Champions Middlesex begin title defence at Hampshire
What finer sight than a half-scuffed orb of red leather arcing through the air?
Early-season cricket always conjures images of overcast skies and frost-bitten slippers. Not on the opening weekend, not this year. I was at The Oval on Saturday and was treated to a feast of swing bowling by Mark Footitt. Not a cloud in sight, it was hot out there.
Here's what you need to know ahead for this week's fixtures...
Previous result: Yorkshire 273 and 187; Hampshire 141 and 321 for 6 (target: 320) - Hampshire won by four wickets, Headingley
One to watch: Hampshire’s South African import, Kyle Abbott opened his account with nine wickets as Hampshire caused an upset to defeat Andrew Gale’s Yorkshire at Headingley. Middlesex’s top order will face a stern examination from the former Proteas bowler.
Squad: James Vince*, Jimmy Adams, Sean Ervine, Liam Dawson, Gareth Berg, Michael Carberry, Lewis McManus, Rilee Rossouw, Mason Crane, Brad Wheal, Fidel Edwards, Kyle Abbott.
Previous result: N/A
One to watch: Nick Gubbins’ 1,409 runs – second only to Durham’s Keaton Jennings in Division One - went a long way to ending Middlesex’s 23-year wait for the County Championship title. Richard Scott’s men will be looking for Gubbins to lead from the top once more.
Squad: James Franklin*, Steve Eskinazi, Steve Finn, Nick Gubbins, Tom Helm, Ryan Higgins, Dawid Malan, Tim Murtagh, Ollie Rayner, Sam Robson, Toby Roland-Jones, John Simspon (WK), Adam Voges.
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One to watch: With 65 wickets last year, everyone will be keen to see if Jack Leach can reproduce that form at Ciderabad. Meanwhile it is a big year for Somerset’s new captain, Tom Abell. At just 23 years old it will be a true test of character for Abell who scored 538 runs at 25.61 last season.
Squad: Tom Abell*, Marcus Trescothick, Dean Elgar, James Hildreth, Steve Davies (WK), Peter Trego, Roelof Van der Merwe, Lewis Gregory, Craig overton, Jamie Overton, Tom Groenewald, Jack Leach.
Previous result: Lancashire 319 and 317 for 3d; Essex 159 and 316 for 6 (target: 478) – Match drawn, Chelmsford
One to watch: We can’t put the same name here every week, but for his indefatigable, match-saving hundred against Lancashire, Dan Lawrence is absolutely the name to keep an eye on this summer. At Taunton, he will likely be facing very different conditions to the Chelmsford track. We will have to wait and see what sort of Taunton surface Leach will be working with this year.
Squad: Ryan ten Doeschate*, Aaron Beard, Ravi Bopara, Nick Browne, Varun Chopra, Alastair Cook, Simon Harmer, Dan Lawrence, Jamie Porter, Neil Wagner, Tom Westley, Adam Wheater (WK), Ashar Zaidi.
Previous result: Surrey 454; Warwickshire 91 and 362 (f/o) - Surrey won by an innings and one run, The Oval
One to watch: Is there anything better than watching an early-season exhibition of swing bowling? More often than not this evokes imagery of overcast skies, Mark Footitt’s demolition of Warwickshire’s middle order came in blazing sunshine at The Oval. At one stage Footitt had taken 6 for 6 either side of the Saturday tea break.
Squad: Gareth Batty*, Zafar Ansari, Scott Borthwick, Rory Burns, Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Jade Dernbach, Ben Foakes (WK), Mark Footitt, Stuart Meaker, Kumar Sangakkara, Dominic Sibley, Mark Stoneman.
One to watch: South African Dane Vilas opened his year in fine form with innings of 74 and 92 as Lancashire twice passed 300.
Squad: Liam Livingstone*, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Jordan Clark, Alex Davies, Haseeb Hameed, Kyle Jarvis, Simon Kerrigan, Saqib Mahmood, Ryan McLaren, Stephen Parry, Luke Procter, Dane Vilas.
One to watch: In a chastening opening match, it was one of the old guard that produced a defiant innings to give the Bears fans at least something to cheer. Jonathan Trott absorbed 291 deliveries in his second-innings knock of 151, but it wasn’t enough to make Surrey bat again.
Squad: Ian Bell*, Tim Ambrose (WK), Keith Barker, Rikki Clarke, Sam Hain, Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Alex Mellor (WK), Jeetan Patel, William Porterfield, Sunny Singh, Grant Thornton, Jonathan Trott, Chris Wright.
One to watch: In his second Championship appearance, seamer Ben Coad gave the Yorkshire selection panel a lot to think about. He’ll have a tough time keeping the likes of Liam Plunkett, Ryan Sidebottom and David Willey out of the XI when available, but his 6 for 37 (removing the top six) in Hampshire’s first innings was a major indicator of his talent.
Squad: Gary Ballance*, Tim Bresnan, Ben Coad, Matthew Fisher, Peter Handscomb, Andrew Hodd (WK), Jack Leaning, Alex Lees, Adam Lyth, Steven Patterson, Adil Rashid, Jared Warner, David Willey.