So it’s back. Twenty20, T20 call it what you will. We’re supposed to call it ‘The Blast’ – which is either the optimistically hyperbolic description of the excitement it brings, or the expletive uttered in certain quarters upon the format’s return to the summer game. I for one, for a long time belonged in the latter club, however recently I have been persuaded of its merits. The light bulb moment was when someone (I forget who) said T20 isn’t cricket, it’s entertainment based on the game but a million miles from proper cricket (or words to that effect). Alas, we live in an age where for the younger generation instant gratification rules and attention spans are shorter, and for many others, there is too much demand on time to devote a lot to watching proper cricket. T20 addresses these issues.
Either way, you won’t escape it, and whatever you think about T20 we might as well recognize that it is now pivotal to the future of the county game and test cricket. Introduced in 2003 by the ECB to generate interest among young people in cricket and re-generate sponsorship income, like so many sports invented by this country the rest of the world, well India and Australia mainly, grabbed it and turned it into a national phenomenon, supported by massive broadcasting rights. The revenues generated by the IPL and Big Bash (an even sillier name than ‘Blast’ but an accurate descriptor of the cricket) are such that arguably it is propping up domestic and especially test cricket in those countries. Whilst interest and attendance at test matches in England have been high as crowds in other test playing nations continued to dwindle to almost invisibility in some cases, there have been recent signs that this might not be the case forever. Hence, the ECB are scrabbling around throughout this summer in recognition ‘that something must be done’ and have turned their finest minds (no laughing at the back) to revamping T20 which is seen as the saviour of the county championship and longer term test cricket.
Colin Graves, Chairman of the ECB cheesed off the counties and quite probably NatWest by describing, on the eve of the competition, that the Blast was ‘mediocre’ compared to the IPL and Big Bash. To be fair, I think he was taken out of context a bit and if one looks at the bigger picture it’s easy to see why. There seems to be a view in some quarters that all we have to do in the UK is replicate the IPL or Big Bash, but of course, anyone with half a brain should see it ain’t that simple.
Both the IPL and Big Bash comprise a competition played between 8 teams or, and beware if you are of a delicate disposition, as I’m about to use the ‘F’ word – franchises. Australia’s eight comprise six cities from each of the six States. Similarly, the IPL comprises eight teams from eight major cities spread right across India. Both exist in vast countries so captive support for each team is relatively easy. Games are played in big stadia, even the smallest team in the Big Bash – Hobart – plays in a ground that holds 19,500. And because there are few teams, live screening of each match is feasible – and that is the holy grail for the broadcasters. If they are paying top dollar they want maximum exposure, and they want the best players in the competition to attract the audiences.
It’s estimated that of cricket’s global revenues, 80% comes from broadcasting rights with under 10% coming from punters paying on the door. And herein lies the problem for the ECB as it tries to find a way to find a way of maximising TV deals and revenue.
As we all know we have 18 counties. Some are ‘haves’ – they have tests status grounds with large capacities; some are ‘have nots’. Some are in perilous financial straits relying on ECB handouts. All of them, understandably wish to preserve their status, identity and history.
Sky cannot broadcast every T20 game unless they are spread out over a long period – this wouldn’t work for the television audience, nor for spectators actually going to games I suspect. And one thing broadcaster do like is a full house to be shown on TV, atmosphere and the feeling that the viewer is at an ‘event’ are important. So the ‘F’ word raises its ugly head in an attempt to mirror the IPL and Big Bash. How would that work? At the moment, it wouldn’t and no amount of trying to find an alternative word eg ‘City’ will help. Why?
Picture the ECB think tank over lunch at Lords. “How about going regional? North, South, East, West and Midlands. Not very exciting is it and only five teams? OK, expand the regions into ….er…..counties. Ah, yes…..right there’d be eighteen of those and we already…………ok forget that.
Cities then (whatever you do don’t use the ‘F’ word)? Let’s see……………… London (Middlesex, Surrey, maybe Essex at a push); Manchester (that’ll be Lancashire then); Birmingham (Warwickshire obviously, and Northants and Worcestershire); Nottingham (Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire); Bristol(Gloucestershire and Somerset); Cardiff (that’ll be Glamorgan then);
Newcastle (ah…that’s Durham taken care of); and what about Hampshire, Sussex and Kent sir? Well, we only want eight teams so call it Southampton (Hampshire and Sussex – they’re next door to each other so that’s fine).”
