If It Ain't Broke – A Glorious Week in The Championship

It seemed opportune, with the credibility of the Championship once more being called into doubt, to spend some time celebrating this wonderful competition and reminding ourselves what wonderful sport 4-day red ball cricket produces.

Let me say at the outset any week with a Somerset win in the championship is glorious but for once I’m going to look away from Taunton to celebrate a sensations round of games in both Divisions.
It was only last Sunday but it seems, in the light of the Adil Rashid selection to be light-years ago that we were all thinking the performances over the four days would be crucial in determining a number of places in the England squad.
However, despite everything the ECB do to marginalise the championship our cherished red-ball competition continues to delight.
Any round of 4-day cricket after a three-week hiatus was going to be welcome but the added ingredients of the majority of England’s centrally contracted players and the imminent announcement of the Test squad added extra zip to this round.
But let’s take time out to celebrate and hopefully remind ourselves and the administrators how good a “product” they already have on their hands.
The advent a few years ago of BBC’s ball-by-ball coverage of every championship game has undoubtedly added to our enjoyment. But credit needs to go to the numerous excellent commentators who have become summer long companions for many of us. This bunch of outstanding broadcasters including Anthony Gibson, Dave Bracegirdle, the long-suffering  Martin Emerson and the much-missed Dave Callaghan are the unsung stars of BBC’s cricket coverage.
The move by many counties to live-stream ball by ball coverage and this season’s syncing of the BBC commentary has seen phenomenal website traffic throughout the season. I hope the ECB is aware of these astonishing numbers.
Starting in Division One. Leaders Surrey further enhanced their title credentials while proving that newly promoted Notts have been punching above their weight in the first half of the season. Any game which finishes day one with one side leading by 13 runs with 9 wickets in hand is only going to go one way.
Surrey did what all good sides do in such circumstances, they put their foot even harder down on the metaphorical throat of the opponents. Rory Burns led the way with another big hundred and Rikki Clarke also reached three figures in a total of 592. Surrey’s dominance was emphasised by numbers 7 to 10 amassing over 230 runs between them as the last 5 wickets virtually doubled the total.
Notts were left to bat the best part of two days to save the game.  They made it to the close on the second day with the loss of only one wicket but the next morning wickets fell steadily with Morne Morkel taking 5-60 as Notts subsided for 199.
Old Trafford staged its last championship game of the season – the Roses match – featuring 5 of the likely England XI for next week’s first test. The honours went to the visitors, thanks in no small part to Joe Root – the bowler!
Yorkshire, who seem to specialise in low first innings totals were rolled for 192, featuring a Jordan Clark hat-trick of Root, Williamson and Bairstow! But that was good enough for an 83 run lead as the red rose were dismissed for 109 in just under 31 overs.
Set a target of 323 largely thanks to a welcome return to form for Jonny Bairstow (82) Lancashire were never really in the hunt. Root ended all hope for Lancs when he got Jos Buttler for 59  to reduce the chase to 190-6. Root went on to take  4-5 in 7.4 overs and seal a 109 run win.
So the table has sorted itself into three groups. Second-placed Somerset are 9 points ahead of Notts with a game in hand. Notts slipped back into a three-way fight for third with Essex (who did not play) and Yorkshire leaving  Lancashire who have played a game more, looking anxiously over their shoulders at Hampshire and Worcestershire.
In Division Two a full slate of 5 games saw wins for Sussex (their second in the space of 10 days), Leicestershire and Middlesex. The latter two results over second-placed Kent and leaders Warwickshire has made the top of the table very interesting. The gap between leaders and fourth to just 17 points after 8 games. Middlesex in fifth will still believe that they still have an interest in the promotion places.
Further evidence of the joy of four-day cricket was provided by the results. While Leicestershire and Sussex won by huge margins; 10 wickets and an innings and 154 runs respectively. The other three games were much closer with margins of 41, 39 and 18 runs respectively.
Pick of the bowlers in Division 2 was Sussex’s Jofra Archer with 8-46 in what was generally a low scoring round. Evidence of the low scoring nature of this division this season is that Kent, who lie third with 115 points, have only 6 batting points in 8 games! The division is proof however that low scoring games produce exciting cricket!
But I couldn’t finish without acknowledging Somerset’s win at Worcester. A win that came at the end of an excellent two-week spell for Somerset with back to back T20 away wins to move them up to third in the South group.
Off the field there were some pretty special positives as well. In no particular order; Marcus’ return to first team action, Lewis Gregory committing his future to the county and the twin signings of Azhar Ali and Jerome Taylor.
The win at Worcester demonstrated everything that the four-day game has to offer. Two teams fighting at opposite ends of the table until the last session the last day in an even contest between bat and ball.
Somerset’s first innings was seen by many to be 50 above par for the conditions but shortly after lunch on the second-day par looked to be significantly below the 287 Somerset’s first innings dictated with Worcestershire, unable to cope with Jamie Overton’s pace and Josh Davey’s swing were 120-7.
Worcestershire’s tail managed to more than double the score to leave a deficit of 80 (that par score was probably right). That left one of those sessions in four-day cricket that often get overlooked, one that was crucial to the eventual result when Somerset’s openers survived unscathed and set a platform from which a match-winning lead was built.
Contrast that with the last hour on day three when Worcestershire faced with a similar short session lost the crucial wickets of Daryl Mitchel and Moeen Ali. It is often the difference in such comparable sessions that decides the outcome and so it proved to be here.
Starting day 4 needing 8 wickets Somerset knew they faced a severe examination of their title credentials against a Worcestershire side who had already performed a fourth-day survival act earlier in the season. Within an hour the job seemed to be done, Worcestershire were reduced to 71-6. The seventh-wicket pair of Alex Milton and Ross Whitley proceeded to double the score before a two wicket burst in three balls from Jack Leach, bowling at somewhere near his best for the first time in the game.
But yet again the fates twisted and turned. Not only need last man Steve Magoffin surpass all expectations (and his reputation) but debutant wicketkeeper Alex Milton proceeded to reach a maiden hundred.
The pair could not be separated before a tea interval delayed by the obligatory 30 minutes.
The pair passed the county’s highest ever 10th wicket stand – inevitably against Somerset in 1906 – and Somerset fans were beginning to really worry when Craig Overton got the breakthrough.