April 26, 2012

LV= County Championship, Thursday April 26

7pm: Alex Winter rounds up the day

7pm: Alex Winter rounds up the day

Only play in five of the matches today, with washouts at Bristol, The Oval and Chelsmford. Best of the cricket at Taunton, where George Dobell reports that Brian Rose is targeting the loan market for Somerset.

Yorkshire battled to a score down at Canterbury, Worcestershire enjoyed a late rally with the ball at New Road, runs for Jonathan Trott at Hove and Hampshire on top against Leicestershire. All today's action on our county home page. Hope you can join us again tomorrow...

4.20pm: David Hopps at Sussex v Warwickshire

The nomination of Sachin Tendulkar as an MP in India Upper House has, it has to be admitted, caused rather more of a stir on ESPNcricinfo today than a rain-affected day of county cricket. But the crowd at Hove will have watched Varun Chopra and Jonathan Trott build towards centuries oblivious to cricket’s biggest news story of the day. There again, some of them have only just realised that rationing has finished.

There has been no sense of rationing for Warwickshire’s third-wicket pair. They have quietly gorged upon Sussex’s attack, both of them the essence of reliability. In their presence county cricket has settled back into normality. Trott is six runs short of a hundred at tea, Chopra 79 and Warwickshire 182 for 2. It is a 6.30pm finish here because of the delayed start.

One famous Sussex player did have a political career. Ted Dexter, the former England captain, stood in Cardiff South East against one of the foremost Labour politicians of his day, Jim Callaghan, in 1964. Cricketing prowess was no advantage for Dexter, who lost his deposit. Dexter had declared himself unavailable for the 1964-65 tour of South Africa but after he lost he made himself available and was made vice-captain.

Then there was AER Gilligan, a former England captain, who was a Mosleyite and had a stand named after him, although more for his cricket than his fascist tendencies.

4.20pm: George Dobell at Somerset v Lancashire

Play has just resumed after tea at Taunton. Lancashire, despite losing a wicket to the first ball after lunch, enjoyed much the better of the afternoon session, with the inexperience of Somerset’s attack becoming increasingly apparent. They are young and will, no doubt improve. Today, though, they have been pretty awful. This is already Lancashire biggest score of the season, while the 167 added so far for the fourth-wicket - in just 35 overs - is also their highest stand this year. Croft, who hit the winning runs when Lancashire won the title here last season, has not given a chance, while Prince may well have been missed at slip on seven.

Amanda Barrie - Carry on Cleo and Coronation Street among many other things - is a cricket lover. She went to watch the Stanford games in Antigua. I was in the hotel room next door to her.

4.05pm: Jon Culley at Worcestershire v Nottinghamshire

Notts have been remarkably consistent. Every batsman has played himself in and got himself out, the latest being Samit Patel, who had been doing everything right with the England selectors on the premises until, having progressed cautiously to 26, he had a carve at Alan Richardson on the back foot and could only locate Michael Klinger, fielding in a widish gully position. The Aussie took a decent catch, goalkeeper style.

It was not a great shot and Mick Newell, the Notts director of cricket, will have told him so. Newell generally says it like it is. Patel's four innings before this accumulated a total of 33 runs in his bid to make a convincing claim on the No 6 slot in the England Test line-up. "He's not impressing anyone at the moment," Newell commented.

Richardson, on the other hand, impresses just about everyone who sees him bowl these days. The Worcestershire seamer, who turns 37 a week on Sunday, had figures of 17-9-18-2 at tea, when Notts were 144-4

3.30pm: News update:

Peter Siddle will not join Essex this season. Full story here

3.10pm: Jon Culley at Nottinghamshire v Worcestershire

After a morning of no rewards, when they did not make enough use of what appeared to be bowler-friendly conditions -- friendly enough to stick Notts in, anyway -- the Worcestershire bowling has been tighter this afternoon and the visitors have been made to work pretty hard.

A lunchtime score of 70 without loss has been replaced by 124 for 3 as things stand. Neil Edwards gave his wicket away a little tamely in the second over of the afternoon, flicking Richardson to short square leg, where Cameron took a decent diving catch and Alex Hales missed the chance to make a half-century at least in front of the England selectors when he slashed at a ball from Richard Jones and was held by Daryl Mitchell at second slip despite first slip Vikram Solanki diving across him.

Michael Lumb played himself in with a good deal of caution but just as he seemed to be settling in after 74 balls he bottom edged the next one into his stumps trying to steer a ball from Cameron towards third man. Samit Patel and James Taylor now proceeding with caution.

An optimistic ice cream man is sticking to his guns in his usual pitch over towards the cathedral. Suspect he'd have more customers were he selling hot soup. You know it's cold when coats and woolly hats are advisable inside the (enclosed) press box.

3.00pm Mark Pennell at Kent v Yorkshire

Yorkshire’s top-order appear to be heeding the words of this year’s club president Geoff Boycott who, as a life-long subscriber to the principle of selling your wicket dearly, made an early-season plea to his promising young bladesmen by asking them to bat longer and show some patience.

The theory does not appear to be paying dividends in windy conditions in Canterbury, however, where the Tykes have limped on to 106 for 4 after 50 overs.

Yorkshire lost captain Andrew Gale just after lunch to a good diving catch by Kent’s acting captain Geraint Jones off the bowling of Mark Davies. He had batted an hour for his 22 runs.

Yorkshire finally reached three figures through a beautifully timed on-drive from Jonny Bairstow that thudded into the boundary boards, but Bairstow should have gone to Charlie Shreck’s next delivery that took the edge only to be dropped at second slip by James Tredwell.

Five balls later Kent did strike again, however when a hooping Darren Stevens in-swinger trapped Phil Jacques leg before to end the Aussie left-hander’s 111-ball stay for 30.

With little entertainment to be had by way of flamboyant strokeplay, a member in the pavilion quipped: “Who needs the IPL when you’ve got batting like this to watch!”

At least ‘Sir Geoffrey’ would approve.

2.50pm: George Dobell at Somerset v Lancashire

Peter Trego struck with the first ball after lunch - Moore, half-forward, missing a straight one - but Somerset may have missed a key opportunity when Hildreth, at slip, put down Prince off Trego when the batsman had just seven. Since then, Lancashire have accumulated with ease. Prince has just thrashed George Dockrell for 14 in three balls. Lancashire are fast heading towards 200.

Talk at Taunton has turned to celebrity. Lord Archer and John Cleese are among the Somerset celebrity supporters, though Vic Marks says he hasn’t seen the latter at a Somerset match since the late 1970s.

My favourite story so far comes from Graham Hardcastle, ECB young journalist of the year and co-author of the excellent book Champions… About Bloomin’ Time, the story of how Lancashire won the 2011 championship. He says that Sean Wilson, who used to play the part of Martin Platt in Coronation Street, was in attendance at one of the Champions book signings and paused to look at the book before moving on.

If anyone out there has similar stories of celebrities at county cricket - and the more obscure the celebrity the better - we’d love to hear them.

2.30pm: David Hopps at Sussex v Warwickshire

Jonathan Trott and Varun Chopra have stabilised Warwickshire’s first innings with half-centuries against Sussex at Hove.

Chopra, one senses, relishes early-season pitches when bowlers keep the ball up in search of seam and swing and he can play to his strength, namely to get well forward and drive discerningly. He even caused Sussex to employ a cover sweeper and that has happened so little this April, most of us assumed that he was a drinks waiter or something.

Trott has been in the sprightliest of moods, with ten boundaries in his fifty. The trademark clip through square leg was in evidence only as were several square cuts, but it is his controlled, understated runs to third man that have gained most attention. We vaguely wondered if they were thick edges at first, but have decided that as he plays them so often, and they always go exactly where he wants, they are doubtless all part of his masterplan. Trott’s half-century, from 56 balls, was 38 balls faster than his partner.

Richard Hobson from the Times of London is in the box. He has brought the family down to Brighton in the hope of some Spring sunshine and found only a grey, raging sea. It was obligatory to take his son, Kenneth, three next week, for a quick paddle. “Kenneth loved it, but I was terrified,” he said.

1.55pm: Alan Gardner at Surrey v Durham

And no sooner have we hailed the new head groundsman at The Oval, than his team have pulled the plug for the day. We'll have to wait until the morrow for the Surrey-Durham bowl-off - though in these sorts of conditions, a three-day contest is probably as good as four.

1.40pm: Alan Gardner on a new head groundsman at the Oval

Lee Fortis is to return to The Oval as head groundsman next week. Fortis, 30, was previously assistant head groundsman and, since leaving the club in 2006, has been in charge of tending the Honourable Artillery Company ground in the City of London.

He will take charge at The Oval on Monday April 30, leading a team that will include former head groundsman Bill Gordon, who remains at the club in a consultancy role and has led the ground staff team in the interim period following the recent departure of Scott Patterson.

Full story

1.10pm Mark Pennell at Kent v Yorkshire

Lunch at St Lawrence and time to queue up for the lamb carvery on offer in the Colin Cowdrey stand restaurant. It’ll be most welcome on a bitterly cold day in Kent.

Kent will go in happiest having restricted the Tykes to 52 for two from the 30-over session. After a cautious start through openers Joe Root and Joe Sayers, Kent finally broke through in the 21st over of the match through in-form seamer Matt Coles.

Sayers made a late decision to shoulder arms only for Coles to nip one back, against the Nackington Road slope, to clip the top of the left-hander’s off stump. Sayers had batted 79 minutes for his 12 runs and hot only one boundary in an instantly forgettable stay.

His opening partner Root went five overs later, playing back to a Darren Stevens inswinger he went leg before for 21 from 77 balls.

Coles returned excellent figures of one for nine from six overs, while Charlie Shreck proved even more frugal. The former Nottinghamshire bowled sent down six overs for two runs.

12.55pm: Jon Culley at Worcestershire v Nottinghamshire

Inevitably, we've had rain at New Road. That apart, it has been a morning few would have predicted in that Nottinghamshire have got through 22.2 overs without losing a wicket, indeed without looking particularly uncomfortable.

Ball has beaten bat a few times but with no real scares. Alex Hales, whose instincts are to attack, has seven boundaries. The Worcestershire bowling has not been as accurate as it might have been, mind.

Worcester folk are clearly an optimistic breed, however. The ice cream van is here. Lunch taken early and looking a bit brighter, happily. Think the ice cream man has a customer ...no, he's walked past.

12.50pm: George Dobell at Somerset v Lancashire

This Somerset attack is looking as green at the Taunton outfield. Craig Meschede, Craig Overton, Lewis Gregory and George Dockrell have played just 27 first-class games between them before today and, at times, that has been obvious. Meschede - at 20 years and 157 days - is the oldest of the lot. We think we may have seen the first occurrence of two Craigs bowling in tandem for Somerset, too.

They have some talent. After Overton’s first two balls - long-hops - were cut to the boundary, he utilised his height to gain steep bounce and looks to be a talent worth perseverance. Gregory, meanwhile, is a bowler capable of producing the occasional much quicker delivery. He just ended Karl Brown’s fluent innings with a yorker.

Somerset needed that wicket. Philander was disappointing in his first spell, failing to make the batsmen play enough, and Lancashire seemed to have vindicated their decision to bat first.

Brown had batted particularly well. He scored his first championship half-century of the season - it is only the third time a Lancashire player has reached the landmark - while Stephen Moore has passed 20 for the first time in nine first-class innings this season.

12.40pm: David Hopps at Sussex v Warwckshire

The first requirement of potential champions in a Spring like this is to avoid the rain, and Warwickshire, top by a point and with a game in hand on their closest challengers in Division One, have done just that at Hove.

Play was only briefly delayed and the forecast is better on the south coast than in many parts of the country, but Warwickshire’s luck did not extend as far as the toss. They lost that – and they have also lost two to wickets in the first six overs.

Sussex’s Australian quick Steve Magoffin had William Porterfield caught at second slip, but only after Luke Wells had fumbled the catch at third, leaving Ed Joyce to tidy up. Ian Bell’s stumps have just been flattened by Jimmy Anyon, hurtling down the hill; a seventh-ball duck for Bell, who is no more content on English seamers at the moment than he was in an angst-ridden tour of the UAE and Sri Lanka. Warwickshire 13 for 2 in no time.

11.55am: Mark Pennell at Kent v Yorkshire

Kent were thrown into a last-minute minute team re-shuffle when captain and opening bat Rob Key failed a late fitness test at the St Lawrence ground.

The former England batsman turned his ankle earlier in the week and had hoped to play, but he hobbled out of the pre-match warm-ups and handed captaincy duties to wicketkeeper Geraint Jones.

Jones duly won the toss soon after and decided to bowl first a blustery Canterbury morning. He named Sam Northeast, fresh from scoring 156 for the Kent second string, as Key’s replacement. He will open the batting later in the match together with the on-loan signing from Middlesex, Scott Newman.

11.50am: Jon Culley at Worcestershire v Nottinghamshire

Incidentally, a further incentive for those who want to see their batting regarded as less than shambolic, particularly the Notts opener Alex Hales and the latest touring Lions captain, James Taylor, is the presence on the ground of the England selectors, including Andy Flower, who are meeting, among other things, to decide the shape of the Lions side to play the West Indies at Northampton next month.

11.40am: Jon Culley at Worcestershire v Nottinghamshire

On recent evidence, you might expect Nottinghamshire to be about 17 for 4 by this stage of an opening morning, especially after being put in, and given predictably damp conditions. Instead, they are 32 without loss, which it almost goes without saying represents an exceptional start.

Then again, after being branded 'hopeless' and 'a shambles' by their director of cricket, Mick Newell, after the one-sided draw with Somerset last week, there are several batsmen who are under some pressure. Yet the player who has given way to the returning Andre Adams, who was ill for the Somerset game, is Paul Franks, the seam bowler, who might consider his omission an odd way to be rewarded for reaching 500 first-class wickets.

The Worcestershire side includes the England Under-19 all-rounder Aneesh Kapil in place of Shaaiq Choudhry but no return yet for Gareth Andrew, who is still 'not quite there' in terms of readiness for a four-day game, according to director of cricket Steve Rhodes, following knee surgery at the end of last season.

11.30am: George Dobell at Somerset v Lancashire

The players just left the pitch due to a rain shower. Thankfully it was a brief delay and they are now back on.

Somerset’s players are wearing black armbands today to mourn the death of former youth team coach, Dan Hodges. Dan was 75 and, as well as coaching several of the current first team as youngsters, also managed and coached two disabled sides. Peter Trego, who is currently opening the bowling, said he would be “bowling my heart out for Dan Hodges.” It is understood that it was the players’ idea to wear the armbands.

By contrast, there has been no official recognition of the death of former club captain Peter Roebuck, who died over the winter, at Somerset.

Neither of the main scoreboards is working at Taunton at present which is not ideal for a club hoping to stage international cricket in the near future. If they were, they would be showing that Vernon Philander struck with just his fifth ball.

10.55am: Alan Gardner at Surrey v Durham

Good day from The Oval – though quite whether it is a good day probably depends on whether you have gills or not. The outfield calls to mind the description of an otter’s pocket and while the rain is intermittent, there’s already been enough to wipe out the morning session. Blue skies occasionally skud into view, before hurrying off to put something warmer on. The Surrey dressing rooms recently took delivery of a new set of ergonomic posture chairs, so a back workout might be the best the players can expect from today.

Should we get underway later, then we can hope for an engaging tussle between Surrey’s punkish new generation (ft. Mark Ramprakash) and the Durham Old Guard. Both sides could probably lay claim to having the best bowling resources in the country and, given conditions for batting in April in general and in London in particular, this could be the sort of game to give Ramps a headache. It would be interesting to see what he would write on the Thought for the Day board down at Oval tube – though I suspect asterisks might feature heavily.

As I type, the rain has started to sheet in sideways. Expect to hear an update when the umpires don their snorkels in a couple of hours.

10.40am: George Dobell at Somerset v Lancashire

Morning from Taunton. It’s dry – for now – and we’re going to start on time. Lancashire have won the toss and will bat first. That’s a brave decision: Vernon Philander could prove a tricky proposition in these conditions.

Somerset remain hampered by injury. Marcus Trescothick goes under the knife at 11am, Steve Kirby failed a fitness test and Adam Dibble and Geemal Hussain remain unavailable through injury. Alfonso Thomas is absent on IPL duty, too. So Craig Overton, a seam bowling allrounder, will make his debut. He is just 18 years and 16 days old and was selected ahead of his twin brother, James.

Sajid Mahmood comes into the Lancashire side in place of Gary Keedy.

There’s quite a lot of talk here about Mark Ramprakash’s comments. The general consensus is that pitches really haven’t been that bad. Maybe Ramprakash has been unlucky to have played on a couple of poor ones but, from what I’ve seen, batsmen who leave the ball well, play straight and resist feeling for the ball outside their off stump, can still flourish.

8.45am: David Hopps sets the scene

If this bedraggled start to the season had to crack anybody, there was a fair chance it would prove to be Mark Ramprakash. As capricious early-season pitches spat and seamed, the only question was whether Ramps would eventually find himself up before the ECB disciplnary committee for cursing umpires or disrespecting fixtures or fittings. In the end, it was the animate objects that got it, leaving Ramps only one more misdeed away from suspension.

It is not to defend the indefensible to say that Ramprakash deserves some sympathy. If he abused the umpires then his punishment was fitting, but early season has put pressures on batsmen, especially batsmen who care, and nobody has cared more than Ramprakash in his 26 seasons in the game.

While others - some in his own Surrey dressing room - have opted to play aggressively because it will not be too long before they get an unplayable ball, Ramprakash has laboured to find an answer, trusting to his innate belief that a batsman nearly always gets out because of batting error. It is a method that has sustained him for a generation and that keeps him playing well past his 40th birthday with more first-class centuries to his name than any other current first-class player.

If Ramprakash was in his prime, you would back him to find the answer and to play the sort of innings that were once a daily feature in the days of uncovered pitches. Batsmen have become unaccustomed to such malevolence in pitches. But if Ramps summoned a response so late in his career then it would confirm him once again as one of the giants of the county circuit.

But that is the big picture. Ramprakash will be looking at the small one - 62 runs in six innings - in what many suspect might be his farewell season. You can imagine him travelling to The Oval, shaking his fist at the billboards that tell him London is officially in drought. He has been too good a player to allow what is expected to be the wettest April since records began to rain on his parade.

More will follow here later from the best team of county correspondents around. Please join us for the most enlightening county cricket chat.

Kenny Shovel also has a typically off-the-wall take on the county scene in the latest County Cricket Matters. Read Put your house in order, Team England. Returning to matters Surrey, Alan Gardner took his tape measure along to The Oval recently, to see how Rory Hamilton-Brown measures up.

And, if you see that Facebook Like button above this page and fancy pressing it, even better. If you are cool, you'll get away with it.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo