Wednesday, 30 April 2008

A simple step to improve county cricket

Ideas for how to improve county cricket are nothing if not frequent. It only takes a couple of Test match defeats for the county game to emerge as an inevitable scapegoat.

For all of that, and the recent, and fleeting, floating of the idea to play a Twenty20 competition with cities, Indian style, the county game is reasonably secure. It commands a substantial following, as frequent sell-outs for Twenty20 games, festivals and the 26 million page hits Cricinfo's county cricket site received last season are all testament to.

But this is in spite of scheduling which almost defies belief in its incompetence.

The most fundamental way in which to attract more supporters through the gates is to play on occasions most convenient to them. However, this is patently not currently the case: Championship games running from Wednesday to Saturday, owing to reasons including rain, an overly flat pitch or victory already being achieved, very seldom offer appetising final days with the obvious result that many people who would like to watch cricket decide it is not worth their while.

Furthermore, the early-season pattern of having a championship game from Wednesday to Saturday followed by a Sunday Friends Provident Trophy match is clearly damaging to the progress of the England one-day international side. Games starting the day after a first-class match, with considerable travelling in between, are patently not suited to the adequate preparation necessary to develop one-day tactics and skills. Rest before one-dayers would also allow the games themselves to be of greater intensity.

However, there is a clear solution to these problems. Every weekend there should either be two days of a championship game, running from Friday to Monday, or two one-day games. This simple solution would maximise the amount of viewing time for spectators, ensuring bigger crowds and a more palatable bottom line for the counties. Equally, it would also ensure there was a gap of at least a day between playing in the two different formats of the game. Consecutive one-day matches would allow sides to think about strategy and team selection and, with a few days off prior to the games, would ensure the standard would be raised. Weary players who have just played four consecutive days of cricket, and often travelled, will axiomatically not consistently perform at their best.

By its very nature, county cricket is never going to produce consistent sell-outs. But, if only some more judicious scheduling was introduced, it would be able to capitalise on, and increase, the considerable interest than does exist in it.

Monday, 28 April 2008

FP Trophy Weekly Round-up

Another damp weekend hindered attempts to complete the latest round of Friends Provident Trophy matches. However, there were six results out of eight, which is pretty good going for April really and there was at least some play at all of the grounds.

Firstly to Bristol and Gloucestershire vs Glamorgan. No result here I’m afraid, which will have been much to the annoyance of The Gladiators, as they were set a Duckworth-Lewis 10 over target of 74, after The Dragons had managed to amass just 174-4 from 42 overs. There was though enough play for opener Matthew Wood to impress with a frustratingly close 91 not out, whilst David Hemp hit a fifty. Marcus North meanwhile impressed with his off spin for Gloucestershire, taking 3-32 from 10 overs, as he continues in the role of premier spin bowler for The Gladiators.

There was a similar tale at New Road, where the weather again led to a draw between Worcestershire and Somerset. The Royals were able to complete 39 overs of their innings, in the process scoring 154-8. Only Daryl Mitchell made a score of note, ending on 48 not out. There were two wickets apiece for Charl Willoughby (2-14) and Steffan Jones (2-44), Willoughby’s the more deserved and economical. The surprise performer with the ball was James Hildreth though, who also earnt two wickets, albeit quite expensively.

Essex were involved in another run feast against Sussex on the placid Chelmsford wicket. Chris Adams won the toss and chose to field, just as Rob Key did a week ago. The result was a similar story of carnage. The Eagles amassed 291-8 off of their fifty overs, Ravi Bopara acquiring yet another batting landmark, just a fifty this time though (59). Grant Flower (75), Ryan ten Doeschate (61) and James Foster (35*) all chipped in with speedy contributions. Alistair Cook meanwhile failed to get a score of note again (8). There were two wickets apiece for James Kirtley (2-45), Robin Martin-Jenkins (2-39) and Michael Yardy (2-56), although Mushtaq Ahmed went wicketless for 55 runs from his 10 overs, a rare occurrence indeed. Sussex needed 156 from 24 overs after a bit of Duckworth-Lewis magic. Matt Prior continued his impressive start to the season, blazing a rapid fifty in reply, but with 3 run outs and 2 stumpings, it was clear that Sussex just couldn’t keep up with the rate and they fell away to end on 141-6. There was meanwhile another wicket for the impressive Bopara, whilst Andre Nel conceded just 16 runs from his 5 overs.