“What about Kent?”
“Hm, bits of it aren’t far from London so bung Kent in there.”
“Sir, what about Yorkshire?”
“They’re an independent republic aren’t they? Anyway, they’ve already said they’ll enter as long as they’re called Yorkshire.” ‘’Sir Surrey have also indicated they’ll be happy to play for London as long as it’s called Surrey. And it seems that Essex, Northants, Derbyshire, Leicestershire are forming an armed brigade ready to march on HQ at any time.”
“I see…right get on the phone and call off tomorrow’s meeting with the county chairmen.”
“What about two divisions?” “Move the whole thing to the UAE?”
“Any other ideas?.......Anyone?”
The point is the Counties know there’s a need for radical change to ensure their future existence. However as I’ve pointed out none wish to be sacrificial lambs, either losing their individual identity, the smaller clubs don’t want to be swallowed up by the bigger ones in some franchised carve up, none want to miss out on the TV revenue. The fact is, we are a small island with eighteen counties and not enough geographical spread to sustain an IPL or Big Bash model. I think it was Jonathan Agnew who recently said it’s all very well trying to ape these competitions but we have to face up to the fact that we are different by virtue of our county structure, and you know what? I think he’s right.
Something will have to give. I’ve no idea what. Anyone out there who does I suggest you send your answers on a postcard to the ECB sharpish.
Written by Bob Bowden (@54Bobb)
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)
Indian Premier League, Caribbean Premier League, Big Bash, Pakistan Super League and the list goes on; domestic T20 tournaments have become a staple of the cricket calendar. They provide the big hitters of the game with large sums of money for 6 weeks’ work, with some of England’s finest International stars heading over to warmer climates to ply their trade. A small selection of England cricketers get to hone their skills against the best in the world and pick up big money – all whilst their county team mates leave the field of play due to snow and torrential rain in the opening week of the season. I know who I’d rather be…
The success of these big tournaments (mainly Big Bash and the IPL) have strengthened the call for the county game to introduce a franchise based T20 tournament. Suggestions have flooded in from ex-England skipper Michael Vaughan and never was Aussie skipper Shane Warne on how this could be achieved. The main idea that has been conceived has been to join our counties forces across the UK and introduce a 10 city tournament. This would require combining Surrey and Middlesex, Yorkshire and Lancashire, Sussex and Hampshire…basically any rivalry out there. All the while introducing the world’s best to our county game and reducing the chance for the next Buttler, Billings and Broad a go in the 1st team.
Many professionals highlight that the only way for our young cricketers to improve in this form of the game is to play closely alongside Gayle, De Villiers etc. Yet this argument seems to hit a wall when you look at Stokes, Buttler, Roy and the list goes on within our own domestic game. A World T20 trophy and recent appearance in the final seems to indicate we are doing something right.
So why when we watch Big Bash and IPL do we feel there is something more exciting than our domestic T20 tournament? Something bigger and better? Well firstly, we actually watch it. Sky covers every BBL and IPL game, yet I often have to scroll through Twitter to keep up with scores around the county from the various T20 games. So the fixture list needs attention, or maybe even the broadcasting. What I would give to see a ‘Match of the Day’ related to T20 cricket, it would give air time to the teams who find themselves on Sky less than the ‘big’ teams such as Leicestershire (though multiple winners?!), Glamorgan et al. It would also bring more interest to the tournament as a whole, as the runs, wickets and catches taken would be there for all to see, not just those in attendance. This brings us nicely on to that very subject of attendance…
IPL and BBL have big advantage over our T20 blast – the weather. This can dictate so much on the financial impact of the tournament. It doesn’t matter if you have Tendulkar and Bradman facing a new ball partnership of Wasim Akram and Brett Lee – if it rains, no bugger will turn up. So by squeezing the tournament into a short period during the height of summer is the best way to ensure people attend and enjoy the game, though as well know this is no guarantee – we can only show best endeavours and hope for the best! Big Bash and IPL seem to have a bit more luck with dry evenings, must be the climate...
