Alex Davies hit a maiden double century as Warwickshire piled on the runs on the opening day of their Vitality County Championship encounter with Durham at Edgbaston.

Fellow opener Rob Yates also cracked 191 in an extraordinary first-wicket partnership of 343 with outstanding skipper Davies, whose unbeaten 226 came from 274 balls with 25 fours and three sixes.

To compound the misery for promoted Durham, who had won the toss, Will Rhodes reached 60 not out to take the hosts past maximum batting points and to 490 for one before the close.

Champions Surrey took command against Somerset at The Oval despite a century from Tom Lammonby.

Lammonby (100) and Matt Renshaw (87) got Somerset off to a fine start by putting on 178 for the second wicket but the loss of seven wickets for 20 runs undermined their efforts.

Captain Lewis Gregory (50) lifted the score to 285 but Cameron Steel (four for 50) wrapped up the innings before Surrey openers Rory Burns and Dom Sibley chiselled 42 off the lead without loss.

Joe Clarke continued his excellent start to the season with another century as Nottinghamshire closed on 305 for six against Worcestershire at Trent Bridge.

Following up his ton against Essex last week, Clarke hit 105 and shared in a third-wicket stand of 133 with Ben Slater (70) as the hosts recovered from the loss of two early wickets.

Dean Elgar (120) scored his first Essex century and Matt Critchley (103no) also reached three figures against Kent at Chelmsford.

Jordan Cox added 67 and Michael Pepper 49 as the hosts amassed 421 for six at stumps.

Hampshire were 305 for six at the end of day one against Lancashire at the Utilita Bowl.

Liam Dawson was unbeaten on 61 after solid efforts from Tom Prest (85), James Vince (56) and Nick Gubbins (50).

Australia’s Nathan Lyon (two for 97) bowled 32 overs as Lancashire kept themselves in the game.

In Division Two, spinner Alex Thomson took a career-best seven for 65 as Derbyshire bowled out Glamorgan for 287 in Cardiff. Kiran Carlson was the hosts’ top-scorer with 74.

Derbyshire were 46 for one in response.

Emilio Gay’s unbeaten 165 helped Northamptonshire to 311 for three against Middlesex at Wantage Road. Captain Luke Procter added 73 in a second-wicket partnership of 189.

Pakistan captain Shan Masood’s 140 was the mainstay of Yorkshire’s 326 against Gloucestershire at Bristol. Jonathan Tattersall (58) and Matt Milnes (51) also contributed but Zaman Akhter’s five for 89 helped the hosts hit back before they ended the day on 28 for two.

Liam Trevaskis was 82 not out as Leicestershire closed on 326 for eight against Sussex at Grace Road. Rishi Patel (87) and Peter Handscomb (51) also hit half-centuries.

James Anderson does not expect to be available for Lancashire until the end of May at the earliest as he looks to prime himself for the English Test summer.

Anderson became the first fast bowler in history to reach 700 Test wickets last month, joining spinners Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne in an exclusive club, in England’s 4-1 series loss in India.

As he wants to be firing on all cylinders for the first of England’s six Tests this summer, against the West Indies at Lord’s starting on July 10 – three weeks before his 42nd birthday – Anderson anticipates he will sit out the early part of the 2024 Vitality County Championship, which got under way on Friday.

He is set to miss at least the first five rounds and could also skip the visit of Warwickshire, beginning on May 24, although Lancashire’s next fixture after that is not until June 23 at Kent.

“With the Tests being in July, it’s tricky,” said Anderson. “It’ll probably be June before I play, or maybe the end of May.”

Anderson featured four times within the space of a month last year but then suffered a groin niggle which left him touch and go for the start of an Ashes series in which he had an underwhelming impact.

Anderson reducing his county commitments this term means the prospect of him playing alongside Nathan Lyon has receded after Cricket Australia scaled back the off-spinner’s availability for Lancashire.

The pair have been on opposite sides of the Ashes divide over the years but Lyon revealed they had lunch earlier this week and Anderson remains hopeful they can play together at least once or twice.