Ireland hosted Nottinghamshire in Dublin and despite having the visitors 19-3, they allowed them to escape to 217-9 from their fifty overs. Overseas signing Adam Voges hit 60, whilst captain Chris Read blasted a quick fire 45. O’Brien was the most impressive of the Irish bowlers, taking 4-31 from 10 overs. Ireland regularly lost wickets in reply and no-one managed to make it past 30. England players and hopefuls, Ryan Sidebottom, Stuart Broad, Charlie Shreck and Graeme Swann all took a wicket, whilst ex-England player Mark Ealham claimed 4-39.

The home of cricket witnessed a tight game between Middlesex and Kent. Opting to bat, The Crusaders made 177-8 from a shortened 36.5 overs, Billy Godleman top scoring with 43. Azhar Mahmood continued his resurgence with 2 wickets for 29. In reply, Martin van Jaarsveld again took The Spitfires close with 53. However, the wickets tumbled as the required run rate soared and they finished on 166 all out after 33 overs, just 7 short of their target, Tim Murtagh taking 4-29. To England watch and Andrew Strauss struck 33, whilst Owais Shah managed only 2.

To Northampton, where Northamptonshire avenged their four day defeat to Warwickshire with a limited overs triumph in what was a high scoring game. Warwickshire racked up 293-5 from their fifty overs, Neil Carter typically belligerent in blazing 30 from 20 balls at the top, whilst Darren Maddy struck a run a ball 77 and was ably supported by Ian Westwood (65), Jonathan Trott (60) and Michael Powell (45*). Tim Ambrose made just 1, while Ian Bell did not feature. Captain Nicky Boje took 3-54, to top the bowling figures, but Monty Panesar went wicketless and dropped a catch. In reply, Northants started badly, slipping to 60-3. However the reliable David Sales steadied the ship with 60, while Robert White stole the show with a superb 111 from 113 balls. Ex-South African international’s Boje (23) and Lance Klusener (26*) finished the job with David Lucas (9*), a cool seven balls remaining. Carter took 3-49 to complete an impressive all round performance, while Ant Botha took a less impressive 2-59.

A bit of a miss-match now as Lancashire faced Scotland at The Citylets Grange. The Scots were skittled for just 73 from 37 overs. There were two miserly wickets for James Anderson (2-19), whilst Andrew Flintoff went for just 14 runs from his 7 overs. It was young Tom Smith who impressed most though, with 3-14 from 7 overs. In reply Dewald Nel took two wickets, but The Lightning cantered to an easy eight wicket victory from just 11.5 overs, Andrew Flintoff finishing not out on 27 from 23 balls, though he will need to score more runs against more illustrious opposition before he can be considered worthy of a place in England’s top seven.

Our final match takes us to Headingley, where Yorkshire, buoyed by their recent emphatic triumph over Hampshire, faced an equally invigorated Derbyshire. The Phoenix hit 119-7 from 24 overs, Adil Rashid ending on 41 not out. There were two wickets apiece for new kolpak signing Charles Langeveldt (2-25), the impressive Tom Lungley (2-12) and all rounder Graham Wagg (2-34). Michael Vaughan continued his less than impressive start to the season with just 16. Derbyshire never got close in reply though and stumbled to 94 all out from 22.4 overs, only Jamie Pipe making 20. There were two wickets apiece for England hopeful Tim Bresnan and utility player Richard Pyrah. Meanwhile Anthony McGrath took 3-16.

Player of the Week: For managing to score the only hundred of the week and for it being crucial to the result of his side’s match, this weeks player of the week is Northamptonshire’s Robert White. Meanwhile, there are honourably mentions for Matt Prior and Ravi Bopara who both continued their impressive early season form, whilst Tom Smith showed why he was included in the Young Pretenders XI 2008.

Championship Review - Week 2

Everyone has at least started a match now, although the weather is still preventing too many from being completed. In Division 1, Yorkshire steal a march on their rivals whilst in Division 2, there were two successful run chases. This week also sees the return of England Player Watch – tracking the progress of those in or on the fringes of the test team.

Division 1
Starting at Headingley where Hampshire put Yorkshire into bat in murky conditions. Having lost three wickets for 53, Andrew Gale came to the wicket to score 138. It’s an important season for Gale, who is getting his first chance to shine with a plethora of talented youngsters waiting in the wings. With support from the tail, Yorkshire managed 398, which looked well above par for the wicket and conditions. It looked even more above par when Matthew Hoggard took the first six Hants wickets, bowling them out for 159. Follwing on, Michael Brown showed some resistance, but 212 wasn’t enough to make Yorkshire bat again.

In equally tricky batting conditions, Durham managed just 224 at home to Surrey. However, this was enough for a comfortable lead as Surrey scored just 183, despite a stand of 99 between Marks Butcher and Ramprakash. Durham then declared on 228 for 9, Saqlain taking 6 wickets. However, the weather put paid to any thought of a Surrey run chase, and the match fizzled out in a draw.

Matt Prior scored a hundred as Sussex made 303 against Kent. For a player looking to rebuild his international credentials, Prior has made a fine start to the season, his 59 in the second innings being his lowest score of the season so far. Kent replied with 204, Mushtaq taking 5 wickets, although but for a 10th wicket stand of 82 between Geraint Jones and Yasir Arafat, that could have been a lot worse. Sussex made 237 second time round, with Azhar Mahmood taking 5-fer. Set 337 to win, Kent were able to comfortably play out for a draw, scoring 193 for 3.

Somerset are finding run scoring more difficult in Division 1 and scored 238 at Lancashire. The home side replied with 221 and Somerset then reached 262 for 8 as the game ended in a draw. The notable performance was the batting form of Ian Blackwell, who scored two half centuries coming in at number 5 for Somerset.

Division 2
Ravi Bopara continued his excellent start to the season with another hundred as Essex scored 270 at Derbyshire. Indeed not only did he score over half of the Essex runs, he was the only batsman to score at a rate higher than 50 runs per 100 balls. Derby found run scoring equally difficult, with no-one scoring fifty as they were bowled out for 239. Some declaration bowling meant that Essex scored 234 for 2 in just 34 overs to set Derbyshire a target of 266 in 65 overs. They managed this with 5 overs to spare to record an unlikely victory.

Northamptonshire recovered from 127 for 5 to score 385 against Warwickshire, thanks largely to a ton from Nicky Boje. The Bears could only manage 243 in reply and Northants declaration at 240 for 7 left Warwicks requiring 388 in 83 overs. They reached this with a ball to spare, thanks largely to a Darren Maddy hundred, and 20 off just 9 balls at the end from Ian Salisbury.

A very even game at Lords saw Middlesex score 308 in 97.5 overs followed by Glamorgan getting 300 in 97.2 overs, Tim Murtagh taking 7 wickets in the Glamorgan innings, for whom Jamie Dalrymple scored 80 against his former team. The game then petered out to a draw as Middlesex scored 292 for 6.

At Grace Road, Worcestershire declared on 300 for 8 before bowling out Leicestershire for just 193. Worcester then declared on 174 for 4 in an effort to force a result. However, the weather ad ensured that for the second week running, the Pears were unable to capitalise on a promising position.

England Player Watch

Michael Vaughan managed just 19 in tricky conditions in Yorkshire’s only innings, while opening partner Ali Cook got in to the 20s in both Essex innings without pushing on. Andrew Strauss’s scores continue to grow, with 36 and 49, which outscored team mate Owais Shah who managed just 12 runs in both innings. Ravi Bopara scored a hundred and an unbeaten fifty as he continued his fine start to the season. Likewise, Matt Prior scored a hundred and a fifty to push his credentials as a specialist batsman. Ian Bell scored 41 and a quick 62 in the Warwickshire run chase, Tim Ambrose managing just 15 and 19 in the same match

Matthew Hoggard took the first 6 wickets in Hampshire’s first inning and last two in their second to push his claim. Andrew Flintoff and James Anderson both ended up with tight figures for Lancs, although they only managed a couple of wickets each. Flintoff also managed a golden duck, as his batting continues to struggle. Steve Harmison took three wickets for Durham and one would suspect his figures need to be spectacular before he gets back into the international reckoning. Monty Panesar went wicketless, but then took four wickets as he tried to prevent the Warwickshire victory.

Player of the Week
Nicky Boje had a fine allround game, although it was eventually in a losing cause. However, for my POTW this week, I’m going to Headingley. Matthew Hoggard put in a fine spell of bowling. However, for what may turn out to be a career defining century in difficult batting conditions, my player of the week is Andrew Gale.

Friday, 25 April 2008

County Heroes: Martin Bicknell

To begin a new series celebrating county greats, here is an assessment of the career of Surrey's recently retired double beneficiary Martin Bicknell.

In this age of globalisation and a virtually constant stream of international fixtures that rob counties of their best players, Surrey fans were highly fortunate at being able to watch a master craftsman, almost uninterrupted for two decades.

Martin Bicknell, though he won just four Test caps, will long be remembered at the Oval as a model of consistently and an exemplary professional. His nagging swing bowling, considered too slow by the England management, claimed the staggering total of 1061 first-class wickets. Staggeringly, over 21 seasons, he only twice averaged over 30 - and one instance was during a sadly truncated final campaign.

So what are the secrets to the success of a bowler wrongly perceived to be so limited? Bicknell benefited from an insatiable love for the game that allowed him to face the same side, at the same ground every year, in front of what seldom amounts to more than simply friends, family and a trickle of devoted county fans. Moans from international superstars who have earned a lifetime’s worth of cash from the game are plentiful, but no one would ever catch Bicknell doing anything other than relish the prospect of playing at Derbyshire on a drizzly Wednesday morning when even the die-hards opt to stay at home.

In this respect, Bicknell, sadly, may soon be viewed as something of a freak. There is a real sense that he is the last of the line of stalwart bowlers who remain at the same county for two decades and who tend only to receive the credit they deserve from supporters of their own county. Think of contemporary quicks who contributed comparably to their side and only Andy Caddick comes close. It is surely no coincidence that the man Bicknell lists as his cricketing idol, Tom Richardson, claimed over 2000 first-class wickets. This is also testament to Bicknell’s devotion to the game - how many other players would even have heard of the great bowler of the 1890s?

Though Bicknell only played four Tests - his 2nd and 3rd were the small matter of a decade apart - he still has much to cherish. In the final Test against South Africa in 2003, with his country 2-1 down, Bicknell delivered a superb performance, picking up 4-84 in the second innings (and six wickets in the match) as he secured victory in his final test, appropriately enough at his home ground.

One moment from this match perfectly epitomised Bicknell’s enduring qualities. With the score 120-4 and England in need of wickets late on the fourth day to give themselves the time to chase the runs down and secure victory, Bicknell produced a memorable spell of classic swing-bowling. First he tempted Jacques Rudolph with a couple of away swingers, both of which were cautiously left alone by the left-hander. Then came possibly the game’s defining moment. Bicknell bowled a seemingly identical ball to his previous deliveries, which Rudolph again left alone. But this was an in-swinger. The bowler’s celebration as he saw the wreckage of Rudolph's stumps was reward for the many years he had spent meticulously honing his craft at scarcely populated county grounds.

It is ironic and symbolic of the unlucky nature of Bicknell’s career that his two sets of test appearances - against Australia and later against South Africa - were both probably made a few years either side of his prime. However, the fact that the 34 year-old incarnation was better than the 24 year-old was hugely significant. It was testament to his constant search for self-improvement - apparent also through his gradual transformation to a batsman worthy of the number seven spot in county cricket - that he managed to defy age in such a way.

