Australian ball outweighs English weather: batsmen on top as county season starts

Essex's Dean Elgar in action
Dean Elgar scored 80 for Essex at Trent Bridge, but Nottinghamshire were the day's most successful team in the field, reducing the visitors to 244 for nine - PA/Joe Giddens

The English weather and an Australian cricket ball were the dominant forces on the opening day of the County Championship season.

The first day’s play in four of the nine matches was abandoned ­without a ball bowled due to the weather, including at Derby (Derbyshire v Gloucestershire) where proceedings were called off at 10.10am, 50 minutes before the scheduled start.

Stumps were called at lunch at Old Trafford (Lancashire v Surrey) and the Riverside (Durham v Hampshire), and an hour later at Canterbury (Kent v Somerset).

The wet outfield at Derbyshire
Play was abandoned at Derbyshire 50 minutes before the scheduled start - Picasa

Where cricket was played bat held sway over ball, contrary to popular cliches about early season championship cricket. Just 26 wickets fell across five matches.

This could be down to the use of the Australian Kookaburra ball, rather than the Dukes, which is made in north-east London and is the default ball used in English cricket.

The Kookaburra – which is machine-made, rather than hand-stitched like the Dukes – has a less pronounced seam, and moves less extravagantly in the air and off the pitch. Over the past two seasons, English officials have trialled the Kookaburra ball in county cricket in the hope of promoting spin bowling and nullifying medium pace to make batting easier and help young batsmen build innings.

Last year, there were two Kookaburra rounds, in which, according to the England and Wales Cricket Board, the use of spin bowlers was up from 23 per cent to 33, so the trial has been expanded to four matches this year.

That does not mean it is unanimously popular, however. Alec Stewart, who has won three County Championships as Surrey director of cricket, said recently: “I just don’t understand it at all. I think it’s the worst decision ever.”

The most successful team in the field were Nottinghamshire, who reduced Essex to 244 for nine at Trent Bridge, with the South Africa seamer Dane Paterson – a seasoned practitioner with the Kookaburra ball – taking figures of five for 49.

Essex’s two new signings propped up their batting. Former South Africa captain Dean Elgar, roped in on a three-year deal to replace Sir Alastair Cook at the top of the order, scored 80, while Jordan Cox – who has joined from Kent to replace
Surrey signing Dan Lawrence at No 4 – made 84. Beyond the two new boys, the highest score was 18.

The first top-flight century of the season was scored by promoted Worcestershire’s Kashif Ali, from No 3 against Warwickshire at Edgbaston. Ali’s century also happened to be the first scored in first-class cricket by a graduate of the South Asian Cricket Academy, the programme founded to increase opportunities for young Asian ­players in the game.

“I feel very humbled and blessed to have scored my maiden century and to do it at Edgbaston, a Test match ground, is really special,” Kashif said. “I just want to send huge thanks to all the people at Worcestershire and at the South Asian Cricket Academy for all their help and support.”

Worcestershire, having been asked to bat first, made 316 for seven.

Seamer Michael Booth, whose solitary wicket at Edgbaston cost 69 runs, was left to lament the change in ball. “It was hard work with the Kookaburra ball because they don’t do as much as the Dukes, but we stuck at it and got our rewards late on,” he said.

Glamorgan's Sam Northeast celebrates reaching his century
Sam Northeast scored 186 not out for Glamorgan against Middlesex at Lord's - PA/John Walton

In Division Two, Glamorgan dominated proceedings against Middlesex at Lord’s. Sam Northeast, their new captain, came in at the fall of the season’s first wicket, Zain-ul-Hassan (another graduate of Saca) to Ethan Bamber, which came at an unusually late 11.26am. Northeast proceeded to bat throughout the remainder of the day, scoring 186 not out from 266 balls in Glamorgan’s 370 for three. He was supported by Billy Root (67) and Kiran Carlson (77).

Just 38.1 overs were possible at Hove, where Sussex met Northamptonshire. After a much-delayed start, Sussex wasted no time in asking the visitors to bat, knowing their opening bowlers could make a potent pair, with England’s Ollie Robinson – playing just his second match of any sort since July – alongside the West Indies’s Jayden Seales. The latter picked up both wickets to fall as Northants reached stumps on 95 for two. Robinson, who had a difficult tour of India last month, produced very tidy figures of 9-4-14-0.

Five wickets fell at Headingley, where there was another delayed start. Yorkshire, with Harry Brook, playing cricket for the first time since December and the death of his grandmother Pauline, in their ranks, opted to bowl first against Leicestershire. The visitors were reduced to 164 for five, with Rehan Ahmed – who left England’s tour of India having also suffered a family bereavement – dismissed for a breezy 28 from 22 balls. Yorkshire’s George Hill picked up three for 25.

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