at best), Leicestershire succumbed to 110/9 and ‘it’s all over bar the shouting’ but no! Parkinson (brother of the Lancashire one) and Hendrix (Beuran Eric, SA and with one test cap) decided it wasn’t time for fat lady songs!

Bamber joins in!

Clearly with less cloud cover the ball wasn’t doing anything like what it did before lunch and they managed to drag Leicestershire to 149ao on what was just after the timed tea interval.

Middlesex started very slowly as the clouds reappeared but once Stoneman had seen off the shine, he went off like an express train! Robson (seems to be another fidgeter, but only occasionally and then nowhere near the Smith/Burns/Lammonby class!) went for a slowish 16. By the end of the day, Middlesex were just 7 runs behind with Stoneman on 80 heading for a century.

Hendrix – close to being no-balled?
Sam Robson

The gulf between the sides at this stage appears wide but with a bit of cloud cover tomorrow, who knows when or if the fat lady will sing again?

Unanswered questions – Surrey v Somerset

Again the day dawned overcast with the prospect of floodlights from an early stage but the strong breeze blew the clouds away and we were soon bathed in occasional sunshine but the fresh breeze meaning finding protection from the wind is the order of the day.

Surrey progressed albeit a bit slowly to 293/8 at lunch; Curran went for 80 but not until he had damaged the Pavilion sight screen. Anticipation was high as to how it would be fixed mid-match but clearly it’s been done before so the ‘sight screen mending stick’ was all that was needed!

Curran – slash, and slash hard!

The new ball was the deciding factor as all three wickets fell since it was taken. Siddle – he of the Aussie beach bum haircut – has taken four to date.

Siddle with the Aussie beach bum hairstyle

The prospect of Overton vs Overton came to fruition! It’s quite clear all those ‘test matches’ in the back garden were just a precursor to ‘proper’ cricket!

I’ve just smashed my brother for 4 (Jamie) or I’ve just been smashed by my brother for 4 (Craig)!

Where is this game going? Eighteen wickets in seven sessions – all but two have been caught – indicating that 22 in the next five may be a bit too much…but who knows? Surrey need to take the next bonus point in the next 13 overs and Somerset the one wicket for theirs.

Brothers in action

Well, that didn’t last long. Surrey 308ao, Siddle mops up to take 6/51. Of the 20 wickets to have fallen, 18 have been caught. Just not sure about this pitch…not quite so green but green nonetheless. The third innings is key – Surrey need wickets fast(ish); Somerset fast(ish) runs but also enough time to bowl Surrey out (hoping that Leach can work his magic). I think chasing 250 could be a challenge but…we’ll see!

The afternoon session raised lots of unanswered questions – are Surrey one if not two bowlers short? Curran didn’t bowl yesterday or so far today…either he’s strained his long term injury, or the ECB has said he’s done enough in this match already? And Taylor doesn’t appear to be on the field – he had a long period off the field on Thursday so is there a fitness/injury issue? If only the PA worked you could know if they told you!

Who’s the more annoying bat – Burns with all his mannerisms or Lammonby? The latter stayed longer in the second innings but his ‘process’ between each ball – walk to square leg and back, touch right knee, left knee, left thigh pad, box and right pad and then face must be really annoying but it seems to work for him.

Lammonby – last check, now I’m ready

And…why does Ben Foakes need a drink every 20 minutes or so? Stopping play, he’s the only one! Not only today but each day so far!

But back to the match – and another unanswered question – when will Somerset declare? By tea they’ve reached 123/2 – a lead of 152. Abell approaching his 50 (and yet to be out in this match) and Banton 33 in an 80 run partnership. Surrey don’t look like taking a wicket with this attack – Topley has reverted to form after his excellent spell on Thursday, Clark and Overton straining but with no success. How much time do Somerset think they need?

It’s clear ‘I know nothing, nothing’ as Manuel claimed in Fawlty Towers! As the final session progresses the clouds come over more frequently and the lights go on…and so wickets fall. Within an hour Somerset lose five wickets for only a few runs as the temperature drops, the lights take over and Clark and Topley find ‘the spot’ from the Vauxhall End to try and scupper Somerset (again mainly to catches…an extraordinary percentage in this game!).

At the close, Somerset have a lead of 225 and one wicket to fall with a day to play, it’s clear the third innings has played its role. Surrey with their limited bowling attack have done very well but Somerset probably have a better one? A result looks likely but who will win? Another unanswered question but this will be answered!

PS – apologies dear reader, there’s no cricket blog for the rest of this match; am out tomorrow looking for buffalo in deepest darkest Essex!

Bikes in the Long Room!Whatever next?

