In the South Group, Sussex were the first to record a win, beating south coast rivals Hampshire by 94 runs inside three days at Hove. The hosts chose to bat first, but were soon in all sorts of trouble at 73 for five, with debutant paceman Ajeet Dale picking up two wickets in two balls along the way, only for Delray Rawlins to deny him a hat-trick. Phil Salt made a positive 68, while George Garton made a more patient 54 not out, his third half-century. With the third highest score being 14, it was no surprise Sussex were all out for 176, Dale finishing with three for 20. But for Hampshire the highest score was just 25, as they tumbled to 153 all out in reply, with the wickets shared around. Debutant Jack Carson had an even more immediate impact than Dale, having Joe Weatherley caught behind off his second delivery at this level. Fellow debutant Henry Crocombe ended wicketless.
Sussex’s second innings was again built around the pillar that is Salt. He made 80 in a total of 221, leaving Hampshire a target of 245 for victory. Four Hampshire batsmen reached 25, but none passed 30, and one felt it needed a couple of those players to go on and reach fifty. As so often in the past, it was Ollie Robinson doing the damage, picking up five for 29, four of those wickets falling in his opening spell to put his side in the box seat.
In the London derby, Middlesex chose to bat first at The Oval, and Nick Gubbins took full advantage of the opportunity, making a fine 192 to set up a declaration on 347 for six. Daniel Moriarty was making his debut, and he took the wicket of Stevie Eskinazi. Despite a partnership of 105 between Scott Borthwick (92) and Jamie Smith (80), hosts Surrey were dismissed for 282 in reply. Almost inevitably, it was Tim Murtagh who led the way for the visitors, taking five for 47. Thilan Walallawita was another debutant, and he accounted for Mark Stoneman. With a handy lead of 65, Middlesex tried to give themselves enough time to bowl out Surrey on the final day, finally declaring on 248 for six. Moriarty ended with five for 64 on his debut. Chasing 314, Surrey collapsed to 123 all out, with eight of their players accounting for only 16 of them. Middlesex were emphatic winners by 190 runs.
At Chelmsford, Kent chose to bat first, and Heino Kuhn finally made his maiden century for the county, eventually falling for 140. It was the most significant contribution to Kent’s impressive total of 387. Marcus O’Riordan made a career-best 42 not out. Essex’s reply fell well short, as they were dismissed for 298, with debutant Feroze Khushi making just 2. Matt Milnes took three wickets in seven deliveries at the end of the innings to finish with figures of four for 46.
Kent then proceeded to throw away their strong position in their second innings, when Simon Harmer took four for 35 to skittle them out for only 112, setting Essex a target of 202 for victory, with a day and an over to get them. All seemed to be going relatively smoothly for the home side as they reached 147 for four, with Sir Alastair Cook at the crease. But then Ivan Thomas struck and Thomas sent three others back to the pavilion in short order to leave Essex reeling on 171 for eight. Adam Wheater and Sam Cook spent a painstaking hour in knocking off the final 31 runs to complete a two-wicket victory for Essex.
At Taunton in the Central Group, hosts Somerset chose to bat first, with debutant Tom Lammonby opening up and making a useful 41. They fell away to 189 for nine, but that gave Steven Davies (81 not out) and Jack Brooks (72 in 58 balls, his highest score for Somerset) the chance to put on 107 for the tenth wicket. Glamorgan’s top order was blown away as they crumpled to 38 for six, eventually battling to 131 all out, with Craig Overton (out of the England reckoning at the moment) giving the selectors a reminder of what he can do, picking up five for 38. Skipper Tom Abell’s 119 sped Somerset to a declaration on 290 for eight, leaving Glamorgan an unlikely target of 456. Skipper Chris Cooke made a bit of a fight of it, scoring 82, but the rest of his side fell away and were all out for 166, giving Somerset victory by a mammoth 289 runs. Their main destroyer was the other Overton, Jamie, who took five for 48.
