In an ever more uncertain world, English cricket retains three great certainties. One is that Joe Root is a class above all other batsmen, the second is that Simon Harmer will take wickets, and the third that Middlesex’s batting will crumble at the drop of a helmet.
Someone was always going to pay for Essex’s slow start to the season as county champions, not to mention holders of the Bob Willis Trophy, and Derbyshire were the victims. Harmer took a career-best nine for 80 with his off-spin in dismissing Derbyshire for only 146 and making them follow on.
Harmer had taken nine wickets in a match before, against Middlesex none too surprisingly, but never so cheaply. On Friday evening, when Chelmsford’s light was too bad for pace, he had opened the Essex bowling and taken two wickets out of three to fall, and mopped up the remaining seven on day three, often caught in his leg-trap.
The other wicket was taken by Dan Lawrence, a part-time off-spinner. It was Lawrence’s dazzling 152 off 133 balls on Friday that put Essex ahead of the game, or at least enabled them to catch up with the clock after Thursday’s washout.
Harmer, as a former Kolpak, has given up hopes of qualifying for England, but he would walk into their squad for Australia if he were available. A competent No 8, and a second slip with bucket hands, he puts over-spin on his off-breaks to rival that of Nathan Lyon. But Harmer has not spent enough winters residing in England.
Root rescued Yorkshire in his last match for his county before the two-Test series against New Zealand: Yorkshire do not have a match next week, then Root has to go into England’s controlled environment as bubbles are now called. Before doing so, he revived his county from 91 for seven to 230 all out, although he agonisingly fell one short of a century, bowled by Dan Douthwaite.
Glamorgan had been on top when Michael Neser took his fifth wicket by bouncing out Yorkshire’s debutant keeper Harry Duke first ball. Being a more English-than-English seamer – although a South African by birth who has settled in Queensland – Neser has been more suited to early-season English and Welsh conditions than Marnus Labuschagne who has followed the same pathway. In his four innings this season Labuschagne has scored 11, 12, 10 and 0 (someone, like Essex’s opponents, will pay). When Neser was rested, Root took control with the Yorkshire captain Steven Patterson.
At least Middlesex had good reason for their latest collapse: Hampshire’s world-class opening attack of Mohammad Abbas and Kyle Abbott. Surviving 30 overs against them was too much. Middlesex’s captain Peter Handscomb made his highest score so far this season, 24, but that took his aggregate to only 55 in seven innings. While Handscomb’s original appointment as Middlesex’s 50-over captain was fine, it was a questionable decision to make him red-ball captain in early-season England.
Tough runs in damp conditions were not only scored by Root. Keith Barker gave Hampshire the upper hand initially by carving out 84 in the low-scoring match at Lord’s: to a last-wicket stand of 31, Abbas did not have to contribute a single. Derbyshire did better too a second time round against Harmer.
Durham, whose rebuilding is going well, filled their boots against Worcestershire before declaring: the New Zealander Will Young and the former England Under-19 batsman Jack Burnham made centuries.