Ball One – Every county should start day one on a level playing field
So – eight teams in the top flight, ten teams in the lower: but 14 matches for each. Durham, having finished fourth in Division One last season, start this season in Division Two on -48 points with Leicestershire on -16 points, a penalty prompted by an offence committed in a university match. This just isn’t acceptable. The game is complicated enough – it’s one reason why we love it – but how is anyone, casual observer or avid fan. supposed to keep up with it all? Durham deserved some punishment (and, by God, did they get it) and Leicestershire’s disciplinary rap sheet is deeply unimpressive, but points should be won and lost on the field by scoring runs and taking wickets. You don’t have to employ the imagination of the Marquis de Sade to find sanctions that retain sporting competitions’ fundamental integrity. But, you know, county cricket eh? Never easy is it?
Ball Two – Mark Footitt has Warwickshire hopping mad
Moneybags Surrey sit atop of the nascent Division One table having first swept aside Warwickshire and then, eventually, pushed them off the field, the Midlanders making a much better fist of things having been invited to follow-on. While wor new kid in town, Mark Stoneman, got his feet under the table with 165, members at The Oval will be even more encouraged by Mark Footitt’s 6-14 first innings whirlwind, which included ex-England men, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell and Rikki Clarke all for ducks. That’s the kind of firepower that wins red ball matches – something that won’t be lost on England’s selectors, even if Footitt is older than Stuart Broad.
Ball Three – Kyle Abbott acquires the wicket-taking habit early for Hampshire
Yorkshire began life without Jason Gillespsie with defeat in yet another tremendous cricket match involving the White Rose men. After new captain, Gary Ballance had anchored the Tykes’ first innings with a splendid 120, seamer Ben Coad, stepped up from Second XI cricket to take 6-37 as the home side secured a first innings lead of 132. Hampshire hurtled back into the match with South African pacer, Kyle Abbott’s 7-41 giving his batsman a gettable, if distant, target of 320 for the win. In an old school chase, Hampshire’s batsmen got their heads down and wore down an attack missing the pace of Liam Plunkett and the craft of Jack Brooks. 101 overs later, the scoreboard showing the highest total of the match, with seven batsmen notching scores between 30* and 72, Hampshire had the job done and left new coach, Andrew Gale, facing an even trickier season than he might have expected.
Ball Four – Have Essex found a crock of gold in DW Lawrence?
While all the pre-match chatter focused on Haseeb Hameed and Jimmy Anderson, Lancashire’s visit to Chelmsford highlighted two more players who may well go through that awkward cap awarding ceremony before long. Alex Davies was attracting rave notices from fine judges last season before injury curtailed his progress in late May. Having taken five catches in Essex’s first innings, he switched pads and gloves and marched straight out to bat six hours for 140* – at 22 years of age taking responsibility to open and keep for the county of his birth. Dan Lawrence, even younger than Davies, then batted even longer, his undefeated seven hours vigil (ensuring that Jimmy Anderson went wicketless) enough to secure a very hard fought draw for the home side. For a teenager to start the final day of a Division One match with the prospect of batting all day for a draw and then deliver – well, that’s the kind of fortitude displayed a generation or so ago by another Essex man, Alastair Cook.
Ball Five – Swift defeat for Welshmen as Northants make a roaring start
Two days into the new season and Glamorgan were already licking their wounds after running into South African Rory Kleinveldt, who channeled the spirit of Lance Klusener in taking six wickets and blasting 86 from 58 balls in a match in which only one other batsman crossed 50. Opponents will be wary of Northamptonshire’s two African heavy hitters in a late middle order full of counter-attacking potential, with Kleinveldt joined by fellow Saffer salad dodger, Richard Levi. “On your toes for the run out lads” will be heard plenty of times with those two in partnership. This won’t be the last time they streamroller a side at Wantage Road.
Ball Six – Stuart Broad and James Pattinson turn Leicestershire’s hopes to ashes
Nottinghamshire soon followed Northants to the top of 2017’s first table, sweeping aside forlorn Leicestershire by ten wickets. Stuart Broad and James Pattinson (a notch or two – or ten – above Division Two standard) predictably took the lion’s share of the wickets, with 12 between them, but they also chipped in with useful runs. When Broad knows that he won’t get one up the hooter, he’s a dangerous customer and Pattinson’s batting is improving by the day, his last knock (80) proving vital to Victoria’s lifting of the Sheffield Shield. The “Rice and Hadlee de nos jours”? Maybe not, since they won’t play too many games together, but cricket fans should enjoy two high class operators playing domestic red ball cricket when we can.