In what appears to be the first season ever in which the first-class summer has got underway before the clocks went forward, there was little change in the balance of power between the counties and the six MCCU sides, all of whom struggled against the professionals. Perhaps none more so than Cardiff MCCU, who lost by 568 runs to Somerset – a record runs defeat in all English cricket. James Hildreth made 158 not out in Somerset’s first innings, becoming the first of the summer to go to three figures, while Ed Byrom made a maiden first-class century in the second, scoring 115 not out. In Cardiff’s second innings, they were skittled out for just 46, with Craig Overton (a career-best six for 24) and Josh Davey (four for 21) bowling unchanged throughout the innings.
Almost as emphatic was Leicestershire’s win over Loughborough MCCU, by an innings and 220 runs. Ateeq Javid (143) and Hasan Azad (139) set a new second-wicket record partnership of 309, as both men made the highest scores of their careers before retiring out. In the context of these other thrashings, Derbyshire’s victory by 336 runs over Leeds/Bradford MCCU seemed almost modest. There were first-innings centuries for Wayne Madsen (123) and Harvey Hosein (a career-best 138 not out). Ex-Malvern College pupil Josh Haynes was the most successful debutant bowler, taking three for 37.
At Chester-le-Street, Durham beat the local students by 296 runs, with Will Smith showing little mercy to his alma mater as he hit 179, the highest score of the round. Gareth Harte made an unbeaten 108 in the second innings to set Durham MCCU a target of 503, but their effort of 206 was at least the highest score by any of the MCCU sides in this round of games. At Fenner’s, Cambridge MCCU lost to Essex by 286 runs. If anyone doubted the newly knighted Sir Alastair Cook’s determination to succeed away from the Test arena, his unbeaten 150 will prove a warning. Expect him to compile a lot of runs this summer. With Adam Wheater (130), he put on 217 for the fourth wicket, helping his side to declare on 387 for five.
The only game not to end in defeat for the students came at Northwood, where Middlesex were held by Oxford MCCU. Stephen Eskinazi made 125 before retiring out and there was a welcome return from injury for Toby Roland-Jones, who picked up four for 45. In the second innings, it was Nick Gubbins who shone (105), before Oxford comfortably batted out 64 overs to save the match, finishing on 177 for four. Bedfordshire’s Matthew Taylor made the highest score by any of the 40 debutants in action during the round, finishing unbeaten on 61 after batting for more than three-and-a-half hours.
The champion county match started a couple of days before these season-openers, with an MCC side captained by Stuart Broad taking on Surrey. Surprisingly, it was poor weather in Dubai, washing out most of the final day’s play, that prevented a result, whereas in England the sun shone. MCC made 265 before Surrey replied with 520, thanks to a career-best 251 from Ollie Pope and the highest score ever by a first-class debutant for Surrey, Jamie Smith, who made 127. The pair added 266 for the fifth wicket. Batting against his former team-mates, Dominic Sibley made 128 in MCC’s second innings, helping his side to 265 for four when the rains came.