Today dawns overcast and cooler than of late, so much so that floodlights are called for at the start of play and for the first hour. Surrey are going to find the Championship a struggle without a world class quick bowler and were unable to exploit the conditions first thing. This meant Somerset moved on serenely and it was only the occasional poor shot or run which was their undoing.

They finished on 337ao on the stroke of 12.30pm giving Surrey an awkward session. Abell was 150no – his highest first class score. Leach was resistant, Siddle thinking he can run faster than his years, and Brooks brought up the rear. At lunch Surrey are 14/0 with Patel often caught in two minds – do I go back or do I go forward, and Burns showing the occasional brilliant stroke amidst all the triggers and now flowing hair!

‘It’s behind you’ – above your head actually but…
Leach – underlining his ‘stick ability’
Abell – muscles straining while sweater needs a darn!
Seemingly headless Jack Brooks!

There are nine test players of various nations playing in this match but so far it’s those who haven’t played tests showing them how it’s done!

Flowing locks…
Or the Aussie bleached blond look?

The afternoon session was a complete contrast to the morning. Cloud cover increased which led to worse light, a significant drop in temperatures and for Surrey three wickets in relatively short order to be 48/3. Foakes and Pope with 40s each by tea had brought some semblance of order but within their capabilities to reach 118/3 at tea. This session and the next hold the key to the match I think.

Somerset have been chirping away in the field since ball one and a distinct contrast to the silence and downbeat Surrey body language.

Burns never looked completely comfortable

Of the 13 wickets to fall, 12 have been catches which suggests – or at least it does to me but then I’m no expert – that the pitch is not playing as true as players expect so the odd ball and poor shot is leading to catches. Burns stood his ground when dismissed and noticeably prodded the pitch as he left…placing subliminal blame on the pitch for his departure – or so it seemed to me.

Not a lot for Leach to get his teeth into!

Since I last worked in London, it has become a city of cycles so it’s not really surprising to see cycle racks provided (if only others did the same…?). What was a surprise was to see a member carrying his bike (albeit it a fold up one) around the Long Room and Pavilion but then, just when you think there’s nothing to surprise you at a cricket match…along comes a bike! Admittedly we have seen in these pages, groundstaff using bikes to get round the ground, but never before in the Pavilion!

By the close Surrey had reached 204/5 with both Pope (caught on the boundary spectacularly – a metre either way and it would have been four) and Foakes back in the pavilion. That makes 14 of 15 wickets caught!

That session was probably key but neither side gained an advantage. Surrey 133 behind but with little ‘substantive’ batting to come. Surrey need to get close to Somerset otherwise chasing a target on the last day could be tricky.

As ever, the third innings of every match is the decisive one but will a bike be needed?

Sussing each other out…Surrey v Somerset

An odd first session of Surrey v Somerset – or currently top vs bottom sides in Division One. Somerset reach 62/1 at lunch having been 15/1 at the end of hour one. The pitch is very green from afar and each side spent the session working each other out. For the first 30 minutes it was relatively quiet but then got a bit spicy as the bowlers changed. It then got better for batting. Quite strange. In essence, each side trying to assess the other.

And another nice touch from Surrey – free scorecards and a sheet of records/stats. If only other counties made everyone feel as welcome as Surrey do…

Topley’s 6 over spell was the best I’ve ever seen from him (not that he plays the longer game that often) but he now needs to build on that as the day progresses.

Reece Topley watching the ball
And again…
Sam Curran straining every sinew

By tea Somerset reach 163/3 (or 101/2 in the session). Renshaw falls for 48, Banton comes and goes while Abell grafts to 59no. The wickets have all fallen to balls which were slightly faster and seemed to catch each bat by surprise. From close and from afar, there’s a noticeable colour change by tea time, but if you work hard you’ll score runs, if you bowl that little bit faster you’ll take wickets.

First Taylor…
And then Overton…not watching where the ball goes!

It will be interesting to see the Somerset attack on this pitch.

The evening session was strange – silence in the field from Surrey including Burns as captain, no chirping, body language suggested ‘we know we’re in for a long slog’, just let’s get to the new ball. Somerset scoring freely.

But then…Hildreth (the unluckiest guy not to have played for England) goes for a half century (and 20,000 career runs) with the last ball with the old ball and Davies almost as soon as the new ball is taken. Meanwhile Abell accumulates 121no, wickets continue to fall and at the end of the day Somerset reach 283/6. Both sides probably content with their days work…each could have done better and worse!

And finally some spin and flying hair from Jacks!

Each side is still assessing the other, trying to get a feel for where this match is going. Tomorrow will be interesting!

Surrey impressive as Hampshire collapse (twice!)

