23 Juin 2017
Having played half their games, promoted Essex sit 14 points clear atop the County Championship after Simon Harmer, perhaps the signing of the season, spun them to victory against Warwickshire, who were skittled for 94, by an innings and 164 runs. Harmer took seven consecutive wickets to finish the job and end with eight in the innings and 14 for 126 in the match, a career best.
Holding up early in the season, Harmer had been waiting for a wicket such as this. He catches flies at second slip and provides handy late runs, too. On a track turning sharply, his were classic off-spinner’s wickets, lbws and close catches with hoards round the bat. The only other wicket to fall was the first and most important, Ian Bell, done by the angle of Neil Wagner, playing his final game for Essex. Mohammad Amir, who confidently said he could help Essex win the Championship as he was unveiled, will replace himfrom Monday.
Harmer, who played five Tests for South Africa before taking the Kolpak route, is a spinner able to contain and attack, and is exactly the addition needed by Essex – who were promoted without a frontline spinner. As Ryan ten Doeschate, the captain, said: “It couldn’t be a more perfect fit. In April and May he was a holding spinner. I would have taken that but then he’s turned round and taken 14 wickets in this game. I don’t think many bowlers could have won you a game single-handedly on a pretty docile pitch.”
Having bowled 39 overs on the third day, he took a wicket in each of his first two overs of the final morning, Andrew Umeed, lbw with a delivery with drift, turn and bounce, then Sam Hain got in a tangle premeditating a sweep and was caught at short leg. After some resistance, Rikki Clarke was perhaps unlucky to fall lbw not offering a shot, then Keith Barker went sweeping first ball and Jeetan Patel was lbw next over. Tim Ambrose held on long enough to see lunch taken but Boyd Rankin – lbw to a full toss – and Sunny Singh, caught slip, did did not long.
Ten Doeschate said Essex, who have made such good use of their extended access to Alastair Cook this season, could “dare to dream” of winning the Championship for the first time in 25 years, with their Division One status looking secure at the halfway mark. “I think we are a far better team than we were even six weeks ago,” he said.
For Warwickshire, the situation is markedly different. They have grown old together and appear desperately short of options to salvage a dire position: bottom, and already 40 points behind the upwardly mobile Middlesex in sixth. Warwickshireand Somerset, who are four points in front, already look very likely to go down and the hour-long players-only debrief – “honest words”, said Bell – that took place as Essex celebrated in the pavilion said plenty.
Lancashire moved into second by taking the five Hampshire wickets they required for an innings and 30-run win. James Anderson took a fourth wicket, Matt Salisbury, while Ryan McLaren and Kyle Jarvis picked up two each to finish with three apiece.
As Hampshire lost, Durham edged into positive figures (they have 14 points) and secured their first win since their abrupt relegation, chasing 157 for the loss of only Cameron Steel (51) to beat Glamorgan by nine wickets. Barry McCarthy had toiled hard for four wickets to bowl Glamorgan out for 263, then Stephen Cook made 89, his highest score for Durham, to boss the chase.
Worcestershire pulled off a remarkable four-wicket win over Kent, leapfrogging them into second in the process. They chased 399 of six down, with Daryl Mitchell making his fourth hundred of the season and Joe Clarke his second of the match in a stand of 175. Yasir Shah, who had earlier had Moeen Ali lbw for 63 on the stroke of lunch, dismissed Mitchell then picked up three more quick ones to finish with five but it was all too late, as Clarke guided Worcestershire home.
That result leaves Worcestershire nine ahead of Kent and 26 behind Nottinghamshire, who have played a game more than both of their closest rivals. Worcestershire’s next opponents are Durham, who are delighted to be off the mark and buoyed by the return of Ben Stokes and Mark Wood.