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6.45pm: Jon Culley at Warwickshire v Nottinghamshire
Day one of this clash of two of the title contenders has been a good contest, although with the best part of 300 runs on the board Warwickshire will feel more pleased that Nottinghamshire will with five wickets. Luke Fletcher and Paul Franks did well for Chris Read's side but the bad news for them is that Andre Adams, their leading wicket-taker, left the field after bowling 18 overs without a wicket, having struggled again with the calf injury that kept him out of their last game, against Durham. Warwicks 298-5 at stumps.
5.20pm: David Lloyd at Somerset v Surrey
Working on the basis that there are more ways than one to skin a cat, Somerset put most of their efforts into denying Pietersen partners – and the ploy worked pretty well once Wilson was stumped off a ball from Dockrell that bit and turned.
Gareth Batty, Stuart Meaker – bowled by one that kept ominously low – and Jon Lewis all came and went quickly. But then last man Kartik, ex-Somerset, of course, helped Pietersen to turn 285 for nine into 317 all out.
Pietersen was last out, edging a catch behind off Mahmood. His 163 represented almost 50 per cent of Surrey’s runs and served as a reminder, should any be needed, that he is in a different class to most who play this game.
4.15pm: Myles Hodgson at Lancashire v Durham
Tom Smith has endured a torrid season with injuries, firstly with a hamstring injury keeping him out for several weeks at the start of the summer and most recently with a thigh strain that sidelined him for five weeks.
His confidence, not unexpectedly, has dipped while he has tried to battle back from injuries, but has looked a different player on his return to the championship at Aigburth today. Confidence lifted by his 106 off 46 balls in the rained off CB40 match at Worcester yesterday, Smith has played a key role in helping Lancashire reach 94 for five at tea.
It has been a vastly different innings in nature to his explosive performance at New Road, but just as important to Lancashire’s cause after they slipped to 58 for five. By way of contrast, he reached his century yesterday off 44 balls, while today he had reached 18 off the same number of deliveries.
Having watched Durham and been suitably impressed by Ben Stokes against Surrey recently, I was more than happy to announce confidently to the rest of the press test that he was the most improved bowler in county cricket. Inevitably, he has struggled to live up to my expectations and finished with one for 30 from seven overs at tea, although he did dismiss Ashwell Prince to a top-edged pull having earlier dropped him at slip. For the good of Durham’s resurgence and Stokes’ career, I promise to make no more bold predictions before the end of the summer.
3.55pm: Les Smith at Yorkshire v Gloucestershire
It’s one of the delightful sights in cricket. It’s tea time at North Marine Road, the field is bathed in sunshine, and all over the outfield there are impromptu games of cricket, friends and families strolling, and would be experts stroking their chins and scrutinising the pitch. They have witnessed a session of play which was considerably more sedate than this morning’s until young Jack Taylor came in to bat at the fall of the seventh wicket. He immediately tucked in to Azeem Rafiq, who bowled unchanged throughout the session, and scored seven fours and a six in a partnership of 56 to which his partner, Jonathan Batty, contributed two. Azeem Rafiq snared his man in the end though, taking a sharp return catch when Taylor was one short of what would have been his second first class half century. Despite the Taylor onslaught, Gloucestershire will still consider 174-8 to be a below par score.
3.50pm: David Lloyd at Somerset v Surrey
The certainty of a Pietersen century suddenly looked, well, just a little less certain – thanks to two wickets in six balls at the other end. De Bruyn’s hopes of a fourth half-century perished when he chased a wide one from Steve Kirby to edge a catch behind, then Jason Roy was caught down the leg-side at the end of the same over.
Whoops! Surrey were 164 for five with KP still 32 away from a hundred. No problem.
True, he was fairly close to playing on, against Trego, when 72 but that was as near as Somerset came to stopping his fun. A sweetly timed drive to wide long on, against Thomas, brought Pietersen his 15th four, to go with a pulled six off Trego, and completed the 45th first-class century of his career.
How much this one meant, only Pietersen will know. But he raised his bat to the dressing room, then acknowledged the crowd’s generous applause before pumping his fist two or three times – not in a showy, ‘look at me’ way but simply to underline his pleasure. Then there was a hug with batting partner Gary Wilson, followed swiftly by another four off Thomas.
The hundred came from 116 balls and, with tea approaching, Surrey were 230 for five.
2.55pm: David Lloyd at Somerset v Surrey
You make your own luck? Well, that is true to an extent but there wasn’t much Somerset could do here to prevent Kevin Pietersen from playing only his third championship match of the season – short of Marcus Trescothick bending the arm of his old batting mate Andrew Strauss to bring about a quick kiss and make up between England and KP.
The hosts bowled pretty well at him this morning but, crucially, could not break through. And by lunch they must have feared the worst.
Pietersen scores so quickly. He always has done, and often apparently without trying. Take this afternoon. From 23 at the interval he moved past 50 at the rate of a run a ball. There was an on drive against Mahmood, a cut off Dockrell and precious few anxious moments before the crowd applauded a half-century that had taken 66 deliveries in all.
More surprising, perhaps, was that Zander de Bruyn looked almost as comfortable. The former Somerset batsman has had a wretched championship season and he came into this game averaging a paltry 17.41.
My mid-afternoon the pair were close to a century partnership, having taken Surrey to 162 for three.
2.20pm: Myles Hodgson at Lancashire v Durham
There has been one significant advantage to Lancashire moving most of their matches to Aigburth this season due to the redevelopment work at Old Trafford. If nothing else, during a summer of crushing disappointment on the field, it has spared them from the barbed comments directed towards them from the members area at Old Trafford, which is affectionately known as “the pit of hate.”
Never knowingly short of an opinion or two, heaven knows how the present bunch of Lancashire players would have adapted to such forceful reviews of their fortunes this summer had they been playing at their county headquarters. Just a year after one of the most enjoyable summers in modern history, they seem certain to follow Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire in recent years by suffering relegation the year after winning the title.
If that is to be their fate, their top order batting would have played a major part in it. After winning the toss once play began at 1.30pm, they slipped to 11 for four with Graham Onions, predictably, claiming three early wickets. Should the England selectors want to know, he can bowl a bit.
2.05pm: Les Smith at Yorkshire v Gloucestershire
Geoffrey Boycott is a rare visitor to North Marine Road, but he’s here today. He made an elegant promenade around the boundary this morning before enjoying a pleasant lunch in the VIP marquee, from which he has yet to emerge. Yorkshire’s qualification for the Champions League Twenty20 has caused Steven Patterson’s wedding to be postponed by a couple of months. I don’t know what the putative Mrs Patterson thinks about that, but his value to Yorkshire was clear to see as his three early wickets contributed to Gloucestershire’s collapse to 9-4. Ian Cockbain and Will Gidman got their heads down to go some way towards repairing the damage, keeping pace with each other up to the lunch interval. What devil there might have been in the pitch appeared to fade, and throughout the last half hour we had spin from both ends. Cockbain was dismissed in the third over after lunch, however. Gloucestershire 86-5.
2pm: Jon Culley at Warwickshire v Nottinghamshire
Warwickshire had the better of things in the opening session, although slightly less emphatically after the dismissal of William Porterfield, who played himself in as he so often does only to miss the opportunity to kick on. He was bowled playing outside a good delivery from Paul Franks, perhaps with a bit of inside edge involved. Earlier, Varun Chopra had been caught at first slip off Luke Fletcher, who was rewarded to a good spell at the Birmingham (aka City) End when Hales stepped in to make sure an edge to third slip was not wasted after the ball bounced out of Riki Wessels's hands. Warwickshire are 99-2 at lunch, which is an hour later than usual after the noon start.
What Mick Newell has not complained about -- nor would he -- is that Warwickshire will have Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell available for the match at Trent Bridge. The demands of the England team have always and will always impact on county sides at different times but when they cause one team to be seriously disadvantaged for such a potentially crucial match it does not do much for the integrity of the Championship.
