England's finest back on duty
This last week saw a return to County action for many of England's contracted players ahead of the Sri Lanka series that gets underway on May 26 at Cardiff.
Ian Bell, Jon Trott, Graeme Swann, Stuart Broad, Matt Prior, Chris Tremlett, and Tim Bresnan all donned their County colours in the past week following a well earned rest from their winter exertions, and will no doubt be glad to get over some early season rustiness that has been evident in their performances at this stage. Even Kevin Pietersen has managed an outing for Surrey in a first-class game against Cambridge MCCU.
There were few imposing performances by England's elite, in four innings each neither Bell or Trott managed to recapture their dominance we came to rather enjoy in Australia, Trott's 39 against Lancashire the highest score either could muster. Swann and Broad had to suffer a heavy defeat at Sussex by nine wickets, whose side included England keeper Prior. Chris Tremlett enjoyed the bounce back at the Oval against Leicestershire but it was his team-mates Stuart Meaker and Jade Dernbach that did much of the damage to the visitiors claiming eight wickets and seven wickets in the match respectively.
Tim Bresnan was probably the star performer of the returning England players, unfortunately he suffered a recurrence of the calf injury he picked up in Australia and will miss the Sri Lanka series. Yorkshire were 143-6 when he made his way to the middle against Hampshire, and 313-8 when he made his way back, a patient 87 demonstrated his value as a lower order batsman. His bowling was equally disciplined taking 2-41 off 22 overs in the first innings and 3-18 off ten in the second.
Pietersen once again had his problems highlighted by a slow left-armer, this time it was student Zafar Ansari that induced an edge to slip in the first innings after KP reached 30, he made a further 48 in the second innings avoiding the left-arm pitfalls on this occasion.
County Championship Round-Up - Division One
In the latest round of County Championship fixtures, Sussex played some excellent cricket to deal a blow to Nottinghamshire's title aspirations in a game covered by Sky Sports. A score of 304 by Sussex, who had won the toss and batted, seemed a touch under-par on a wicket with a hint of variable bounce but with the necessary application a batsman could enjoy the quick outfield and very pleasant weather conditions. Chris Nash did just that, blazing away to all areas of the ground, but once again missing out on a hundred when he looked certain to register his tenth first-class ton.
Broad and Swann bowled generally good areas, even if Broad seemed to be bowling a little within himself, maybe understandably so after his recent injury problems. Yet it was the consistency of the Sussex attack that really impressed, James Anyon really caught the eye taking eight wickets in the match, Monty Panesar kept a lid on things very effectively with Rana Naved and Amjad Khan running in admirably. Notts made a better fist of it when following on, thanks to Andre Adams in a typically belligerent mood giving Notts a total to defend. Sussex, however, made very light work of the 184 run target, Ed Joyce led the way with 88 not out to complete a very satisfying nine wicket victory for the home side.
Pakistan's classy batsman Mohammad Yousuf showed what his national side failed to demonstrate in their recent Test defeat to West Indies, by applying himself in conditions not conducive to batting and increasingly dangerous as the game progressed. A century in the first innings and 68 in the second meant Worcestershire's target was a stiff 328 to win in the final innings. They capitulated to 109 all out as Warwickshire eased home, although the hosts have received an eight-point penalty due to the state of the pitch, something that the injured Worcester batsmen will not disagree with. Regardless of the pitch issue, Worcestershire have now lost five Championship games out of five with Warwickshire moving up to third.
Yorkshire could not manage to force a victory against Hampshire with a draw leaving both sides in the bottom three. Tim Bresnan limped off when Hampshire seemed to be heading for defeat, but Kabir Ali and Danny Briggs showed resillience in batting out the final 13.4 overs.
Durham and Somerset couldn't be separated either at the Riverside despite Durham being forced to follow-on. Nick Compton registered his highest first-class score of 254 not out and Marcus Trescothick made a welcome return to top form stroking 144. Durham made 237 in their first effort but made a much better fist of things second time round, and were 489-6 when the skipper's shook hands. The reliable Michael Di Venuto made his 59th first-class hundred, and Ben Stokes made his second century of the campaign scoring 120 off 136 balls.
County Championship - Division Two
Glamorgan needed just three days to hand out Kent's fourth successive Championship defeat. Kent have a number of injury problems which has left them without the likes of Joe Denly, Robbie Joseph, Simon Cook, and Azhar Mahmood, and have integral players in the side lacking anything like their best form. Glamorgan still had to perform well to win, and they duly obliged with a very good all-round team performance with a number of players contributing to an innings victory. Ben Wright, the young middle order batsman, impressed again notching up his third half century of the season.
Northants thumped Gloucester by an innings to go top of the table despite Will Gidman's best efforts. He scored his maiden first-class century in the first innings, an unbeaten 116 and then proved difficult to remove again in the second innings scoring 81 not out.
