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Holy Pope! Championship Roundup

Here’s your choice. You can either watch Virat Kohli, the Indian messiah, slog a few in the IPL, or get yourself down to The Oval and see a Pope in person. I’m referring, of course, to Young Oliver Pope, the saviour of Surrey’s batting. Hardly anyone had heard of the lad a week ago, but now he’s just as famous (amongst Surrey supporters at least) as his namesake who resides in the Vatican. What’s more, he’s about a hundred years younger.

Surrey’s victory over Hants was encouraging for English cricket because four young English players, namely Pope, Ben Foakes, Sam Curran, and Amar Virdi triumphed over a Hampshire side oozing international pedigree. Kyle Abbott and Fidel Edwards tried their upmost but did not prevail. And even another pretty 30-odd from James Vince wasn’t enough to save the day.

Pope made scores of 34 and 145, Foakes scored 46 and 81, Curran took 4-39, and nineteen year old off-spinner Virdi, who was only playing because Gareth Batty had a back spasm, spun Surrey to victory on the final day with 4-79. Anyone would’ve thought that there’s some good young English talent coming through the ranks after all.

There was also some fine English talent on display in Yorkshire’s win over Notts and Somerset’s victory over Worcs. Young Ben Coad was the star of the show for the Yorkies, taking 4-49 in the first innings followed by an ever better 6-81 in the second dig. Some lad called Garry Ballance also made 81. We’ll ignore his duck in the first innings.

The match at Taunton ended up being a battle between Somerset and Ed Barnard. Somerset needed a spectacular performance from old-timer James Hildreth, who made 48 and 111*, to wrap up the victory. However, one has to feel extremely sorry for Barnard. The young all-rounder scored 50 and 45* and took 5-52 and 6-37 in the match but still ended up on the losing side.

Just returning to the subject of James Hildreth for a second, the veteran batsman (now 33 years young), scored his 42nd first class century in the second innings. He’s also made just over 60 half centuries – which represents a pretty good conversion rate. I can’t believe that any other recent batsman has made this many first class centuries without a sniff of international recognition. My challenge to you is therefore this: name any other modern batsman who has been this productive without collecting a single England cap (in any format). 42 tons is a hell of a lot.

The other game in division one saw Essex see off Lancs. Once again Lancs’ England hopefuls bombed like a diving bomby thing. Jennings and Hameed did nothing to extinguish rumours that they simply don’t want to play for England – they scored a collective 35 runs in 4 innings – and if Liam Livingstone wants to replace James Vince he’ll need to do better than scores of 33 and 23. England already have plenty of batsmen who make starts and then succumb softly.

There was better news on the England front for Essex’s bowlers though. Young Jamie Porter continues to tear up trees with a match haul of 9-80. He might not be particularly quick but the selectors will find it increasingly difficult to ignore him. He’s now taken 218 wickets at an average of 23 in his young career. That’s Glenn McGrath good.

Down in division two there was a huge shock when Derbyshire defeated the mighty Middlesex. There wasn’t much to report on the England front – Derbs victory was down to a huge opening stand between Luis Reece and Ben Slater and 8 wickets for South African Duanne Olivier – but we can’t let a result like this go without mention. It was a terrible few days at the office for the 2016 county champions made worse by an injury to Toby ‘April should be made for me’ Roland Jones.

Unfortunately the most notable performances in division two over the weekend came from old-timers or imports. New Zealand’s Matt Henry, who I’ve always rated quite highly, picked up 12 wickets in Kent’s win over Durham, and the evergreen Ryan Sidebottom picked up a ten-fer match analysis in Warwickshire’s win over Northants. Some bloke called Shaun Marsh, who I don’t remember scoring any runs in the Ashes (my brain tends to block out painful memories), also scored a ton for Glamorgan against Gloucs.

The limited good news came in the shape of 85 for Sam Hain, and a superb unbeaten 120 for Gloucestershire’s 20 year old batsman James Brady. It looks like the lads from Bristol have found themselves yet another good young cricketer. It’s good to see yet another county giving youth a chance.

Transmission ends.

James Morgan

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Holy Pope! Championship Roundup

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