Northamptonshire v Kent, County Ground, County Championship, 12th April
Leicestershire v Loughborough MCCU, Loughborough, 14th April
Well, here we are on the 15th of April with – for most counties – a ninth of the County Championship over already. By the end of May half of it will be gone.
I had been a little concerned that the drought might mean a lack of traditional “early season conditions“, but I needn’t have worried. Almost every game so far has been low scoring and mostly over in three days. Any side with a decent brace or two of seamers and the nous to take advantage should still be in contention come the traditional mid-season break, even if their batting is a little fragile.
Leicestershire, as we’ve seen, have been quick off the mark, but Northants still seem half asleep. Having lost their first game, they faced Kent on a morning when one would have thought that their seamers – Vaas, Brooks and the underrated Daggett – would have been straining at the leash to bowl. Acting Captain Sales, however, chose to bat. It was a day when, as they say, no batsman really looked comfortable (I don’t think anyone was comfortable for very long, as it was freezing) and they’d been bowled out for 132 by tea time.
After last season’s poor showing, Kent have refreshed their squad by importing Scott Newman from Middlesex, Ben Harmison and Mark Davies from Durham and Charlie Shreck from Nottinghamshire. I suppose this is the other side of the trend for talented young players to transfer to First Division clubs – players who are slightly past their best or who haven’t quite made it sliding down to Division 2. Although Davies, Shreck and ex-Fox Stevens picked up wickets, the main damage was done by home-grown 22-year-old Matt Coles.
I doubt whether Northants’ batting would have been troubled by this attack in the post-T20 dusty dog days of August, but by then – at this rate – it could well be too late.
It’s still the stage of the season when my mind is still focussed on the cricket, and – with so many wickets falling – there isn’t as much time as usual for the mind to wander, but I was pleased to see that Northants remains the only ground – to my knowledge – where a selection of eggs (hens’, ducks’ and – although they’re not pictured here – goose eggs) are on sale outside the Supporters’ Club bookshop –
I had been intending to return to Wantage Road on Saturday for what should have been the third day, but it was fairly clearly that Northants wouldn’t be holding out for long enough to allow me to sample one of their much-improved pies for lunch, so I made it up to Loughborough to watch the MMCU take on Leicestershire.
For some reason, the ECB have decided that only the first two of the Universities’ games against the counties should qualify as First Class this year (if this rule were applied retrospectively, two of Leicestershire’s record wicket partnerships would be expunged from the records) but there was not, in the event, much boot-filling to be had, even against the students.
Thanks to those dreaded early season conditions, one A.C. Soilleux – who looked lively – took 6-64. When Loughborough batted a record low of some sort looked a possibility at 22-5, but – like Shackleton’s expedition dragging themselves through the Antarctic wastes – opener Patel and Leicestershire (and Harborough)’s own Rob Taylor managed to take them to a creditable 158. No-one seemed very keen to come out after tea, and most of the spectators were already on their way to the bus stop, but luckily any fatalities from exposure were averted by an icy downpour at 5.15.
I would just like to refute the canard, by the way, that Ronnie Sarwan hasn’t taken his hands out of his pockets since arriving in England. Here he is, wearing no. 53, poised to take a slip catch –
I see from Playfair that Kent have on their staff one Fabian Kruuse Cowdrey (Tonbridge) who may well soon be joined soon by Loughborough’s W.A. Tavare (who didn’t have much time today to display any hereditary obstinacy). It sometimes seems that being a professional cricketer is becoming a hereditary position, like being an Earl, or working at Billingsgate.
Looming over the pitch at Loughborough is the intimidating bulk of the much-feared England Performance Centre. Sheltering from the wind at one point, I wondered about these mysterious drainage pipes that emerge from the side of it.
What is it that drains out of here, I wondered. Icy water? Liquid nitrogen? Blood?