The other way to increase attendance and interest is ticket prices, and I applaud many counties for the work they have done on this topic. A lot of counties now offer a ‘child for £5’ if accompanied by a full paying adult which is fantastic, the more kids we can bring through the gates and get invested in the game the better. They will soon become the lads berating the opposition fielders with a pint of IPA in their hand, unknowingly funding the groundsman’s wages as they fall further under the influence and turn up to their Saturday league game feeling less than fresh. It’s also for the good of the youth of the UK, it’s a summer evening and kids should be outdoors breathing in fresh air and falling in love with the best sport in the land.
There is a down side to the ECB focusing on improving the T20 game too much, from next year our County Championship season will be reduced from 16 games per season to 14 – a shame in my eyes and in the eyes of many a ‘purist’ out there. This has been muted as a small change ahead of the broadcasting rights being up for negotiation in 2020 (ironic eh?). Hopefully our two-tiered competitive County Championship isn’t affected by this, and will continue to thrive and provide fantastic Test talent such as Messieurs Root and Cook. Whilst giving our one-day game continued impetus since Andrew Strauss went upstairs at the ECB and changed the status quo.
In summary, I’d like to point out that I am not coming up with a revolutionary idea to fill the ECB coffers and ensure England win T20 tournaments for the foreseeable future. We don’t have 81,000 seaters like the MCG, or 30-degree weather almost guaranteed. We will always struggle to get the kind of investment that the IPL has had as we have counties with heritage, not teams begging to become ‘franchises’ (and lets not begin to talk about the IPL’s fixing scandal problems). But we should embrace our T20 blast for what it is, great entertainment and a far better quality of cricket than we give it credit for. We just need wider coverage, greater accessibility (prices and Friday evening games) and our best players available, meaning the likes of Broad and Stokes are given leave by the ECB to play at least 50% of the games.
I’d welcome your thoughts and ideas on England’s T20 tournament – and am always happy to debate and discuss the subject and anything else cricket related at @linford88
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)
As the great and good (ish) of the ECB lit a cigar and sat back with a glass of fine cognac to toast the new season, replete with self satisfaction at the revolutionary changes, or as some might say, the annual tinkering with the rules, little did they know what lay around the corner. Before they’d flicked the last of the ash of the old Havana, none other than the England captain himself caused the old boys to choke on the brandy.
Alastair Cook walked out to bat in the first County Championship match for Essex wearing his old favourite helmet. As did Jonathan Trott for Warwickshire. Game one of the new season and two high profile players were refusing to play ball, as it were. So what caused this open display of rebellion?
On the face of it the ECB has taken the not unreasonable view that it makes sense to ensure that player safety remains paramount and that safety equipment meets the highest standards. Anyone want to argue against that? No, didn’t think so. So the ECB introduced new regulations in regard to ‘head protection equipment’, helmets or ‘lids’ to you and me.
No half intelligent person who walks out with a bat in hand is going to object to wearing a piece of protection that will prevent them getting their skull cracked are they? Of course not, unless perhaps you are from the ‘In my day’ generation. Certainly not Alastair Cook or Jonathan Trott, or any others unhappy with the ECB’s new rules.
Two aspects of the new regulations seem to be the bone of contention. First is that the wearing of ‘compliant headgear’ is now mandatory for batting against all types of bowling; wicket keepers when standing up to the wicket; and fielding when in a position closer than 8 yards from the batsman.
Second, is that ‘head protectors’ – oh for goodness sake – helmets (!) must in both design and manufacture meet British Standard BS7928:2013 which has been adopted by the ICC as the international standard.
So why all the fuss? A combination of considered thought along with apoplectic explosions of outrage from certain quarters suggest the rumblings of discontent are about freedom of choice and the cricket authorities adopting a nanny state approach.
Let’s look at freedom of choice. The argument goes something like this.
It’s up to the individual whether he or she wants to wear a helmet. If they don’t, it’s because (a) they don’t feel it’s necessary e.g. a batsman facing a bowler so slow that a fag and a read of the Racing Post is possible before the ball arrives; or (b) if the individual is dim witted enough to risk getting brained, well, it’s a free country innit? Who are the ECB to tell players what to do? It’s ‘elf & safety’ gone mad.
