In the build-up to the new County Championship season, colours were nailed to masts and predictions ran wild. If the 2016 campaign taught us anything, it is that anyone and everyone could get in and among it. Three games down in 2017 and the table agrees.
Three sides who spent most of last season preoccupied with relegation sit up top. Surrey lead the way by four points, thanks largely to a thumping win over Warwickshire, inspired by Mark Footitt who blew the visitors away in the first innings with figures of 6-14. Tom Curran, with 14 wickets to his name, continues to lead the attack with distinction, too.
It's the spell everyone is talking about...— County Championship (@CountyChamp) April 9, 2017
Mark Footitt rattling off 6️⃣ quick wickets ⚡️ ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/giUiVKuRJ3
Surrey's new signings Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick have been helping Surrey with the bat – both settling in well in south London to register maiden Championship centuries for the club, with left-handed opener Stoneman leading the way. But for all their early-season success, it is the return of Kumar Sangakkara for a third season that has won the hearts of County Championship fans. Again.
Just as they did in 2016, Lancashire have started strongly, making full use of James Anderson's availability to land a few early-season blows. Their standout man, though, has not been England's leading wicket-taker. Liam Livingstone has picked up where he left off after an impressive winter with the England Lions. In Lancashire's win over Somerset, he followed up a dogged 68 with a thrilling 168 to help them turn around a first-innings deficit.
Without doubt, though, third-place Hampshire are Division One's surprise package. Having strengthened over the winter, they served up the season's first big upset in their opening fixture with Yorkshire. Faced with a target of 320, Hampshire held their own and left Headingley with the win. They then came close to upsetting defending champions Middlesex, only for a strong rearguard effort to scupper hopes of a second consecutive win.
Yorkshire came close to succumbing to a second defeat to Hampshire when they travelled to the Ageas Bowl for their third match but their new skipper Gary Ballance had other ideas, scoring 108 and 203 not out in the match (becoming the first Yorkshire captain to score twin hundreds in the same match). No-one has come close to Ballance this year: he has reached three figures on three occasions – all against Hampshire – and has passed 500 Championship runs already...
Sitting out the first round, Middlesex have not been able to register a win just yet. Battling for the draw against Hampshire, they ran out of time when they hosted newly promoted Essex at Lord's. A day four Lord's finale similar to their title-winning epic against Yorkshire was on the cards, but Essex, buoyed by the presence of England's leading Test run-scorer Alastair Cook, were able to hold on and maintain their own unbeaten start to the season. Cook's expertise was on show when Essex's chased down 255 at Taunton, scoring 110 against an impressive Somerset attack.
That last year's runners-up Somerset find themselves bottom, three points behind Warwickshire with a game in hand, says it all. Their form during the second-half of 2016 made the Championship a three-horse race. Even eventual winners Middlesex took their time. Even with two fewer games this season, the County Championship, as it ever was, is a marathon not a sprint.