Essex have Bopara but miss Shah and Ten Doeschate as IPL takes effect

Lord’s hasn’t been a happy home for Middlesex supporters in recent years, but when they win here they tend to win well. Last year their two Lord’s victories came by an innings, today the home fans saw 20 Essex wickets fall in a day, leaving success a formality.

It was billed as Steve Finn versus Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara, but in helpful conditions for the bowlers it was nothing of the sort. Finn looked very much an England bowler, noticeably quicker than anything else we’ve seen, and with his bounce and lateral movement was too much for most batsmen, even if he did continue his bad habit of falling away occasionally.

For Cook it was as though the winter never happened, as he prodded and poked at Corey Collymore, falling first lbw to the West Indian and then turning a return catch to Finn in the second knock. If Uncle obduracy himself couldn’t last it out what hope the rest of them? And so it proved…

Bopara fell twice to Finn, before tweeting, “No heavy rollers & tiflex balls is a recipe for low scores. Crap cricket!” Middlesex opener Scott Newman’s response was the closest thing to a contest all day, “dry your eyes big lad. No feet movement and loose shots is a recipie for nicking off lol”. A glance at yesterday’s scorecard would afford Bopara a smile. Newman c Foster b Topley 38.

Bopara is of course playing here after turning down the IPL because he wants to play for England. Heaven forbid there be any great loyalty to Essex. We’re constantly told that loyalty doesn’t exist in sport, and that’s never more obvious than when there’s Indian wonga involved – however understandably.

Owais Shah and Ryan ten Doeschate have no England cause to further, so you couldn’t see the ground for dust when the escape route was offered. You could forgive long-suffering Essex supporters for being a bit irked about two of their best batsmen being unavailable for six Championship matches – over a third of the season. The situation is exacerbated when the rest of the side bat like total numpties, but as it is they are on the verge of two defeats from two and the season is only a week old.

It makes you wonder what the point is of signing Owais Shah on exorbitant wages in the first place – what will Essex do with the compensation while he sits on the IPL sidelines? Splurge it on Dwayne Bravo for Twenty20 finals day again? And what exactly does Shah hope to gain from joining Essex other than a lucrative payday? Because at this moment it sure doesn’t look like it’s a return to the Championship first division.

Is the fault with the players for chasing the money, or the schedulers for doing their best to finish the whole season by June? Whoever’s to blame it makes you slightly grateful that more English players aren’t much kop at T20, as otherwise this would surely be more of an issue. As it is injuries and other bobbins mean Shah, Eoin Morgan and Michael Lumb are the only English players out in India at the moment. That Morgan and Shah, and the Dutch/ Saffer Ten Doeschate all would have been playing today localises the issue conveniently.

Yet imagine if all 37 English players who made themselves available for the IPL auction had been picked up. Imagine if Kent fans hadn’t even been able to watch Simon Cook for six weeks. It doesn’t even bear thinking about.


Reece Topley – remember the name

The second round of Championship matches is underway, and I’ve made it to first day at both The Oval and Lord’s so far. Brilliant sunshine last week, unashamed murk this – it turns out that the start of the British summer was a bigger myth than the good guy football star.

The cricket has been a mixture of brilliant and murk too. On the one hand there was the uninhibited strokeplay of Rory Hamilton-Brown and Tom Maynard on the first day at the Oval, and the raw promise of the Essex left-armer Reece Topley today. On the other there is trying to rationalise the value of watching a Northants attack led by 35-year-old South African Andrew Hall and 37-year-old Sri Lankan Chaminda Vaas, similarly Middlesex’s opening batsmen of Australian Chris Rogers (33) and Surrey cast-off Scott Newman (31).

If this is a familiar moan I’m sorry, but it’s true, there are too many teams in the Championship. Let’s move on anyway, for in Topley, England has a real prospect. At 17, with seven wickets in his Championship debut against Kent last week and five more today, the figures look good. I can confirm that they don’t flatter – there is plenty to be excited about for Essex and England fans. Don’s son is tall, extracts bounce, and swings the ball – at least in these early season conditions. Pace-wise he would be low to mid-eighties at the moment and his run-up needs work but crucially he is in a decent position at release, giving him notable consistency for one so young, despite a tired third spell.

Maurice Chambers was a fearsome sight up close in the nets when in Australia with the Academy, but the strung-up-by-your-neck view of the Lord’s media box reveals an inherent flaw – a low-arm action, meaning that, like Saj Mahmood, he will lack the bounce to trouble the good players despite his skiddy pace. After a miserable morning spell it was unusual to see Chambers tweeting in the lunch interval that the Lord’s slope had unbalanced him – as though he was replying to the twittercism. Essex fans have been waiting for him to lead their attack for a few years – he’s one of those perennially promising types, but on this evidence it’s hard to see him breaking through unless he can discover a way to extract more bounce.

As for Middlesex’s batting – bleurgh, as nine scores between 15 and 38 suggests.