No Alex Hales, no Jason Roy, but one Ollie Pope – the County Championship careers towards its conclusion

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Runs don’t win you a two-innings cricket match, but by Godfrey Evans, they sure as Shivnarine Chanderpaul help. The Surrey v Hampshire County Championship title run-in feels like it’s shed a bit of tension after Ollie Pope’s 136 and Hampshire’s 57 all out in the penultimate round of matches.

We wouldn’t normally report mid-match, but this felt like a significant day.

When Hampshire’s alphabetically unambitious pace trio of Abbas, Abbott and Barker reduced Kent to 32-5 and Surrey fell to 136-5 against Yorkshire, the geographically detached overall head-to-head seemed vibrant and alive.

From this point Kent scrapped to 165 – largely thanks to late developer Ben Compton – before bowling Hampshire out for 57. Surrey, meanwhile, worked their way to 292-6 with papal serenity.

Advantage Surrey, but the one thing you would say is that with Kent already 20-3 in their second innings, wickets are still tumbling at the Rose Bowl. There’s every chance Hampshire will end up with an ostensibly non-ridiculous fourth innings target to chase. And we don’t really know how the Surrey game’s going to go because only one team’s batted on that pitch so far.

But yeah, advantage Surrey.

Speaking of pitches, 26 wickets fell in the best-of-the-rest match between Essex and Lancashire in Chelmsford. Lancs were 7-6 at one point in their second(!) innings. “Days like this are really annoying,” said coach Glen Chapple.

Chief destroyer for Essex has been Zimbabwe-born Netherlands international, Shane Snater, who also happens to be the cousin of Jason Roy, who feels like he’s worth a mention at this point.

Regular readers will remember we did a whole big article about whether Jason Roy maybe needed to play a bit more first-class cricket to get a larger batting workload under his belt. Well Jason Roy may well need first-class cricket, but first-class cricket doesn’t necessarily need Jason Roy. We’re struck that he’s not playing for Surrey this week despite missing out on England’s tour to Pakistan.

Correct us if we’re wrong, but we’re pretty sure his omission from the Surrey team is on the basis of, “Well why would we pick him?” The man isn’t exactly in form and hasn’t played first-class cricket since 2019. He’s not so much beating down the clichéd selectorial door as roaming the streets wondering what building it’s in these days.

However, as a counterpoint to our theory that white ball batters build form on foundations deriving from a certain volume of batting, it’s worth highlighting the man who has effectively replaced Roy in the England T20 side. Alex Hales nearly matched the Hampshire first XI in making 53 on his return to international cricket against Pakistan yesterday.

Hales has thrived while operating as a T20 specialist these last few years. In 2018 he decided to prioritise white ball practice and extra rest over first-class cricket. His last first-class game was in 2017 and he hasn’t even played 50-over cricket since 2019. (Although he probably would have continued with the middle format if it weren’t for the impact of all the street brawls, naked selfies and recreational drugs.)

In contrast to Roy, specialism seems to be working for Hales. A mad disclaimer then: maybe different people need different things at different times.

These two openers are familiar absentees by this point. (Is that possible? Perhaps it makes more sense to say we’re accustomed to their absence.) But it still seems a shame that some of England’s other T20 players have had to move on from the county season before it’s actually finished.

It feels like Pope’s mere presence elevates this early autumn first-class crescendo, but that’s also a reminder that the two title contenders are shorn of Liam Dawson, Sam Curran, Will Jacks and Reece Topley.

Hey-ho, that’s the Championship, we suppose; a sprawling competition where the changing seasons and player availability are challenges as significant as your rivals.

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  1. It is unprecedented for you to review a round of the cc after just day one, KC.

    Just when we thought it was safe to avoid the phrase “unprecedented times” you have to go and do something unprecedented which, no doubt, will kick off the use of that ghastly phrase again. Well I’m not playing that game, no siree, howsoever unprecedented the times might be. Not me.

    1. There were a few versions of that second paragraph acknowledging that it’s actually quite rare for us to report even after the matches have reached their conclusions.

    1. One would presume the ECB pitch inspectors will be taking a keen interest in proceedings at Chelmsford and Southampton, unless of course it’s only when wickets tumble to spin that suspicions are aroused?

  2. Can anyone explain why Jack Leach has been ‘made unavailable’ by England, but Foakes and Pope are free to play?

    1. County Championship: “A top division of six to deliver best vs best and two second division conferences of six with one promotion place, played through the summer with a minimum of 10 matches per team”

      Moving one-day cup to April and having August set aside for the County Championship plus “First Class cricket festivals… to provide opportunities for our specialist red-ball players and developing talent, designed as a flexible, engaging way to promote local rivalries e.g. a “London Cup” or “Roses Test Series””

      Quite a lot of other stuff in there as well including making it harder for seamers to take wickets, an annual North v South game in overseas conditions, and quite a bit more.

      Interesting to see the new membership pricing structure that Lancashire are proposing in light of potentially fewer 4-day games…

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