1.10pm: David Lloyd at Somerset v Surrey
They’re nice folk in these parts – well, the championship cricket-supporting ones are, anyway. It was no surprise then that a crowd of around 2,000 greeted Kevin Pietersen’s walk to the middle with polite applause. There were one or two ironic jeers but nothing more than that.
Given that the new ball swung a bit and seamed quite a lot, Surrey had done pretty well to lose only two wickets in the first 75 minutes (Burns eventually played on to Sajid Mahmood to bring about Pietersen’s arrival).
There is a lot more to this game than KP, though. For a start, Mahmood is desperately trying to revitalise a career that has been stuck in neutral for too long and the former England fast bowler is hoping a loan spell from Lancashire will help him to do just that.
And then there is Dockrell, the gifted left-arm spinner who continues to impress wherever he plays.
Considering KP’s problems with southpaw twirlymen over the years, Marcus Trescothick was arguably a bit slow in introducing Dockrell (10 overs after Pietersen’s arrival) but, to be fair, the ball was still doing enough for the faster bowlers.
Anyway, Dockrell soon struck – having Arun Harinath taken at slip by a juggling Trescothick – but Pietersen settled in confidently to supply 23 of Surrey’s 84-3 by lunch.
12.40pm: Jon Culley at Warwickshire v Nottinghamshire
Mick Newell, Nottinghamshire's director of cricket, believes Nottinghamshire's title challenge will be over if they fail to beat Warwickshire over the next four days, even though they will have a second chance to take points off the Championships leaders in the return match at Trent Bridge in the last week of the season. For that fixture they will have half their team unavailable due to international calls.
Newell has never taken issue with the duty of counties to provide players for England but has found it hard not to feel a little hard done-by at having his team so badly disrupted at the business end of the season. "We always take great pride when a Notts player is selected for England because it is a fair reflection on how well they have done for us," he said. "We expected to be without Broad and Swann, but not necessarily Patel, Lumb and Hales as well.
"Lumb's selection is no major surprise given the quality he has shown in domestic cricket this season. We get some financial compensation, which is all well and good, but it doesn't give me a new No.3 does it?"
As if losing that quintet were not enough, Newell will also be without Adam Voges, his overseas player, who has been told he must report for pre-season training with Western Australia. Newell is looking at the possibility of recruiting another overseas player on a one-game deal.
Here, they have James Taylor back after his stint with the England Test team. Steven Mullaney steps down. In the other change from the side beaten by Durham a little under two weeks ago, Andre Adams returns after resting a calf strain, in place of Ben Phillips. But Harry Gurney, the left-arm seamer, is not considered ready to return from a hip injury.
Warwickshire have left out Darren Maddy from the team that hung on for a draw against Middlesex last week, with the former England under-19 seamer Tom Milnes give his first Championship outing since June.
Warwickshire won the toss and decided to bat and after 10 overs following a 12 noon start they are 30-0.
11.35am: Myles Hodgson at Lancashire v Durham
No matter how favourable the conditions this summer, it seems the weather is determined to thwart cricket lovers. After arriving at Aigburth this morning in the warmest climate we have enjoyed all summer, it was reasonable to assume a prompt start and an intriguing battle between struggling Lancashire and a Durham side chasing a county record fifth successive victory.
Not so, apparently. Umpires Martin Bodenham and Nigel Cowley expressed their concern about the damp outfield from the start and after an 11.00am inspection ruled out any play before lunch. They are unhappy with the bowler’s run-ups, but an early lunch has been called for 12.30pm with a view to starting at 1.10pm.
All this has occurred after Lancashire controversially switched this match from Old Trafford, where is was originally scheduled, to Aigburth after almost being deducted points for a sub-standard wicket during their defeat to Worcestershire in July. Many Durham supporters, who had already booked rooms in Manchester, were unhappy with the decision, although if Graham Onions can exploit the conditions here, they may find the move rewarding.
