With just three more matches to play after this round, the Specsavers County Championship returned after a month-long hiatus for the Vitality Blast. For some, it seemed as though they believed that 20 overs was all that was still permitted – none more so than Kent, who took on title favourites Essex at Canterbury.
The hosts were in trouble on 138 for eight, before Harry Podmore made a valiant 54 not out, his highest score for the county, to see his side up to a modest total of 226 all out. Mohammad Amir took four for 48 while Sam Cook finished with figures of five for 42. Podmore’s excellent game continued, as he picked up four for 34 to help dismiss Essex for just 114. A first-innings lead of 112 seemed likely to be decisive in a low-scoring match, as long as Kent could post a reasonable total in their second innings.
They couldn’t. Cook took a career-best seven for 23 to finish with match figures of 12 for 65as the Kent batting imploded, all out for 40 in just 18.1 overs, with no batsman reaching double figures. It was their lowest score since 1952, and only twice since 1900 had they been bowled out for 40 or less (the other occasion came in 1936 at Bramall Lane, Sheffield, when Hedley Verity took nine for 12). It was also their lowest total ever against Essex. For Essex, it was the sixth lowest total they had bowled out any side in their history. A target of 153 wasn’t ever likely to be straightforward, and when Essex slipped to 84 for six Kentish hopes soared. A partnership of 57 between Adam Wheater (30 not out) and Simon Harmer (30) changed all that, and Essex won by three wickets.
Meanwhile, Essex’s title rivals Somerset headed to Edgbaston to take on Warwickshire. A maiden century from Robert Yates, 141, was the bedrock of the hosts’ first-innings total of 419. Steve Davies scored 109 in Somerset’s reply, but that wasn’t enough to see them beyond 308 all out, a deficit of 111. George Garrett, the latest in a recent slew of Old Salopians to play professionally, took his maiden first-class wicket on his debut, bowling George Bartlett for 26. Tom Abellwas the surprise package for Somerset, as the skipper took a career-best four for 39to bring his side right back into contention, bowling out Warwickshire for 146, leaving the visitors to chase 258 for a vital victory.
After slipping to 49 for three, their middle order came through strongly to secure the win by five wickets, leaving them just two points behind the leaders. As the two counties will meet in the final game of the season, at Taunton, could Somerset finally have the best opportunity yet to win their first Championship pennant? Few (outside of Essex) would begrudge them this, as it is a county that seems to have got so much right off the field, and has built such a loyal following.
Nottinghamshire’s miserable season continued at Scarborough. They will have been pleased enough to bowl out Yorkshire for 232 in their first innings, but having had them 38 for five before Jonathan Tattersall (92) and Tim Bresnan (58) came together, it could have been much better. Luke Wood took five for 67 and spinner Liam Patterson-White finished with four for 34. All out for 184, the visitors trailed by 48 when Yorkshire batted again. Luke Fletcher did his best, taking five for 67, but there were handy contributions from many of the home side, helping them up to 338 all out. A target of 387 always looked unlikely; Ben Duckett hit a positive 75, Patterson-White made a maiden half-century (58 not out), but Nottinghamshire were beaten by 143 runs, with Keshav Maharaj taking six for 95. After the match, it was revealed that Wood had turned down a new contract at the county and would sign for Lancashire in 2020.
At The Oval, Hampshire batted first. A ninth-wicket partnership of 114 between Kyle Abbott (72) and Ryan Stevenson (51, his maiden half-century) saw them reach a total of 367. Rikki Clarke, 38 next month, was the main threat, taking seven for 74. There was no doubting the star of Surrey’s reply as Ollie Popemade a brilliant 221 not out, during which he went past 2000 career first-class runs. When Ben Foakes declared, with the score on 579 for seven, Pope’s career average was a very impressive 59.58. If he can move up the order a little from the five he was batting here, it feels as though there is an England spot waiting to be filled by him once more in the very near future, as was recognised by his call-up to Headingley on stand-by after Jason Roy was struck on the head on Tuesday. Fidel Edwards took five for 125, but spare a thought for Liam Dawson, who toiled away for 53 overs, taking nought for 180. Harry Came made his first-class debut for Hampshire, as a replacement for Aneurin Donald, but did not bat or bowl. Hampshire batted out the remainder of the match, making 253 for five to secure the draw.
In the Second Division, Lancashire reinforced their position at the top of the table after they crushed Glamorgan by an innings and 150 runs in Colwyn Bay inside three days. Three batsmen made fifties for the hosts, despite which they were bowled out for 257. Lukas Carey’s 30-ball 51 not out was particularly memorable, while Samit Patel’s loan spell got under way with a knock of 54. Danny Lamb took a career-best four for 70. Dane Vilas then played one of the best innings of the Championship season, making a career-best 266 from just 240 balls, featuring 35 fours and six sixes, on day two. He went from 150 to 250 in just 65 balls, scoring 132 runs after tea. The shell-shocked hosts were then skittled out for 138.
Gloucestershire are the only county who could catch Lancashire, and they maintained their outside challenge with an eight-wicket victory at Derby, and they trail the Red Rose county by 29 points. Derbyshire batted first and were bowled out for 200, with Ryan Higgins taking five for 54. Higgins followed that up with a century (101), while skipper Chris Dent made 169 and together they put on 221 for the sixth wicket to take complete control of the game. They were all out for 419. Ben Allison, who had taken his maiden wicket on his debut in the first innings (Matt Critchley trapped LBW), followed it up with three wickets in the second innings as Derbyshire fought back. Tom Lace hit 125, helping them to declare on 481 for six, setting a target of 263. Gloucestershire raced to that total, thanks to an unbeaten 116 from James Bracey. In all, 1363 runs were scored in the match.
At Hove, Sussex won by seven wickets. Ollie Robinson was the star of the show, taking a career-best eight for 34– including the first seven wickets – as Middlesex were tumbled out for just 75. He was later presented with his county cap. Toby Roland-Jones tried to replicate that effort, taking five for 70, but although the hosts were reduced to 151 for seven, the lower order saw them up to 300 to ensure they had full control of the match. It wasn’t so easy for Robinson in the second innings, but he still picked up six for 101 to give him match figures of 14 for 135. They were the best match figures for the county since Ian Thomson took 15 for 75 in 1964 against Warwickshire in Worthing. Since the start of last season, he has taken 135 wickets in 24 matches at an average of 16.97. Steve Finn was the surprise star of Middlesex’s lower order, hitting 56 to equal his career best (in Tests) – it was his maiden fifty in 106 games for Middlesex. With a target of 145, Alex Carey blasted 69 not out of 54 balls to ease his side home. Elliot Hooper made his debut for Sussex, Dawid Malan becoming his maiden victim in the second innings.
Northamptonshire recorded a ten-wicket home win over Worcestershire. Batting first, the visitors succumbed to Brett Hutton, who took six for 57, and were all out for 186. Centuries from Alex Wakely (102) and Dwaine Pretorius (111), on his first-class debut in England, put the home side in complete control, as they replied with 376. An unbeaten 84 from Riki Wessels wasn’t enough, as Worcestershire made 223 in their second innings, setting a target of just 34. Moeen Ali was spotted bowling medium pace.
At Chester-le-Street, Durham couldn’t quite force the victory their dominance deserved. Alex Lees made his highest score of 181 for the hosts, with every batsman making double figures barring Chris Rushworth who did not bat as they declared for 544 for nine. Brydon Carse took a career-best six for 63 as Leicestershire hit 236 in reply. Following on, Mark Cosgrove provided the ballast of the innings, scoring an unbeaten 107 in 377 minutes. His side finished on 363 for eight.