During Surrey’s glorious four seasons between 1999 and 2002 – in which they won three championships out of four – Bicknell was always at the forefront of their success, every bit as significant as any other member of the side, Saqlain Mushtaq included. In the four seasons from 1998, he claimed at least 60 wickets at an average of 21 or less. Given the general mediocrity of the England side at this point, and especially considering Bicknell's tremendous lower-order batting - he averaged at least 28 in his last 8 first-class seasons - it is incredibly unfortunate he was never granted a reasonable run in the England side.

His efforts, with bat and ball alike, were consistently magnificent, and it was perhaps only the seemingly less-than-extraordinary manner in which these were accomplished which prevented him earning more recognition. Against Kent in 2001, Surrey were comprehensively outplayed. When Bicknell came to the wicket in their second innings, Surrey were effectively 1-6, despite his fine efforts before in the match – top-scoring with 78 with the bat and picking up 4-47. However, he wasn’t finished yet, and, in his 16th season, finally recorded his maiden first-class hundred to steal a draw which probably only one Surrey player could have felt they deserved.

The benefit system has rightly received huge criticism recently following the cash-rich benefits enjoyed by Messrs Vaughan and Flintoff in recent years. But Bicknell is exactly the kind of person the benefit system was designed for, and fully deserved a second benefit before he slipped into life as a school cricket master. He may have deserved nation-wide recognition, but one suspects this most genial of individuals will be more than contented with a place in the hearts of every Surrey supporter.

Adapted from an article written two years ago.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Money off Telegraph Fantasty Cricket

If you fancy entering our Daily Telegraph fantasy cricket league (and you're all most welcome) but are slightly perterped by the six quid you're required to pay, fear not. Enter BRITOVAL as a special offer code as you're registering your team and you'll get two quid off.

Just remember, don't tell anyone who told you...

Monday, 21 April 2008

FP Trophy Weekly Round-up

The domestic limited overs season got off to a cold, miserable and pretty soggy start this weekend, not that the sides who emerged victorious will have minded! The elements did for Lancashire vs Derby, Leicestershire vs Northamptonshire and Warwickshire vs Nottinghamshire. There was though play elsewhere and a couple of entertaining matches.

Nowhere was there a closer match than at The Riverside, where Durham narrowly came out on top over Yorkshire. Put into bat, Durham were in trouble early on, with young seamer Ajmal Shahzad particularly impressive (1-30). Phil Mustard (25) was once again guilty of getting in and then out, courtesy of a leg side hack. He will need to go on more often if he is to stay in England’s ODI side. Despite the wickets of Shahzad, Tim Bresnan (3-51) and Deon Kruis (2-37), the Dynamos crept their way up to 220 all out with four balls remaining, recent overseas arrival, Neil McKenzie, top scoring with a well paced 77. It was a good total on what was a seamer friendly wicket and Yorkshire soon slipped to 57-5 and then 140-8 in reply, largely thanks to an impressive opening spell of 2-19 from 8 overs by Neil Killeen. However, the holders were given a scare by Shahzad (33), this time impressive with the bat and the ever improving Bresnan (55). The Dynamos closed out the game though, just, with Graham Onions (1-40) having Bresnan caught in the covers with 6 needed off of 2 balls. It was a wonderful advert for the game and as far as England player watch is concerned, Liam Plunkett bagged 1-32 and Steve Harmison 2-40. Adil Rashid meanwhile bowled just four overs and was run out for a duck.

Elsewhere, Essex and Kent served up a run feast at Canterbury. Essex were stuck into bat by Rob Key and the decision backfired spectacularly with the Eagles amassing 317-5 from their fifty overs, captain Mark Pettini (119) and Ravi Bopara (99) the standout performers. There were two wickets apiece for Yasir Arafat and Ryan McLaren, but the bowling figures were generally expensive and England hopeful James Tredwell returned a less than impressive 0-52 from ten overs. Kent got to 286-9 in reply, but Martin van Jaarsveld (124) was the only Spitfire to get beyond 30 odd. Meanwhile, Bopara pitched in with a wicket and there were two apiece again for Andre Nel, Chris Wright and James Middlebrook.

To The Oval and Surrey vs Middlesex. More runs aplenty here, with Middlesex registering 315-6, Andrew Strauss hitting a career best 163, ably supported by Ed Joyce (42) and Owais Shah (55). Chris Jordan and Jade Dernbach each took two wickets, but with economy rates of over six. In reply, Surrey made a good start with Scott Newman (65) and James Benning (47) giving the Brown Caps hope. However, youngster Danny Evans (3-36) and debutant Gareth Berg (4-50) were impressive and only Mark Butcher (46) offered any real further threat.

Somerset meanwhile opted to field first at Taunton against Hampshire and the Hawks struggled to 221 all out with four balls left and were indebted to Michael Lumb (47), Nic Pothas (55) and captain Dimi Mascarenhas (53), who were the only real contributors. The returning Ben Phillips (3-47) and wily Steffan Jones (2-29) were the standout bowlers. 221 was never enough at Taunton, even in April and although Somerset suffered an early scare, slipping to 91-4, with a run a ball rate need from the last 20 overs, Ian Blackwell (86*) and John Francis (48*) saw them home with 14 balls left, Blackwell particularly destructive, which will undoubtedly have registered on Peter Moores’ radar. Mascarenhas (1-26), Shane Bond (1-33) and Chris Tremlett (1-39) each took a wicket and ended with tidy figures, but the back up bowling just wasn’t there.

The final match of the day saw Gloucestershire canter to victory over Worcestershire at a lively Bristol. Put into bat, The Royals made 221-8, Ben Smith (75) and Daryl Mitchell (63) the main players. The pace bowling trio of Jon Lewis (2-48), Anthony Ireland (2-43) and Steve Kirby (2-19) exploited the conditions well. In reply, Kadeer Ali (63) and Hamish Marshall (57) laid the foundations, while Craig Spearman (64) finished off the game, Chris Whelan taking two uneconomical wickets for the Royals.

Player of the Week: For a career best 163 off 130 balls, with 23 fours and 4 sixes, it has to be the resurgent Andrew Strauss. Ian Blackwell gets an honourable mention as do Neil McKenzie and Tim Bresnan.

England's prospects for Summer 2008.

The ECB today announced a 26 man England Performance Squad for the 2008 Summer season. Along with the centrally contracted players and many of the usual suspects, the uncapped trio of Michael Carberry, James Tredwell and most excitingly Adil Rashid, were included in the 'EPS'. Doubtless much will be made of Rashid's inclusion; the young spinner has impressed greatly whether it be with Yorkshire or on the recent England Lions tour to India, while England have been searching for leg-spinning magic for as long as can be remembered.

Although it is clearly important to allow these young and clearly talented players to come under Peter Moores' tutelage, one wonders whether or not there are any gaps in the England side that need to be filled. Despite the absence of Harmison and Hoggard in Napier, the England team is beginning to be as settled as it has been post the much celebrated 2005 Ashes triumph, so here is an opportunity to look more closely at the players who will make up the England team in the 2008 Summer.

Alistair Cook's unflappable temperament at the top of the order has meant that Marcus Trescothick has not been too sorely missed, while Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss, despite recent blips complete a top three of real International pedigree. This author would suggest that perhaps there is only room for two of the aforementioned batsmen at the top of the order, and that Ian Bell as opposed to Vaughan or Strauss would be a better prospect at number three. Nonetheless it would be no surprise to see Bell taking up a slot in the middle order sandwiched between Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood, both of whom are automatic selections in both forms of the game. Tim Ambrose will hopefully be given a chance to prove himself throughout the summer, and first impressions would suggest that he has a real chance to establish himself as a permanent fixture in the Test team.

Considering the hype surrounding Andrew Flintoff's return to domestic cricket, it would seem that his international comeback is imminent, though it would be interesting to see him in a slightly different role than he once filled; as a bowler with the ability to change the game from number 8, although it could be argued that this is a waste of the supreme all-rounder's undoubted talents.