“It was nice to actually have a civil conversation with him,” added Anderson, speaking following the announcement that £35million will be invested into grassroots cricket.

“I think he plays seven out of the first nine games, so hopefully I’ll play one or two, either at the end of May or in June.”

Alec Stewart is braced for the “toughest” season yet, but has still set Surrey the target of winning a third consecutive Vitality County Championship title.

It was confirmed last month that Stewart would leave his director of cricket role at the end of 2024 in order to spend more time with his family following 11 years in the post.

Stewart signed his first contract with the county in 1981 and has been involved in six Championship successes, but he is striving for one more.

While there have been multiple back-to-back Division One winners in recent seasons, Brian Close’s Yorkshire side from the 1960s are the last team to win three Championships in a row.

Chelsea-fan Stewart is well aware of how difficult that will be, especially with a T20 World Cup in June, but has challenged Surrey to go up a level in the longest format and to fulfil their potential in white-ball cricket with an overdue Vitality Blast win.

“It’ll be the hardest year because of the World Cup,” Stewart reflected.

“We’ll have players who will go from the IPL (Indian Premier League), straight into the World Cup or near enough.

“This season is the toughest because it’s an extra month or six weeks that we won’t have those players for, but we’ve known that, so therefore you try and plan for that.

“I’m greedy, I want to win everything. We won it (Vitality Blast) in 2003, the first year, and we’ve got to Finals Day since but we haven’t won it.

“So, of course I’d like to win it, but so would 17 other counties.

“The Championship is still, for me, the pinnacle. The fact we’ve won it two in two is fantastic. Can we do it three in three? That’s what we’re going for.

“And then it’s how do we play, because the champions are always the side to beat and have we got the skillsets? And can we up our game enough?

“We were good last year, but I didn’t think we were great last year.”

Surrey players are determined to give Stewart a fitting farewell, but even the former England captain knows it will not really be goodbye.

The Kia Oval has largely been Stewart’s home for the best part of five decades and even longer for the family given his father Micky made his debut for the county in 1954.

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Stewart acknowledged: “It’s never going to end. Formally, yes, but I’ll still be coming to this place or still feel a part of it.

“They want me to try and stay in some role but I’ve said, I’m never going to walk away completely, but they’ve got to get the person in place first, because that person may not want me hanging about, which I fully understand.

“So, yep, I’m stepping down from a role I have thoroughly enjoyed and continue to enjoy. And then in December or whenever it will be, then I’ll drive out and say goodbye.

“Whatever job you’re in, you want to leave it in a better shape than when you took it over. That’s for others to judge, but we’ve certainly made progress.

“I want to win every trophy, but I get as much enjoyment seeing a (Ollie) Pope, (Will) Jacks or (Jamie) Smith come through our system as youngsters, come into our first team and then going to play for England because that to me counts as success.

“The trophy cabinet has the Championship in it at the minute, but if you have another cabinet, it’d be full of Surrey players that have come through the pathway then got England caps.”

Haseeb Hameed will always harbour aspirations of resuming his England career but he is for now ignoring outside distractions as he prepares to captain Nottinghamshire this season.

Already Nottinghamshire’s 50-over skipper, Hameed was named the successor to Steven Mullaney in the off-season for their Vitality County Championship campaign, starting with the visit of Essex on Friday.

While he believes he has time on his side to add to his 10 Test caps, the last of which came two years ago, the 27-year-old is channelling all his energies into Nottinghamshire’s Division One campaign.

“The focus for me is Notts but that doesn’t mean I’ve not got ambitions to play for England again,” he told the PA news agency. “As long as I’m playing, I’ll never lose the ambition to play for England.”

 

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Hameed first opened the batting for England aged 19 and earned glowing reviews for a measured approach and tight technique in three Tests in India, but injuries and a drastic drop in form prompted a change of counties in 2020 as he swapped Lancashire for Nottinghamshire, breathing fresh life into his career.

