August 22, 2012

LV= County Championship, Wednesday August 22

4.50pm: Les Smith at Durham v Worcestershire

4.50pm: Les Smith at Durham v Worcestershire

There is a proper game of cricket on here today, a marked contrast with yesterday’s shenanigans when 19 wickets fell for an average of 18 runs each. Phillip Hughes threatened for a while to take the initiative away from Durham, but while his enthusiasm for the off side brought him most of his 18 boundaries, it also, to nobody’s great surprise, led to his downfall minutes after he reached his second century for Worcestershire this summer. Since then Scott Borthwick’s leg spin and Mark Stoneman’s hands have combined to see off Matthew Pardoe and Moeen Ali, the latter caught brilliantly at short leg. As I write Vikram Solanki top edges Callum Thorp to the wicketkeeper, and next ball Thorp gets Joe Leach as well. Worcestershire are 213-6, leading by 99 runs.

4.35pm: Ivo Tennant at Somerset v Sussex

Saj Mahmood, on loan to Somerset for the remainder of the season, is bowling at present, thus far with no joy. Hard to know what the restless Brian Rose, the director of cricket, will do next about bolstering their fast bowling resources, but they are not likely to try to attract, once more, the man of the moment, Vernon Philander. The viewpoint is that, although he made a fine initial impression in his brief spell at Taunton, there was a distinct whiff of net practice ahead of the South Africans’ tour.

4.15pm: Jon Culley at Warwickshire v Middlesex

The four helicopters that have appeared in the sky over Edgbaston for two days running are doing so in the name of art, apparently. They are part of a six-hour opera by Karlheinz Stockhausen that also features musicians suspended on giant swings and a dancing camel.

Each of the helicopters contains a member of a string quartet and a stack of broadcasting kit, beaming their airborne performances back to the disused chemical works in Great Barr Street where the opera is being staged. Part of the London 2012 Festival, the production is estimated to be costing about £1m, with Arts Council England putting in £920,000. I'm making no comment at all...

On the ground, Warwickshire have gone to tea at 236-3, trailing Middlesex by 51 runs. Ian Westwood made his second century of the season -- and his second against Middlesex -- before a change in pace introduced when Neil Dexter entered the attack paid dividends immediately, Westwood chipping Dexter's fourth ball straight to the fielder at mid-off.

Ravi Patel, a left-arm spinner who might have been renamed 'Rupert' in The Times but for Angus Fraser, the Middlesex director of cricket, blowing the whistle on a little bit of press box mischief, has claimed his maiden Championship wicket.

2.40pm: Les Smith at Durham v Worcestershire

Phil Hughes has taken control of this match on Worcestershire’s behalf since Durham’s innings was wrapped up after twenty minutes of cricket this morning. Yesterday Hughes was one of five out of Worcestershire’s top six to fail to pass five runs. Today, in partnership with his captain Daryl Mitchell, he has brought his side level with Durham with all their second innings wickets intact. He has, as usual, been dashingly effective through the off side. He has 78 and the visitors are effectively 2-0.

2.10pm: Jon Culley at Warwickshire v Middlesex

Much as you want to see England players involved in the Championship, their availability can sometimes seem unfair on some counties and timely for others. Worcestershire might feel they fall into the former category.

At New Road next week they may find themselves facing a Middlesex side bolstered by the return of Andrew Strauss in what is likely to be a crucial match in their struggle to avoid relegation. Middlesex meet Worcestershire's fellow strugglers, Lancashire, at Lord's the following week. If Strauss does not also turn out in that one, questions may well be asked.

Worcestershire will already be less than impressed with the news that Jimmy Anderson could appear for Lancashire in their final match against Surrey at Liverpool. It might be argued that the availability of Kevin Pietersen would be a little unkind on Lancashire, but it could be just the thing to fire up Anderson even more.

No county can feel quite so disadvantaged as title-contenders Nottinghamshire, however. Because their final three Championship matches coincide with England's one-day and Twenty20 series against South Africa, they will be without Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann and Samit Patel for the remainder of the season and will have Michael Lumb and Alex Hales available only for their match against Warwickshire at Edgbaston next week.

Warwickshire will point out, though, that they will not have Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott or Chris Woakes available to face Notts. Not that they have looked to be missing them in this match, where Ian Westwood and Varun Chopra have taken their opening partnership to 161 with Ian Westwood four away from his hundred.

