July 27, 2012

LV= County Championship, Friday July 27

6.15pm: Jon Culley at Nottinghamshire v Sussex

6.15pm: Jon Culley at Nottinghamshire v Sussex

Apart from another frustratingly early dismissal for Alex Hales, this has been Nottinghamshire's day. Riki Wessels, who scored 199 against Sussex at Hove in May, has looked pretty impressive and by the close he and Michael Lumb had added 55 in a Notts total of 88-1. They trail by 83 runs.

Hales was leg before to Amjad Khan for eight. A batsman capable of playing with power and elegance, Hales averages a below-par 25.33 in the Championship. He has three half-centuries in 18 innings but 11 scores of 14 or fewer.

4.15pm: Jon Culley at Nottinghamshire v Sussex

Sussex have been disappointing on the whole. If they can get a batting point in the final session it will be thanks to Alex Hales as much as Luke Wells, whose 54 looks like a stand-out innings on the scorecard but lasted as long as it did only because the aforementioned slip fielder put him down twice, the first time when he had scored only four. The young left-hander ultimately fell reaching for a wide long-hop from Harry Gurney.

Ben Brown pushed the total long with a bold 37 that included half a dozen boundaries but fell to the third ball after tea, trapped in front by Andy Carter. A batting point would be a bonus now.

3.55pm: George Dobell at Warwickshire v Surrey

Might it come to be that, by the time the season finishes, today is seen as a microcosm of Warwickshire’s season? From a strong platform, Warwickshire lost four wickets in the afternoon session to allow Surrey back into this game.

The frustrating thing from a Warwickshire perspective is that all the wickets owed something to batsman error: Chopra played on after failing to use his feet; Porterfield helped a leg-side long-hop into the hands of the keeper and Ian Westwood and Darren Maddy both suffered for playing across straight deliveries. The hosts’ position is still not bad - they are 216-4 at tea - but, on a fine batting pitch, anything less than 400 will surely seem inadequate. Had Jim Troughton - on 23 - not been dropped by Burns at short-leg, Warwickshire would have been 197 for five.

Meaker has been the pick of the Surrey bowlers and, even though this is not their first choice XI, there is a pleasing unity and spirit about them in the field that suggests the rebuilding operation that Adams talked about following the game at Guildford is under way.

3.30pm: Paul Edwards at Leicestershire v Yorkshire

Steve Harmison is back on here and bowling a few more wides I’m afraid. Given that they were 98 for four at lunch, Leicestershire will be pleased to have got to 180 for five, although this is a pitch on which 350 is probably nothing more than par. Shiv Thakor is out having made 35 and put on 68 with Boyce. He drove Ashraf into Gale’s midriff at short extra-cover. As I write, Harmison has gone off having felt an area at the back of his right knee. The figures for his second spell were 4-1-8-0; they are a little misleading. Some balls, although not called as wides, tested both the umpires’ judgement and Bairstow’s keeping. Boyce has reached his fifty

3.10pm: Les Smith at Durham v Middlesex

Chester-le-Street looks a picture this afternoon, but that will be of scant consolation to the two thousand or so Durham supporters present. Their team’s first innings ended on 102 in the 42nd over when their top scorer, Michael Richardson, edged to third slip where Sam Robson could not hold on but saw the ball pop directly into John Simpson’s gloves to hand the Middlesex wicketkeeper his fourth catch. Richardson’s 22 was the top score of the innings.

The collective performance of his bowlers more than vindicated Chris Rogers’ decision to insert Durham. Tim Murtagh was the pick of the bunch, with relentlessly accurate seam bowling, while three of the four batsmen who failed to score fell to Gareth Berg.

Middlesex captain Rogers has opened their innings in a most business- like manner, having scored 21 out of 28-0.

2.40pm: Paul Edwards at Leicestershire v Yorkshire

There has been something for the long-suffering home supporters to take pleasure in at Grace Road this afternoon. Matt Boyce and Shiv Thakor have resisted the Yorkshire attack and taken the score to 146 for four with a partnership of 48. The style of their batting, its composure and technical skill, has thrown some of their colleagues’ efforts into rather sharp relief. Patterson and Rafiq are bowling at the moment and this is comfortably the best cricket of the day. The pitch still seems a good one on which to build an innings. The crowd is quietly appreciative of it all.

2.20pm: George Dobell at Warwickshire v Surrey

Chris Jordan is an interesting cricketer. He has, at first glance, extravagant all-round talent. Perhaps of most interest, he has the ability to bowl with unusual pace.

But, aged 23, he has a batting average of 22, a bowling average of 37 and could well be allowed to leave Surrey in a few weeks. Sussex are among the clubs keen to offer him a new home.

His performance here has, by and large summed up his career. He has bowled fast, certainly, but has also contributed six no-balls and several horrid long-hops. More importantly, however, he has also taken two wickets. After Chopra played on, guilty of little foot movement and trying to hit the ball too hard, William Porterfield, in attempting to pull, helped a legside long-hop into the hands of Steve Davies behind the stumps. From 130 without loss, that left Warwickshire on 152 for two. Westwood, who brought up his half-century with a powerful pull off Jordan, remains.

Those spectators who hoped to watch international cricket at Edgbaston this year may be interested to hear the club have installed some extra drainage in two areas of the outfield near the new pavilion.

1.15pm: Jon Culley at Nottinghamshire v Sussex

Mick Newell, Nottinghamshire's director of cricket, reckons talk of a two-horse race for the County Championship is wide of the mark. He believes any one of five sides could come out on top in September.

"Nobody is able to break away because of the weather and lack of positive results," he said. "I'm not looking at the two matches we have to play against Warwickshire at all. I think there are five teams that can win it. I would say Middlesex are more than capable of winning it from fifth place. They are only a win away from being in the top group."

Notts, who were second best in draw with Somerset at Trent Bridge in April and beat Sussex at Hove, are due at Taunton on August 7 but will be without both Samit Patel and James Taylor, who have been picked for the England Lions squad for two four-day matches against Australia A next month. Somerset will be lacking Nick Compton and Craig Kieswetter for the same reason.

At lunch, Sussex are 69-2 from 32 overs, a position they will be content with given that Luke Wells was dropped twice. He and Murray Goodwin have added 43 so far.

1.05pm: Les Smith at Durham v Middlesex

There’s a good crowd at Chester-le-Street today, but the vast majority are very subdued. Paul Collingwood’s day has gone from bad to worse. Having joined Dale Benkenstein to stage a mini-revival from 24-4, he saw his partner caught tamely at mid-on when the score was 54, and was promptly caught in the slips himself.

Tim Murtagh has excelled for Middlesex: two wickets for 15 runs, a run out and a catch. Durham go to lunch on 61-6, and pessimism is the order of the day in the stands.

1.00pm: Paul Edwards at Leicestershire v Yorkshire

This has been a mediocre first morning’s cricket which has been redeemed by the excellence of Steve Patterson. The Yorkshire seamer came off with figures of 8-4-10-2, although in truth all he had to do to collect his wickets was deliver straight balls which both Greg Smith and Ned Eckersley played across. Steve Harmison, having conceded a heap of no-balls and wides, surprised, nay, astounded Ramnaresh Sarwan with a fine yorker which knocked back his off stump. Leicestershire are 98-4 at lunch, having just lost Michael Thornely, who batted patiently for 31 before following a wideish one from Moin Ashraf. A dismissal to epitomise the morning, I’m afraid.

12.45pm: George Dobell at Warwickshire v Surrey

Warwickshire have enjoyed a strong start here at Edgbaston, though there have been some nervous moments on the way. Both openers were fortunate to survive strong appeals for LBW in Stuart Meaker’s excellent first spell - Ian Westwood was left on his hands and knees after one yorker swung back into him viciously - and Westwood was also dropped on 10.

That was an unusual incident. Westwood had clipped the first ball from Murali Kartik straight to Rory Burns at short-leg but Burns, in his excitement, started to celebrate before he had fully controlled the ball and ended up putting it down. The umpires deliberated for a while, but eventually decided they could not adjudge the batsman out. In between times, Varun Chopra, in particular, has played some fine strokes.

Chris Adams, the Surrey director of cricket, is absent, by the way. Adams is having a quick holiday, so the Surrey coaching duties are being fulfilled by Ian Salisbury, who enjoyed a brief spell as a Warwickshire player, and Alec Stewart. Some might criticise Adams for his timing - taking a holiday in the middle of the cricket season is unusual for a cricket coach - but he, like many at the club, have endured some tough times of late and would argue that much of his work is done in the off-season, anyway. It’s fair to say, however, that not all Surrey supporters are convinced by those arguments.

12.30pm: Jon Culley at Nottinghamshire v Sussex

It was pretty much taken as inevitable that county cricket would struggle to make itself noticed during the Olympics, yet it is disturbing, nonetheless, to be at a County Championship match involving possibly two contenders for the title and find that only one national newspaper is represented. Which is even more reason to bookmark ESPN Cricinfo's unrivalled coverage.

It may have opened Stuart Broad's eyes to how little attention is paid to his county while he is otherwise engaged. The England fast bowler has just popped in as an impromptu tour guide for a party from Oakham Cricket Club (Broad is an old boy of Oakham School). "I thought there might have been a few more in today," he said. Welcome to county cricket...

Sussex are 63-2 after 24 overs. Andre Adams took only seven balls to make an impact after Harry Gurney's opening four overs at the pavilion end, nipping one back to have Ed Joyce leg before. Ben Phillips deservedly had Chris Nash caught behind.

Luke Wells has had two escapes, in both of which Alex Hales at the first slip was the guilty party. He was put down off Adams on four and off Andy Carter on 18.

11.25am: Les Smith at Durham v Middlesex

Paul Collingwood’s first morning as Durham’s four day captain started impressively when he scored a neatly taken goal with his right foot in the pre-match kick about on the Chester-Le-Street outfield, but things have gone downhill since then. First he lost the toss when Chris Rogers called correctly, then his opener Will Smith for a duck with only three on the board. Steven Finn’s presence in the Middlesex side no doubt influenced Rogers’ decision to bowl first, but it has been Tim Murtagh at the other end who has threatened the outside edge consistently, and trapped Smith LBW.

11.20am: Jon Culley at Nottinghamshire v Sussex

Nottinghamshire will hope to use this match to reinforce their challenge in the Championship after the disappointment of Wednesday's quarter-final defeat to Hampshire in the Friends Life Twenty20, which came as an unexpected blow. Try as they might to expunge it from their memory, though, there are two ugly scaffolding towers still in place, courtesy of Sky.

At least the press box here is spacious enough to cope with the bit of stray metalwork. When Sky's contractors are tardy dismantling their kit at Northampton, for example, two thirds of the media can't see the pitch.

The pitch here has a fair amount of grass on it but Sussex have chosen to bat first, nonetheless. They have made two changes, leaving out Joe Gatting and Kirk Wernars from the side that beat Durham last week, recalling Ed Joyce and Amjad Khan. Notts keep to the line-up for the badly rain-affected draw with Surrey.

Hard going so far for Sussex, who have proceeded with caution against some testing stuff from Ben Phillips and Harry Gurney to be four without loss after six overs.

11.15am: George Dobell at Warwickshire v Surrey

Good morning from Edgbaston, where Warwickshire have won the toss and are batting. Varun Chopra drove the first ball of the morning for four through extra cover and Ian Westwood drove the fifth back past the bowler for another boundary.

There are a couple of notable inclusions in these teams. For a start fast bowler Boyd Rankin is playing his first championship game of the season after injury and international calls had delayed his involvement. Chris Wright has been rested. Richard Johnson has also been recalled from his loan spell with Derbyshire to deputise for Warwickshire’s first-choice wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose, who has a thigh strain.

Arun Harinath is also included for his first championship game in over a year in place of Matt Spriegel in the Surrey side. There is no sign of Chris Tremlett, however. Tremlett, who made his comeback after undergoing back surgery in the Guildford game, is now facing the prospect of knee surgery and faces another prolonged spell on the sidelines.

Both Tremlett and Rankin might, had injury not intervened, been among the selectors’ thoughts ahead of the squad for the second Test to be named on Sunday.

10.40am: Paul Edwards at Leicestershire v Yorkshire

Good morning from Grace Road where Leicestershire spectators are preparing to watch their first day of Championship cricket since June 7. However, it is Yorkshire supporters who have had the first good news this morning: Tim Bresnan has been given permission to play in t20 Finals Day. As to today’s cricket, Leicestershire skipper Matthew Hoggard has won the toss against his old county and has opted to bat first.

10.20am Alex Winter sets the scene

All right, the County Championship is not the Olympics. And everyone shall be forgiven for turning their attentions to London and elsewhere for the next two weeks. But never fear, we shall not shirk from our duty...we are here as ever to bring you the brightest and most comprehensive County Championship coverage.

And if you believe Kenny Shovel, which we are more than inclined to do, the Olympics doesn't even hold a candle to the drama provided by four-day cricket...

"The County Championship remains the most infuriatingly unpredictable, gloriously open competition. The kind of nerve jangling, volatile climax we saw in this year’s Premiership title race has become almost par for the course when it comes to English cricket’s domestic title. And with only six rounds of matches left this summer you could still make a case for any one of five teams to have a realistic shot at the title should they maintain form. As while early season front-runners Warwickshire still top the table with a game in hand, last week’s defeat by Somerset allowed the chasing pack to make up ground and Somerset themselves to move into third place just when their inspirational captain, Marcus Trescothick, is returning from injury.

"That element of unpredictability has always been a part of the championship, but it’s increased significantly since the switch to a two division structure in 2000 as there are no longer cheap wins to be found against demotivated sides. This year Lancashire, Surrey, Worcestershire and Durham may have little to no chance of winning the title but they still provide tough opposition as they’re involved in a close, hard fought battle against relegation."

You can read the full version of Kenny's eulogy here.

As Kenny mentions, Warwickshire are still top of the table and they are back at Edgbaston this week with our senior correspondent George Dobell in situ to bring you all the news. Also on home turf in the next four days are Nottinghamshire, major title contenders themselves, and Jon Culley will watch them entertain Surrey.

After their excellent start, Surrey are suddenly looking over their shoulders in the table and will be hoping Durham continue their miserable run - still winless are cricket's newest county and the double champions of just three years ago remember. Durham play host to Middlesex, who will still have ambitions of an audacious run at the summit after some encouraging performances this season. They also have Steven Finn available and we have Les Smith to watch for us.

In Division Two, Yorkshire will be licking their lips at maximum points as they travel to Grace Road to face Leicestershire - Paul Edwards our correspondent in the Midlands - and Hampshire entertain Kent.

So embrace the Olympic spirit (is that the same as Christmas spirit?!) and relish the festivities. But remember, the good ship County Championship is still chugging along for you...

Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo