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)
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)
When my son asked me to write something for the website I confess I scratched my head a bit. This may be explained by the fact that I am of a certain age that entitles me to grumble a lot about anything and everything (it’s one of the few perks of getting older), including the state of modern cricket. Having said that I’m not about to bore you with my opinions on any of that and I can almost hear the sighs of relief as I type this!
Having looked at the season preview I was struck by the baffling array of different players for different competitions over different time periods in the season. So instead I’m going to take you back dear readers to a view from the outfield in 1985, where my immediate thoughts are that cricket was so much simpler then. We’ll see I suppose. Straight off, let me come clean. My county team are Essex – there, I’ve said it - so forgive if my ramblings are from that perspective.
So let’s go back in time. For those of younger years, domestic cricket in 1985 comprised four competitions:
All of this could, if a county had a good season add up to a lot of cricket. In 1985 for example, Essex played 52 matches across the four competitions – more of this later. There were few breaks in the schedule and it was the norm for JPS Sunday games to be shoehorned into the middle of a county game.
Counties also took the game out to people in their county by holding festival weeks, a concept today fast disappearing sadly. Back then, Essex played at Ilford, Southend, and Colchester in addition to their Headquarters at Chelmsford. Typically a festival week comprised of two 3 day County Championship matches plus a Sunday League game. Of course facilities at many out grounds weren’t great and sometimes neither were the pitches so perhaps players didn’t enjoy these weeks as much as us spectators but they attracted excellent crowds and were very popular. My friends and I would usually take a week’s holiday to watch Essex down in dear old Southend on Sea. “Tides comin’ in off the estuary, ball ‘ll start doing a bit” some old sage would remark, and they were usually right! As the esteemed Editor of this site has pointed out previously, Southend was where he got his cricket baptism and love for the game.
Travelling for players and officials – most of whom to my recollection drove themselves to matches, would today simply be seen as plain daft and not necessarily conducive to top performance. Here’s one week in the 1985 season to illustrate the point.
On Saturday June 8th, Essex commenced a County Championship game against Lancashire at Ilford. For those of you not familiar Ilford was a small club ground situated in a public park, in effectively east London although then it was still technically in Essex. The small dressing rooms were immediately either side of the clubhouse bar which was always rammed with people enjoying their day out, and not averse to giving advice or opinion to players trying to get some peace and quiet a few feet away! Anyway, I digress. On the following day, Sunday 9th the two teams played a John Player Special league game. Day two of the county championship game resumed on the 10th finishing on Tuesday 11th.
On the following three days 12th – 14th Essex hosted Northants in a championship game at Ilford. The match would have concluded at around 5.30 – 6.00 pm on the 14th whereupon the Essex players would have duly jumped in their cars to drive to Swansea (remember this is a Friday in the rush hour in London) for an 11.00 am start the following morning. The three-day game against Glamorgan finished on the 18th June, interspersed on the Sunday of course with a JPS league game. Time for a rest? Not a chance. At the conclusion of the game at Swansea it was straight back down the M4 and beyond in time for a 10.30 am start the next morning at Chelmsford for the small matter of a Benson & Hedges Cup semi final against Middlesex. I’m tired just thinking about it, Lord knows how the players felt and there wasn’t really such a thing as squad rotation in those days either.
The County Championship remained the premier competition to win, a summer long marathon to determine the best team of the purist form of cricket. This was the era before central contracts for test players, so counties continued to have the use of players who were selected for their country. In addition to playing 6 Ashes tests and 3 ODIs Graham Gooch also played 35 matches for Essex during the summer of the 1985 season. Don’t think the Yorkshire public will see Joe Root too often!
The two cup competitions were considered prestigious trophies, especially the NatWest Trophy which was pretty much cricket’s equivalent of the FA Cup. Finals of both these competitions provided a great day out at Lords for supporters and finals were played to packed houses.
The JPS Sunday league had been around for years in one guise or another, and my recollection was it was something to be enjoyed but many thought it ‘not proper’ cricket at only 40-overs per side. At least back then players all had to wear whites even in the one-day competitions – the ghastly pyjama strips hadn’t quite arrived. What some of those naysayers would make of T20 is anybody’s guess! The problem with the 40-over game was that it wasn’t quite long enough to warrant a paced innings and not short enough to encourage explosive hitting. As a result quite often it could be a bit tedious in my opinion. Run rates were nowhere near what the are today in one-day cricket and batsmen rarely improvised – no ramps, scoops or reverse sweeping back then!
So, what of Essex and 1985? You will not be surprised dear reader to learn that it was a fairly miserable English summer! Essex lost 16 days to the weather including an early stop to play on the opening day of the county championship at Chelmsford due to a snowstorm – poor old Northants lost 25 days. Middlesex, the eventual county champions unsurprisingly fared better losing only 9.
Following Essex has always been a roller coaster ride and 1985 captured that perfectly.
Essex went into the 1985 season as defending champions of both the County Championship and the JPS Sunday competition. By the middle of July they were bottom of one and second bottom of the other championship. They had however shown decent form in the Benson and Hedges and reached the final. The B & H final was played in July so optimism reigned that we could salvage something from the season. Sadly it proved to be a false hope as Leicestershire and David Gower won a fairly mundane contest comfortably. The wheels had truly come off.
However, cricket being the game that it is, the B&H final proved to be a turning point for Essex. After that defeat the team didn’t lose another game for the rest of the season. A mixed run of draws and wins in their final 11 matches saw them climb the County Championship table to finish 4th.
In the NatWest Trophy they reached their second final at Lords of the summer. Now, the NatWest final, being the showpiece of the county season was played in September. One hundred and twenty overs in the day, with intervals meant these finals could well finish at best in fading light or at worst stygian gloom. That was certainly the case as this time they triumphed beating Nottinghamshire – Clive Rice, Richard Hadlee, Derek Randall et al in one the great one day finals, winning by one run as Randall was caught off the last ball of the innings needing two to win.
Winning the NatWest salvaged the season of that there was no doubt. However the season, for so long a damp squib until the triumph at Lords was not quite done. Having amassed only one win from their first 7 John Player Special matches, Essex went on a run in July of winning 7 out of 8 in the competition. They went into the final game of the season needing to win at Chelmsford against Yorkshire to be crowned JPS champions again and thwart Sussex at the last.
Naturally, being Essex they did it by testing the cardiac robustness of their supporters all the way, squeezing the win off the penultimate ball off the day.
So a season that for so long promised little, in the end delivered much. It seemed to be the catalyst for change at the County at a time when stability and constancy of personnel seemed commonplace at most counties. Keith Fletcher decided to step down a skipper after 11 years at the helm. Having led Essex to their first trophies in 1979 (after a pot-less 104 years!) and after a decade of unprecedented success it was a shock to think ‘Gnome’ would no longer be scheming and pulling strings. There was continuity though as Graham Gooch, another Essex ‘lifer’ stepped into the void. Other change took place with the departure of two overseas stars. Today, I look at the list of overseas players for the forthcoming season – overseas, ‘foreign’ UK passport holders, Kolpaks etc. and can’t keep pace of who will be playing what and when or for how long! At the end of 1985, Ken McEwan and Norbert ‘Nobby’ Phillip departed Essex after 12 and 7 years respectively. McEwan was an elegant, classical South African batsman deprived of a Test career due to South Africa’s exclusion from international cricket. International cricket’s loss was Essex’s gain for many years. Nobby Phillip was a lively, fastish medium pacer from the West Indies. Wayward at times, destructive with the bat when in the mood, Essex supporters held him in great affection.
All this felt like the end of an era. Other players were getting older. Some younger players were coming through although few had a real lasting impact. One who would, in 1985 had won the U19 player of the year. A mop of curly hair (you’ll find this hard to believe) and with a reputation for arrogance, a certain young Nasser Hussein was waiting in the wings.
So things were changing, slowly at first, but little did we unsuspecting supports and cricket following know that off into the not too distant future massive change was on the horizon.
At the beginning of this ramble, I said I wouldn’t get into a today v yesterday rant, and I won’t. What I would say, is that back in 1985 it felt simpler, there was a sense of stability, a sense of calm in the County scene. And maybe, ultimately that’s where the problem lay.
Written by Bob Bowden - Follow him on Twitter @54bobb.
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