Ball One – Draws draw little praise
That the match that came closest to a result in Division One was played on a belter at The Oval says something about front-loading Championship matches, or something about the preparation of pitches, or something about this season’s toss regulation, or something about bowlers failing to understand how to dismiss set batsmen. Or maybe about all those factors and more. Whatever it is, just two results in the nine top flight matches played in 2016 is hardly the best preparation for Test cricket, in which the draw is an endangered species. After Kumar Sangakkara’s first day masterclass on blocking the good ball and hitting the bad ball to the boundary, Surrey’s Gareth Batty had to watch as his batsmen got out when set, limiting the second innings strike rate to three an over before he set Somerset an extremely unlikely 292 in 42 overs to win. The players shook hands with the scoreboard showing 122-4 after 35 overs – perhaps a target of 250 in 50 overs might have balanced risk and reward more positively. Both sides stay in the bottom three.
Ball Two – Adil the real deal amongst the all-rounders at Edgbaston
It’s but a nascent Division One table, but who wouldn’t want to be top rather than bottom? Warwickshire’s three draws (and bonus points so earned) sees the Midlanders leading the way after three rounds of matches, Ian Bell’s men’s latest draw coming at home to champions Yorkshire. In a match that included four genuine all-rounders (Adil Rashid, Chris Woakes, Rikki Clarke and Keith Barker – okay, three and a half all-rounders), the Yorkshire leg-spinner shone brightest, walking to the wicket at 187-5 before making 63 progressing his team to the relative comfort of 343-8 on dismissal, then adding 4-127 with ball in hand. As Moeen Ali’s place in England’s Test XI appears to be under constant scrutiny, they’re numbers that will have caught the selectors’ attention – but they will also note an economy rate of above four an over, the boundary balls still too frequent.
Ball Three – Porter carries Essex to the top of Division Two
Essex, who now have two of the three wins this season in Division Two, overpowered Northamptonshire (whose star player of 2015, David Willey, is bizarrely unable to get a game for Yorkshire nor a bash in the IPL), an innings and 92 runs the crushing margin of victory. Five Essex batsmen chipped in with fifties (even extras catching the mood contributing 60) with nobody besting Ravi Bopara’s 76. After losing all but nine overs on Day Two, Ryan ten Doeschate declared before lunch on Day Three and asked his bowlers to take twenty wickets. 111 overs were all that were needed, led by the country’s in-form seamer, Jamie Porter. The 22 year-old has backed up his 50 wickets last season with 22 wickets at 17 this time round, learning from the wise old head at the other end, Graham Napier, who has 19 of his own at the same cost.
Ball Four – Daniel Bell-Drummond starts a crucial season in fine form
Kent have a Robert Key sized hole in their batting order this season, the long time opener swapping his bat for a microphone as his media career takes precedence. That means more responsibility for Daniel Bell-Drummond, a batsman who is often talked about as a possible England international. He won’t have done his chances any harm in making 124 out of Kent’s 264 against (wait for it) in-form Leicestershire. Bell-Drummond is 22 now and you feel this is a big season for him if he is to push on to the next level.
Ball Five – Dent makes his mark with another ton
You won’t hear Chris Dent complaining about easy pitches and popgun attacks as he continued to gorge on the bowling, backing up last week’s 180 with 59 and 138* for Gloucestershire against Worcestershire. Impressive stuff, but not enough to lift him beyond seventh in the Division Two batting averages, 102 beating Bradman but not the likes of Wayne Madsen and Chesney Hughes.
Ball Six – Palladino on parade
Tony Palladino seems to have been around forever, so it was a surprise to find out that he is still only 32 years old. After a spell at Essex (and a significant role in exposing the fixing of Danish Kaneria and Mervyn Westfield), he’s now bustling in for Derbyshire. He will have enjoyed his five wickets in Glamorgan’s first innings and I hope the crowd did too, because there should always be room for a bit of crafty seam up in an English spring. The domestic game has to be more than just a finishing school for internationals with a place for the old-fashioned virtues of line, length and a bit of wobble.