These are the sorts of arguments that have brought forth one or two usual suspects such as Geoffrey Boycott, and an unusual ally for Boycs , Ian Botham. Geoffrey complains the ECB are turning cricket into a game for ‘cissies’; Beefy believes it’s a ‘big boys game’ (and presumably a big girls game too although the ladies may not welcome such a description) and that the football authorities wouldn’t dare tell Lionel Messi he had to wear shin guards (er…actually Beefy they already do – mandatory). I normally agree with these two – they’re from my cricketing generation but I’m not sure that I agree with them on this point. The fact they didn’t wear lids in their day is to my mind irrelevant. I grew up watching guys like this play, and the fact is for most of their careers helmets weren’t around or when they did arrive were pretty rudimentary affairs. There were some ferociously fast bowlers plying their trade so the top batsmen learnt that self preservation was a priority, and learned to watch the ball – I imagine as best you could – when Holding, Marshall, Lillee or Thomson were trying to knock you into the local infirmary, players were left ducking and weaving like a flyweight boxer. Hooking and pulling, for obvious reasons, was far less prevalent than today and only executed by the very best batters. Tailenders who couldn’t tell one end of a Gunn & Moore from another were generally afforded exemption from exocet deliveries via a sort of bowler’s gentlemen’s agreement, although I’m not sure Jeff Thomson signed up to it.
However, time has moved on. The problem is that the introduction of helmets and their subsequent evolution with faceguards and ever greater protection has developed a sense of security where batters down to number 11 don’t think twice about dealing with the short ball with an extravagant hook or swipe. T20 has encouraged this even more. The thinking is “If I get a clonk on the nut, it’s ok I’m protected.” Of course, sadly we all know that isn’t necessarily the case.
The fact is, I’d bet there are few, if any, top class batsmen today who could play quick bowling well without a helmet – why would they be able to? So freedom of choice – ok – but in reality players mostly wear helmets anyway in the circumstances covered by the regulations.
Next, what’s the beef (excuse the Botham pun) with the ‘compliant headgear’? Ah, this is the more interesting one. The ECB lists manufacturers of helmets that meet the new standard – no surprise all the household names do and there are around thirty different lids to choose from. They all look super. The problem is that the faceguard or grilles are no longer adjustable, they are fixed to a position where it is reckoned the ball cannot penetrate between grille and helmet peak. This will help avoid the sort of injuries suffered by Stuart Broad and Craig Kieswetter, the latter’s career being ended by such an impact injury.
That’s a good thing right? Well, no according to one or two high profile players the most notable of which of course is current England captain Alastair Cook. The key appears to be the fixed grilles do not provide the same field of vision as the old grilles that the batsman could adjust to suit their own eyeline. Ravi Bopara has said the same that in some cases the grille bar cuts across your line of vision.
The point is that at the highest level, where the stakes are now so high, players like Cook live or die by the runs they make and plays the short ball better than most. A split second is all they have to make the judgement of whether to play or leave the short pitched ball, and that is not going to be helped if your view is restricted.
Cook made a point of ignoring the ECB’s mandatory position in Essex’s opening championship fixture by wearing his old (non –compliant) helmet, which puts the ECB and England in a somewhat tricky position. It’s thought that the England captain believes he is the best judge of his own safety and has not been able to find one of the new helmets that he feels comfortable with. Alastair Cook does not strike me as the sort of bloke who wants to be a rebel or deliberately confrontational. His position though as England captain makes him extraordinarily high profile in any stand off on this issue. I suspect other players are watching very carefully as to what happens.
It may be that Cook will find a new helmet that works for him, England and the ECB I guess are certainly hoping so as the last thing they want is for him and others to refuse to conform with the new regulations at the beginning of a new summer. Hauling the England captain up before a disciplinary board would be a tad awkward to say the least. Quite where the PCA would stand on this is interesting as the new regulations were brought in after consultation with them apparently.
One other thought, and it is that the ECB might want to think about putting a rather large wad of cash to one side. Just suppose that Cook, and other players conclude they have to conform and go off in search of a new lid, only to find one that is from a different manufacturer to their current favourite. Some difficult meetings with players kit sponsors may well follow, and while I’m no commercial contract expert I imagine claims for compensation might also be a consequence.
Make of all that lot what you will. I think the ECB have brought in the new regulations with all good intent and for us club cricket oiks and youth players it’s the right thing to do. However, at the elite level some compromise is going to be required to avoid the whole issue becoming rather messy to say the least. Happy Summer!
