County Championship wrap: Five talking points as Smith struggles
County Championship wrap: Ryan Bailey takes a look at five talking points from the second round of matches
Things won’t be easy for Smith
He may have scored 8,753 runs in 110 Test matches but Graeme Smith endured a difficult debut as Surrey captain, highlighting the fact that runs won’t come easily for the South African left-hander in county cricket. After watching his fellow countryman rack up a dream ton on his Somerset debut, Smith lasted just two balls before trudging back to the pavilion. The arrival of a player of Smith’s pedigree will inevitably attract attention and while he is used to performing under pressure, his wicket will be the prize scalp all bowlers will be after when they face Surrey. The 32-year-old is a proven performer at the highest level in all conditions but his technique will come under plenty of scrutiny in English seamer friendly conditions against some talented pace attacks in Division One. However, it’s a bit early for the Surrey faithful to be nervously worrying about their new acquisition’s batting form but Smith will want to spend time in the middle sooner rather than later.
Plenty of home-grown talent on the County circuit
All the talk and focus may be on the big overseas signings such as Smith, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Alviro Petersen but as the past four days has emphasised, there is no shortage of young home-grown talent on the county circuit. With the likes of Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler progressing to the international stage in recent years after showcasing their talents in the county game, the England selectors will be keeping a close eye on several exciting talents. Opening batsmen Sam Robson and Rory Burns have impressed at the top of the order for Middlesex and Surrey respectively, while the emergence of Northants’ David Willey and Shiv Thakor at Leicestershire, to name just a few, highlights the excellent work being done by the counties’ academies. Fans and boards may target the signing of a big name international star but as teams, like Derbyshire, have shown in recent years, the development of home-grown players who can compete at the highest level will be more of a benefit in the long run. And, it’s not just the counties who reap the rewards of what seems to be a never ending production line of talent either. There are now more options for the England selectors in terms of personal than ever and it seems they face selection headaches every time a squad is announced thanks to the large pool of players who have worked their way into contention through the county game.
Normal service resumes for the champions
It could have been a video replay of their many Championship victories last season; defiant late order runs helped salvage what was a potentially tricky situation before unleashing an onslaught of high quality seam bowling on a helpless opposition top-order. After being hampered by the weather in an opening draw with Derbyshire, Warwickshire got their title defence up and running as they tore through a fragile Durham batting line-up to record an emphatic 318-run victory at Edgbaston. There was a feeling of dejà vu as the County Champions ground down their opponents over three hard fought days before landing the killer blow in style. The visitors had fought bravely to give themselves a sniff of coming away with an unlikely draw but the Bears’ seam attack and Chris Wright in particular, was far too strong for what is in truth, a very poor Durham batting line-up. Wright took 6/31 as he gave the England selectors a reminder of his ability and quality with the ball in hand. The partnership formed between the England Lion and Keith Barker was a big factor in Warwickshire’s success last term and once again they bowled in tandem to bowl their opponents out twice. However, for Durham captain Paul Collingwood, it was a reminder that his team will need to drastically improve their batting performances if they are to avoid being dragged into a relegation scrap.
Middlesex are serious title contenders
A key component to any Championship winning season is getting off to a good start and that’s exactly what Middlesex have done. Back-to-back victories have heavily underlined their title credentials and they’re yet to hit top gear, according to Director of cricket Angus Fraser. Question marks may remain over an inexperienced batting order but their seam bowling attack is the best in the country bar none. Any team including James Harris, Toby Roland-Jones, Tim Murtagh and when available, Steven Finn, will cause problems to any opposition and so they have proved thus far. The hosts seemed to be on the back foot after they slumped to 215 all out on the third morning, but they hit back immediately by reducing Derbyshire to 19-3 in their second innings before looking unstoppable as they blew the Division One novices away for just 60 before knocking off the target to clinch a victory confirms their position as early leaders. The opening batting partnership of young Robson and captain Chris Rogers has already clicked while the likes of Joe Denly and Dawid Malan are proven performers at this level. Having not lifted the Championship in two decades, it’s inevitable that nobody will be getting carried away but one thing is for sure, Middlesex are serious title contenders this year.
Rejuvenated Northants heading in the right direction
After winning just two Championship games and enduring a miserable 2012, Northants were a club in dire straits. However, a change of captaincy and approach has yielded immediate dividends, much to the surprise of many who tipped them to be Division Two strugglers. Few sides have made a better start to the new season then the Wantage Road club; only rain denied them victory after bowling Glamorgan out for 134 last week before they recorded an emphatic victory against an extremely talented Essex side at Chelmsford. Despite losing the likes of Jack Brooks and Niall O’Brien, a new look squad has shown they possess the quality, balance and raw talent to push for that elusive promotion spot. The Steelbacks may not possess the big names which other counties have at their disposal but David Ripley has quietly assembled a well-balanced side with a mix of youth and experience. Their bowling attack, spearheaded by Australian Trent Copeland, looks particularly strong while the signing of Steven Crook is already proving to be a shrewd bit of business. The performances with both bat and ball will encourage all at Wantage Road and the development of all-rounder David Willey will be particularly pleasing as the club look to nurture and develop home grown talent. Things are definitely heading in the right direction for Northants and based on the early evidence, there is every chance they will be challenging at the right end of the table come September.