He played seven more Tests between August 2021 and January 2022 but, while there were a couple of promising showings against India at home, he was part of the collateral after a humbling 2021-22 Ashes.

“I’d played 10 Test matches by the age of 24 – all of them were against India and Australia and seven of them in their backyard, I don’t think it will get too much tougher than that,” he said.

“Those experiences were invaluable to me and I’m still edging towards the prime of my career. Hopefully, a number of years of that can be in an England shirt.

“I’ve been playing for nine years now and I feel like I’ve had so many different experiences that I’ve learnt from, I’d like to think I’m a better player for it. I’m definitely keen to keep improving, too.”

England’s much-discussed approach under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum in the last couple of years might seem at odds with a batter who was once recognised as ‘Baby Boycott’.

While Hameed has previously committed to embracing the new philosophy, he believes ‘Bazball’ has been widely misinterpreted.

“I’ve been in England Lions environments, I’ve sat in meetings where Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes have spoken and they were clear that when it’s necessary, it’s about absorbing pressure,” Hameed added.

“But then it’s about having the confidence to put pressure back on them whenever the opportunity is there. People look at the second part and don’t acknowledge the first part. That’s not lost on me.”

With Stuart Broad’s retirement and the departures of club stalwarts Samit Patel and Jake Ball in the winter, there is a feeling of a new dawn at Nottinghamshire – who have signed England fast bowler Josh Tongue, plus promising pair Dillon Pennington and Jack Haynes from Worcestershire.

“I’m just looking for players to play with confidence and back their strengths, knowing I’ve got their back,” Hameed added.

“We’ve lost some big, senior players but as big as those losses are, it opens up opportunities for different people to step into that space and mark their mark.

“I’m going to learn a lot on the job. I’m fresh to this kind of role even though I’ve been captain in the past. I’ve had a little bit of experience but getting a full-time role at this level is new to me.”

Surrey wicketkeeper-batter Jamie Smith will relish the chance to take on Nathan Lyon in Friday’s season opener at Lancashire but is relaxed about his future international prospects.

Smith made his England bow in September when he appeared in two ODIs against Ireland after an excellent domestic campaign.

The 23-year-old has long been earmarked as a future international since he scored a century on his first-class debut in 2019 against an MCC attack which included Stuart Broad. Last year he turned potential into results.

 

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A tally of 736 red-ball runs helped Surrey to Vitality County Championship success and Smith is excited to begin the new campaign against a high-quality Lancashire line-up that should include Aussie spinner Lyon.

“Yeah, I think you have to (relish it) and with aspirations of playing Test cricket, you will come up against world class players anyway,” Smith told the PA news agency.

“There is always a little bit of analysis that goes into it and he’s played a lot. A few guys have played against him in the changing room, so I guess it is getting those experiences as well.

“We know he is a fantastic player. No one gets that many Test wickets (530) without being a fantastic player so you respect what he has done, but also play him like anyone else on the day.”

After Smith started the 2022 season with a maiden double ton at Gloucestershire but failed to back it up, he was determined to bring a level of consistency to his game last year.

What followed was two hundreds, which included a sensational 114 off 77 balls to help Surrey chase 501 at Kent, four fifties and an average of 40.88 with a 65.3 strike rate.

His success was not just limited to red-ball cricket either, with contributions with both the bat and gloves able to fire Surrey to Vitality Blast finals’ day and he also starred for Birmingham Phoenix in The Hundred.

It earned Smith two England white-ball caps in September and his name is in the mix for a Test shot should Surrey team-mate Ben Foakes be discarded.

Smith added: “That was important to put a season together instead of a few scores. For me what was a big turning point was staying consistent with my approach.

“There are going to be low scores in there, but instead of panicking about it or changing the way you want to play, I stayed quite consistent with a positive style.

“It was obviously an incredible end to a fantastic summer and fantastic recognition to have that (England debut).

“No one can ever take it away from you that you have represented your country, no matter who it was against or in what capacity.

“It was a proud day for my family. They made a lot of sacrifices when I was growing up and still now, so it was an incredibly proud moment.