Written by Bob Bowden (@54bobb)
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)
No other cricket county have won the English domestic Championships more than Yorkshire, who have secured the title an unprecedented 33 times.
The White Rose start the 2016 campaign after back-to-back title winning seasons in 2014 and again in 2015, and the chance to secure a hat-trick of titles looms large for the club from the north of England.
A hat-trick of Championship titles in the modern era will be a huge achievement for England’s most dominant domestic side. They have, however, already achieved this feat four times, going on to win it four years in a row between 1922-1925. The longest streak, however, belongs to Surrey who held the Championship for seven years in a row from 1952 to 1958.
Yorkshire’s last hat-trick of titles was achieved way back in 1968 and after that the most successful club in England endured a long drought, winning the championship just once between 1968 and 2014. That victory came at the beginning of the century in 2001 and there was another 13-year wait before they won in again in 2014.
There can be little argument that over the last two seasons Yorkshire were deserving champions of England. The club lost just two games in the last two seasons. That level of consistency was the key to their success over the last two seasons.
Looking back to 2014, the Yorkshire squad had eight players who had played for England or went on to play for England in the last two years. The White Rose’s success has been rewarded with national selection for the likes of Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, and Gary Balance all of whom have made a name for themselves on the international stage. Indeed, six Yorkshire players featured in the 2015 Ashes victory. It was a true testament of how much the club had moved forward as a team and the players individually. The 2014 team also featured New Zealander Kane Williamson, who has since gone on to captain his country and has been one of the top batsmen in the world over the last two years. Both Joe Root and Kane Williamson have featured in the ICC World Test XI in both 2014 and 2015.
Yorkshire were eventually crowned champions of England in 2014 with a lead of 17 points over Warwickshire who finished second but had won the same number of games as Yorkshire, eight. Adam Lyth finished the campaign as the leading run scorer in the division and went on to open for England in the 2015 Ashes-winning campaign.
The 2015 season, however, was pretty one-sided with Yorkshire running away with it and eventually finishing the year 68 points ahead of second-placed Middlesex.
The campaign showed how the new defending champions were dominant in their trade; their record at home, Headingley, was almost perfect. They won seven of their eight matches there and drawing the other. Warwickshire were the only team to go away with more points than Yorkshire at their headquarters. They ended up with 11 points to the host’s nine in a game that ended as a draw.
The Vikings had not lost a game at Headingley in the season prior to 2015 but had only managed to win half of their games and drawing the rest. It changed in 2015 with the team producing some outstanding performances, notably the one in May in which saw them thump Hampshire by 305 runs. Thanks in part to one of their new international recruits, Cheteshwar Pujara. The Indian batsman had joined the team in 2015 and was part of their squad in the longer formats. Another notable international addition to the squad was the ex-Pakistani skipper Younis Khan who featured during the months of April and May.
Yorkshire begin this season as firm favourites, and some are even tipping them to win the domestic treble. But their captain Andrew Gale knows the task in hand will not be easy, and with so many of their regulars now part of the England squad the captain has backed the youngsters in the team to deliver the goods.
The 32-year-old is not worried about the lack of signings this season, though, with David Willey, the left arm England international the only new recruit. The club have also just retained the services of Kane Williamson for just two months, June and July. The only other international signed this season is Travis Head, the Australian will spend three months with the club from July to September.
"It just says panic stations, really, at this time of the year to go out and sign players," Gale told in one of his interviews with George Dobell for ESPNcricinfo.
"It's not something we want to do at Yorkshire. We back our own players. We put a lot of time and effort into our academy and we have a history of bringing players right though from grassroots to Test cricket and that's the route we will continue to go down.
"We missed six players at the start of last season but we don't see that as a negative. We embrace that. It creates an opportunity for someone else to come into the side. Lads see that opportunity and want to grasp it.
"We think the togetherness of the team and going out with as many Yorkshire men as we can give us an edge. There is a massive togetherness in that dressing room when players see the likes of Matthew Fisher and Will Rhodes grasp that opportunity. It creates a confidence in the young players that they could be the next cab off the rank. We want to continue to do that."
