The only thing certain about this year’s Division 1 is its uncertainty. The sun comes out and strangely it’s the bowlers who benefit. In Division 2, Essex march onwards - just.
Starting with the early pace-setters, Nottinghamshire as they hosted Kent. Catches win matches, and Kent took ten of them to bowl Notts out for just 202. Kent were struggling themselves at 109 for 7 Ryan Sidebottom taking four of the top five in his 5-fer. However, useful lower order knocks from Ryan McLaren and Yasir Arafat took the Kent total to 238. McLaren then took six wickets as Notts made 279, Chris Read top scoring with 88. Set 244 to win, Kent were again struggling on 173 for 7 until McLaren and Arafat put on an unbeaten 71 for the final wicket to see them home by three wickets. Notts stay top of the table, but will have a severely weakened bowling attack for the rest of the summer as Sidebottom and Broad go on England duty. Kent climb to 4th and with Rob Key to come back in to the team, this result may kick-start their season.
Wickets galore on the first day at Old Trafford as Durham’s Mark Davies ripped through the Lancashire team, taking 7 wickets as the home side made just 143 in another instance of ten catches in the innings. This was enough for a first innings lead though as James Anderson and Andrew Flintoff took four wickets apiece in Durham’s reply of 114. Paul Horton scored a century in Lancashire’s second innings, in a match when the next highest score was just 40, as Lancs made 293. Durham were then skittled again for just 90 with Anderson taking five wickets and Flintoff three as Lancs ran out comfortable winners. I suspect the pitch inspectors may have more to say on this though.
The best bowling performance of the week came at Taunton, where James Tomlinson took eight wickets as Somerset were bowled out for just 126. Centuries for John Crawley and Kevin Pietersen in a stand of 190 took Hampshire to 359. By now though, the Taunton pitch was its normal placid self and Marcus Trescothick (151) and Justin Langer (188) put on 272 for the second wicket to allow Somerset to declare on 654 for 6, Zander de Bruyn falling two runs short of his century. Michael Brown scored a century as Hants batted out the match, finishing on 198 for 1.
My two tips for promotion met at Chelmsford, with Middlesex starting on top, scoring 302, Andrew Strauss making 88 of them and James Middlebrook taking five wickets. Essex were then bowled out for just 207, with Daniel Evans taking six wickets. Middlesex managed 202 second time round, to set Essex 301 to win. At 202 for 8 a Middlesex win looked certain, but an unbeaten stand of 99 between James Middlebrook (33*) and Chris Wright (71*) against his old club, saw Essex to an unlikely victory and second place behind Warwickshire with a game in hand.
Top of the table Warwickshire were at Derbyshire where the home side recovered from 128 for 7 to make 270 in their first innings, Jon Clare and Tom Lungley both making 50s. Jonathan Trott then made a century as Warwickshire made 310 in their first innings. However, as elsewhere, batting got easier as the game progressed and Derbyshire were able to declare their second innings on 417 for 6, with Danish wicket-keeper James Klokker making his maiden century. Warwickshire batted out the time with the loss of just four wickets, for a respectable draw.
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Andrew Strauss looked in decent form with 88 for Middlesex, while Ian Bell also looked fluent without getting a big score: 48 and 28. Kevin Pietersen scored a century in what could be his only county innings of the summer. Paul Collingwood only managed four runs against Lancashire, although that was four more than Andrew Flintoff and James Anderson managed in the same match. Tim Ambrose scored an unbeaten 34 to continue to fight against the weight of runs being scored by Chris Read and Matt Prior.
James Anderson took nine wickets for Lance, and Andrew Flintoff seven in bowler friendly conditions. Flintoff’s injury make the calls for his recall moot, while Anderson would seem to be in a straight fight with Matthew Hoggard for the final seamers spot. Ryan Sidebottom took seven wickets for Notts, while Stuart Broad took the first three wickets of the Kent second innings to open up the possibility of victory.
Player of the week
It’s a very tough call this week. Paul Horton deserves a mention for his century in a game where no-one else scored fifty. James Tomlinson and Mark Davies both ran through the opposition in their matches. However, for a first innings fifty to keep his side in the game, taking six wickets in the second innings to ensure they had a gettable target and then scoring an unbeaten 37 to see the victory complete, the Player of the Week is Kent’s Ryan McLaren.