“When you get a taste of something like that, you obviously want to have it again knowing that it is probably not my time right now, with the guys they’ve got picked but if I keep chipping away and scoring runs you never know when the next one could come.

“If you are outscoring people in the County Championship or the Blast and putting in performances, winning games when it matters, scoring runs when it matters, then people will always take notice.”

Cricketers around the country are gearing up for the Vitality County Championship which gets under way on Friday.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at five players who could make their mark this season.

Josh Hull (Leicestershire)

A 6ft 7in left-arm seamer who has his sights set on being England’s version of Mitchell Starc. Hull may need to add a bit more pace to his weaponry but he can swing the ball and, at 19, has plenty of time on his side. Hull has made only 20 professional appearances but already shown an appetite for the big occasion after defending eight in the last over of the 2023 One-Day Cup final as Leicestershire upset Hampshire. Hull will miss the first couple of red-ball rounds this month because of injury but, fitness permitting, he can enhance a burgeoning reputation that has already attracted admiring glances from England director of men’s cricket Rob Key.

Gus Atkinson (Surrey)

The only individual included in every England squad this winter, Atkinson was sparingly used in the white-ball matches before Christmas and not at all in the 4-1 Test series defeat in India recently. Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum liked what they saw, though, and indicated the fast bowler will likely be given a go this summer. With England’s emphasis on those who can operate in the high 80mph bracket, Atkinson fits the bill. After withdrawing from the Indian Premier League, Atkinson can elbow his way into England’s plans with some starring roles for Surrey in the early part of the season.

Josh de Caires (Middlesex)

Started last season with designs on a top-order role before finishing the campaign as an off-spinning all-rounder. The son of former England captain Michael Atherton, De Caires followed up a seven-for against Hampshire with an eight-wicket haul versus Essex. It may be these two performances become outliers as the 21-year-old’s career progresses but England are always on the lookout for promising spinners, even if the cupboard appears to be more stocked than usual.

Tawanda Muyeye (Kent)

Arrived in the United Kingdom as an asylum seeker after he and his family fled their native Zimbabwe, Muyeye has one of county cricket’s more interesting backstories. He is also one of the most precocious and eye-catching talents on the circuit and a video of him batting on social media earned praise from Kevin Pietersen. With an attacking verve ready-made for Bazball – Muyeye has expressed an interest in playing for England – the 23-year-old may need to become more consistent to get his wish but he bolstered his reputation with a breakout 179 against Northamptonshire last June.

Ollie Robinson (Durham)

With scrutiny on whether Jonny Bairstow or Ben Foakes will take the gloves for England this summer, there is a very real possibility Robinson will swoop in and leave them both surplus to requirements. Robinson averaged 58.18 at a jaw-dropping strike-rate of 88.66 in Durham’s promotion last season and is more than adept behind the stumps. The 25-year-old made a couple of counter-attacking 80s in England Lions’ unofficial Tests against India A and higher honours may beckon this summer. It is therefore feasible England could have two Ollie Robinsons in their ranks – remarkably they share the same birthday although Durham’s wicketkeeper-batter is five years older than the 20-cap seam bowler.

The domestic cricket season is set to get under way this week, with the 2024 Vitality County Championship rolling into town on Friday.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the most compelling stories to keep tabs on as the action begins.

Three in a row for Stewart’s swansong?

It will be the end of an era when Alec Stewart takes his leave as Surrey’s director of cricket at the end of the year, with the former England captain already established as first among equals in the county’s modern history. After dominating the championship for the past two seasons, their hunger to see him off with a third successive title will now be even stronger than ever. “We’ll give it a red hot go,” he told the Sky Sports Cricket Podcast. “I know the appetite is there from the players. Is it going to be harder again? Definitely, because every side wants to beat us.”

