Having looked at the teams at the lower reaches of Division 2, it’s time to look at the four teams challenging for promotion, and the two teams that are likely to replace them in the 2nd tier
I predicted 4th and in the promotion mix. They’re currently top and looking good. Batting at Taunton has been a dream this season and seven players have scored tons. Marcus Trescothick, Justin Langer, James Hildreth and Cameron White all have over 700 runs so far this season with Langer’s highest score of 315 being more than any Glamorgan player has managed in total this term. As impressive has been the bowling attack of Andrew Caddick (39 wickets), Charl Willoughby (29) and Peter Trego (21) all at an average of 30 or less. It looked as if the Taunton wicket would prevent too enough home victories but big wins in their last two matches have taken them to the top and they will be difficult to dislodge.
I predicted top and they’re one and half points behind in second, having recently gone off the boil with a loss to Glamorgan and being unable to force a win in a day and a half against Derby. On the batting front David Hussey, Jason Gallian and Mark Wagh all have more than 500 runs, while Samit Patel and Chris Read are both averaging over 50 as well. The bowling has been weakened by Ryan Sidebottom’s England call up, but Charlie Schrek (36 wickets at 24), Mark Ealham (25 at 24), Graeme Swann (24 at 30) and Paul Franks (23 at 30) are a well balanced and effective bowling attack. With Stephen Fleming still to come good this season, it should be a battle royale between the top two.
I predicted 2nd and they’re currently 3rd and 19 points behind the top two. Ronnie Irani tops the batting averages, but his retirement will hit the team hard, as did the loss of Andy Flower to England. None of the top six in the batting averages have played every game for Essex this season. Ravi Bopara tops the batting aggregate with 496 runs and Essex must be hoping that his injury isn’t serious enough to keep him out of the 2nd half of the season if they are to challenge. They must also hope for more from their opening pair of Mark Bettini and Vanush Chopra who haven’t score a hundred between them. Danesh Kaneria leads the bowling figures by a mile with 47 wickets at 25 and Essex should expect more from their overseas pair of Andre Nel and Andy Bichel. The loss of Irani may just be too much for them to cope with and their challenge could fall just short again.
I predicted 3rd and they are 4th having played a game less than the top three. Owais Shah, following his disappointing England performance, is making up for it in the Championship, along with the highly promising Ben Godleman, who is pushing for an academy place come the winter break. More disappointing have been Ed Joyce and Nick Compton who will both be looking for an improvement in the second half of the season. Bowling wise, Alan Richardson has 26 wickets at just 18, while Chris Silverwood has 23 and 21, meaning that Chaminda Vaas hasn’t been missed while injured and then on International duty. 35 points behind 2nd is a lot to make up, even with a game in hand, but they will be there or thereabouts come September.
I predicted 5th, higher if Mark Ramprakash continued his form, but thought they would have difficulty taking wickets. Well the last part of that was correct at least. Currently 8th and 24 points behind Kent, they are still win-less, despite the best efforts of Ramprakash who has nearly a thousand runs already this season, averaging over 100. Jon Batty has also had a profitable season, but their problem isn’t scoring runs. Nadeem Doshi is the leading wicket taker with 13 at over 50. Mo Akram tops the bowling averages at nearly 40 runs per wicket. If they can’t bowl a team out twice then they will go down and unless they find some young wicket takers, they may struggle to come back up again.
I predicted 9th and that is where they are. Graeme Hick and Vikram Solanki have both scored over 500 runs, but no-one is averaging over 50 and there is little contribution from lower in the order. The bowling is heavily reliant on Kabir Ali (26 wickets) and Gareth Batty (19). There has also been little contribution from the overseas players, particularly Doug Bollinger who is averaging 50+ with the ball and 6 with the bat. Very close to their first win against fellow strugglers Surrey, they do at least look as if they could surprise someone, and I’d fancy them to finish above Surrey by the end of the season.