5/14/2016 0 Comments
England's recent squad announcement was not as far fetched as it could have been – the rumoured call-up for Nick Browne didn't materialise but the inclusion of Jake Ball and James Vince did raise eyebrows. Along with that pair, Nick Compton has retained his position from the tour to South Africa despite not setting the world alight either then, or this season in the County Championship. Let's have a look at these three, and what they can bring to the England team.
Nick Compton has had a poor start to the season, the Middlesex man averages only 20 and is yet to make a fifty. It is no question he offers solidarity at number three and at times during the South Africa tour he steadied ship and rode out the innings' against a difficult attack to face – attritional to say the least. But it would be fair to say that with the poor form Compton has shown this season that he did not deserve this call-up – one only has to look at the top of Middlesex order to see another England candidate showing the selectors what they want. Sam Robson has scored a double century and two other centuries and has really put his teammate to shame. Nonetheless, Compton can be a handy number three – with the stroke playing of Alex Hales often not bearing fruit Compton's battling style can really impress. He has faced serious criticism for his style, however, scoring slowly and perhaps letting the team fall behind the game at times – and who wouldn't prefer to see Kevin Pietersen walk out, all guns blazing and send countless drives to the boundary. Hopefully, we see the best of Compton against Sri Lanka, and it would be safe to say that some decent performances may not even be enough to cement his place.
James Vince's long-awaited call-up did not come as a shock to many; at times for Hampshire, it has seemed a one man team, he has had to dig his side out of a hole created by the early loss of wickets. But the grit he has seemed to show this season will be in fine place when he strides his way out to the crease at Headingley. Vince has all the attributes, a swanky array of shot play matched with the determination and guile that a number five needs to be a success at Test level. Vince's inclusion is definitely the least surprising out of the three eyebrow raising call-ups. While the Hampshire skipper has been lamented before for his tendency to get in and get out, he looks to have settled for a calmer approach to batting – which can see him accumulate scores rather than blasting his way to a quick 30. This season so far his strike rate is at only 46 is down from 60 last season and perhaps shows what steps Vince has taken to ensure he gets his England berth, and while that will be at his less favoured number five – his prospects surely are in good check for the summer ahead.
Jake Ball is the most shocking of the three “surprise” call-ups – his hard work at Nottinghamshire often falls under the radar, although clearly not with Trevor Bayliss. 2015 was an important year for Ball, he sealed his place in the Nottinghamshire first-class team and became a regular in the limited overs squads for the Outlaws, too. His potential had always been monitored, after several selections for England Lions squads, and his performances for the Lions must also have contributed to this selection. Ball is tall, but not Steven Finn – has a good action which leads to a repeatable line and length and enough pace to put to use at international level. His real breakthrough into the minds of England selectors must surely have come this season, he has been in fine form for Nottinghamshire. His 19 wickets have come at 21 and have included one five-for. His recent performance versus Yorkshire where he took the wickets of England capped Gary Ballance and then the man of the moment Joe Root in consecutive balls as well as forgotten man Adam Lyth with the first ball of the innings. Ball almost single-handedly turned that match in Nottinghamshire's favour – falling one wicket short of what would have been an impressive victory. And if there was a question over who should take that last remaining spot in the England squad at that point, Ball had made it his own. Hopefully, we get to see what Ball can bring to this team at Headingley – and we don't see the same fate that has befallen others before him; Chris Woakes, the unfortunate Mark Wood and Finn but to name a few. A hopefully injury-free Jake Ball can add something to this England team.
It will be an interesting series for the Three Lions' with fresh new faces set to tackle a Sri Lankan side that lacks the star players of yester-year this really acts as an opportunity for a Ball, a Vince or a Compton to really cement their place as an England regular.
Written by Charlie Jennings (@AVCJX)
4/27/2016 0 Comments
England's seam attack, more so than most, has been relatively consistent throughout the last couple or so years. Changes only usually come through poor performance or as so often in Steven Finn's unlucky case – and more recently with Mark Wood injury wreaks havoc on England's first change bowler. Many have flirted with the role over the last year or so – Wood himself looking the most likely to tie the position down; while names such as Chris Jordan, Chris Woakes, and Finn have all struggled to really make the place their own when wearing the prestigious Three Lions. Let's take a look at a few of the names we can expect to be thrown about when the English test summer comes around.
The county game is rife with talent at the moment, up and coming bowlers are in good supply – and the more familiar names seem to be more consistent than ever. Many bowlers will be looking at this season as a big opportunity to make a name for themselves and breakthrough into that Test XI. Chris Rushorth is undoubtedly one on England's radar. The Durham man has flourished since his county debut back in 2010, he’s rapidly approaching his 300th first-class wicket – he has been a linchpin of their bowling attack, not least during their title winning season of 2013. That season he took a healthy 54 wickets but was outshone by the now veteran Graham Onions. With his average currently standing at a touch above 23, which is no mean feat at all – Rushworth's downfall may be that he is more of a new ball bowler; Broad and Anderson are a settled partnership and barring injury I would bet against that partnership being unbroken for at least the next couple of years – Rushworth would have to do very well to break that partnership.
Another bowler with England ambitions will be Hampshire's Reece Topley, the left-armed seamer suffered a recent 8-week setback after sustaining a broken hand while batting in the opening round of Championship matches but despite that Topley's prospects are looking bright. Having spent this past winter in and around the England limited-overs squads he will be fresh in the thoughts of Trevor Bayliss and Alastair Cook. The former Essex man is a genuine swing bowler and has made a good start to his still blossoming career. With the move having been made from Division Two Essex to Hampshire – Topley will be looking to challenge himself further with the quality of batting so often a step up. An average of 25.78 is nothing to be sniffed at and with the Hampshire-man now looking to add a little more pace to his bowling, this could be his breakthrough year.
Mark Footitt has been touted as the next bowler to break onto the Test scene, having been named in the squad for the recent tour of South Africa. He did, however, fail to make a playing eleven on that tour, but like Topley, he offers up a left arm seam option, which is a nice change of style from that of Broad and Anderson. Footitt definitely possesses the pace to make himself a threat at Test level, and 2014 proved a breakthrough year for him. Despite being part of a relatively disappointing Derbyshire team, Footitt took 84 first class wickets at an average of just above 19. And now with his recent move from Division Two up to Division One – again like Topley – Footitt now has the stage on which to showcase his talents and really pin down a spot in that Test team. I wouldn't bet against the Surrey paceman being far away from the XI come the Sri Lanka series.
If we can be sure of one thing, it is that Trevor Bayliss and his team of selectors are not short of options when it comes to that first change role. There are sure to be some selection headaches come the end of May and that first Test of the cricketing summer versus Sri Lanka. Be sure that there will be some chopping and changing throughout the year, and for some new names to be thrust into the fold throughout this County season – players such as young Jack Brooks, the two Currans Sam and Tom as well as Jamie and Craig Overton will be chomping at the bit to put in some good County performances, to back their growing reputations up and put their name forward as the man to take England's bowling attack forward. Hopefully, these new names can challenge the usual suspects and force their way into what looks like a position that is up for grabs. By the end of the summer, who knows who be lining up for England?
Written by Charlie Jennings (@AVCJX)
There are indeed plenty of cases to make for Yorkshire to be the favourites for this year's County Championship title, however not much has been spoken about the outsiders; those who are less favoured to go all the way and topple the reigning champions. There are plenty of strong squads spread out across this year's Division One – Middlesex, Warwickshire, Nottinghamshire all look set to contend and the recently promoted teams in Surrey and Lancashire will be sure to provide healthy challenge.
Let's first have a look at these contenders to the throne.
Middlesex certainly look set to be there or thereabouts this season – the addition of James Fuller from Division Two Gloucestershire looks shrewd, a man who has offered up genuine pace for Gloucestershire for the last five seasons, taking 89 wickets at 35, a very handy average to say the least. His pace offers Middlesex some decent options – although bowling has never really been a problem, the addition of Fuller adds yet more beef to their often injury affected pace attack. One problem Middlesex may face, especially during the early season – is the new toss (or not) rule put in place to give away teams the option of bowling first. During April and possibly May this advantage may do them some harm – everybody knows that conditions tend to favour swing bowling during the early season matches at Lord's. This offers up some interesting contests, with matches at home to Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire at HQ in early Spring, who both possess very strong bowling attacks.
Warwickshire have somewhat dwindled over the past couple of seasons, injuries and international call-ups have to an extent prevented the Bears from really putting in a full season's effort which has led to the club petering out come September. Hopefully, this season that will be put right, with Ian Bell and Chris Woakes currently not in the England team, but sure to be challenging for places – Warwickshire might just be the beneficiary of some early season performances to put their names in the hat. This could, however, lead to problems later on in the season – the management of their seam attack is crucial. It has some serious depth but sometimes seeing off the tail end of the opposition has caused a problem, not least in the first match of this campaign, versus Hampshire. Rikki Clarke, Keith Barker, Chris Wright, Boyd Rankin and Woakes himself look like an attack that many will envy. The batting also looks strong – Bell, Jonathan Trott, Sam Hain and Varun Chopra are all batsmen with a good reputation in the county game, Hain himself gains English citizenship after this County Championship season and could, with some good runs behind him, throw his name into the hat for an England call up.
Nottinghamshire always seem to put in a performance in the Championship, strength in their batting department is usually followed up with some decent bowling performances at the often swing-friendly Trent Bridge. One looks at their bowling attack and thinks perhaps they are lacking a little experience, Harry Gurney, Jake Ball and Brett Hutton do lack some experience – but raw talent is definitely on show and should hopefully come to the fore this season. Results can often be expected at Trent Bridge, and Nottinghamshire boast some real match winners in their team – Samit Patel's batting and useful left-arm spin often turns the screw; and while James Taylor's recent shock retirement will weaken their batting – the experience in their batting line-up provides the backbone to what should be a good campaign. The addition of Australian test-capped paceman Jackson Bird should prove a real capture too, at county level he should provide a real threat. Expect another decent season from Nottinghamshire.
Durham are my outside bet for this year's Championship; a very decent bowling attack supported by some very experienced and level-headed county professionals with the right mix of young talent could just provide Durham with the perfect balance to mount a challenge this season. Young Keaton Jennings has had a barnstorming start to the season with centuries in both innings versus Somerset, and this definitely could be the season he makes that opening position his own. Chris Rushworth and Graham Onions are a quality new ball pair – Rushworth will look to push on from his 83 wickets last term. While the Northerner's batting can be unreliable players like Jennings, Scott Borthwick – once capped by England, and the young up and coming Jack Burnham on their day can produce the goods that can propel Durham to what could be an unlikely success story. Again home comforts may be harder to come by for Durham this term due to the amended toss but one must surely back their bowling attack as one that should be looking to take 20 wickets regularly at home. After two seasons of consolidation since their glory year of 2013, Durham should be looking to push on and despite suffering financial constriction since that success, their young talent should be looking up rather than down this season.
This year's County Championship, to me, looks more unpredictable than some are touting. Yorkshire will certainly face a tough task to make it a hat-trick of titles, and with the competition certainly looking stronger than ever this we should have an exciting campaign in store. Here's to some fantastic cricket this season.
By Charlie Jennings - (@AVCJX)
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