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Records Tumble as Runfests All End in Draws

The second round of the Vitality County Championship saw some heavy scoring, as the batters made the most of facing the Kookaburra ball. Sadly, on the final day, the weather turned and some intriguingly balanced matches petered out in draws. Essex were the only side to win in the first round of fixtures, and they welcomed Kent to Chelmsford and chose to bat. Dean Elgar made his maiden century for his new county before Matt Critchley produced a career-best 151 not out as the hosts piled up a hefty 530 for seven declared in just 112 overs. Making his debut, Jaydn Denly (nephew of Joe) took the wicket of Simon Harmer.


A 224 second-wicket partnership between Ben Compton (165, his highest Championship score, batting for almost eight and a half hours) and Daniel Bell-Drummond (135) seemed to have set up Kent for an equally useful reply, but Critchley followed up his century with five for 105, his best figures for the county, and they were all out for 413. An 85-ball century (brought up with a six) for Jordan Cox helped set up a declaration on 257 for four, leaving Kent to chase 375. For once Simon Harmer could not deliver the last-day wickets required, and an interrupted final day’s play meant Kent were able to finish on 164 for seven, with Jaydn Denly unbeaten on 41 off 128 balls, having batted for nearly 20 overs with Nathan Gilchrist to avoid defeat.


At The Oval, Surrey fielded a side featuring nine internationals and they asked Somerset to bat. Matt Renshaw (87) and Tom Lammonby (100) added 178 for the second wicket, but with the dismissal of Renshaw everything fell apart, only Lewis Gregory providing any resistance as they were all out for 285, Cameron Steel taking four for 50. Dom Sibley made a typically steady century (100), but with contributions throughout the order the hosts reached 428 in reply, despite Kasey Aldridge’s five for 64. Somerset ground out the overs in their second innings, Gregory taking 256 minutes for his 80, the top score as his side made 351 in 124.4 overs. Steel took five for 96, his second five-wicket haul of the summer. Surrey were left with 19 overs to chase 209, and had reached 90 without loss after eight had been bowled, but then a flurry of wickets led to the match ending as a draw, with Surrey on 123 for five.


Hampshire chose to bat first at the Rose Bowl and made a solid-enough 367, Liam Dawson top-scoring with 86. Skipper Keaton Jennings led the way in Lancashire’s reply, scoring 172, while George Bell recorded his highest score (99), but fell agonisingly short of a century when he was run out. The Red Rose’s reply of 484 gave them a useful lead of 117. An abbreviated final day saw Hampshire reach 179 for four and the safety of a draw.


Nottinghamshire won the toss at Trent Bridge and batted. Joe Clarke (105) made his second century of the summer and Calvin Harrison scored his maiden half-century (52) as the hosts reached 399 all out. Rob Jones’s 90 was the top score for Worcestershire, who still got up to 355 in reply to keep things in the balance, while Harrison continued to enjoy his match, taking five for 128 (his first five-wicket haul). At 125 for one, the home side seemed to be cruising towards a declaration, but they then lost six wickets for just 19 runs as Nathan Smith rattled through their batting line-up and they finished the day on 151 for seven. The final day was washed out.


At Edgbaston, memories inevitably went back almost exactly 30 years to Brian Lara’s famous 501 not out as Durham chose to field, only to watch Warwickshire make the second highest score in their history, 698 for three declared, in just 134 overs. Skipper Alex Davies led the way with a career-best 256, adding 343 for the first wicket with Rob Yates (191); the second-wicket partnership of 219 with Will Rhodes (178 not out) saw them past 550 for the loss of just one wicket. Callum Parkinson was the bowler to suffer the most, going for 206 runs off 40 overs. Alex Lees continued his form of 2023 with 145, while five other batters passed 40, but a score of 517 wasn’t enough for Durham to avoid the follow-on. Yates was the surprise bowling success, his off-breaks picking up a career-best four for 137. It wasn’t the last surprise of the match, as Durham went into the final day on 12 for two, with Matthew Potts as nightwatchman. The England bowler went on to make his maiden century, finishing unbeaten on 149 off 254 balls, seeing his side to safety as Durham ended up on 293 for six.


With ten games played in the First Division so far, the rain and the Kookaburra ball have left us with one win and nine draws. In the round as a whole, 5994 runs were scored for the loss of 133 wickets, an average of 45.06.


But that’s still one more win than in the Second Division so far. Probably the nearest we came to a decisive result was at Bristol where Yorkshire were put in to bat. Shan Masood hit a brisk 140 to push his side up to 326 all out. Zaman Akhter enjoyed himself taking a career-best five for 89, with Joe Root and Harry Brook among his victims. The hosts made only 263 in reply, before Yorkshire piled on the pressure by scoring 434 for six declared in just 82 overs. Adam Lyth set the tone with 113, and there were fifties from the two current England stars, too. A daunting target of 498 always looked to be beyond Gloucestershire, but when they finished the third day on 97 for four, the main question was when defeat would come. But instead Oliver Price (with a career-best 147) and James Bracey (102) put on 199 for the fifth wicket. Ben Charlesworth and Graeme van Buuren held out for 29 overs to see their side to safety, finishing on 405 for six, thus setting a new record score for the county in the fourth innings, beating the 392 for four they’d made against the same opponents as long ago as 1948.


A final day wash-out at Northampton ensured what was sure to have been a draw anyway. The hosts were put in to bat by Middlesex, and Emilio Gay responded with a career high of 261 in 401 balls, finally falling when he was run out. James Sales also set a new personal best, making 113, his maiden century. This made him only the second father-and-son pairing to have scored hundreds for the county, emulating the feat of his father David and joining Peter and David Willey. Northamptonshire declared on 552 for six. That score was soon put into context by Middlesex’s reply. Highly rated debutant Nathan Fernandes opened the batting, and will have dreamed of a scenario like this as he went to 103. He became only the second Middlesex batter in history to make a century on his first-class debut, that debut happening in the County Championship. His predecessor was Alan Fairbairn, back in 1947, who was also a British amateur squash champion. After Fernandes was out, Max Holden and Leus du Plooy (196 not out) added an unbeaten 350 for the third wicket, with Holden scoring a career-best 211 not out. For Raphael Weatherall these weren’t the ideal conditions for a bowler to make his debut, but he did dismiss Mark Stoneman for 12 as Middlesex finished on 553 for two.


At Grace Road, Leicestershire were put in to bat by Sussex, and Fynn Hudson-Prentice responded with the best figures of his career, taking five for 50, as the hosts were dismissed for 338. Tom Haines started the reply with his second century of the summer (108), before new skipper John Simpson made 205 not out, the highest score of his career. Danny Lamb caught the bug, hitting seven sixes on the way to his own personal best of 134. Sussex’s total of 694 for nine declared was the third highest in their history. Leicestershire had 24 overs plus the final day to bat out, but rain washed out the fourth day and they finished on 86 for one.


Finally, at Cardiff Derbyshire chose to field first and were rewarded when Glamorgan were bowled out for just 237, Alex Thomson taking a career-best seven for 65. That ended up being more than enough when the visitors were dismissed for 198. At 136 for six in Glamorgan’s second innings, this looked like being a rare low-scoring match, until Chris Cooke hit back with an unbeaten 126 to see his side up to 361 for seven declared. Thomson took a further five wickets to give himself match figures of 12 for 201. Set a target of 401, Derbyshire might have got close had they pushed harder, but the game ambled to a draw with the score on 225 for three.


In the four matches in the division, 4672 runs were scored for the loss of just 90 wickets, an average of 51.91. Overall, that makes 10,666 runs scored this week and 223 wickets taken, at an average of 47.82. It was only the third time in history that all nine games in a round of Championship fixtures had been drawn, both previous occasions happening in September (1994 and 2019). Yet again, a change in how the season is organised has resulted in outcomes that haven’t really benefited the game as a whole, though the batters will certainly be enjoying the opportunity to enhance their averages. While the idea of making bowlers have to work harder for their wickets is well-intentioned, the outcome hasn’t been great. In my blog earlier in the month (‘Championship Run Rates’), I showed how bowlers in the First Division were averaging 30.78 in 2022 and 28.90 in 2023; this week in the First Division batters averaged 45.06, so the bowlers’ figures will be even worse when run outs are taken into consideration.