With the likes of Surrey and Lancashire coming up and sides like Warwickshire who are always there or thereabouts in the fight for the top spot, the odds of this season’s title charge being a one horse race are pretty slim, so it promises to be an exciting one.
"We're confident and positive," Gale added. "But we can take nothing for granted. We've won two Championships, but that counts for nothing at the start of the season. But if we win three championships in a row, we'll go down with the legends of Yorkshire cricket."
Writing their names in Yorkshire cricket folklore is a pretty good incentive for the team to go on to fight for the top spot again this season, will they do it? I’ll leave that to you to decide.
Written by Benny Singarajan - Follow him @mis4nthrope
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.
With the English cricket season kicking off this weekend, we look at two Counties who are back plying their trade at the top level of the English domestic set-up.
Surrey were relegated from the Division One in 2013 and Lancashire who joined them in 2014 are back playing in the top tier after a stellar 2015 campaign saw both teams losing just once in the 16 games they played.
Lancashire who finished just 10 points behind Surrey had a lead of 54 points to Essex who finished third in the division. The table shows how these two teams ran away with the league and were suitably rewarded with a place back in the top tier.
Now the challenge during this new campaign will be to build on last year’s success and try to maintain their status as a top-flight team. With new regulations seeing two teams getting relegated and just one getting promoted it will be a monumental task for relegated teams to come back to the top tier right away.
Looking at these two teams, Surrey seem to be better equipped to deal with the demands and higher skill set required to stay in the top division in the country. The London team, have, though, lost one of its most talismanic figures in Kevin Pietersen, who scored 355*(396) against Leicestershire last May. Pietersen, who is already in India to take part in the latest edition of the Indian Premier League, played a key role at Surrey during his limited stay with the team last season.
This season despite the obvious loss, the team have made some shrewd acquisitions. The Division Two champions have brought in Mark Foottit from Derbyshire. The left-armed paceman enjoyed an impressive 2015 season finishing as the leading wicket-taker in the Division.
Alec Stewart, the director of cricket for Surrey confirmed in late March that Jade Dernbach is facing a lengthy lay-off from the game with a back problem. But, the signing of Ravi Rampaul from the West Indies as a Kolpak player has made the bitter news about Dernbach a bearable one.
Surrey though are blessed with the likes of Kumar Sangakkara, who will be available for the entire season as the overseas player. With Sangakkara amongst their ranks, the team has a good blend of youth and experience with the Curran brothers, Tom, and Sam. Tom who’s 21 and Sam who only turns 18 in June bring in the youthful exuberance a team needs. With the likes of Aaron Finch joining the team from June-July, Surrey may become a force to be reckoned with this season.
Lancashire, on the other hand, ended the 2015 campaign with four draws on the trot which was enough to see them finish second thanks mainly to their early season form. Unlike Surrey who have brought in some very good players after getting promoted, Lancashire have made no such signings.
The team based in Manchester have lost Ashwell Prince who has retired and Paul Horton moving to Leicestershire. The team, however, may get a few games out of the England international James Anderson whose limited overs international career is all but over. The chances of Jos Buttler another England international that featured in the recently concluded World T20 Championships are pretty bleak, however since the wicket-keeper batsman has already arrived in India to feature in the latest edition of the IPL.
Despite lacking some major names the core of the team has remained the same and it is still a relatively young side. Since winning the Divison One Championship in 2011 Lancashire have gone down twice but have bounced straight back to the top tier at the first time of asking. Their task won’t be as straightforward this time if they do go down with only one team to be promoted from Division Two from this season.
With both Surrey and Lancashire back in the top tier, some of the best domestic talent on showcase get to show their talents at iconic venues like the KIA Oval and the Emirates Old Trafford. The stadiums that feature regularly in England’s international calendar missed out on the best domestic competition in the country.
This season however with games between the northern rivals Lancashire and Yorkshire and the two London teams Surrey and Middlesex meeting in the top division are bound to bring in some decent crowds for a Championship game. With the rise of T20, the County Championship has seen a steady decline in the crowd numbers; the matches between these teams will provide some much-needed interest in the First-Class game.
The rise of these two teams makes it an exciting time for First-Class cricket in the country, with Yorkshire running away with the league for the last two years the rise of these two teams will make it a much more exciting Championship race.
Written by Benny Singarajan, Follow him on Twitter @mis4nthrope.
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