With the eyes of cricket fans across the globe turning to England and the ICC World Cup, whose opening ceremony was inevitably played out in the London drizzle, the bread-and-butter of the Specsavers County Championship continued into its fifth round. With Somerset not in action, Hampshire had a chance to take the top spot in the table on their visit to Headingley, where Yorkshire were also hoping to put pressure on the top two. As it was, the game ended in a draw, earning Hampshire a seven-point lead, albeit having played one game more.
Fidel Edwards sliced through the lower order, picking up four wickets in 12 deliveries to finish with figures of five for 49 as Yorkshire were bowled out for 181, before the visitors replied with 235. In the second innings, Gary Ballance continued his remarkable run, scoring 100, his fourth century in four matches this season (along with a fifth in five at the end of the previous campaign). No one is making a stronger claim this summer to line up in England’s Ashes side at No 3 – it just remains to be seen if the selectors will be prepared to give him another chance, and whether he is believed to have ironed out the technical flaws that mired the latter part of his international career. Yorkshire eventually declared on 332 for five, but weather interruptions meant there wasn’t much time left in the game. Chasing 279, Hampshire finished on 158 for five after 46 overs.
Surrey’s disappointing campaign took a turn for the worse, as they were beaten by bottom-placed side Warwickshire at Edgbaston. The hosts batted first and made 293, helped by an effervescent 64 in 53 balls from Liam Norwell. Surrey responded with just 188, Jeetan Patel taking four for 53. A hat-trick from Gareth Batty (the second of his career) brought the home side’s innings to a rapid end, as they declared on 166 for nine. The 41-year-old off-spinner ended with career-best figures of eight for 64 and match figures of ten for 111. Set a target of 272, Surrey were rolled over for 141, with skipper Patel completing his best figures of eight for 36 and match figures of 12 for 89. Plenty of turn for the end of May!
If the 2018 champions were struggling, there was better news for the 2017 winners Essex, who beat Kent by 113 runs at Chelmsford. Sir Alastair Cook set the tone with a score of 125 to help his side up to 313 all out. It was Michael Pepper (five) and Ravi Bopara (three) who did the business for Essex, as they took eight catches between them to dismiss Kent for 182. Cook (90) narrowly missed out on making a hundred in both innings, but his team declared on 206 for seven to set a target of 338. Simon Harmer got into the off-spinners’ guild by taking eight for 98 as Kent were all out for 224.
In the Second Division, all teams have now played four games and Lancashire are already 18 points clear at the top after they drew with Gloucestershire at Cheltenham. Saq Mahmood continued his fine form in the 50-over game with a career-best four for 48 to bowl out Gloucestershire for 205. Matt Taylor’s five for 57 was his best analysis in Championship cricket, and it ensured the visitors led by just 39 runs after the first innings. But with two days washed out in the middle, there was only time for the home side to reached 68 for two in their second innings.
Worcestershire recorded their second successive defeat, falling to Middlesex, who won their first game of the season by 127 runs at New Road. The away outfit made 221 before Tom Helm hit back with a career-best five for 36 to bowl out the hosts for 156. A partnership of 201 between Nick Gubbins (91) and Dawid Malan (124) put Middlesex in control, and Malan declared on 287 for six. The target of 353 rarely looked under threat as Tim Murtagh took six for 51.
Derbyshire moved up to second after they won by 65 runs at Grace Road, a result that seemed unlikely after they were bowled out for just 139. Five for 29 from Tony Palladino saw them hit back and even take a 19-run first-innings lead. Several players made useful cameo contributions as the visitors scored 214 to set a target of 234, but the highest score of the match was beyond Leicestershire, as they were all out for 168.
At Hove, Sussex drew with Glamorgan, despite dominating the early exchanges. Nick Selman carried his bat for 76 not out, as his side was dismissed for 186. Jared Warner, on loan from Yorkshire, impressed with his pace and took three for 35 on his debut. Phil Salt hit 103 and Ben Brown continued his excellent recent form, making 131, as Sussex replied with 420. After picking up a wicket in the first over, Sussex then had to wait 298 minutes for their next victim, by which stage Selman (99) and Marnus Labuschagne (a career-best 182) had put on 291 for the second wicket. Daniel Douthwaite continued to display his promise, making 63, while the unlikely figure of Luke Wells took five for 63 with his leg breaks, his best-ever return. With Glamorgan all out for 466, there was only time for Sussex to make 47 for one as they chased 233.