The first hour of day 3 progressed with few alarums for Hampshire; Barker went to his 50 with a six, Fuller slowly accumulating runs. But at 222/7 Overton suddenly found that extra pace and a spot where things would happen. Suffice to say that in taking 5/54 in the innings Hampshire folded at 223ao.

Bowler and batter merge into one?
Fuller drive
How straight is Overton’s arm?
Barker still had time to look round to see the catch taken!
It’s often said the ball before often gets you out! Abbot – ball 1
And ball 2 spooned to square leg!
No, not a trick shot/photo!
Fuller is last to go; where the other bail is…?

Following on Hampshire have made a better fist of things albeit that they’re 46/2 at lunch, Gubbins and Holland each getting caught. Still 198 behind.

The pitch at lunchtime seems to be getting dryer and more bat friendly but then what do I know just from looking at a patch of grass? Why is it that grown ups will stare at a strip of cut grass and make profound announcements? No one looks at my lawn and comments but then it’s not professionally cared for (and badly cared for on an amateur basis!).

The afternoon session was going Hampshire’s way at 141/2 until Weatherley (tipped for England I seem to recall) went for 87, Vince just before tea for 57 and Dawson to leave the visitors at 181/5 – still 63 behind. Surrey are missing Roach’s bowling and wicket taking so it’s a bit heavy weather for them. Will it be over today? Or will there be another rearguard action giving Surrey an awkward amount to win?

Brown avoids a nasty one!
Fuller just lets it pass!

In the end, that was an impressive win by Surrey against a fancied side who collapsed before and after tea for 86/8 in a total of 227. To dismiss a side in basically two sessions with your main strike bowler hors de combat shows this is a side not to be trifled with and markers set down for the season. And to take 13 wickets in just under a day’s play…!

I commend both sides for a reasonable over rate and minimal interruptions for gloves, helmets, pads, drinks, towels, messages from home, and anything else to slow okay down!

The only thing Hampshire got right was winning the toss but then decided to field. Whereas Surrey hardly put a foot wrong. Somerset awaits next week!

Surrey v Hants Day 2 – Lingering like a bad smell?

The day dawned to bright sunshine and news that Root has resigned. Not a surprise as forecast here. The best summaries of his captaincy came a few weeks ago – ‘not a good captain but an unlucky one’ and ‘over the past five years we’ve learnt a lot about batting and little about captaincy’. We are entering a new era.

Meanwhile at a very warm, even hot, Good Friday Oval Surrey, in front of an excellent crowd (who said nobody goes to Championship matches? Promote and play them when people can go, and they will come!) staggered to 400/6 at lunch. In essence 80/3 in that session.

Having set off like a train they became becalmed as if the caffeine had worn off and with scoreboard pressure to score and gain points, wickets fell.

Including Pope for a fine 127. Ok, a lot of his hundreds have been scored here but you cannot erase them from the records. He has class and a fine Test future ahead.

Pope with a fine clip off his legs

The ‘really big’ score which seemed on the cards yesterday will probably not materialise but 400 plus still means 250 plus to save the follow on!

Forward defence from Smith – both ends!
Organ pulls out all the stops in his solitary over!

Last wicket partnerships can be like bad smells; they can hang around for ages and are difficult to get rid of no matter what you try. And so it was for Hampshire.

Surrey plodded along after lunch to 419/9 not really going anywhere but losing wickets. After a circumspect start to the last wicket partnership, Jacks embarked on a range of expansive shots, farmed the bowling well and moved Surrey forward. At one stage Hampshire had nine players on the boundary. It wasn’t the ‘slog it and see’ approach but careful planning and management. Jacks finally went for 72, having added 48 for the last wicket with his partner James Taylor who didn’t score! Surrey 467 ao.

Savage blows by Jacks!
Resolute in defence – James Taylor

And by contrast – this time last week you needed to add layers to keep warm, this week you need to shed layers to keep cool! Mad I know!

Hampshire come out to reply and by tea have somehow got themselves into a bit of a fix! At 71/4 needing 318 to avoid the follow on, they seem unable to master the Surrey bowlers who seem to have found something in the pitch which they couldn’t find. The only difference I can see is the increased cloud cover but up to tea, it’s minimal, and also it doesn’t look as if it’s seaming that much but who knows? After all I’m over 100 yards away!

The pitch is drying out, hot sun, wear and tear and the green tinges are receding. Perhaps the extra pace of Roach and Overton is finding a few players lacking.

Roach – same pose be it in the Caribbean or South London!

Just before tea, Roach pulls up injured and out of the match and who knows how long after.

A mixture of weekday, Saturday, Sunday and closed Northern Line meant an early departure regrettably but it seems that wickets continued to fall. Hampshire playing as if they’d been inserted on a green top? Or couldn’t they get that last wicket partnership out of their minds as it lingered like a bad smell?

