Ball One – The County Championship arrives with a murmur
Shuffling into view, nodding towards its sensible big brother, Test cricket (England in the Caribbean on Sky), and averting its gaze just a little from its blinged up little brother (the IPL in India, on television, online and possibly beamed into space should there be potential Pepsi customers on the ISS) comes the County Championship, the Champo to its friends, the 50s style nickname suiting it well. As usual, the Champo was met with indifference from those distracted by more immediately appealing fare, but for those to whom it matters, the feeling engendered by its arrival was something more akin to love. Somehow it’s still here and will be until September – so let’s cherish it while we still can.
Ball Two – Is Yorkshire’s seam attack better than England’s?
Six Yorkshiremen are with England, so that left the Champions’ ranks depleted for the opening fixture of their defence, a potential banana skin away at newly promoted Worcestershire (whose own England man, Moeen Ali was available for selection and played). No matter. Jason Gillespie’s men steamrollered their way to a three day victory to top the first published table of the season. As was so often the case in 2014, a classy and experienced attack claimed twenty wickets, all falling to seamers. Which raises the question of who has the better attack: England or Yorkshire? For a one-off match played right now, it’s a tight call, as the first class wickets and averages suggest. England: Anderson 668 at 27; Broad 481 at 28 ; Jordan 203 at 32; Stokes 162 at 29. Yorkshire: Sidebottom 666 at 25; Brooks 244 at 27; Bresnan 405 at 31; Patterson 241 at 28. And Dizzy knows a thing or two about seam bowling, so the Tykes will only get better.
Ball Three – Colly rounds up wickets and runs to shepherd his team to the win
The other northeastern powerhouse of the domestic game also delivered a win inside three days, Durham making the long trip to Taunton pay with a 23 points haul. Things weren’t going Durham’s way with Somerset winning the toss and reaching 224-2 by mid-afternoon, but that was just the cue that Paul Collingwood needed to swap his Brigadier Block moniker for Brigadier Blockhole, as he shot out the next five batsmen with just 42 runs added to Somerset’s score (three LBWs and one bowled). He then showed that being a month off celebrating a 39th birthday and coming off a Spring spent coaching Scotland hadn’t harmed his batting either, a fluent century giving his team an 81 run lead that proved enough to force the win. If Durham can keep Graham Onions, John Hastings, Chris Rushworth and the captain himself on the field, they won’t lack for the nous required to take twenty wickets in conditions that vary all the way from April’s bright chill to September’s mellow fruitfulness.
Ball Four – Luke Wright gets in and gets on with it
The South of England fought back on day four of the opening round of Division One matches with Sussex wrapping up a 92 runs win over Hampshire at The Rose Bowl. Top scorer in the match was Luke Wright, now nudging past 30 in years and 40 in first class average runs. I was surprised to find that he had accumulated over 100 appearances for England in white ball cricket to go with plenty of franchise hit and giggle around the globe. He has also proved an informative and relaxed presence at the radio microphone, so Mr Wright is not short of suitors for his services. Down at Hove though, they’ll hope that he has a few years left as a game-changing Number 6, as his two knocks in this match (coming in at 92-4 and 55-4) showed. You’re a long time retired, so play as often as you can while you are able is the best advice this column has the Sussex smiter.
Ball Five – James Harris has time to revive his career as a seam bowling Number 8
A day or two before Jason Holder stood firm against England, a player sharing the same initials and role in his team repelled everything Nottinghamshire’s bowlers could throw at him to secure the draw for Middlesex. James Harris seems to have been around for years, but he’s not 25 yet, over a year younger than Chris Woakes or Chris Jordan. 46 wickets at a tick under 40 for Middlesex does not compare well with his Glamorgan return of 209 wickets at 27, but little endears a bowler to a dressing room like batting over two hours to salvage a draw, so it might just be a new season and a new start for a man who should be coming into his prime as a cricketer.
Ball Six – Willey to come again in 2015?
Another player looking to show his true colours after a disappointing 2014 is David Willey, another lively seamer plenty capable of batting in the important Number 8 slot. He wasted no time with bat in hand, smashing 62 and 104 not out, both knocks coming at better than a run a ball, as Northants scored over half their match runs after the fall of the sixth wicket. His four first innings wickets showed Willey’s capacity to be the kind of three dimensional cricketer who can thrive in white ball formats and (perhaps) the kind of cricketer that England should throw into the pajama games as they seek to catch up with the team whose Man of the Match in the World Cup Final was another aggressive leftie who bats and bowls – Australia’s James Faulkner.
The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket appears every weekend over the season looking for the stories a notch below the headlines.