After all the froth and hype around The Hundred, the return of County Championship cricket was long overdue for many, with the first of four rounds of September fixtures beginning on the fifth. Title favourites Surrey were not in action, which gave an opportunity to their closest rivals, Hampshire and Lancashire, to try to close the gap at the top, with the latter knowing that if they can stay in touching distance their final match is against the not entirely invincible side from The Oval.
Hampshire played host to Northamptonshire and were put in to bat. An 84-ball innings of 94 from Aneurin Donald helped the hosts up to 400 for nine declared. The visitors welcomed new signing South African Lizaad Williams to their line-up, but he went wicketless. With weather interruptions, just 116 overs were possible in the first two days, meaning Hampshire needed to take 19 more wickets quickly as the away side reached 77 for one in their reply. It took just 38 more overs of the third day to complete the innings, as Northamptonshire were bowled out for 175, Kyle Abbott taking four for 52. Forced to follow on, the visitors fell away again, dismissed for 221 to lose by an innings and 4 runs, with Mohammad Abbas ending up with four for 32. The win moved Hampshire eight points clear of Surrey, who have a game in hand.
Meanwhile, Lancashire welcomed Roses rivals Yorkshire to Old Trafford. At 231 for one after 74 overs, with Keaton Jennings on 119 (his fourth century of the summer), everything looked red rosy, but next ball he was bowled by George Hill, and Lancashire collapsed to 276 all out, with Hill taking a career-best six for 26. Twenty-year-old York CC cricketer Finlay Bean opened the innings on his first-class debut and batted for just over two-and-a-half hours for his 42, but Lancashire ended with a narrow first-innings lead of 21. Luke Wells raced to his third century of the season, hitting 124 in just 82 balls, as he and Jennings added a second 180+ opening partnership of the match, setting up a declaration on 280 for five that left Yorkshire to chase 302 for victory. Wells’s century was the second fastest on record in Roses matches, arriving in just 65 balls. In his first spell of bowling in more than 110 first XI games, wicket-keeper Jonathan Tattersall took two for 27, removing Jennings with his fifth delivery in senior cricket. Yorkshire made no attempt to chase the runs and batted out more than 63 overs, reaching 102 for three. That result left Lancashire in third place, trailing the leaders by 29 points.
At the foot of the table, bottom-placed Gloucestershire took on their nearest rivals, Somerset, at Taunton, looking for their first win of the season. Marcus Harris (159) made his highest score for the county, supported by the relatively inexperienced Ben Charlesworth (56) and Oliver Price (52), but the rest of the batters fell away and they were dismissed for 343, with Lewis Gregory picking up four wickets. Somerset had bolstered their squad by bringing in two Pakistan internationals: Sajid Khan went wicketless in his 26 overs, but Imam-ul-Haq (90) provided the top-order runs he’d been recruited for. Despite that, Somerset made just 248 in reply, with Tom Price taking five for 75. Eighteen-year-old James Rew provided further evidence of his potential with a stubborn unbeaten 44. The away side then moved steadily to 279 for seven declared, but just 47 deliveries were possible on the final day, by which stage Somerset were 11 without loss.
It was one-way traffic at Canterbury, where Essex took full advantage after being asked to bat first. Their star was Feroze Khushi, who made a career-best 164, one run short of his previous career total. With numerous other strong contributions throughout the entire batting line-up, Essex were eventually all out for 573. Daniel Bell-Drummond, who had mustered just 17 wickets in 138 games before, took a career-best three for 37. Kent’s reply never really got going, though Ben Allison, with a career-best four for 40, would probably not have been most people’s pick for the main destroyer. Kent were bowled out for 164 and forced to follow on. In the second innings, things got worse, and they were hurried out for 149, Sam Cook taking seven for 33 to give him match figures of ten for 60. The winning margin of an innings and 260 was narrowly the largest of the season. It was Essex’s fifth biggest innings victory in their history, and their biggest since 1937.
In the Second Division, runaway league leaders Nottinghamshire hosted wooden spoonists Leicestershire, with the inevitable outcome being achieved inside three days. The visitors chose to field and will have been pleased enough to dismiss the home side for 201, debutant Michael Finan removing last man Dane Paterson to pick up his maiden first-class wicket. But the away side’s batting slumped and, for the second time this summer, they were dismissed for a two-figure score (93) by these opponents. Sam Evans was the lone resistance, as he carried his bat for 50. In their second innings, Nottinghamshire saw decent contributions from everyone as they declared on 390 for seven. A target of 499 was way beyond Leicestershire, who tumbled to 257 all out, helped by Finan top-scoring at No 11 with 58 off just 46 balls.
At Cardiff, Worcestershire took full advantage of their decision to bat first, piling up a total of 454 for nine declared, with Gareth Roderick top-scoring with a career-best 172 not out. With Joe Leach (87), he added 167 for the eighth wicket. Glamorgan’s response was held up by the weather, but they were eventually bowled out for 295, with new recruit Shubman Gill top-scoring with 92. Ben Gibbon took a career-best four for 87. Forced to follow on, Glamorgan were 5 without loss when the weather brought the game to a close; they are now 43 points behind Nottinghamshire, with a game in hand.
At Derby, visitors Durham chose to field first and bowled out the home side for 306, with Harry Came hitting a career-high 78. Despite 87 from opener Michael Jones, Durham made just 223 in reply, as Sam Conners took four for 55. Ben Raine’s five for 43 kept Derbyshire in check as they ground their way to a declaration on 214 for nine, setting a target of 298. Durham ended up batting for 53 overs, by which time they had reached 176 for five in a somewhat aimless draw.