2.10pm: Ivo Tennant at Somerset v Sussex

He is called ‘the Sultan’ by James Whitaker, an England selector who is here today, and he has taken seven Somerset wickets for 60. Good bowling on a responsive pitch which will do his international prospects no harm. Monty Panesar’s nickname, though, is still causing a certain amount of bafflement. “The only Sultan I have known was the Sultan of swing – my old team mate Richard Ellison,” says David Fulton, the former Kent captain who is reporting on this match. Still, doubtless it will stick.

1.15pm: Jon Culley at Warwickshire v Middlesex

If you are going to win Championships, a decent pair at the top of the order helps. Varun Chopra and Ian Westwood have become such a combination. They've put together their fourth century opening stand of the season and their third in the last six innings.

The batsmen have had some luck, surviving a high count of outside and inside edges, but Middlesex have not always bowled particularly straight. It has been not unlike the opening day in that regard.

Warwickshire have a platform to build on and if they can score 400 you would make them a very good bet to win this match and take a big step towards clinching the title. They are 126-0 at lunch.

1.15pm: Les Smith at Durham v Worcestershire

Peter Boyle spent his ninth birthday watching the first day of Durham’s first class cricket history. He has missed a tiny handful of home days since then, though he doesn’t bother with Twenty20 because it’s not worth the two buses to get here from his home in Durham city. His knowledge of Durham cricket – statistical, historical, the players – is phenomenal. He has no interest in any other sport and spends his winter leisure hours trawling the TV channels for cricket overseas. This ought to be a recipe for a sad and boring person, but nothing could be further from the truth. Half an hour in Peter’s company is a delightful reminder of why we love this game, and the county game in particular.

Peter told me what to write at lunch time. The sun has come out, the pitch has settled, and Worcestershire have done what they should have done yesterday morning. Their openers Daryl Mitchell and Phil Hughes have got their heads down to put on 64 undefeated runs for the first wicket, reducing their deficit to 50. There was talk early this morning of a very early conclusion to this match, but it’s a different game today and there is still plenty of cricket in store.

11.25am: Jon Culley at Warwickshire v Middlesex

Neither Warwickshire nor Middlesex will be involved in this Saturday's Twenty20 finals day in Cardiff. They can count themselves lucky. I'm going and I was rather hoping to stay in an hotel afterwards, rather than undertake a three-hour drive home at midnight. Every hotel I searched on the internet was either full or advertising at between £175 and £250 for one night.

The explanation for this is that, in addition to the usual demands on hotel space in the Welsh capital on a Bank Holiday weekend, finals day clashes with the British Speedway Grand Prix. I found somewhere to stay eventually... about 45 minutes away in Chepstow.

Meanwhile, Warwickshire have advanced to 36-0 from 11 overs.

11.25am: Ivo Tennant at Somerset v Sussex

Marcus Trescothick, much loved in these parts, has reached the 50th first-class century of his career. Fourteen of these have been for England, for whom he would still be playing but for his well-documented illness. He rocks backwards and forwards, drives through the covers, dabs to third man and reaches three figures through a misfield by the Sussex captain. Ed Joyce gives him a cursory clap, which is more than can be said for any of the other fielders, even when the announcement comes that Trescothick has reached a particular milestone. They felt he should have been out yesterday when he had made 60.

10.40am: Les Smith at Durham v Worcestershire

It’s very disappointing to have to report that the quality of Durham’s outfield football hasn’t noticeably improved since I was last here four weeks ago. Bibs are playing colours, the score line is 0-0, and nothing in front of me suggests that will change before the players retire to the pavilion to prepare for the day’s serious business.

And it will be serious. Worcestershire, seriously in need of points from this match, must nip Durham’s innings in the bud early, then bat more resolutely than they did yesterday to overhaul a deficit which at present is 95 runs.

Overhead, it’s a similar story to yesterday’s. Sunshine is bathing the field, but clouds are building and it could be tricky again for the batsmen

The 10am wake-up call

A random question to start the day. Should Shiv Thakor have won a place in England's U-19 squad? Thakor hit his third Championship fifty in six innings for Leicestershire to slow Hampshire's promotion challenge yesterday and around Grace Road there was a growing sense of a batsman wronged. That should test your knowledge, let us know what you think.

England U19s, after all, played the Overton twins in the high middle order, far above their normal status, and once again they disappointed at this age group level as they lost comprehensively to South Africa in the quarter-finals.

Age group cricket is riddled with bad selections - the lower down the scale you go, the worse it gets - but there is one healthy aspect to this question and that is that, not before time, Leicestershire are beginning to produce players of Asian origin. As Leicester has more people of Indian origin than almost any other city outside India, that is not before time. Leicestershire's future is surely determinedly multi-racial.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo