So, Northamptonshire versus Derbyshire in Dubai anyone? Thought not. The ECB’s suggestion to play county cricket overseas in March is surely the dumbest yet.
Alan Clarridge, Northants’ number one travelling fan, will not be happy sitting on his trademark sunlounger after a dusty 12 hour trip across the desert on a camel!
No, Northants’ table topping championship clash with Worcestershire at Wantage Road last week showed all that is good about the English game (however many county games we have to cram in around murky and boring international Twenty20 leagues), with stunning weather and a cracking 10-wicket victory setting up the season for head coach David Ripley.
Again the toss was critical, and if the captain Alex Wakely keeps calling correctly it doesn’t matter how few runs he gets.
The coin spin has been pivotal to Northants’ success this season.
We have averaged 354 in the first innings to the opposition’s 207, and that is a telling stat which is down to the toss as much as it is to Trent Copeland leading the seam attack.
If Northants can get more than 300 on green pitches with their batting cannon, they are not going to lose a championship match any day soon.
We could be laying the template for the future of the first-class game here, wicketkeeper Murphy batting at 11 on the card - and that’s the first time that’s happened in the county championship in 20 years!
Ironically, Worcestershire were the last team to do it with Tim Edwards.
It’s also been important the lads bat second at home as the groundsman have clearly been told to prepare three-day seaming pitches to set up Copeland, the one for the Worcester game as green and tantalizing as the dollars hanging out of Donald Trump’s back pocket.
The tactic has been doubly effective as other teams have been preparing flat wickets to secure draws at worse, so not to fall too far behind.
Worcestershire simply didn’t have any answer to Copeland’s relentless line and length, and with Steven Crook and David Willey’s snappy seamers at the other end there was no escape.
Then there was Andrew Hall, with Murphy standing up to the stumps to keep the batsman chained to the crease, and Hall’s box of tricks doing the rest.
Only Moeen Ali worked out what was required with 79 fluent runs.
He was always on the front foot, taking the single and punishing the rare bad ball to the short boundary to keep his score ticking over.
Worcester were bowled out for 198, with Northants claiming their 21st straight bowling point. No one has scored more than 300 in any innings against Northants this season.
The Northants reply was rocky early on, the hapless Matt Spriegel out first ball (one more than I thought he would last) and fellow opener Kyle Coetzer going soon after.
This stacked on the pressure for the result Northants needed to maintain their challenge once Copeland has gone back home.
Spriegel is very much a work in progress for Ripley, but more Tracey Emin than Van Gough for me.
Wakely (31) and David Sales scrapped hard against the new ball on that tricky pitch with a gritty 50 partnership, Sales (40) then adding fifty more with young Rob Keogh, who looks ready for the step up for a run in the first team, probably to take Sales’ spot.
Old stager Alan Richardson enjoyed himself on that pitch straight from the New Road catalogue, adding to his 500-plus first-class wickets at an impressive 27.5 at any equally impressive age of 38, Northants checked at 100 for four at the close.
The second days was one of the best days of cricket at Wantage Road for many a year, the grey curtain of cloud quickly drawn back to reveal a Monet of pastille blue and brilliant yellow sunshine above the pristine green to encourage good batting as the pitch eased.
At 134 for six, with Keogh gone for 44, some home fans foolishly doubted our batting, with Crook’s reprieve on the ropes handing the match to the home side as he harvested 85 runs of 85 balls for the 100 lead and unexpected bonus points on 314 all out. You can’t drop catches like the one spilled off Crook.
By the close Worcestershire were done for, 45 for one, soon 66 for six, with Copeland putting in one big final effort before he rests his weary head on Quantus with three more scalps.
The game was quickly wrapped up with a neat bow on Friday morning. Worcester were dismissed for 125(Ali 44no) there was and six for 41 for the Aussie.
Copeland’s leaving present saw him produce his best performance yet, and gleaned another 22 points.
Northants’ lead is up to that impressive 44 points, with the openers finally contributing by knocking off the winning runs - at least feeling part of the win after being relegated to the outfield for the second innings.
Copeland’s 36 wickets at 18.25 each ffrom 290 overs was a phenomenal effort and he will be sorely missed.
He quickly mastered the alien Duke Ball which was his mission.
He averaged 50 with the bat, which of course adds another dimension to his value.
Coupled with his ability to bowl long and accurate spells, he was a big chunk of the team.
Some will say he is the sole reason we are miles clear at the top, and you have to say that inability to score off him does ‘gift’ wickets at the other end as the batsmen try to score there with riskier shots.
But, for me, Steve Crook has been up there with Trent as he is playing far above the level we paid for him and taken the pressure off Willey to perform every time with the new ball and the bat.
That means we will get more from David through the season, the son of Peter always demonstratively frustrated when he can’t bowl the shiney.
But no one dared to take the ball off Trent, and so it’s now up to Willey to lead the attack and show us what we have been missing.
We can only hope TC returns and the ankle injury is really an excuse that he wanted time with the missus in June and hoped to make the Ashes side.
Whatever his reasons for going home, please come back big man!
Unless he signs for Surrey next week, of course…