The Championship Returns with a Heavyweight Battle

The County Championship resumes this weekend with Somerset hosting Nottinghamshire – the top two teams in Division One on Saturday.
While it is still early in the Championship campaign the significance of this game cannot be played down. Both teams have genuine title aspirations and both plenty of reasons for the naysayers to point to against those aspirations.
When I sat down and looked at Division 1 at the start of the season I predicted a fourth-placed finish for the newly (re)promoted boys from Trent Bridge so their early season form has come as a bit of a surprise. But their last game before the 50-over break saw them getting trounced at home by Lancashire by an innings and 67 runs being rolled over twice for under 140 by the evergreen Graham Onions.
I’m not going to try to extrapolate from the respective sides one day cup campaigns any effect in this game. Notts will have considerable doubts around their red ball season after that Lancashire result but will be boosted by their demolition of Derbyshire on Thursday to qualify for a home quarter-final. The team that adapts best to the changed format will have a huge advantage.
The next phase of the Championship right the way through to the end of August is broken up by the T20 competition. And even then the finals day on 15th September sticks its nose into the run in.
Managing this mid-season phase with the numerous changes between formats (I’ve counted a maximum of 10 between today and 29th August) is going to be key. Somerset are I believe in a better position than many as we can, as we’ve shown in the one-day cup campaign, the ability to rest and rotate the fast bowlers while are batsmen are either experienced campaigners who you would expect to cope with the demands of changing approach or specialists in either red or white ball cricket.
Having said that I’m anticipating that at least a couple of this round of championship games will see some strange scores or passages of play as teams struggle to come to terms with the changed format.
It is interesting that the ECB’s objective of creating blocks of fixtures for the two one-day competitions has resulted in this hot-potch where the championship is very much the poor relation. It reminds me of a map of an old hard-drive badly in need of defragmentation.
There are a number of questions on Somerset supporters’ lips at the moment: the fitness positions and anticipated dates of return of Tres, Skipper Tom (who encouragingly had a full net on Thursday afternoon) and Jack; plans to replace Matt Renshaw following his call-up for Australia A which will take him away for the last 6 or 7 championship games; the impact of test calls when England’s series against India starts at the beginning of August and the preponderance of away games – after Notts we will have played 4 home and 1 away so far.
Notts are a funny team, without being disrespectful to them as individuals they seem to have a collective that is greater than the sum of their parts, solid county pros but rarely mentioned in England selection discussions. In recent years they’ve not had much success at Taunton, long may that continue.
It’s impossible to have any thoughts of Nottinghamshire returning to Taunton without memories of the final game of the 2016 season coming flooding back and especially that glorious victory charge on the third day. A game remembered for James Hildreth’s amazing one-legged hundred, Chris Rogers completed his second century in the game on that third morning and the bowlers dismissed already relegated Notts in under two sessions and for a fleeting 24 hours it seemed that that first championship was on its way to Taunton.
I’m only going to be in the UK for the opening day and even I don’t expect a Somerset victory in that time but the time difference to San Francisco means that when I get off the plane on Sunday and when I wake up Monday the first thing I’ll do is look at the score on my phone, hopeful that my breakfast will be enhanced by the rosy glow of a third championship win of the summer.