Specsavers County Championship, May 11-14
The fifth round of matches this season starts tomorrow (Friday) – the last before a switch to white-ball mode next week with the start of the Royal London One-Day Cup – and also a last chance for England hopefuls to impress, before Ed Smith names his first Test squad as National Selector next week.
Headlines include Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson going head to head (blonde on blonde, barring any late changes) as the leaders Nottinghamshire take on Lancashire at Trent Bridge; Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow in the Yorkshire team facing Surrey in one of county cricket’s great North-South rivalries at the Kia Oval, aiming to build on their stunning win at Essex; and in Division Two, Mark Wood making his first appearance of the season for Durham at Derby, with the possibility of Eoin Morgan and Steven Finn joining Nick Gubbins and Dawid Malan in the Middlesex team to play Gloucestershire at Lord’s.
Nottinghamshire v Lancashire – Notts head coach Peter Moores aiming to complete an early-season double over one of his former counties. Their early-season success is largely down to four seamers – Broad, Harry Gurney, Luke Fletcher and Jake Ball – in the top nine of the division’s bowling averages. And all born in the county, as Moores has pointed out – with Ball remaining the leading wicket-taker, with 25 at less than 16 each.
In contrast Lancashire are still looking for their first win after four matches, although they have been much better in consecutive home draws against Surrey and Somerset than in opening defeats at Essex and at home to Notts. Anderson, who has enjoyed so much success at Trent Bridge, will look to improve on the single wicket he took in 43 overs against Somerset. Haseeb Hameed scored a half century for Lancashire’s second team this week after his omission from the Somerset game.
Somerset v Hampshire – Somerset remain unbeaten, and second in the table behind Notts with a game in hand, after Jack Leach’s batting career-best denied Lancashire on the last day in Manchester on Monday. But they will have to replace Marcus Trescothick, who is facing at least six weeks out after breaking a metatarsal on the brink of a century in the first innings. Steve Davies, Eddie Byrom and the England Under-19s batsman Tom Banton are contenders to come in.
Hampshire have lost two and drawn one since their opening win against Worcestershire, despite the best efforts of Hashim Amla – now Division One’s leading run-scorer – at Trent Bridge last week, where Liam Dawson suffered a hand injury.
Surrey v Yorkshire – A match full of fascinating subplots, not least Bairstow facing his England wicketkeeping deputy Ben Foakes – who has underlined his batting credentials this season with 301 runs at an average of 60. Ben Coad, the young seamer who played such a crucial role in Yorkshire’s remarkable win at Essex, is out with a sore ankle, and left-armer James Wainman comes into the squad.
Worcestershire v Essex – Experienced Australian seamer Steve Magoffin is available to return for Worcestershire after missing their last two games with a hamstring strain, which will be very welcome as they struggle at the bottom of the table – although they ended a run of three consecutive defeats on their return to Division One with a high-scoring draw against Surrey last week, with Joe Clarke pressing his England claims.
“The players want to put on a performance for the members after the way we played against Notts in our last home game,” says head coach Kevin Sharp.
Essex, aiming to bounce back from their home defeat by Yorkshire, will again have Alastair Cook looking for runs before the start of the Test summer.
Derbyshire v Durham – Mark Wood’s availability thanks to an early return from the Indian Premier League is a surprise and timely bonus for Durham, with Chris Rushworth and Barry McCarthy ruled out after suffering injuries in their remarkable victory over Leicestershire on Monday. They have also signed Matt Dixon on loan from Essex.
Derbyshire, who claimed their first home win for 1,306 days in their previous match at the 3aaa County Ground against Middlesex last month, have Mark Footitt returning to familiar territory following his recent loan move from Nottinghamshire.
Kent v Sussex – South coast neighbours on a high after terrific wins in the last round lifted them to third and second respectively – Kent at Glamorgan, and Sussex at home to Middlesex.
Early return to Canterbury for Sussex head coach Jason Gillespie, after his stint as an assistant to Matt Walker last year. Kent won both Championship matches between the counties last season, and are set to be unchanged – with Kiwi seamer Matt Henry the leading wicket-taker in either division with 27 at an average of less than 9!
Leicestershire v Glamorgan – Two teams who will be keen to bounce back after potentially demoralising defeats in the last round – Glamorgan at home to Kent, and Leicestershire snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, not for the first time in recent years, on a dramatic last day at Durham. Mark Cosgrove will face his former club.
Middlesex v Gloucestershire – Middlesex have lost Tim Murtagh and Paul Stirling to Ireland for their historic Test against Pakistan, but could have Steven Finn and Eoin Morgan available to make their first appearances of the season after injury – with Nick Gubbins and Dawid Malan keen to build on the centuries they made in last week’s defeat by Sussex at Hove.
Ryan Higgins will be keen to maintain his excellent start for Gloucestershire against his former club.
Warwickshire v Northamptonshire – Top versus bottom, after Warwickshire continued their quietly impressive start to life in Division Two by beating Derbyshire last week – when Northants produced their best performance of the season in a tour match against Pakistan.
It’s an early rematch after the Bears claimed a convincing win at Wantage Road last month.