The race for the Specsavers County Championship took a dramatic twist in the penultimate round as Essex beat Surrey by an innings and 40 runs at Chelmsford. Having chosen to bat first, the visitors were bowled out for 174, with the wickets shared between Jamie Porter (five for 62) and Sam Cook (five for 53). In reply, Essex hit back with 395, thanks largely to 147 from Dan Lawrence and 103 from skipper Ryan ten Doeschate. Surrey had no answer in the second innings to Simon Harmer, who took seven for 58, as they were bowled out for 181 inside three days.
That result meant Somerset had to win at Southampton. Liam Dawson’s 103 was the sole significant innings for Hampshire, who made a modest 196, but that was decent enough after being 88 for seven. What Somerset hadn’t counted on was Kyle Abbott, whose nine for 40 was the best analysis of his career and of the season, and he bowled them out for 142. Skipper James Vince matched that total single-handedly in Hampshire’s second innings – and it was very much a lone hand, as the team were bowled out for 226, with Vince making 62.83 per cent of the total.
A target of 281 seemed achievable as Murali Vijay and Steven Davies put on 86 for the first wicket, but suddenly Abbott was back in the game and they fell away to 144 all out, Abbott finishing with eight for 46, and match figures of 17 for 86. Those figures were the tenth best in the history of first-class cricket, the fourth best in County Championship history, the best ever for Hampshire, and the best since Jim Laker’s famous 19 for 90 in 1956. Of broader significance, Somerset picked up just three points in the game and now trail Essex by 12 points going into the final round, meaning they will have to beat them at Taunton – and with the weather forecast this coming week being poor, they may struggle to get any sort of result.
At Leeds, Yorkshire collapsed to their biggest-ever defeat, losing by 433 runs to Kent, an outcome that was entirely unthinkable when the away side collapsed to 39 for five. But then Darren Stevens, who was without a deal for the next season, joined Sam Billings – and everything began to change. Skipper Billings took a back seat as the 43-year-old played one of the innings of the season, eventually going on to make a career-best 237, including nine sixes and 28 fours. It took him just 225 balls to get there, and it was the highest score ever made by a Kent batsman against Yorkshire. Having taken ten wickets in a match in his previous game, Stevens became only the fifth person in history to achieve that feat and score a double century once they’d reached the age of 43. The others were W.G.Grace, Wilf Rhodes, Frank Woolley and John King (who was also the last man ever given out ‘hit the ball twice’ back in 1906), and the only man to do so since before the Second World War.
Meanwhile, Billings went on to complete a century, and the pair put on 346, which is a county record for the sixth wicket, and the highest partnership ever against Yorkshire for any wicket. Kent declared at close of play on 482 for eight; Duanne Olivier took five for 108. Matthew Revis made his debut for Yorkshire, opening the batting and scoring 9. There were reasonable contributions down the order, but the hosts were still bowled out for 269, with Matt Milnes taking five for 87. Matthew Fisher took one minute under three hours to make a career-best 47 not out. Billings hit another century (122 not out) to help his side up to 337 for seven declared, setting a target of 551. In his first four overs, Stevens took three wickets and ended up with five for 20 as Yorkshire were all out for 117. Kent’s winning margin of 433 runs was their biggest, beating the previous record of 429 set in 1933 when Les Ames made a century in each innings, and Titch Freeman took 11 for 59.
There was a runfest at Trent Bridge, where the home side ended up losing by eight wickets to Warwickshire. Put in to bat, the home side gave debuts to three players: Ben Compton opened up and made 9, Joey Evison hit 45 in the middle order, while Jack Blatherwick scored 4 not out. Skipper Steven Mullaney hit a career-best 179 in just 173 balls, adding 205 for the third wicket with Joe Clarke (125). They were eventually all out for 498.
Dom Sibley, much talked-about as a potential England opener, did his chances no harm by hitting 215 not out as he carried his bat in the visitors’ total of 488, facing 420 balls. Mullaney continued his excellent match by taking four for 48, while Blatherwick dismissed Matthew Lamb for his maiden wicket. Clarke, another much-admired batsman, hit 112 for his second century of the match as Notts were bowled out for 260. Anything Clarke could do, Sibley could match, and he hit his second century too, making 109 before he was finally dismissed in the game, with 54 runs still required. He was the first to score a double century and a century in a match for Warwickshire since Alvin Kallicharran became the only other man to do so back in 1984. The match aggregate was 1517 runs.
In the Second Division, Lancashire confirmed that they will go up as champions after they beat Middlesex by 104 runs at Old Trafford. They scored 259 runs in their first innings, and then had the visitors in all sorts of trouble at 34 for six before John Simpson came in and hit a career-best 167 not out to take his side up to 337 all out. Tom Bailey took five for 78. Lancashire hit back with 347, Miguel Cummins taking four for 77, to set a target of 270. They didn’t get close, despite a career-best 83 from Martin Andersson, as Bailey nipped in with five for 41 to give him match figures of ten for 119 and they were all out for 165.
Northamptonshire’s home win over Durham by 169 puts them five points clear of Gloucestershire in third, and the two sides will meet in the final game. They made a modest 217, succumbing to Chris Rushworth (five for 68), before Ben Sanderson hit back to take six for 54 to bowl out Durham for 131. A second-innings total of 315 meant Durham faced a target of 402, but Brett Hutton’s five for 59 ensured they were all out for 232.
Gloucestershire ended up winning by a comfortable six wickets at Worcester, but things were pretty even after the first innings, when the hosts made 221 and the away side replied with 235, despite Ed Barnard’s six for 42. That narrow lead assumed greater significance when Ryan Higgins picked up another four wickets to help dismiss Worcestershire for just 128, leaving a target of 115, which proved no trouble.
Glamorgan are another 16 points further back after they beat Leicestershire by 291 runs at Cardiff. Chris Cooke led the way with 96 out of the hosts’ total of 435, Chris Wright taking five for 64. Wright top-scored with 60 in Leicestershire’s reply of 263, before Kraigg Brathwaite hit 103 not out as Glamorgan posted 251 for five declared to set a target of 424. They made just 132, with Andrew Salter taking three for 6 off ten overs.
Sussex’s hopes to be in the promotion mix going into the final round were ruined when they lost by 181 runs at Derby. The visitors seemed well placed when they bowled out Derbyshire for 138 in the first innings. George Garton hit a maiden half-century (50) to help his side reply with 231 and seemingly in full charge, despite five for 63 from Luis Reece. Reece (a career high of 184) and Billy Godleman put on 274 for the first wicket to tip the balance back in favour of the hosts, and set them well on their way to 437 all out, despite Ollie Robinson taking five for 88. Sussex needed 345 but crumbled away to 163 all out. Matthew McKiernan made his debut for Derbyshire, but scored only seven runs in the match.