Ball One – Joyce blooms in Spring sunshine
Twenty years ago, Alec Stewart delivered one of the greatest performances by an England batsman, making two hundreds in the Barbados Test. That it was only one such instance in the 177 Tests played between February 1991 and November 1996 shows the difficulty of doubling up on tons; that it lowered West Indies’ colours for the first time in Bridgetown since 1935 shows its value. Ed Joyce did “a Stewart” at Hove to see off a strong Warwickshire side (for whom his old friend from his England days, Ian Bell, made an eye-catching 189*) and send Sussex top of the nascent Division 1 table with a two for two record. Joyce will hope that his international commitments – these days for Ireland – don’t get in the way of another Sussex run at the LVCC Title.
Ball Tw0 – Finn fishing for an England return
Two more ex-England men were in decent form at Lord’s, as Middlesex overwhelmed Nottinghamshire by ten wickets. Steven Finn continued his fine start to the season with another nine wickets to back up the six he took in the first round of matches. He’s going to go for a few but he has genuine pace and will always get wickets – rather like that Mitchell Johnson chap. Eoin Morgan, nearer to The Emirates Stadium than a stadium in the Emirates, having opted for Indian tea at 4.20 rather than Indian T20 this season, also chipped in with decent runs for the Londoners. But it was Aussie born, England qualified opener, Sam Robson, who pressed his case most strongly with over 200 runs in the match for just once out. Having broken through in 2011 and arrested a 2012 dip in form with a strong 2013, the question Robson has posed for the new Peter Moores regime is, “If not now, when?”
Ball Three – Northamptonshire cling on for the draw as they start their trek through Division 1’s fixtures
Two draws rounded off the Division 1 matches – though, with just 24 wickets falling for nearly 1200 runs scored, the pitch could claim the win as usual at Taunton. Things were different at Wantage Road, where newly promoted Northamptonshire were pretty much hanging on to Champions Durham for four solid days, never more so than in the final nine overs, batted out by a watchful Rob Newton and Number 11, Azharullah. The home side will have to show plenty of that sort of fight to survive in the top flight and the away side will need to close out winning positions if they are to fly to the top again.
Ball Four – Essex veterans counter-punch their way to the win
Things looked bleak for Essex at the end of the first day of their match against Derbyshire – bundled out for double figures by early afternoon, they trailed by 45 runs by the close and had a well set Shiv Chanderpaul to look forward to come the re-start. But the old double act of David Masters and Graham Napier simply got rid of the other five batsmen for just 15 more runs on Monday morning, to allow Alastair Cook to dig in for a seven hour 181. Late order biffs from Tim Groenewald threatened an unlikely win for the away side, before James Foster stumped him off the bowling of Monty Panesar to secure a 53 run “off the canvas” win for his team.
Ball Five – A pippin of a performance from Ben Cox makes him the apple of Worcestershire eyes
After first innings of 224 and 229, honours were even at Worcester, so when Doug Bollinger’s three wickets had helped send back half of Kent’s batting in the second dig, Rob Key must have felt the whiff of a rare victory in the air. Ben Cox, the 22 year old Worcestershire keeper whose career has already had plenty of ups and downs since his schoolboy debut, got stuck in to be last man out, just 11 short of a deserved maiden century. As so often happens when a side are on the end of a fearless counter-attack from a Number 7, the stuffing appeared to have been knocked out of Kent who slid away for 140, losing by 125 runs.
Ball Six – Hampshire go top while Gloucestershire introduce a famous name
With centuries from James Vince and Michael Carberry and six wickets for South African Test bowler, Kyle Abbott and six more for the experienced James Tomlinson, Hampshire had far too much for Gloucestershire at Bristol. There was one bright spark for the West Country men – a debut century for Will Tavare, nephew of Chris. Even if the 24 year-old is not at Kent, it’s another dynasty associated with the county of the Cowdreys and Dean Headley. Back in April 2014, Hampshire are top of Division 2 and Gloucestershire a point off the bottom – where I suspect both counties may finish come September.
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