England’s spin conundrum

England’s Test coach Brendon McCullum teed up a new narrative during the recent tour of India when he claimed it would be “slightly mad” if the strides taken by rookie spinners Tom Hartley, Shoaib Bashir and Rehan Ahmed were stymied by a lack of overs early in the domestic campaign. But it is tough to be overly optimistic about their short-term prospects. After finishing his maiden series as England’s top wicket-taker, Hartley’s path at Lancashire is blocked by the signing of Nathan Lyon, who is still available for seven of the first nine rounds despite Cricket Australia’s workload intervention. At Taunton, Bashir could be reduced to running drinks once England number one Jack Leach is back to full fitness. Ahmed has a clearer road at Leicestershire following the departure of Callum Parkinson, but he is perhaps the least ready to step up as a front-line bowler in home conditions. As ever, county cricket’s distant relationship with spin could cause headaches.

Gloves up for grabs

There is sure to be plenty of speculation over the identity of England’s Test wicketkeeper over the course of the summer, with Jonny Bairstow’s long-term status uncertain and Ben Foakes’ impeccable handiwork in India undermined by modest returns with the bat. Like Bairstow, Phil Salt is away at the Indian Premier League at the start of the English season, leaving the door open for a host of up-and-comers to elbow their way to the front of a busy queue. Durham’s Ollie Robinson was first choice for the England Lions over the winter and plays an ultra-aggressive ‘Bazball’ style already. The same is true of Foakes’ Surrey team-mate Jamie Smith, while James Rew has been tipped for great things after a breakout 2023 season at Somerset. Let battle commence.

Stars to shine for Yorkshire?

Good news has been perilously thin on the ground for Yorkshire in recent times, with the fallout of the Azeem Rafiq racism scandal casting a long shadow. Relegation to Division Two in 2022 was followed by an underwhelming promotion push last time out and Darren Gough has been shown the door as director of cricket. Fans expecting another miserable campaign have two good reasons for optimism: Harry Brook and Joe Root. Having stepped away from the IPL, two of the finest batters in the country will be available for five first-class games each in the first seven rounds, including four together. It is inconceivable they will not raise the standard dramatically and go a long way to positioning the White Rose for a top-flight return.

Durham back where they belong

There is a tangible feeling of righteous indignation when it comes to Durham’s re-emergence at the top table of English cricket. In the midst of grave financial problems in 2016, they were penalised not only with enforced relegation but also a draconian 48-point penalty for the following season. A talent drain followed and hopes of coming back up were further affected by coronavirus complications. Now they are back in a spot they never lost on sporting grounds, with a progressive coach in Ryan Campbell and a fearless squad powered by Test hopefuls Matthew Potts, Brydon Carse, Alex Lees and Ollie Robinson. Every point will taste sweet for fans who have rightly felt aggrieved for eight years.

England seamer Saqib Mahmood has revealed he considered taking a break from red-ball cricket after a second stress fracture in as many years threatened to derail his career.

A serious back injury struck him down soon after a promising debut Test tour of the West Indies in March 2022 and hit again at the start of last summer, when the problem reoccurred just as he was hoping to put his name in the Ashes frame.

During the long and lonely months of rehabilitation he told Lancashire he planned to step away from the first-class game this season and ease himself back in as a T20 specialist.

He has since banished the idea, enthused by the arrival of new head coach Dale Benkenstein and by his own love of the longer format, and although he will miss this week’s Vitality County Championship curtain-raiser he is working towards a full comeback in the next month.

“It’s quite overwhelming to think that two years of my career have just sort of gone. I don’t want to have a third year like that,” he said.

“Initially I didn’t want to play any red ball cricket at the start of this season. At the back end of last summer I had a chat to the guys here because I was nervous about my body.

“I was asking for a little bit of empathy from the guys. I just want to be on the park contributing, not on the sides. I don’t want to be chasing Test cricket at the start of the season, breaking down and then not be any good to anyone. I want to do it properly.

“We left it as a question mark and when Benky (Benkenstein) came in he sort of filled me with that excitement again – a new coach telling me how important I was.

“So you have more chats and you try to find a way of doing it in as safe a way as possible. I’ve gone from not wanting to play it this year to trying to get ready for it.”

