July 11, 2012

LV= County Championship, Wednesday July 11, 2012

5.25pm: George Dobell at Surrey v Lancashire

5.25pm: George Dobell at Surrey v Lancashire

We’re back on at Guildford. We’ve lost 18 overs and there are 17 to go.

5.10pm: Alan Gardner at Middlesex v Nottinghamshire

The rain has held off in Uxbridge – or rather it appears to have passed by on either side – though another cloud bank is moving ceremoniously in from the west. Middlesex, fourth in the table, might have hoped to compete on something of an even footing with the Division One leaders but despite making a second breakthrough, Berg removing Rikki Wessels for 34, already their best chance of saving this game may rely on the elements turning inclement again.

Nottinghamshire hardly have a reputation for top-order durability and Middlesex’s bowlers have dragged them back into more than one contest this season but, as I type, Samit Patel has taken 16 off a Toby Roland-Jones over to move his side on to 92 for 2, just six runs in arrears. With another 24 overs scheduled to be bowled this evening, conditions permitting, Notts will be totting up a big lead in their mental scorebook.

4.50pm: Alex Winter at Gloucestershire v Essex

I mentioned the new Martin Stovold scoreboard here this year, well the old manually operated scoreboard, which was manned by an army of school kids and associated attractive girls, has also been replaced. And they’ve gone completely in the opposite direction with a big screen – funded by various sponsors whose adverts appear slightly too regularly: they flick up at the end of each over and you have to be quick-eyed to spy the score.

Despite the rain, we took tea at 3.40pm so we’re now in the midst of a long session. A session that could be interrupted if the radar being examined by Radio Essex is to be believed. It is getting cooler and darker. The sun is still shining up on Cleeve Hill so the golfers and walker will be happy. Unrivalled views from up there, so beautiful.

Gloucestershire have made excellent progress after opting to bat. The pitch, as ever really despite the weather this season, has looked sublime but if you took a pitching wedge to the outfield you’d probably end up with a nice large divot.

4pm: George Dobell at Surrey v Lancashire

The players came off for an early tea as first bad light, then rain and then a thunder storm of Biblical proportions hit Guildford. Although it is sunny right now, there is a fearful cloud lurking behind the pavilion that threatens more rain soon. If it holds off, we should see more play at five past four.

Lancashire that will be far the happier of the two sides so far. Inserted on a pitch that had been under cover for much of the last few weeks and faced with an attack that boasting several international bowlers, Lancashire have established the foundations of match defining total.

Led by the admirably disciplined Paul Horton, Lancashire left the ball well and benefited from some loose deliveries. Horton has enjoyed only one moment of fortune when, on 55, he edged a beauty from Chris Tremlett that may have just reached Murali Kartik at second slip.

The only wicket to fall in the afternoon session was that of Karl Brown, who reached 49 before he was drawn into prodding at another fine delivery on off stump from Meaker and edged a catch to Steve Davies behind the stumps.

The pitch looks very good. There is a bit of pace, a bit of bounce but no extravagant movement for the bowlers. Surrey may also reflect that they bowled a little short in the first session.

3.40pm: Ivo Tennant at Hampshire v Yorkshire

Still no play at West End. There is "a view" to starting at 4.30, but that is umpires speak for "we are worried about further rainfall." Meanwhile, Graham Thorpe, who is in engaging mood and wondering whether his old friend Nasser Hussain writes his own national newspaper column - I think he knew the answer - has returned from discussing emerging English talent with Giles White, the Hampshire coach. Thorpe is all too aware that a county like Hampshire will import overseas players and not hesitate to demote the likes of James Vince. This is hardly in the national interest but he is astute enough to realise that one of his roles is to fill in such gaps in Vince's experience through coaching and general advice. And no more of Duncan Fletcher's comparisons with Michael Vaughan, please.

3.30pm: Alan Gardner at Middlesex v Nottinghamshire

The rain has started to come in through the gaps in our little press tent on the boundary but the players remain on the field, for now at least. Things probably couldn’t get much more miserable from a Middlesex perspective, after they lost their last five wickets for the addition of one run to be bowled out for 98 – their lowest total of the season.

The hosts folded faster than Superman on laundry day moments after Andrew Strauss had reached a half-century – an innings that constituted more than half Middlesex’s total. A single off Andy Carter took him to 50 but then Andre Adams strolled in the very next over to hit the top of off with one that angled in and left the England captain.

That began a slide from 97 for 5 to 98 all out, with Adams claiming four for none in 10 deliveries. Strauss and Gareth Berg made 82 between them but the other nine batsmen shared five blobs and 13 runs, meaning doleful predictions early in the day that Middlesex wouldn’t make 100 were realised. Figures of 6 for 32 gave Adams his fourth five-wicket haul of the season, his Championship-leading tally up to 46. And, like Strauss, Adams has had the last month off, while T20 hogged the schedules …

At least, with the departure of Alex Hales for 14 just now, Middlesex have something to cheer them; though at 31 for 1, Notts are almost a third of the way to their total already.

3.25pm: Alex Winter at Gloucestershire v Essex

Rain and shine again here at Cheltenham and now it’s lovely. Gloucestershire won the toss and decided to bat first. Benny Howell had looked excellent, striking the ball firmly for four boundaries before being done by a Reece Topley inswinger. Ed Cowan has made a patient start alongside Dan Housego – back in the side after an injury lay off. Just seen a first glimpse of Harbhajan Singh too – not wearing a sweater in the field. He must been wearing several underlayers.

The last time I watched Gloucestershire in the County Championship – against Yorkshire at Bristol – it was the week that Martin Stovold died. He played 25 times for Gloucestershire and was the brother of Andy who enjoyed a long career with the county. He was also a geography teacher here at Cheltenham College and was working only a short few weeks before his death.

This first match of the festival has been dedicated to Martin’s memory and a new scoreboard has been erected in his name – he’ll forever look out on this wonderful ground. He played a large part in improving the cricket at the college.

2pm: George Dobell at Surrey v Lancashire

Surrey have just put down another chance and Chris Tremlett is again the unfortunate bowler. This time Horton, who had hardly played a loose shot, edged a fine delivery that he probably had to play at and was dropped by Murali Kartik at second slip. Horton was on 55 and the score was 121 for one.

The encouraging thing for Surrey - and perhaps England - is that Tremlett is looking better by the over. He has pitched the ball just a fraction fuller since lunch and, with his height and increasing pace, is looking a tricky prospect for any batsman.

1.30pm: George Dobell at Surrey v Lancashire

A dropped catch on the stroke of lunch summed up an opening session that promised rather more than it delivered for Surrey.

Despite winning the toss and electing to bowl first in a pitch that has been under cover for most of the last three weeks, Surrey were unable to take advantage and saw Lancashire reach 112 for one by lunch.

Karl Brown, fencing at a rising delivery from Chris Tremlett, was reprieved when Gareth Batty, in the slips, was unable to hold on to a relatively straightforward chance. Brown was on 30 at the time and Lancashire were 107 for one. Tremlett, playing his first first-class game since mid-January, was unable to conceal his disappointment at the miss.

Lancashire’s batsmen also deserve credit. Leaving the ball well on length, they allowed the ball to pass over the stumps and generally resisted playing away from their bodies. Paul Horton, showing admirable discipline, reached his half-century shortly before the interval.

The only wicket in the session came when Stephen Moore was caught on the crease and beaten by Stuart Meaker’s extra pace. It means Moore has now endured a run of 20 first-class innings without a half-century.

The pitch is playing better than most expected, but Surrey, despite boasting an attack including five bowlers with experience of international cricket, failed to make the batsmen play. Andy Flower, the watching England coach, cannot have been overly impressed.

There is a decent crowd here but, at present, the covers are on and the umbrellas are up.

1pm: Alan Gardner at Middlesex v Nottinghamshire

In a summer that has barely begun and on pitches that have seamed and swung (when they’ve not been too soggy to play), the toss has become all the more crucial. Middlesex have mostly defied their poor fortune in that respect, sitting fourth in the table despite having only had the choice of what to do first once in nine matches – but at Uxbridge, beneath scudding clouds, their top-order has gurgled down the plughole precipitously quickly.

Inserted by Nottinghamshire on a helpful wicket, only Andrew Strauss has been able to hang around – a crumb of comfort for Middlesex fans but, perhaps, of wider significance. While Sam Robson, playing across the line to a swinging delivery, and Joe Denly, driving expansively on a day for unobtrusive accumulation, played a part in their own downfalls, Strauss (24 not out) has been calm and compact, fencing at a couple early on from Harry Gurney but largely proving that his game remains in working order. Perhaps sitting out the T20 is the way for ‘proper’ batsmen to go.

Chris Rogers, Middlesex’s Championship captain, must have known the odds when he wandered back from the toss unsuccessful again – and he duly received a brute of a lifter from Gurney, between the dismissals of Robson and Denly. Andre Adams then loped in off his innocuous 12-pace run-up to take two in two balls in his first over, lifting his Championship wicket tally to 42. The sun has sporadically peeked out from behind the clouds but it is only shining on Notts at the moment, their hosts 46 for 5 at lunch.

12.30pm: Ivo Tennant at Hampshire v Yorkshire

Graham Thorpe has arrived at West End and is occupying a seat in the media centre. The Hampshire press officer is unsure of his identity, but he is too old to be here on work experience. In fact the former England batsman has been coaching James Vince, the talented young Hampshire batsman - who is not playing in this match. In his place are overseas ringers and an individual from another county, or counties, in Bilal Shafayat. Nor is Danny Briggs playing, not for the first time this season. Not exactly a healthy situation for some of Hampshire's - and, potentially, England's - most gifted youth. Thorpe is now bending the ear of Giles White, the Hampshire coach.

12.15pm: Alex Winter at Gloucestershire v Essex

Forget Lord’s and Cape Town, ignore Galle and Adelaide, for this, Cheltenham College, is the greatest cricket ground in the world. Set against the backdrop of Cleeve Hill and in the shadow of the gothic chapel and Victorian school buildings, there is no better place to watch cricket on the planet.

For two weeks of the year these grounds are transformed from genteel public school playing fields into the buzzing Cheltenham Cricket Festival – the most famous of its kind the world. Ed Cowan, the Australian opener who will make his debut here for Gloucestershire, said everybody back in Australia had heard of it.

Even the rain can’t spoil the atmosphere. And rain we have had. I was about to turn into the car park when an almighty shower unleashed itself for 10minutes, turning the college square – where the players were netting – a touch muddy, hence our delayed start. They’re hoping to get underway at 1pm.

The wet weather hasn’t claimed the cricket (yet) but it has claimed the member’s car park. It’s usually situated at the college lawn end behind the hospitality marquees but not this year. We were directed past Cheltenham General hospital and into the old Chelsea building society car park: adequate and offers you a little walk past the college lawn. Very pleasant indeed.

Teams news is no Will Gidman for Gloucestershire, which is a significant blow; he balances their side very well indeed. No Owais Shah for Essex which is also significant. Harbhajan Singh makes his debut for them too.

10.50am: George Dobell at Surrey v Lancashire

Morning from Woodbridge Road in Guildford, where Surrey have won the toss and inserted Lancashire.

These are two strong-looking sides. Lancashire are, of course, champions while Surrey welcome back Kevin Pietersen and have a bowling attack - Tremlett, Meaker, Lewis, Kartik, Batty et al. - that would be the envy of several Test nations.

Yet both sides go into the second half of the championship season uncomfortably close to the bottom of the table. Neither side have won more than one game with Surrey currently sitting in seventh place and Lancashire, having played a game more, are just eight points ahead.

There are some interesting personal issues at stake here, too. It is Tremlett’s first first-class game since the first Test against Pakistan in Dubai in mid-January, since when he has undergone back surgery. It also sees Pietersen come face to face with former England coach Peter Moores, who is now with Lancashire. The pair have not spoken since they were sacked as England’s captain and coach at the end of 2008.

After a beautiful start to the day, the clouds have gathered in the last hour or so. The outfield is, understandably, very soft, but the pitch is dry and we will start on time. There is, as ever in this grim summer, a horrid cloud looming….

11.05: Ivo Tennant at Hampshire v Yorkshire

It is raining at West End. But then it always is raining. The covers are on, but there is blue sky over the Meon Valley - apparently you can see a third of Hampshire from the top of the atrium. Not that their side is exactly made up from within the county boundaries. Including as it does Neil McKenzie, for the first time this season, Bilal Shafayat, Simon Katich, Sean Ervine and Kabir Ali, it represents the comity of nations. No wonder young people have difficulty identifying with cricketers in local colours. And Yorkshire are fielding one Stephen Harmison, for that matter.

11am: Alan Gardner at Middlesex v Nottinghamshire

We’re not quite up and running/batting/bowling at Uxbridge, with an umpire’s inspection due any minute. The outfield, like much of the country, is a wee bit damp, and the start time has consequently been pushed back to 11.45am; the toss will be at 11.15am. Further down the slope towards the A40, that hums by half a mile to the north, there’s something of a “Silverstone situation”, as one colleague put it, in the car park and a mini-Serpentine forming by the public entrance. Plus ca pluie, as the French say.

When play does begin, and barring any further showers in suburbia, we may catch a glimpse of Andrew Strauss in the middle. This will be his first outing since the Test series victory over West Indies, with the looming challenge of South Africa, well, looming … Though, if you’re looking for omens, when Strauss turned out for Middlesex against Gloucestershire here last year, ahead of India’s visit, he lasted just seven balls. Such gallows instinct is perhaps behind the chocker press tent, which necessitates I sit in a corner from where the wicket is perfectly invisible.

Expect further updates to focus largely on the quality of fielding on the eastern boundary.

David Hopps: Welcome Back

Thanks to the vagaries of the ECB fixture list, there is a dearth of England players in the final round of championship matches before the first Test against South Africa.

We have some sympathy with Andy Flower's assertion that it is impractical to expect England players to finish a day-night international at Old Trafford and then head off to a championship match by 11 o'clock the next morning.

I mean, most of us finished various duties connected with the Old Trafford ODI around midnight and as you can see by the time we have published this blog, we are not exactly fit for action. This introduction is the journalistic equivalent of a loosener wandering down the leg side for four wides.

But once again we have the finest coverage of today's championshiop action right here on ESPNcricinfo. We are at four of the matches and will add a fifth when Warwickshire, who are contesting the Division One leadership with Nottinghamshire, get underway tomorrow.

While our various correspondents moan about the fact that the wifi is not working and try to do something about it, this is the points table in case you have forgotten how it looks.

Please join the fun below and enhance our Championship coverage.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo