August 15, 2012

LV= County Championship, Wednesday August 15

5.40pm: Tim Wigmore at Surrey v Middlesex

5.40pm: Tim Wigmore at Surrey v Middlesex

It’s much less gloomy out there, with the sun having come out just after the floodlights were switched on. Typical of county cricket, they are only allowed to play while natural light exceeds that produced by the floodlights. For now it definitely does, so we should have all the 20 remaining overs we are due today.

That will feel like a long time for Surrey, who, having being bowled out for only 144, with the immaculate Tim Murtagh claiming 5-37, have looked very flat in the field. Middlesex are already 40 without loss, with skipper Chris Rogers on 25. It feels worth pointing out that he has been strongly linked with joining Surrey next season. Then again, Surrey’s transfer policy under Chris Adams is such that not being linked with them is perhaps more noteworthy.

4.50pm: Jon Culley at Nottinghamshire v Durham

Another torrent has put paid to what were slim hopes in any event of getting the players on again. The pity for Notts is that they were shaping up to overcome their untimely bout of absenteeism quite well. Back tomorrow for another go.

4.25pm: Myles Hodgson at Yorkshire v Derbyshire

I’m afraid the weather has also beaten us here at Headingley. Only one ball was possible after lunch before heavy rain halted play. By the time the tannoy announcement revealed, in muffled tones, the inevitable to the small crowd, there were possibly more people in the press box than in the ground.

4.10pm: Jon Culley at Nottinghamshire v Durham

The KP text/Twitter saga has done nothing to deter the second most famous cricket parody account from continuing in business. Official Moin Ashraf (@OfficialMoinA23) today asks, desperately: "Argh. Does anyone know how to delete text messages on an iPhone?"

This follows: "Dear ECB. I'd like to apologies (sic) for being really fast at bowling and being able to bowl an extremely naughty yorker."

Unlike KP, young Moin Ashraf, the Yorkshire bowler whose imagined thoughts are regularly tweeted to more than 5,000 followers, takes it all with good humour. He claims to be unaware who is behind the spoof but since Anthony McGrath has denied it is him the finger of suspicion points at a long-haired former England left-arm swing bowler.

No play since lunch but lots of rain and some really weird clouds that are scudding across like a film on fast forward.

4pm: Tim Wigmore at Surrey v Middlesex

A combination of bad light and rain has further disrupted play at the Oval, with Jason Roy (35*) the only batsman to have convinced all day.

More happily, tea has arrived in the press box – freshly made scones and rather good chocolate brownies, with the interruption in play allowing them to be appreciated as they deserve. Rather unfortunately, the serving of lunch almost exactly coincided with the earlier resumption of play. And, as everyone knows, you can’t tweet - even if it’s only onto a KP parody account - on an empty stomach.

Anyway, as I scoff away on my second scone, the players are returning. On today’s performance, Surrey may well be playing second division cricket next season, but at least they won’t be serving second division food.

3.40pm: Jon Culley at Nottinghamshire v Durham

Apparently, Nottinghamshire may themselves have played an unwitting role in facilitating Ian Blackwell's loan move to Warwickshire, which could be an interesting fact to consider if the left-arm spinner bowls the Bears to the title.

Blackwell, who has not played in Durham's Championship side since May, took 7-52 against Australia A earlier this month and was back in the squad for Trent Bridge. He might have played, too, if Durham had believed it would be a spinner's pitch, and would have probably scuppered Warwickshire's interest had he got among the wickets here. Instead, although the wicket ends look well worn, the pitch prepared is well grassed in the middle and Durham decided to go with leg-sinner Scott Borthwick and four seamers.

“We took Ian to Notts in order to try and give him a game if the conditions were right," Durham's head coach, Geoff Cook, said. "However, as that wasn’t the case it is important for him to get some cricket under his belt and going on loan to Warwickshire allows him to do that.”

There has been no play since lunch but mopping up is under way and another inspection is imminent. The weather radar says more rain is on the way but fingers remain crossed. Durham 85-4.

2.55pm: Tim Wigmore at Surrey v Middlesex

Batting suddenly looks rather easy. The gloom has lessened, at least somewhat, and, much more importantly, the bowling has got worse. The opening bowlers have finished their marathon opening spells (Tim Murtagh’s was 13-5-21-2, Toby Roland-Jones’ 11-6-37-3) and Surrey have launched a mini counter-attack, with Jason Roy’s KP-esque flamingo shot off Neil Dexter particularly impressive.

Typically, as I was about to enter, Steven Davies is out. His dismissal owed little to Neil Dexter’s bowling, and much more to his aberrant swipe outside off-stump. 73-6 now – who needs Steve Finn?

2.30pm: Myles Hodgson at Yorkshire v Derbyshire

What we thought was a momentary interruption, one ball after the afternoon session began, has now turned into an annoying delay. The forecast is not good, and after a brief delay, heavy rain has now set in.

The delay, however long it lasts, will not help Yorkshire’s hopes of closing the gap on Derbyshire, the division two leaders. At present Derbyshire lead Yorkshire, lying in third place, by 26 points having played a game less, so if they avoid defeat they will remain on course for promotion and possibly the division two title.

This rain interruption has sent the statisticians of the press box delving into their records to determine how this affects Yorkshire’s time lost to the weather this season. Prior to this match, they had lost 41.97% of their overs this summer, which has not exactly aided their promotion challenge.

Whether rain showers will be enough of a reason to placate Geoff Boycott, Yorkshire’s president, is another matter should they fail to finish in the top two. He demanded promotion this season to put them in place to win the championship next summer, which will fit in nicely with their 150th anniversary celebrations.

2.10p.m: Paul Edwards at England Lions v Australia A

To absolutely no one’s surprise, play has just been abandoned for the day here, thus continuing Edgbaston’s sodden record of hosting international cricket this summer. The rain has been pretty incessant since around eleven o’clock and the fact that the umpires’ inspection was punctuated by a particularly heavy shower did not help matters one jot.

Anyway, that’s more than enough about the weather. I leave you to the none too tender merices of Andrew Gale’s fury and police helicopters circling Trent Bridge. At least it makes a change from Henry Blofeld's London buses.

2pm: Tim Wigmore at Surrey v Middlesex

Back on here, having lost ten overs for the day. And Zander de Bruyn is soon back out, trapped lbw to Toby Roland-Jones for a pretty miserable 12-ball duck.

Roland-Jones has been nominated by Middlesex as the man to drop out of the side if Steve Finn isn’t needed at Lord’s, which seems rather rough. With two wickets so far here, he now has 38 championship wickets at 20 apiece this season, as well as an outstanding record against Surrey (21 wickets at 11 apiece). Tall, with decent pace, a strong action and consistent movement, he is a very fine county performer.

Anyway, Surrey’s apparent slide towards relegation continues, with Rory Hamilton-Brown bowled middle stump by Tim Murtagh, leaving an injudicious gap between bat and ball to a ball that nipped back just enough. He made two on his championship return.

Press box chatter about Surrey’s lowest score against Middlesex at The Oval (45 in 1896) rather says it all.

1.45pm: Jon Culley at Nottinghamshire v Durham

The police helicopter has gone now, thankfully. It was a bit serious, apparently, involving an armed raid on a post office, so perhaps we shouldn't joke. Meanwhile, at ground level there has been no play since lunch because of rain, although the optimistic forecast is for improvement later and a pleasant evening.

Nottinghamshire have had a pleasant morning, rewarded for their decision to stick Durham in with four wickets, despite the injury-enforced absence of two key seamers in Adams and Gurney. Luke Fletcher, eager to make an impression after three and a half months without a Championship appearance, claimed his second wicket when Mark Stoneman, pushing forward, got a thin edge and was taken behind the stumps by the reliable Chris Read.

Stoneman fell four runs short of what would have been a tidy half-century. Earlier, Phil Mustard's intentions to turn his startling CB40 form into Championship runs came a cropper when the thinnest of touches as he drove at Andy Carter had him caught behind too. Mustard, who had 250 runs in his last two limited-overs games, made only nine. It is up to the old geezers, Dale Benkenstein and Paul Collingwood, to rebuild now, but they are going to have to wait awhile. More covers coming on. Durham 85-4.

1.10pm: Myles Hodgson at Yorkshire v Derbyshire

Andrew Hodd maybe a newcomer to the Yorkshire dressing room, but he has been around long enough to know when to scarper if a batsman bursts through the door frustrated by his dismissal. That would certainly have been the case when Andrew Gale, Yorkshire’s captain, stomped back in just 25 minutes before lunch.

For all his undoubted quality, Gale has scored only one championship half-century all summer but looked on course to end that sequence before lunch today. Fed by some inconsistent Derbyshire bowling, who appeared to relish bowling on his legs, Gale hit seven boundaries en route to 47.

Derbyshire will probably argue their leg side line eventually paid off with Gale falling after he got a top edge as he attempted to pull Ross Whiteley and found fine leg. He stomped off in a furious manner and one can only hope Hodd, or anyone else for that matter, was not sitting in the captain’s spot when he arrived back in the dressing room.

While Gale was unable to exploit Derbyshire’s bowling display, Adam Lyth has progressed to an unbeaten 56, only his second time past 40 in the championship this summer. Given that the other time he reached an unbeaten 248, his first century for two years, Derbyshire should be fearful.

12.05pm: Jon Culley at Nottinghamshire v Durham

This match is being played to the less-than-pleasant background noise of the local police helicopter, the occupants of which are monitoring something so close to Trent Bridge that you wondered if the pilot had identified it as a nice big space to land in. Happily that has not happened yet.

It cannot be helping the Durham batsmen concentrate. Will Smith's judgment was certainly impaired when he left a fairly straight one from Luke Fletcher that bowled him. Now Keaton Jennings, the 20-year-old who captained South Africa Under-19s in England last summer, has been leg before to Ben Phillips, getting half-forward into a defensive shot but failing to connect with another ball that did not seem to do too much.

Meanwhile, Darren Pattinson, who is seeing out the last few weeks of his contract without playing any meaningful part, is on the field as substitute for Ben Phillips, who has just given way to Paul Franks at the Radcliffe Road end.

1155am: Tim Wigmore at Surrey v Middlesex

Rain has led to the covers coming on, but Surrey are already struggling at 28-2. Ansari will be particularly frustrated, having been dismissed to the final ball before the players went off.

Even lacking Steve Finn, Middlesex have a highly skilled attack, with both Tim Murtagh and Toby Roland-Jones able to extract enough nip to account for one of Surrey’s young openers each, who were both caught in the slips. Ansari, though he made only ten, impressed with two wonderful straight drives from Roland-Jones.

With such an inexperienced top three – Burns and Ansari, for all their talent, are 21 and 20 and perhaps not natural openers, while Arun Harinath’s first-class average of 25 matches his age – the decision to ditch Mark Ramprakash appears as odd as ever. Perhaps, like Graeme Hick in his final seasons, Ramprakash could have contributed at number five. Failing that today would be a mighty good day for Zander de Bruyn to end his miserable batting form. But, with the rain intensifying, he won’t have a chance for a while yet.

11.35am: Jon Culley at Nottinghamshire v Durham

Good morning from Trent Bridge, where Nottinghamshire feel they must beat Durham over the next four days or say goodbye to their hopes of winning the Championship for the second time in three years. The odds are not particularly in their favour. In addition to the usual absentees (Swann, Broad) there is no James Taylor (England) or Samit Patel (Lions), while injuries have robbed the bowling attack of Harry Gurney and -- more importantly, I suspect -- Andre Adams, who is their match-winner with the ball. Should England release either Taylor or Swann, Graeme White and Steven Mullaney are the players nominated to stand down.

It means that Luke Fletcher is back for his first Championship action since playing four matches in April, when he took seven wickets in the season opener against Worcestershire but only one in 61 overs in the three subsequent games. Ben Phillips, Paul Franks and Andy Carter make up the seam quartet, with White the specialist spinner.

Durham have chosen Mitch Claydon in place of Graham Onions, who is in the England squad, and Mark Wood for Ben Stokes, who is playing for the Lions at Edgbaston. Claydon will step aside if Onions is released at Lord's. There is no recall for Ian Blackwell, who is being pursued by Warwickshire as loan cover for Jeetan Patel. Keaton Jennings, the former South Africa Under-19 captain, who made his delayed Championship debut against Surrey last week after work permit problems were resolved, retains his place.

Indeed, the left-handed Jennings is batting now. Durham were put in by Notts on a pitch which is hard but well grassed. Nothing much was happening for Phillips and Fletcher but then Will Smith left one alone from Fletcher that nipped back and clouted his off stump.

Notts have not won a Championship match since May; Durham have won their last two. Floodlights are on, rain forecast this afternoon. Durham 24-1.

11.30am: Myles Hodgson at Yorkshire v Derbyshire

You would not have thought it difficult to accurately report the outcome of a flip of a coin, but there appears to have been a major breakdown in communications from Headingley this morning, causing consternation among those media outlets who are required to impart such details immediately.

The electronic scoreboard, situated to the left of the press box here, announced to all that Derbyshire had won the toss and decided to field, which was not a great surprise with cloud cover and a slightly green tinge to the wicket. No sooner had Adam Lyth and Phil Jacques, Yorkshire’s openers, walked out for the first over, the scoreboard had changed to Yorkshire winning the toss and deciding to bat.

After several minutes of frantic phone calls, it was determined that the original report of Derbyshire calling correctly was right. Either way, they have begun the match more promisingly with Jacques falling in the fourth over when he shouldered arms to a full-length Tim Groenewald that may have kept a little low.

Derbyshire have replaced Jonathan Clare, who has a back strain, with Mark Turner while David Wainwright, the former Yorkshire leg-spinner, plays his first championship match at Headingley since leaving in controversial circumstances at the end of last summer.

Yorkshire welcome back Ryan Sidebottom from a calf strain, who plays his first championship match at Headingley since the end of May and give a debut to Andrew Hodd, who has been signed on loan from Sussex following the surprise decision to release Gerard Brophy as reserve wicketkeeper.

11.20am: Paul Edwards at England Lions v Australia A

The persistent RBP (Rain of Biblical Proportions) we were promised hasn’t arrived at Edgbaston yet, but a heavy shower around 45 minutes ago has certainly done enough to prevent a prompt start and launch the march of the Blotters (although I note that one of the two contraptions is, in fact, called a Blotta.)

Australia will resume on 308 for nine after a day which was entertaining enough but fiendishly difficult to analyse. Did England bowl well? Yes and no. Did Australia bat well? Yes and no. Did England catch well in the slips? Absolutely not. Is James Tredwell the most underestimated spinner in the country? On the evidence of the last eight days, very possibly.

10.55am: Tim Wigmore at Surrey v Middlesex

Hello from the Oval, where it’s desperately gloomy but we should start on time. Surrey have won the toss and will bat – sensible given they have picked two front line spinners, plus Zafar Ansari’s very useful twirlers. Even without KP, Surrey’s team is not lacking in talking points: Rory Hamilton-Brown plays his first championship game since the death of Tom Maynard; Jon Lewis is also omitted. In these conditions it seems a little strange to only play two seamers, but Lewis’ form since the t20 break – five wickets at 62 from four championship games – has been terrible.

For Middlesex, Ollie Rayner misses out with a broken finger, while wicket keeper John Simpson is left out after averaging only 14 with the bat this season. Middlesex’s ties with Ireland intensify with a championship debut for Andrew Balbirnie, who shares a birthday with me. But now Surrey will have to worry about another Irishman (of sorts): Tim Murtagh should be dangerous on his old home ground.

10am: Alan Gardner with the dawn chorus (of backbiting and rumour)

So, it seems sorry wasn't the hardest word after all. But due to ongoing attempts to secure a detente between Kevin Pietersen and the ECB, England's premier nuisance/batsman will not be illuminating the London derby at The Oval - though Rory Hamilton-Brown is in Surrey's squad, which should please our Kennington correspondent, Tim Wigmore.

With seven matches going on around the country, there might even be enough wind in the sails to steer a course past the Pietersen blockade that has a stranglehold on cricket news coverage. Or maybe not. But Nottinghamshire will hope to cut out some of the clear water between themselves and Warwickshire at the top of Division One, as well as reclaim second place from Sussex, when they take on a renascent Durham at Trent Bridge. Jon Culley will be in situ to describe events.

Also in Division One, Worcestershire take on Lancashire in what is likely to be a crucial relegation encounter; while at Headingley, where they're still cleaning the cordite off the walls after the Test, Myles Hodgson will bring news of Division Two's top-of-the-table tussle between Yorkshire and Derbyshire.

There are also fixtures taking place at Colchester (Essex v Glamorgan), West End (Hampshire v Northamptonshire) and Bristol (Gloucestershire v Kent), which we'll try to keep you abreast of, in between combing Twitter for the latest childish parody account set up by the friend of an England player's uncle who once walked Jonny Bairstow's dog. As ever, feel free to point fingers below the line ...

Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo