Foakes’ form and Bazball’s influence: Five talking points from the first round of the County Championship
After round one of the 2023 County Championship, here’s a look at the major talking points from the action across both divisions.
New role, same Pujara as overseas stars make hay
The County Championship always promises overseas quality, but few have impressed to the same degree as Cheteshwar Pujara at Sussex. After amassing 1,094 runs in 13 innings last season, Pujara was awarded the captaincy for the 2023 campaign and added another century to his tally in his side’s first match. He averages over 100 for Sussex and has converted all his fifties into tons.
There were plenty of other overseas stars in action, with Peter Handscomb inspiring Leicestershire to a thrilling victory over Yorkshire – he scored 112 and a match-winning 68*. West Indies wicketkeeper-batter Shai Hope also starred for Yorkshire, hitting a smart 83 in their second innings.
Marcus Harris passed fifty twice as he posted 59 and 148 for Gloucestershire, top scoring in both innings. Matthew Kuhnemann rounded out a strong showing from the Australia contingent, he took six wickets in the match for Durham including a second-innings four-for.
Lancashire’s Colin de Grandhomme hit a fine 67* and was also cause for hilarity when he took a fine catch to remove Ben Foakes which resulted in his trousers coming down in the process.
Foakes and Crawley with statement innings as Bairstow battle hots up
England’s Test selectors will be hoping that the early part of the Count Championship season will provide their shoe-ins with some valuable longer format practice as well as settle some selection headaches. The most pressing of these is who will drop out of the side to accommodate a fit again Jonny Bairstow. He was pictured batting on the edge of the Headingley square during lunch on day one and is targeting two Championship matches as a wicketkeeper, starting in the next round of fixtures.
If he’s fit enough to take the gloves, the consensus is that he will take Ben Foakes’ place behind the stumps. But the Surrey gloveman has potentially complicated matters with an impeccable start to his 2023 campaign. He scored 76 and 103* as Surrey drew to Lancashire, with his century coming up in just 93 deliveries – quite something, from a batter who isn’t regarded as quintessentially ‘Bazball’.
After a string of poor scores in Pakistan and New Zealand, Zak Crawley looked to click back into gear with a mature knock against Northamptonshire. He made 91 from 171 deliveries as his side made just 222, but doubts about how he plays off the front foot reared their ugly heads after he was cheaply dismissed through the gate in the second innings for just three.
Leicestershire finally break the duck despite Yorkshire fireworks
Yorkshire and Leicestershire locked horns in the pick of the round one ties, Leicestershire chasing down a mammoth 389-run target with three wickets and seven balls to spare – their first County Championship win since 2021.
With the cloud of a potential points deduction looming, Yorkshire looked unperturbed as Dawid Malan and Finlay Bean both struck rapid centuries in the first innings before Shai Hope hit a fine 83 two days later. But Leicestershire, after a completely winless 2022 season, completed a monstrous chase, buoyed by Rishi Patel (125) and Dutchman Colin Ackermann (75), before Peter Handscomb and Chris Wright (68* and 40*) took the visitors over the line with just minutes left of day four, recording Leicestershire’s first first-class win at Headingley since 1910.
Rehan Ahmed returns to red-ball action
18-year-old Leicestershire starlet Rehan Ahmed – following a stunning England Test debut in Karachi, an ILT20 campaign and an underwhelming short-format tour of Bangladesh – returned to first-class action with the same boyish charm and confidence that have surrounded his breakthrough year.
He followed up his maiden first-class century in his final Championship game of last season with an 85 – batting at No. 7 – after he had taken 3-89 in Yorkshire’s first innings. His English domestic season didn’t get off to the best start though. He conceded 22 runs in a single over, including a head-high no-ball which meant ten runs came from his first legitimate delivery of the game.
Ahmed is undoubtedly an exciting talent, but if he is to iron out the cracks of a young player still finding his way – particularly with the ball – this Championship season will be crucial in his development as a red-ball all-rounder.
Bazball fever not as virulent as first thought?
Before round one, all the talk was how England’s McCullum blueprint would impact the competition. While predictions were ripe for increased scoring rates, only Yorkshire managed to tick along above four runs an over in both innings. Division One only saw three scores of over 300 in an innings. Of the 18 players who scored centuries, only Ben Foakes and Dawid Malan finished their innings with a strike rate higher than 80.
It would’ve been unrealistic to expect a complete ‘wham, bam, crash, wallop’ start to the competition after a seven-month break and given the start date in early April. But, with a scramble for any available spots before the start of the Ashes in June, players don’t have long to make their case. We’ll wait to see what the next round of fixtures brings and how players respond as the season clicks through the gears but, for now at least, old fashioned weight of runs is doing the heavy lifting rather than the scoring rates.