Warwickshire chose to field first, putting Northamptonshire in to bat, a decision that was quickly vindicated as the visitors were all out for 142 in 51 overs, with no one making 30. Olly Stone was another bowler to put in a reminder to the selectors, who currently have a surfeit of fast-bowling options, taking four for 39. For many, the sight of Ian Bell playing first-class cricket again will have been a welcome one, but his innings was cut short on 9. Instead it was another former England man who made a real impact, scoring 109 on his debut for Warwickshire: Tim Bresnan, who had recently decided to leave Yorkshire and seek pastures new. Will Rhodes eventually declared with his side on 369 for eight, a daunting lead of 227. Alex Thomson made 46 of them, his highest first-class score. Debutant Jack White picked up two wickets, his first victim being Sam Hain.
Northants put up a much better fight in their second innings, with much credit going to Charlie Thurston, whose 96 was his highest score for the county. But even that effort was put in the shade as Adam Rossington and Luke Procter batted for 77 overs on the final day before the match was drawn. Rossington’s 135 not out was three short of his career best, while Procter’s 112 not out was his highest score for the county. All told, they put on an unbeaten 200 partnership for the seventh wicket as Northants finished on 507 for six.
At Bristol, hosts Gloucestershire chose to bat first, with skipper Chris Dent making 92 in their total of 267, while Charlie Morris picked up four wickets. An opening partnership of 152 for Worcestershire by Daryl Mitchell and Jake Libby put the visitors on top from the start, and they never relaxed their grip, going on to make 428 for five declared. For debutant Tom Price there was some joy as it was he who removed Mitchell for 80 to take the first wicket. Prince had less joy with the bat, completing a pair, as Dent and George Hankins did their best to set a target, but when they were all out for 270, it left the visitors just 110 to win. Worcestershire eased to a seven-wicket victory.
In the North Group, the closest game came at Trent Bridge, where Derbyshire won by three wickets after choosing to field first. Billy Godleman must have rued that decision initially as Chris Nash and Haseeb Hameed put on 111 for the first wicket. But the middle order was blown away and so the hosts relied on some late-order hitting to take them up to 324 all out. Ben Aitchison, on his debut, had Ben Duckett as his maiden scalp. Leus du Plooy was the standout performer for the away side, blasting a county-best 130 in just 177 balls, but his was the only innings of significance, as his side fell away to 239 all out. Well on top, Hameed and Samit Patel each made their second half-century of the match, taking Notts up to 279 all out, setting a challenging target of 365. In the end, it was Fynn Hudson-Prentice who made the decisive move, scoring an unbeaten 91 to see his side home.
At Chester-le-Street, Durham chose to bat first and found it extremely hard going, being bowled out for 103 in 58.4 overs. Yorkshire’s reply found a more even tempo as they hit 199 in 62.4 overs. With no fifties in the first innings, Alex Lees led from the front against his old county, making 106 in just under six-and-a-half hours. Durham’s score of 266 left the visitors to chase down 171, which Dawid Malan (73) and Harry Brook (66 not out) ensured was never at risk, Yorkshire ending up as victors by six wickets. Jack Shutt made his debut for the winners, but didn’t take any wickets.
Finally, Lancashire and Leicestershire headed to Worcester for their game, with the former winning the toss and deciding to bat first. The Red Rose outfit fielded three debutants: George Balderson, Tom Hartley and Edwin Moulton. Skipper Dane Vilas top-scored with 90 as Lancashire were bowled out for 322, Moulton succumbing first ball, alas. Ben Slater’s 172 was more than enough to put his side in the box seat, and they declared on 409 for eight. Moulton went wicketless, but Hasan Azad was Hartley’s maiden victim and Balderson followed up soon after to remove Harry Dearden. Lancashire then made 236 all out, having batted for 70.1 overs in the final day, Moulton completing a pair. With only 17 overs of the match remaining, and 150 required, in first-class cricket the odds were on a draw – and indeed it would be a tough chase in T20. But Colin Ackermann’s 73 not out in 41 balls saw Leicestershire home with eight balls and seven wickets to spare in a dramatic finish.