As Keaton Jennings joined the Durham exodus – signing for four years at Lancashire citing the need for top-flight cricket to rebuild his stalling international career – thrilling, fascinating, three-way scraps for promotion and relegation neared their climax; the lure of Division One is inescapable.
This represented the latest tough day in the recent history of Durham, who were relegated last year for financial irregularities. Jennings will be joined at Lancashire by the club’s leading first‑class wicket-taker Graham Onions, who has signed a two-year deal that may involve coaching. They did, at least, announce the return from Hampshire of Will Smith, their captain when they won the 2009 County Championship.
Jennings said: “It was an extremely difficult decision to leave Durham, but I am hugely excited about joining Lancashire. It is a fantastic opportunity for me to play Division One cricket for a club with such a great history and tradition.”
Onions will replace Kyle Jarvis, after he left the club to resume his international career with Zimbabwe, while on a busy day at Old Trafford Paul Allott was confirmed as director of cricket and Andrew Flintoff joined the club’s board. On the field, Lancashire were bowled out for 268, a first-innings lead of 67 (Steven Croft made 115) over Surrey, which Mark Stoneman and Rory Burns wrote off by stumps. Surrey lead by 12, and will finish second if they avoid defeat.
More pressing cricket took place in the relegation bunfight on a bunsen at Taunton, where Somerset – who know that if they beat Middlesex they survive – are right in charge, leading by 253 with seven second-innings wickets in hand.
As Middlesex were bowled out for 142, trailing by 94, with Jack Leach picking up four wickets (but Craig Overton three), focus remained on the pitch, and whether the cricket liaison officer, Wayne Noon, would dock Somerset points. But as Somerset extended that lead to 253 three down, with James Hildreth 82 not out, the chatter quietened. Middlesex’s frontline spinner Ravi Patel, who took seven first-innings wickets, tired and Hildreth and Tom Abell put on 100. Noon can probably stand down.
If Warwickshire beat Hampshire, Middlesex will be handed an unlikely reprieve. Warwickshire were 12 for four but, thanks to Dom Sibley carrying his bat for 92, they wriggled to 188, and promptly dismissed Hampshire for 116 to lead by 72 at stumps. Hampshire need all five points from a draw to survive.
The top of Division Two is every bit as tense. Worcestershire, after being led to 335 by Joe Clarke and Ravichandran Ashwin, need just four wickets in 71 overs for full bowling points and promotion, with Durham 142 for five.
Nottinghamshire’s promotion, which for so long seemed a certainty, is in grave doubt after centuries for Michael Burgess and Chris Jordan set up 565 for Sussex, who then reduced the visitors to 108 for five. If Northamptonshire beat Leicestershire (with two first‑innings wickets in hand, Northants lead by 71), Nottinghamshire must avoid defeat, and equal Northants’ haul of batting bonus points to go up.
The champions, Essex, have plenty to play for against Yorkshire: the first unbeaten Championship season in their history, and they look very well placed to do so, after Dan Lawrence’s classy unbeaten 75 swelled their lead over Yorkshire – which was 116 on first innings – to 250 by stumps.
Yorkshire were equal parts careless and unfortunate (Gary Ballance was run out backing up) in being out bowled out for 111, with Jamie Porter picking up three wickets to move to 73 in the Championship this season. There were also three each for Simon Harmer and Neil Wagner, the pick of the bowlers.
Essex lost Varun Chopra and Ravi Bopara in the space of three balls, both lbw to Jack Brooks, with their second innings score on six, but Lawrence and Nick Browne (53*) dug in – with the occasional flourish from Lawrence, as ever, to reassert their dominance, because that is what Champions do.