Mike Watkinson, Lancashire’s Cricket Director, claimed the reason for the switch was to help give contractors more time to finish the latest stage of Old Trafford’s redevelopment in time for the new players and media stand to be ready for England’s Twenty20 International against South Africa on September 10.
“This game falls during a busy period for our contractors, who are also redeveloping our Pavilion, and it will allow them to complete key activities without having to schedule around a four-day game. This also removes any potential inconvenience to players and spectators,” Watkinson explained. “Given that we made a significant investment prior to 2011 on the pitches at Liverpool it makes sense to utilise this resource during this period.”
11.25: David Lloyd at Somerset v Surrey
Must be my age – well, that’s my excuse anyway: forgot to mention another notable absentee from the Surrey ranks. Rory Hamilton-Brown, who returned to the championship side for the dramatic win over Middlesex a fortnight ago but could only contribute a brace of twos, has been left out here for cricketing reasons.
As suspected, the new ball is doing enough this morning to interest Messrs Trego and Kirby. The latter was convinced that Zafar Ansari had edged a catch behind during the sixth over – and looked to be telling the 20-year-old left-hander as much when the appeal was turned down.
Life is never dull when ‘Kirbs’ is roaring in and steam starts coming from his ears. And, much to his delight, he had Ansari lbw next over.
11.05am: David Lloyd at Somerset v Surrey
Well, the Pietersen-watchers may not have too long to wait – Surrey have won the toss and are batting here on a relaid pitch which ought to give a little assistance, early on, to the seamers. But while ‘Kev’ plays his first championship match since mid-July (when he scored a cheeky little 234 not out against Lancashire at Guildford), the visitors have been forced to make a late change: keeper Steven Davies is unwell and will be replaced by Gary Wilson.
Somerset are still without Nick Compton (back injury) but can once again count on young spinner George Dockrell, just returned from Ireland duty at the Under 19 World Cup in Australia.
The hosts know that even winning their last three matches may not be enough to claim that elusive title. As for the visitors, one more victory could secure their first division status.
10.55am: Les Smith at Yorkshire v Gloucestershire
Ah yes. Scarborough at the end of August. Is there a finer place to watch cricket towards the back end of the domestic season? It’s the Yorkshire cricket fanatic’s annual week away at the seaside. There’s already healthy crowd in, and there are some west country voices in the big stand at the Pavilion End. For Yorkshire this match matters a lot, for Gloucestershire somewhat less. With three fixtures left in the County Championship, Yorkshire reckon two victories should be enough to go back up to Division One at the first time of asking. Two of their younger players who have contributed to this season’s relative success are Gary Ballance and Joe Root, and the pair have just been awarded their county caps on the outfield in front of the pavilion. Gloucestershire have won the toss and will bat.
10.45am: Strauss abandons the run-in for the runaround
It sums up the unsatisfying nature of much of England's professional circuit that the run-in for the championship begins without the England captain Andrew Strauss.
A full set of championship matches begins today which will have repercussions at the top and bottom of the table. But Strauss will not be involved for Middlesex. He is having what has been termed an additional rest period, which might mean he has doubts about his future or that he has a series of meetings with Kevin Pietersen. Or possibly both.
When you are 18 there is nothing finer than the thought of a run-a-ball century in the sunshine at Worcester. By the time you reach your mid-30s, you can no longer find time for it because the politics of life so often intrudes. The priorities of the 18-year-old seem so much simpler.
How they stand:
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David Hopps joined ESPNcricinfo as UK editor early in 2012. For the previous 20 years he was a senior cricket writer for the Guardian and covered England extensively during that time in all Test-playing nations. He also covered four Olympic Games and has written several cricket books, including collections of cricket quotations. He has been an avid amateur cricketer since he was 12, and so knows the pain of repeated failure only too well. The pile of untouched novels he plans to read, but rarely gets around to, is now almost touching the ceiling. He divides his time between the ESPNcricinfo office in Hammersmith and his beloved Yorkshire.