Ball One – Plunkett does for Dunn and Yorkshire go top
Lancashire fans, perched in an unfamiliar post atop Division One, were willing Surrey’s Number 11, Matthew Dunn, to add another 20 minutes or so to the 20 he had batted in an attempt to scramble a draw, but Liam Plunkett pinned him LBW and Yorkshire resumed their preferred spot in the table for the first time this season. Though Jonny Bairstow (who has developed a taste for the megastand) and Joe Root had the real-time record databases reshuffling almost ball-by-ball during their partnership of 372 for the fourth wicket, the architects of the Tykes’ win were, once again, their potent seam attack. Even without the injured David Willey, Jack Brooks, Steve Patterson and Liam Plunkett had enough to roll Surrey for 207 on the fourth day (though we should note that Joe Root, the cheeky scamp, snared Surrey best two batsmen, Kumar Sangakkara and Steve Davies, in four overs that saw the Londoners go from 138-2 to 151-5). The bad news for the other counties is that only Liam Plunkett of that trio is likely to be called up by England (and only for white ball matches) and, even with Ryan Sidebottom, David Willey, Tim Bresnan and the very promising Matthew Fisher injured, you wouldn’t put it past Jason Gillespie finding a seam-up merchant in the leagues ready do a job. Things just seem to go double champions Yorkshire’s way in Championship cricket – even if this injury mini-crisis might stretch them a little.
Ball Two – Simon Kerrigan delivers under pressure – for Lancashire
Lancashire fans on Twitter enjoyed their couple of hours leading Division One and they won’t be too disappointed to see their team slotted in behind the Champions with a game in hand over all bar Durham, after a second win of the season. And what a win it was, an innings and plenty thumping of Hampshire in unseasonably decent Manchester weather. Though Jimmy Anderson won’t be chipping in with six wickets too many times once the Test matches are underway, Simon Kerrigan’s second innings performance (36-17-59-5) is something that the Red Rose county can expect to see a few more times before the campaign is run. The slow left armer had five fivefers in Lancashire’s 2013 promotion season, but this was his first “Michelle” since then. He’s always been a prolific wicket-taker for his county and, having turned 27 last week, he’ll need to continue that form with Liam Livingstone (in the side primarily for his batting) a handy wrist spinner and white ball specialist Stephen Parry and the developing Arron Lilley, capable alternatives if Ashley Giles fancies a bit of rotation amongst the tweakers.
Ball Three – Toby Roland-Jones adds to his impressive record
Nottinghamshire’s draw with Middlesex put them into third place in the table, but still only 17 points above ninth placed Hampshire, the lack of wins keeping things very tight in Division One. There was so little play, such was the volume of rain on even the fast-draining Lord’s outfield, that few players had time to impress, with Sam Robson’s continuing good form earning him a few mentions in dispatches with the first international squad of the season to be picked. Though Steven Finn was selected for England’s Test squad, he was outbowled by Toby Roland-Jones, who delivered the third seamer’s brief perfectly with figures of 22-2-61-5. That’s not such a surprise to Middlesex fans though, as Roland-Jones enjoys a better average and strike rate and has more fivefers than Finn. Reports were that the 28 year-old was hitting the bat hard, his lack of pace often cited in the past as a reason why he wouldn’t hack it in international cricket. After a winter with the Lions in the UAE, maybe he’s found the 3mph-5mph that can make a difference.
Ball Four – Keith Barker’s bowling has plenty of bite
There were no huge scores at Edgbaston, where the weather was the only victor after innings of 295, 152 and 178 had left Warwickshire two days to make 322 – only for both to be washed out. Warwickshire, as usual, fielded four international bowlers (Boyd Rankin, Rikki Clarke, Chris Woakes and Jeetan Patel) but their star man with the ball was Keith Barker. His left-arm swingers picked up five wickets in the match, making him the joint top wicket-taker in Division One (with new England selection Jake Ball). Having flirted with a football career, Barker is a late starter in cricket – and his ability to get involved in any match with bat or ball, shows how keen he is to make up for lost time. He’s very much a favourite of this column.
Ball Five – David Payne brings the hurt to Kent
With Division Two table-toppers Essex having a week off, Kent came closest to the win that would catapult them out of the chasing pack – with just one promotion place up for grabs, no county wants to be left too far off the leaders even at this stage. When Gloucestershire lost their eighth wicket just 14 runs ahead, defeat looked imminent, but Jack Taylor was doing the number eight thing of top scoring when he needed to with 46* and David Payne at ten hung around for half an hour and the draw was agreed. Where was Martin McCague when Kent needed him?
Ball Six – Joyce blooms but surely the story needs improving
Ed Joyce made 250 at Derby off a home attack in which no bowler could better Tony Palladino’s career average of 29.60. Fair play to the classy Irishman, but even he must be wondering if the balance of bat and ball is right for Division Two, where attacks barely warrant that label. Joyce averages a handy 89, but further up the table, he’ll find Sam Northeast, Moeen Ali, Tom Latham, Chesney Hughes, Brett D’Oliveira (another double centurion last week), Shiv Thakor and Alastair Cook. This is the Division in which 10 of England’s 18 First Class teams will play next year – it needs a lot more going for it in 2017 than it has in 2016.