County cricket talking points: Essex, Somerset and Derbyshire set the pace

County cricket talking points: Essex, Somerset and Derbyshire set the pace

Ball one: Derbyshire lead the race in the north

For a phrase that is synonymous with clarity of vision, there’s little about 2020 that one could see coming – not least Derbyshire blazing a trail at the top of the Bob Willis Trophy North Group.

Having despatched poor old Nottinghamshire last week, Leicestershire were cleaned up by nine wickets in another excellent team performance. When you play a lot of 30-somethings (that is, players who average 30-odd or thereabouts with bat and ball) it helps if two or three have a good match at the same time. Their opener, Luis Reece, set the foundation for a strong first innings, posting a 107-run partnership for the second wicket, with centurion Wayne Madsen having already chipped in with three wickets. Then Matt Critchley, at 23 still on his way to becoming a 30-something man, spun his leg-breaks from fourth change to bag six wickets and ensure Derbyshire’s second innings was a formality.

Ball two: Jordan exacts high price for Notts’ lack of confidence

Yorkshire trailed by 96 runs on first innings and collapsed from 240-5 to 278 all out in the second dig to leave their opponents a highly gettable 188 in plenty of time. But those batsmen happened to be the less than merry men of Nottingham, and, 30 overs later, Yorkshire had stolen the points and smuggled them over the county line to the Broad Acres.

Jordan Thompson made 98 and 53, without which even Notts would surely have won and also helped himself to four wickets. With England’s David Willey carrying the drinks and hand sanitiser, competition for an all-rounder’s spot in the White Rose XI is fierce, but the Leeds-born Tyke has probably done enough to keep his spot for the next match, the top-of-the-table clash with Derbyshire that may go a long way to deciding the group.

Ball three: Surrey’s season harmed by the Essex machine

In the South Group, Essex (the anti-Notts) lead the way after another masterclass from Simon Harmer. Playing through an injury, the most valuable player in county cricket warmed up with 31.3–11–67–6 and closed the deal with 31.4–15–64–8 to become the first bowler since “Deadly” Derek Underwood to register three hauls of 14 wickets or more in England – and without uncovered pitches to assist.

That kind of performance would be a challenge for a full-strength Surrey, but it proved far too much for a somewhat callow Surrey XI, depleted by England calls and injuries. Having lost their first two matches, Surrey have little to play for, so they may well give more chances to emerging talents like Jamie Smith and Amar Virdi. Essex, as they do, march on.

Ball four: Cox gives Sussex the pip

Kent annihilated Sussex with one of those scorecards that looks more 1920 than 2020. Replying to a perfectly respectable 332, the Bob Willis Trophy rules saved the visitors from further punishment at Canterbury with the scoreboard having whirred round to 530-1 off the 120 overs maximum allocation.

In a good week for Jordans (what would Fred and Trevor make of a phrase like that) Cox of that name made 238* and Jack Leaning, no doubt reflecting that his close-season move from Yorkshire was paying off, trotted off with his score on 220*. The partnership was worth 423 and, were this a County Championship match without restrictions, who knows how many more they could have added. Even so, among many records broken, my favourite was the highest stand for Kent against Sussex, passing the 249 of George Hearne and Frank Marchant. Not that they’ll be too concerned, gone for 88 and 74 years respectively now.

Having endured that ordeal in the sun, probably the last sight (with the possible exception of an angry Sylvester Clarke) a batsman would want to see is Darren Stevens, refreshed after a day with his feet up, wobbling it a bit this way and a bit that. Five wickets for the 44-year-old and Sussex had some respite – if not many points.

Ball five: Overtons in overdrive

No need for the cold flannels at Wantage Road, where Somerset leapt to the top of the Central Group with a two-day win over hapless Northamptonshire.

Both innings for the visitors benefited from some long-handle stuff from the tail, with each Overton twin registering a second innings half-century to go with Craig’s 4-12 in the host’s first innings and Jamie’s 4-26 in the second. A niche statistical twins’ feat last achieved by the equally identical Bedsers for Surrey in 1951. Could this be Somerset’s year at last – just when there’s no County Championship at stake?

Ball six: Leach delays declaration and sucks life out of match

In a truncated tournament like this, wins matter – not least because topping the group isn’t enough if you have fewer points than the other two group winners. Eight positive results from nine matches played in this round suggests that captains have worked out that positive cricket is the way to go.

Except Joe Leach, whose Worcestershire side had bossed the game after Jake Libby and Brett D’Oliveira had piled up 318 for the fourth wicket, the home side’s first innings closing on 455-8. Despite Billy Root’s century in reply, Glamorgan were still 81 down on first innings and 179 in deficit going into the last day.

Leach inexplicably used 37 precious overs extending the Glamorgan target to a notional 358 before having a bowl. Fifty overs later, thanks largely to captain Chris Cooke, the visitors returned to the principality with a draw, seven down.

Maybe Leach can see something I’m missing, and the 15 points won does put them second in the group behind Somerset, but, looking more widely, they have fewer points than Essex, Yorkshire and Derbyshire in the race for one of the two spots in the final. Had they given themselves 10 more overs to bowl at a cost of the 60 runs they yielded, they might have snaffled those three wickets and topped the Central Group with the most points in the country. Time will tell if Leach got the balance right.

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