Surrey v Hants – a day of delights

The first match of the Oval season sees Hampshire as visitors on what looks – from a distance – a very green, early season pitch which clearly encouraged Vince (Hants captain) to insert Surrey in the hope of quick wickets, drying out under warm Spring sunshine and making batting easier as the match progresses.

How wrong can you be – or so it appears at tea on Day 1. Surrey breezed along to 212/2 – with fifties from Patel, Amla and Pope (the last two still there and close on a hundred partnership). The occasional ball does something, the change bowlers seem to be more successful than the out and out quicks and a number of slack shots all indicate that the pitch is/will be important. Both wickets went to lofted shots!

Classic forward defence from Amla

Interestingly Burns has changed the extent of one or two of his many trigger movements. Not immediately discernible but for seasoned watchers, definite but small changes. Hopefully this will aid his batting after what was a mentally scarring Ashes series for him.

One of the delights of the Oval is the average age of the crowd – lots of younger people (ok, everyone looks young to me) but also families, children and the occasional grandparent! Long may it continue!

And another delight for the spectators is the ability to wander around the outfield at lunch and tea, have the odd impromptu game, ponder the state of the pitch or even just soak up the atmosphere of this iconic ground. It’s a shame that others don’t all follow suit – the ‘orders’ given at Chelmsford could lead you to think the outfield was mined! What do they think spectators are going to do? Plant their early potatoes? So there’s work to be done in places!

By the close we had witnessed a fine century by Ollie Pope – made a change from all those 12th man duties regular readers will recall from recent Windies blogs. He is an elegant player of the highest order and a delight to watch.

Pope against spin
Elegance personified

With three wickets down for over 300 runs, Hampshire seem to have got their strategy a bit wrong today but who’s to say this is not a ‘400 plays 400’ pitch? We’ll have an inkling by this time tomorrow as I suspect Surrey will drive on at speed tomorrow and put Hampshire under pressure – but there will be more delights to come I’m sure!

That’s not something you see every day! Alastair Cook bowling

I reckon it was 2009 that I last saw Alastair Cook bowl in any form of cricket but today broke that spell. One gem of an over to be relished (or ignored!) to help things along and, of course, homage to Bob Willis in the process, but I’m getting ahead of myself!

Homage to Bob Willis
Sir A striving…

It was one of those morning sessions at Chelmsford when you could honestly say that nothing really happened. The pitch is as flat as flat can be; both sides realising that a result is unlikely and so really just spent time doing…not a lot!

The crowd numbers about 300 at best, not really enthralled by the spectacle presented when you could read the paper at leisure, check up on emails, wander around the ground, look up and next to nothing had changed or progressed.

Kent at lunch had added 63 runs in two hours – Cox 27 to his overnight century and totalled 468/5…46 behind. Westley decided not to take the new ball hoping that Lawrence Critchley can wheedle something with the old ball. This is not a great advertisement for county cricket.

Something happened over lunch – a greater sense of purpose shown in the afternoon!

The new ball taken – Porter shared with Lawrence – runs followed as did wickets (the rate of wicket taking is still slow – 17 in the match after 3 days and 3 hours play!). Interestingly, close to a third of Essex overs have been spin and, to date, five of the seven wickets taken. Are Essex missing Harmer? Would he have done better on this track? Who knows but at least Plan B for Essex spin is making progress!

Shane Snater in full flow

By tea, all types and options had been tried but when Jackson Bird can score a 50no at #9 you know something’s not quite right! The pace of the game did quicken after lunch (and especially after the drinks break! Warm enough for drinks? Hmmm…not sure) and Kent breezed along to 581/9 – a lead of 67. With one session left of a maximum of 37 overs and, I reckon, an early finish, the result is certain.

Lawrence’s action – as baffling front on as from behind
And add a tongue for extra effect!

Only Porter was trusted with the 3rd new ball and then only for a short time. Westley tried himself but the highlight had to be Sir A turning his arm over – will we ever see him bowl again? But at least I can say ‘I woz there’. Otherwise it was spin all the way (I’m assuming Sir A was spinning it!)

Eighteen centuries have been scored (so far) in this first round of matches – and five here at Chelmsford – so things aren’t quite right. We need to get better ‘cricket wickets’ as they say; something in the pitch for both bat and ball. Making things too one-sided is not a good idea and when you’re trying to ‘expand your market’ as the ECB cricket ‘experts’ would have us believe then you need a better ‘product’ or is this just part of the ECBs strategy to kill off the county game and by extension tests?

So when you see Sir A having to bowl, you know things aren’t quite right (and you can see why he’s a batter! 🤫)