Hello! Lovely to be back for the first of a mid-summer three-course snack of county fixtures to keep us going until the days start turning and the swifts have left for warmer climes. There are three games in Division one, four in Division two and much to mull over after the one month break for Royal London games, the low-high Test series against Pakistan, and the just announced Lions squad to play India A and West Indies A.
At Old Trafford, Lancashire take on Essex, hoping to get revenge for narrow defeat at Chelmsford in April, with the new England opening team, Keaton Jennings and Alastair Cook in different dressing rooms. Cook has a chance to bed in, available for all Essex’s matches in June, while Lancashire have to do without the tattered and torn Jimmy Anderson. Jos Buttler is away with the one-day squad. Lancs claimed their first win of the season at Nottinghamshire before the one-day break, and are now within five points of fourth-placed Essex.
At Taunton Somerset play Nottinghamshire, first v second and queues at the gate this morning. Notts went into the Royal London break with a seven-point lead at the top, but have played a game more than Somerset , and lost to Lancashire in their last match. They have lost Jake Ball, who joins Alex Hales in England’s one-day squad, while Stuart Broad is unavailable – again showing the different demands put on batsmen and bowlers. Nottinghamshire don’t have a great record at Taunton, with six draws and 10 defeats since their last Championship win there in 1985. Somerset are troubled by injury, still missing Marcus Trescothick and Jack Leach although Dom Bess is back from England duty sprightly as ever, and captain Tom Abell hopes to play
At Southampton, South Africa new-ball partners Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel find themselves on different sides as they make their Championship debuts for Hampshire and Surrey respectively. More South Africans too, Dean Elgar for Surrey, and Kyle Abbott hoping to return from injury for Hampshire, but the season’s leading run-scorer – Hashim Amla, 492 runs -has returned to South Africa with a knee injury. The only other two batsmen to have passed 400 Championship runs this season, James Vince (428) and Ollie Pope (427), also play while Sam Curran is back for Surrey after his Test debut. Mark Stoneman has a chance to show the selectors what they’re missing and there are hopes that Mason Crane could make his first Championship appearance of the season for Hampshire.
At Edgbaston, Warwickshire play Glamorgan – Usman Khawaja has replaced Shaun Marsh as Glamorgan’s overseas player for a tough trip to face the Championship leaders, 15 points clear.
Gloucestershire v Kent – Kent have climbed to second with three consecutive wins since stalling in the chilly early stages of the season. Matt Henry has been the standout bowler, with 37 wickets at 9.59. Sam Billings is away with England, so Joe Denly resumes the captaincy, and Adam Rouse, Harry Podmore and Ivan Thomas could all return. Gloucestershire have slipped to seventh with a loss and two draws since that bright opening.
At the Riverside, Durham entertain Derbyshire, hoping for a cheer-up after a tricky Royal London campaign. But they’re depleted, Michael Richardson and Paul Collingwood are carrying injuries, Barry McCarthy and Stuart Poynter are on T20 duty with Ireland, Mark Wood is with England, and Ben Stokes is also injured off. Derbyshire are fourth in the table but have lost Luis Reece with a broken metatarsal – and Gary Wilson is also on Ireland duty.
At the County Ground, Northamptonshire play a different looking Leicestershire who have a new captain since winning their last Championship match, with Paul Horton taking over from Michael Carberry. Mohammad Abbas, superb for Pakistan against England, returns. Northants with three defeats out of four leaving them 20 points adrift at the bottom of the table, need to conjure something up, fast.