There was a tense finish at Derby as the home side were foiled by the rain in a contest where neither team could quite manage to gain the initiative for a long enough period to dominate. Essex hit back from a disappointing first innings, they are having real problems in finding consistency with the bat, to wipe out the 109 run deficit and set Derbyshire 223 to win. At 118-5 the home side were in real trouble, David Masters removing the top three, before Wes Durston took the game by the scruff of the neck and took them to 202-6 before the weather intervened. Durston finished on 90 not out.
England tormentor joins Gloucester
Kevin O'Brien, the man that dealt England an embarassing blow in the World Cup for Ireland, has been signed for the rest of the season by Gloucester. John Bracewell has swooped for the powerful hitter with the main aim of O'Brien having an impact in the shorter forms of the game. His exciting strokeplay is his main strength, yet he can also deliver some useful medium pace.
His debut didn't exactly go to plan, he was cleaned up by the in-form Dean Cosker for just three in a CB40 game against Glamorgan which Gloucester lost by four wickets.
Morris leaves Derby during game
Derby head coach, John Morris, and his assistant, Andy Brown, have both been relieved of their duties with immediate effect during their Championship game against Essex.
On the face of it, it looked harsh. Derby have been competitive in the Championship, a thumping victory against Leicester the highlight so far, they're currently second in Group A of the Clydesdale Bank 40-over competition, and the players Morris brought in over the winter and have all enjoyed some instant success. Tony Palladino has formed a very useful new ball partnership with Tim Groenewald, Luke Sutton has led the side well including some useful middle order runs, overseas signing Usman Khawaja while he is still finding his feet has displayed enough quality for hope in the very near future, Azeem Rafiq has bolstered the slow bowling options since his loan move from Yorkshire, with Mark Turner offering some extra pace. All this has been done on a very limited budget.
So when it came to light that maybe it was the players that were not over-enamoured with his coaching style, the decision the committee reached has become easier to understand. If the players no longer enjoyed working with Morris then maybe this was the only way.
It appears that no immediate replacement will be named, Luke Sutton along with academy director Karl Krikken, bowling coach Steffan Jones and committee member Tony Borrington will look after the first-team affairs for the rest of the season. A high profile appointment is not out of the question in the long-term.
England Lions name squad to face Sri Lanka
There were few surprises in the 12-man squad selected for the England Lions game against Sri Lanka starting on Thursday (19th May). James Hildreth who led the side well over the winter in Caribbean domestic four-day competition retains his place as the captain, and it seems there is a straight shoot-out behind Ravi Bopara and Eoin Morgan for the vacant slot in the England Test team, although Andy Flower will no doubt have a very good idea already of who is going to fill the void left by Paul Collingwood. Bopara did his own chances no harm with his second Championship century in successvie matches this time at Derby.
Samit Patel has the opportunity to show what he could bring to the national side, presumably now the England management are satisfied with his levels of fitness. It will be good to see Graham Onions back on England duty, but two men that haven't made it due to injuries are Craig Kieswetter and Chris Woakes.
England Lions squad -
James Hildreth (capt), Jimmy Adams, Jonny Bairstow, Danny Briggs, Ravi Bopara, Jade Dernbach, Steven Finn, Eoin Morgan, Graham Onions, Samit Patel, Ajmal Shahzad, James Taylor
Northants mid-lower order continues to flourish
Many sides only dream of having their top order in the kind of form that the Northants numbers six, seven, and eight are in right now. Captain Andrew Hall is the man leading by example, he has made 456 runs at 91.20. Following him is Irish keeper-batsman Niall O'Brien who has already accumulated 417 runs at 83.40, then when they are through those two they have James Middlebrook, who like Hall has scored two hundred's already this season in compiling his 334 runs, averaging 83.50.
This is part of the very reason Northants remain unbeaten in the CC, and in also in the CB40, yet they are being backed up by a hard working bowling attack.
It is just aswell they are scoring so heavily as Mal Loye, Stephen Peters and David Sales all average below 30, well below in Sales case.
Good to see Napier back
Graham Napier's 2010 season was ruined by back problems, so it was a delight to see him back in full flight during the recently abandoned Clydesdale Bank 40-over game against Glamorgan. Napier is a player I believe that has been unfortunate to be overlooked for England limited-overs sides in the past, especially in the shortest form where at one point he was the leading T20 wicket-taker in the world.
Essex are understandably more cautious in using Napier in the County Championship, but he is supposedly close to selection for first-class cricket (he is currently playing against Surrey in the County Championship and has blasted 150 not out off 117 deliveries including nine sixes, at lunch on day two). Against Glamorgan last Friday, Napier displayed all his abilities with the ball, and showed how important an impact player he is. As Glamorgan were progressing serenely at 116-0, Napier took the outside edge of an ambitiously advancing Gareth Rees, before delivering two almost unplayable inswingers at over 90mph to trap both Jim Allenby and Stewart Walters plumb in front.
Napier is the kind of player that makes things happen, either with the ball in his hand, or less frequently when he is flogging the bowling to all parts of the ground. At 31, his time for international recognition may have passed him by, but Essex will certainly be pleased to have him back in their ranks.