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Essex Lay Down Early Marker in Championship Race

With the Dukes ball available to their bowlers, Essex had no hesitation in asking Lancashire to bat at Chelmsford. The only side to have won a match in the first two rounds immediately showed why they will be formidable challengers for the title this summer. Only a quickfire 32 not out from Will Williams helped the visitors up to a meagre total of 146, with Shane Snater doing most of the early damage, picking up four for 42. Noah Thain took his first Championship wicket (Tom Bailey). Feroze Khushi replied with a 33-ball 53 to give Essex early momentum, and they ended up 377 all out and in total control. There was no recovery from Lancashire, who were dismissed for 107 in the second innings, beaten by an innings and 124 runs before lunch on the third day.


Meanwhile champions Surrey travelled to Canterbury and asked Kent to bat first. Skipper Daniel Bell-Drummond was the top scorer (70), while George Garrett hit a career-best 48 (batting left-handed, not right as per most sources), as the hosts made 244. An opening partnership of 147 by Rory Burns and Dom Sibley set Surrey on the path to a strong reply. Sibley went on to make 150, while Dan Lawrence (112) recorded his first century for his new county. The champions eventually declared on 543 for seven off just 114 overs, Matt Parkinson doing his best to rein them in with five for 177. Trailing by 299, Kent faced an uphill struggle and no one was able to play the anchor role to give them the base they needed, though Parkinson held out valiantly for 168 minutes. They were eventually all out for 262, losing by an innings and 37 runs, Daniel Worrall taking four for 31 to move his county into second place, eight points adrift of Essex.


At the Rose Bowl, Warwickshire decided to bat first and skipper Alex Davies made his second consecutive century (149), taking his side to 290 for one before he fell. Liam Dawson took five for 146 but couldn’t prevent the away outfit from making 455. A second-wicket partnership of 213 between Fletcha Middleton (scoring his maiden century, 116) and Nick Gubbins (119) seemed to suggest Hampshire might match their opponents. But yet again this season it was Rob Yates, who did the damage, finishing with career-best figures of four for 37 (prior to this season, in 56 matches since his debut in 2019 he had taken eight wickets; he already has 11 this campaign). Hampshire were eventually all out for 365. On a shortened final day, the visitors had reached 205 for four when the game ended in a draw.


Somerset initially dominated proceedings at Taunton after Nottinghamshire chose to bat first, only for skipper Haseeb Hammed to be dismissed for a third ball duck. No one reached fifty as they tumbled to 193 all out. At 246 for seven, Somerset hadn’t established complete control, but Craig Overton’s 95 not out and Migael Pretorius’s Championship-best 77 saw the hosts up to 454 in reply. Seemingly inevitable defeat was prevented by Will Young and Joe Clarke, who set a new county third-wicket partnership record of 392, surpassing the 367 set by 44-year-old Billy Gunn and his nephew John back in 1903. It could have been many more, but just nine overs were possible on the final day. Clarke’s 213 not out was his third century of the summer and the highest Championship score by a wicket-keeper in the second innings of a match, while Young’s 174 not out was the best score of his career. The away side had reached 440 for two when the game ended as a draw.


Durham’s decision to bat first at Kidderminster didn’t immediately appear to pay off, as they were bowled out for 244, but they hit back to dismiss Worcestershire for 184 to give themselves a handy 60-run lead. David Bedingham transformed that when he reached his century off just 79 balls, having taken only 24 deliveries to make his second fifty. He was eventually out for 138 in 99 balls having hit eight sixes. By the end of the second day, Durham were 319 for five and in complete charge. They batted for a further 13 overs on the Sunday, taking their score up to 397 for five declared to set a target of 458. Three batters made fifties as the hosts tried to stave off defeat, but Paul Coughlin’s four for 45 was the main asset in Durham’s attack, as they bowled out the home side for 272 to win by 185 runs.


In the Second Division, Gloucestershire were put in to bat at Hove, and four of their batters reached fifty to help them up to a very useful total of 417. There were no centurions for Sussex either, as five of their players went past the half-century in a reply of 479. Wickets fell more freely in the second innings, with Miles Hammond’s 77 proving a vital lifeline for the away side as they crawled their way up to 205 off 85.2 overs. Jayden Seales took four for 18. A target of 144 appeared relatively straightforward, but when Zafar Gohar nipped out four wickets the pressure began to build, which is where having the experience of Cheteshwar Pujara came in, the Indian Test star making 44 not out to see his side home by four wickets, a result that took Sussex to the top of the table.


Leicestershire took full advantage after being asked to bat first at Derby. Marcus Harris made 214, his highest Championship score, backed up by consistent support throughout the middle order, enabling the away side to declare on 574 for seven after 130 overs. Derbyshire replied with just 167 as their top order collapsed. Following on, Derbyshire were saved from defeat by the weather but not before Wayne Madsen had gone past the landmark of 15,000 runs. They finished on 224 for six.


Yorkshire were put in to bat at Lord’s and crumbled to 159 all out, despite the presence of England stars Joe Root and Harry Brook, both of whom were dismissed for single-figure scores. Middlesex’s batters didn’t fare too much better in reply, making 246 as White Rose opening bowlers Ben Coad (four for 59) and Jordan Thompson (five for 80) did all the damage. A first-ball duck for Brook was one factor in Yorkshire second innings score of 244, while George Hill’s 75 was the top score. Middlesex reached their target of 158 for the loss of four wickets to move second in the table.


Northamptonshire asked visitors Glamorgan to bat first, and were rewarded when Ben Sanderson picked up five for 92 as the Welsh outfit was bowled out for 271. Ricardo Vasconcelos set the pace, making 182 and sharing a second-wicket partnership of 191 with Luke Procter. Karun Nair then took over, scoring 202 not out and putting on 212 for the sixth wicket with Saif Zaib, who scored 100. The hosts declared on 605 for six, leaving Glamorgan a lot of time to bat to save the match. Fortunately for them, a washout on the final day made that task much easier, as they finished on 104 for three.


After all the controversy over the Kookaburra ball used in the first two rounds of the summer, round three with the Dukes ball did see five wins out of nine fixtures, which could have been more had the weather not intervened, after there had been just one win in the first two rounds. As for how much difference it all makes, the figures for each round are as follows:


1st Division     Runs/Wkt         Average           2nd Division    Runs/Wkt            Average          

Round 1          3182/96           33.14               Round 1          2969/59            50.32

Round 2          5994/133         45.06               Round 2          4672/90            51.91

Round 3          4888/138         35.42               Round 3          3997/112            35.68


With 250 wickets in total falling in the Dukes round, compared with 155 and 223 in the previous two rounds, it certainly appeared as though wicket-taking was easier. In the first round across both divisions, a wicket fell after every 39.68 runs scored; in the second round that figure moved up to 47.82, before falling back to 35.54 in the third round. These figures can get distorted by high scores, and there have been plenty of them. Already this summer has seen one treble century and six double centuries in the Second Division alone – as many as in the entire first-class summer of 2023 – with two more double centuries in the First Division.