While Lancashire certainly took Mahmood’s concerns seriously, those even closer to him were more sceptical that he would be able to commit exclusively to the limitations of the limited-overs game.

“My brother told me ‘I knew you’d never do that. No way would you would sit on the side watching the guys play’. That’s not who I am,” he admitted.

“I still watch Test cricket more than I watch white-ball cricket, I still focus on it. As soon as I’ve got a red ball in hand I really love the things that come with it: trying to work batters out, the craft of bowling, things I pride myself on.

“Even the short experience I had in Test cricket, I didn’t want to give that up. It might feel like I’ve put a tick in the box by playing Test cricket but I feel I’ve got more to give in that format.

“My mindset is just to be fit. If I stay fit and do the right things I like to think the England stuff should take care of itself. Last year I was really trying to push myself to get ready for the Ashes and in the end I did too much, too soon by trying to look for something that wasn’t quite there.

“I don’t expect to be bowling at 90mph tomorrow, ready to play in an England shirt, it’s a process.
Hopefully by the time I start I’ll peak at the right time.”

West Indies cricket stalwart Jason Holder is set to bring his wealth of experience and formidable skill set to Worcestershire County Cricket Club, bolstering their lineup for the opening five matches of the season in the Vitality County Championship.

The 32-year-old, a former top-ranked all-rounder in ICC Test rankings and Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 2021, will join Worcestershire in time for their clash against Warwickshire at Edgbaston, commencing on Friday, April 5.

Holder's signing marks a significant addition to Worcestershire's squad as they prepare to make their mark in Division One action. His impressive track record in international cricket, coupled with his versatility as an all-rounder, makes him a valuable asset for the team.

Renowned for his leadership on and off the field, Holder has captained the West Indies in over 100 internationals across all formats. His stellar performances, including a memorable double century against England in 2019, underscore his ability to make a significant impact in crucial encounters.

Speaking on his signing with Worcestershire, Holder expressed his enthusiasm for the opportunity to contribute to the team's success. "I always enjoy my time in England, and I'm looking forward to helping Worcestershire get off to a good start in Division One," he remarked.

Holder's presence is expected to provide a significant boost to Worcestershire's campaign, both in terms of performance and morale. Worcestershire CEO Ashley Giles expressed his delight at securing Holder's services, emphasizing the positive impact he will have on the team.

"When someone of Jason’s experience and quality becomes available, even for a short window, we just had to jump at it," said Giles. "We know on the field as a cricketer he is a world-class all-rounder but off the field a world-class individual as well."

With Holder's signing, Worcestershire aims to lay a strong foundation for the season ahead, knowing that his presence in the lineup will provide a significant advantage. As they embark on their Division One journey, Worcestershire looks to capitalize on Holder's talent and leadership to achieve their goals on the field.

Harry Brook will make his competitive comeback by appearing in Yorkshire’s first five games of the county season, with fellow England batter Joe Root joining him for four.

Brook has not played since December, having withdrawn from the Test tour of India and his planned stint at the Indian Premier League following the death of his grandmother Pauline.

Yorkshire had already indicated that the 25-year-old was likely to return early in the Vitality County Championship campaign and, following discussions with the England and Wales Cricket Board, have now confirmed his schedule.

Brook is ready to feature for the White Rose throughout April and the beginning of May, starting at home to Leicestershire on April 5 and taking in fixtures against Gloucestershire, Middlesex, Derbyshire and Glamorgan.

Thereafter, he is due to link up with England for their T20 series against Pakistan and June’s T20 World Cup.

After failing to win promotion from Division Two last year, Yorkshire’s chances of making serious waves in the second tier this year are further enhanced by the presence of former Test captain Root.

Having played a full part in the two-month Test tour of India he will miss the curtain-raiser at Headingley but then links up with the side for their next four fixtures, as well as the visit to Northamptonshire on May 24.

Head coach Ottis Gibson, who needs to see some improved results following Darren Gough’s departure as director of cricket, had earlier trailed the pair’s availability, suggesting: “Having those two playing for us would be special.”

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