In the final round of matches in the Specsavers County Championship, before the Division Stage begins in 30 August, the impact of Covid began to hit home in some key games. However, in Group 1, Nottinghamshire were able to hold on to top place despite drawing with Durham at Chester-le-Street. The hosts fielded first and bowled out the away side for 328, with Chris Rushworth taking four for 75, but the whole of the second day was lost to rain. Joey Evison hit back with a career-best five for 21 as Durham fell to 165 all out.
Nottinghamshire scored 217 in their second innings, setting a target of 381, but Durham had reached 188 for four in 55 overs when the game ended as a draw. David Bedingham scored 30 and 36 to take him to 945 runs for the summer. Rory Burns is in second place, with 855, and will have three Tests to see if he can become the first to 1000 runs in the summer before Bedingham is next scheduled to play. The fixture also saw the season’s two leading wicket-takers in action, and Rushworth’s four took him up to 46 for the summer, one behind Luke Fletcher on 47, who managed just one in the game. If selected, Ollie Robinson (with 40) could get to 50 wickets first during those three Tests.
Warwickshire finished in second place, after they drew at New Road. Dom Sibley (80) and Pieter Malan (141) put on 220 for the second wicket to set up a strong platform for the visitors. Jake Lintott made his first-class debut and scored 15, as Warwickshire were bowled out for 395. Ish Sodhi was the main threat, taking six for 89, while debutant Josh Baker picked up two wickets, his first being Sam Hain. Daryl Mitchell hit his 38th hundred (113) for Worcestershire and Ed Barnard his second (112 not out) as the home side replied with 447 for nine declared. There was only time for Warwickshire to score 215 for two declared before the match ended in a draw.
At Derby, the game was abandoned as a draw after the first day when one of the Derbyshire players tested positive for Covid. The decision meant that Essex’s chance to qualify for the top group to retain their hold on the pennant was gone. The visitors had bowled out Derbyshire for 146 and were 86 for three in reply when the match ended.
In Group 2, Somerset remained top of the table after drawing at The Oval with Surrey. James Hildreth hit 107 as his side scored 429. After a 98-run opening partnership, Jack Leach took control, finishing with figures of six for 43, as Surrey fell away to 240 all out. Anything Leach could do, Ravi Ashwin could more than match as he hit back with six for 27 to dismiss Somerset for just 69, their lowest score since 2011. Surrey meandered to 106 for four in 41 overs, rather than chasing a target of 259.
Hampshire managed to seize second place from Gloucestershire, after they won by seven wickets at Cheltenham. The hosts batted first but made a moderate 229 all out, Colin de Grandhomme taking four for 31. Nick Gubbins showed that his new side has revived him, as he top-scored with 137 not out to help Hampshire up to 486 for seven declared. Tom Lace hit his maiden century for Gloucestershire (118) to help them up to 310 in their second innings, but it left Hampshire to chase just 54, which proved a simple enough task.
Finally, at Northwood the two wooden spoonists fought it out, with bottom side Middlesex recording their second win of the summer, over Leicestershire. The hosts batted first, and Sam Robson set the tone with his innings of 154. Joe Cracknell made his first-class debut and scored 13, as his side were bowled out for 324. Will Davis took five for 66, his best figures for the county. The visitors replied with 228, before bowling out Middlesex for 196, leaving them with a target of 293 to chase. Four for 36 from Tim Murtagh was the main factor in them failing to get close, as they were dismissed for 171 to lose by 121 runs.
In Group 3, the top two met at Headingley in a Roses clash to decide who would win the group. With two whole days lost to the weather, the result was never in doubt, but Lancashire were able to score 411 for two, securing the batting points to take top spot. Keaton Jennings hit 132, and there were half-centuries from Alex Davies (84), Luke Wells (97 not out) and Josh Bohannon (74 not out).
Glamorgan and Northamptonshire were fighting for third place at Sophia Gardens, and although the game ended in a draw the home side scored enough points to move themselves above their opponents. The visitors chose to bat first, but made just 215, with Andrew Salter picking up four for 18, the best figures of his career. A county record fifth-wicket partnership of 307 between Kiran Carlson (170 not out) and skipper Chris Cooke (133 not out) took the home side to 462 for four declared. Northamptonshire then batted out the rest of the game to secure a draw, finishing on 250 for five, Harry Gouldstone making an unbeaten 67 in 251 minutes in just his second match at this level.
There were a total of six first-class debutants by the end of the derby match between Kent and Sussex at Canterbury, five of them for the hosts, who had to completely reconfigure their line-up due to Covid problems meaning that 14 players were unavailable. Despite that, Sussex might still have fielded a less experienced team – and certainly it must have been one of the youngest sides ever to play a County Championship match. Eight of Sussex’s side were 21 or younger, with 22-year-old Tom Haines the third oldest player. Harrison Ward, aged 21, made just 4 on his debut as Sussex were dismissed for 181. Among the wicket-takers, debutant Jaskaran Singh struck with his fifth ball to remove Ali Orr and struck again with his seventh in first-class cricket to remove Haines, before finishing with figures of four for 51.
Sussex’s total proved surprisingly out of reach as Kent fell away to 165 all out in reply. Debutant Joe Gordon opened the batting and scored 8, Dan Lincoln, Harry Houillon and Bailey Wightman (a replacement for Nathan Gilchrist) all made nought on their debuts. Singh scored 2. For the second match in a row, former Eastbourne College pupil Jamie Atkins took five wickets, this time for 51 runs. Orr then hit his maiden century, a score of 119 in 254 balls, to set his side up for a total of 332 for four declared. It was a special moment for the 20-year-old, who learned his game at Eastbourne CC – where (perhaps coincidentally – but probably not!) his first captain when he began to make his way in adult cricket was the Editor of Playfair Cricket Annual… You can be sure his progress will be eagerly scrutinised here in the coming years. Faced with a target of 349, Kent were almost in contention thanks to 115 from Harry Finch, who had been released by Sussex at the end of last season. They finished on 275 for seven, with Lincoln (41) and Houillon (9) avoiding the ignominy of a pair on debut, while Wightman was unbeaten on nought at the end.
So, with the top two from each Group going on to play in Division One, this means the title will be decided between Hampshire, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, Somerset, Warwickshire and Yorkshire, with the first round of matches beginning on 30 August.
Meanwhile, the group stages of the Vitality Blast also came to an end on Sunday. Josh Inglis of Leicestershire (531 runs) and Glenn Phillips of Gloucestershire (500) are the only two batsmen to have scored 500 or more runs thus far, though neither side qualified for the quarter-finals. Naveen-ul-Haq of Leicestershire is the leading wicket-taker, with 26, while Blake Cullen of Middlesex and Sam Cook of Essex both have 20 – none of them will appear in the quarter-finals, either.