The predictions have been made, everyone is optimistic about their chances and a Siberian wind seems to be preventing the temperature reaching double figures. Must be the start of a new season. Two England bowlers started their latest comebacks this week, while some golden oldies scored a lot of runs.
Starting at the Oval, where Lancashire returned to the scene of their ultimate disappointment last season. Much of the focus was on the returning Andrew Flintoff, who encouragingly bowled a lot of overs for not many runs. Less encouraging for Lancs, though, was letting Surrey reach 537 for 5, with Mark Ramprakash being missed twice before hitting another hundred (number 98). Mark Butcher and Usman Afzaal also scored tons. The weather saved Lancs as they struggled to 241 for 6 on what seemed to be a flat pitch.
Champions Sussex also played out a rain affected draw, Murray Goodwin scoring a ton in their 332 all out with Shane Bond taking 7 wickets. Hampshire replied with 319 for 7 before the drizzle put paid to the match.
Two of the teams tipped to struggle met at Canterbury, with Darren Pattinson taking 5-fer as Kent were skittled for 162. Nottinghamshire then made 434, thanks to a ton from Kent old boy Mark Ealham. Kent did better second time round and an Azhar Mahmood scored a ton as they reached 293. However, Notts only needed 24 to win, which they did without losing a wicket to top Division 1.
The two relegated teams met, with Worcestershire being denied by some late Warwickshire resistance and the weather. Batting first, Stephen Moore hit an unbeaten century as the Pears scored 249. The Bears replied with 215, although Simon Jones only managed to bowl 3 overs. Worcester, with tons from Vikram Solanki and Graeme Hick declared on 447 for 7. Warwicks with the aid of the weather held on for the draw, closing on 164 for 7, but Worcester will be happier with their start to the season, despite the continuing doubts about the fitness of Simon Jones.
Favourites Middlesex got off to a promising start, with Owais Shah getting a ton in their 312 all out. Leicestershire went past this with 405, thanks to tons from Tom New and HD Ackerman. Nadeem Malik then took five wickets as Middlesex were restricted to 258 and Leicester knocked of the required 168 for the loss of just four wickets.
Essex restricted Northamptonshire to 280 before making 503 for 5 themselves, based around a stand of 294 between Jason Gallion (171) and Ravi Bopara (150). Northants scored 237, just enough to make Essex bat again. They got the 15 required for the loss of one wicket for maximum points.
Derbyshire’s season got off to a terrible start, scoring just 124 against Gloucestershire, who replied with 314. Chris Rogers century in the second innings brought Derby to 361. Unfortunately the final day was washed out and Derby escaped with a draw.
Player of the Week
A good week for a number of ex-England players as Ramprakash, Butcher, Afzaal, Hick, Ealham, Gallian and Solanki all scored hundreds. There were also tons for two players on the fringe of the England team Owais Shah’s was in a losing cause, but this week’s player of the week, for his 150 and also for 5 wickets in Essex’s win is Ravi Bopara.