Catchy name, for a catchy new feature here on ‘Howzat’ where I’ll be providing lessons on some of the hidden stories unearthed in the first two rounds of county fixtures. Like a 1950’s schoolmaster I’ll be strict, sensible and not afraid to brandish my slipper in rage if you don’t pay attention. There goes the bell; now form an orderly line, backs straight, eyes focussed and let the lessons begin…

1) History 

Dates are often easy to remember aren’t they? Battle of Hastings? 1066. Battle of Waterloo? 1815. Battle of Britain? 1940. There’s an ease to how they roll off the tongue, for the syllables chime with numbers. I’ve got another one for you though; what’s the significance of April 23rd 2018? No hands raised I see. Well, I bet in two hundred years that date will be seared into the brains of school kids up and down the country, competing with 1605 or 1966, as it marks a watershed moment. For April 23rd 2018 is the first time in 1307 days that (drumroll please) Derbyshire County Cricket Club won a match at home! Yes, I know what you’re thinking but please have some pity for the poor folk of Derby, for they had to endure three whole seasons without tasting victory.

Not since September 25th 2014 and a win over Leicestershire, have the cathedral bells chimed a merry dance. That’s an excruciatingly long drought, particularly when you realise all that has occurred in our world since. Back in 2014, Obama was still president, Britain were still in the EU (still are technically…) and I still had my virginity (Editor – still do technically?) Now at long last, with a comprehensive 101 run drubbing of Middlesex, the curse has lifted, bells chime and the population of Derby finally have something to cheer about. Babies born on this day shall be christened with the name of the hero who brought light to the county in his debut match, taking match figures of 8-108. That name is Duanne Olivier. I’ve even invented a rhyme so we’ll never forget; ‘Remember remember the 23rd of April, when Middlesex totally lost the plot. I know of no reason, why the Derbyshire victory, should ever be forgot!’

2) Maths

Period two finds us in the most hateful of environments, a mathematics lesson. But I’m not here to teach you the difference between Pythagoras and pi, or try to drum algebra into your thick skull. No, the lesson today is simply addition. All I’d like you to do is find the total of these numbers; 11, 3, 23, 9, 27, 19, 0, 12, 2, 8, 6, 33, 24, 1, 71, 23. Double checking on a calculator finds the total to be 272. This sum represents the total of Lancashire’s top four batsmen in the two games played. I know, staggering. For this is the second thing we’ve learned in the county championship so far; Lancashire cannot bat.

Going into the season Lancs would’ve been feeling pretty confident that their top order could flourish. After all, three of them had previously been in the England squad and Alex Davies had an outstanding 2017, piling on 1000 runs. New signing Keaton Jennings may have floundered opening for England, but his county record was pretty solid, whilst fellow opener Haseeb Hameed was seeking to break back into the England team. Skipper Liam Livingstone, although not making his debut, was in New Zealand with the first team, impressing in an England warm-up match with 86. Thus newly appointed chief selector Ed Smith could be forgiven for permanently renting a room in the new Hilton hotel at Old Trafford.

But oh, how wrong we all were! In the first two matches, the ‘future’ England players suffered the epidemic which gripped the first eleven over the eternal winter, ‘collapsitis.’ Against Notts in the season opener, the score had barely reached two figures before Hameed was plumb LBW to Jake Ball, precipitating a collapse to 60-4. Members tore their scorecards in frustration, as Harry Gurney ran riot in the second innings with one of the most remarkable spells of county cricket, seeing Lancashire reach just 73. Cook, Stoneman and Vince watched on proudly as Lancs’ young batsmen did everything in their power to get out; Livingstone driving manically at a ball outside off, a carbon copy of Vince facing the Aussies. Likewise, over the weekend, Jamie Porter of Essex dismissed Jennings, Hameed and Davies for a grand total of just 16 in the first innings at Chelmsford. In the second innings, only Davies stood firm with 71. Even including that, it means in the first two county matches the top four of Lancashire are averaging just a shade fewer… than 17.

3) Science (or to be more accurate, Biology)

Prepare class, to be dazzled by some biology of the highest order, for an experiment by scientists in Birmingham has shown some startling results. Nicknamed ‘Shaggy Hair Mark II,’ a secret laboratory deep in the heart of the Black Country has been the lair of some daring cell manipulation by biologists. Weeks of sweat, blood and tears have led to the creation of a being, for whom Warwickshire’s entire season hinges upon. The regeneration of Ryan Sidebottom.

Yes, in stealing a head of hair from the recently retired Yorkshire bowler and combining it with the shoulder cells of a 28-year-old league bowler, Warwickshire have the new, improved Ryan Sidebottom. In a robotically devastating spell, Sidebottom II took 6-35, finishing the match with 10-96. His accurate wicket to wicket bowling blitzed the stumps of Northants. Of course, in reality, this Sidebottom is a late bloomer, making his debut for the Bears last summer, but should this form continue he will carry a real threat in the pace attack. It’s confusing right having yet another Ryan Sidebottom on the scene; you’d be forgiven for thinking the real, old Sidey was still plugging away if you just saw a newspaper article. Such a coincidence. Or is it? Imagine if my theory is correct and Warwickshire have created some sort of mutant bowler. It would be investigative journalism at its most deadly. But no, surely this is a fantastical, unbelievable and crazy theory. Then again, Cameron Bancroft did rub sandpaper on the ball and then stick it down his pants, so anything’s possible!

4) Foreign Languages

Bonjour et welcome to your foreign language lesson. This week we’re learning keywords and phrases which overseas players, new to county cricket will have been uttering. There have been several familiar faces returning to English cricket over the past couple of weeks, including Hashim Amla at Hampshire, Ross Taylor at Nottinghamshire and Peter Siddle at Essex. However, the first round of fixtures has seen mixed fortunes for those making their debuts in county cricket. Down in Somerset, Matthew Renshaw has settled in like a koala bear in a tree. His steadfast century against Worcestershire was instrumental in the hosts reaching a first innings score of just 202. Where Tongue and Barnard utilised overhead conditions, toying with batsmen like a cat with a mouse, Renshaw dug in deep. Making his Australia debut in 2016, Renshaw became the first Aussie to score 500 runs before the age of 21 and with the national side now having two opener slots available, he’ll be looking to cement his place with big scores in England. His joyful vocab this week will include phrases such as ‘ripsnorter,’ ‘fair go mate’ and ‘bonzer ace.’  Oh, and ‘jolly well done old boy’ as he was actually born in England!

On the flip side, a player cursing in his native tongue is South African, Aiden Markram. Unlike Renshaw, he has suffered a dismal start to life as a county cricketer, firstly because he has to live in the grim north and secondly he is now the holder of an unwanted record. According to TMS scorer Andrew Samson, (who we trust implicitly) Markram is the first player to make a pair on his first day of county cricket. It came in Kent’s annihilation of Durham by nine wickets, which saw the hosts bowled out for just 91 on the first morning. Both times Markram was out to Matt Henry who finished with 12-73 in a scintillating performance. Considering Aiden has scored 1000 runs in his first ten tests for South Africa, he was probably hoping for a more auspicious start than this. South African curse words will be flowing in that Durham dressing room.

5) Geography

Our final lesson of the week comes in the subject which, if undertaken at uni level, will inevitably end up with the student becoming a Geography teacher (seriously ask people why they take Geography, there’s no other reason!). From fertility rates to oxbow lakes and water cycles to motorcycles, anything is covered under the vast cloud of Geography. This week though it’s all about location, location, location. You may have missed it but there’s a real worry for Yorkshire fans based in the city of Leeds, because cricket is heading away from Headingley. After Notts were coerced into playing false shots by Ben Coad, who took 10-130, the Vikings slaughtered their way to victory by 164 runs on Monday. However, no more cricket will be played at Headingley until September 10th which is staggering. Indeed Yorkshire fans will require detailed map reading skills over the next three matches as they’ll be travelling all over the country, playing away from home. Their next fixture in the land of Parkinson and puddings is at Scarborough on June 25th versus Surrey.  With their first match rained off against Essex and just two matches in Leeds remaining, Yorkshire only play three county matches in 2018 at Headingley. It doesn’t take a Geography genius to figure out the fertility rate of county cricket in Leeds will diminish exponentially.

On that positive note here end the lessons of the week. Homework is to avidly keep up to date with the next round of county cricket, starting on Friday. It is also mandatory you follow and subscribe to our weekly podcast which comes out Thursday night. Now I’m off to drown my sorrows in the pub. Class dismissed!