That leaves the bowlers, and while Harmison and Hoggard will have something to prove in the opening county exchanges, they will be on the edge of Test match selection throughout the summer. Stuart Broad impressed sufficiently over the winter to suggest that he has a real future and it would be a tough break if he were to make way for either Harmison or Hoggard.

Ryan Sidebottom was the star of the New Zealand tour and with his flowing locks and dangerous swing back into the right handers, Michael Vaughan will be calling on him time and again throughout a busy summer. James Anderson's ability to extract regular and sometimes late swing has meant that the selectors have persisted with him for long periods of time and his will be a name on the selectors' lips throughout the summer. Monty Panesar, after bursting onto the International scene, had a largely disappointing winter, and it would be an interesting move if the selector were to plump for the winter's drinks carrier Graeme Swann, James Tredwell or even Rashid, especially as any of these three would offer substantially more with the bat and in the field.

Owais Shah and Ravi Bopara lie on the cusp of selection, but it is difficult to imagine either getting a run in the Test side without injuries to some of the more established players. Thus, even though a 26 man EPS has been named, England's side is reasonably well settled, and the competition for places is very healthy, particularly amongst the seam bowlers.

England will hope to be more dominant and assertive against New Zealand this time around, although South Africa will pose a far more serious challenge. The Proteas' pace attack is one to be feared, with Dale Steyn becoming more dangerous by the series, Makyha Ntini still a force to be reckoned with and Morne Morkel consistently bowling close to 90mph. Moreover South Africa's batting line up has been firing lately with Neil McKenzie enjoying a renaissance and Hashim Amla finally reproducing his domestic form on the International arena Graeme Smith and Jaques Kallis are seriously class acts and Mark Boucher and AB de Villiers will make consistent contributions in the middle order. England will need to be at their best if they are to compete and consistently so. The first step towards consistent performances is sending out an unchanged side, consistently, enabling the team to bond and develop an understanding as per the 2005 Ashes.

On a finishing note it is interesting to observe two notable omissions from the EPS, Simon Jones has become somewhat of a forgotten man during his recovery from injury, but this author would suggest that he can be a bowler of international class again, while the other man to miss out is the one and only Mr Mark Ramprakash, who, rather inevitably opened his 2008 Championship account with a patient century.

Championship Review – Week 1

The predictions have been made, everyone is optimistic about their chances and a Siberian wind seems to be preventing the temperature reaching double figures. Must be the start of a new season. Two England bowlers started their latest comebacks this week, while some golden oldies scored a lot of runs.

Division 1
Starting at the Oval, where Lancashire returned to the scene of their ultimate disappointment last season. Much of the focus was on the returning Andrew Flintoff, who encouragingly bowled a lot of overs for not many runs. Less encouraging for Lancs, though, was letting Surrey reach 537 for 5, with Mark Ramprakash being missed twice before hitting another hundred (number 98). Mark Butcher and Usman Afzaal also scored tons. The weather saved Lancs as they struggled to 241 for 6 on what seemed to be a flat pitch.

Champions Sussex also played out a rain affected draw, Murray Goodwin scoring a ton in their 332 all out with Shane Bond taking 7 wickets. Hampshire replied with 319 for 7 before the drizzle put paid to the match.

Two of the teams tipped to struggle met at Canterbury, with Darren Pattinson taking 5-fer as Kent were skittled for 162. Nottinghamshire then made 434, thanks to a ton from Kent old boy Mark Ealham. Kent did better second time round and an Azhar Mahmood scored a ton as they reached 293. However, Notts only needed 24 to win, which they did without losing a wicket to top Division 1.

Division 2
The two relegated teams met, with Worcestershire being denied by some late Warwickshire resistance and the weather. Batting first, Stephen Moore hit an unbeaten century as the Pears scored 249. The Bears replied with 215, although Simon Jones only managed to bowl 3 overs. Worcester, with tons from Vikram Solanki and Graeme Hick declared on 447 for 7. Warwicks with the aid of the weather held on for the draw, closing on 164 for 7, but Worcester will be happier with their start to the season, despite the continuing doubts about the fitness of Simon Jones.

Favourites Middlesex got off to a promising start, with Owais Shah getting a ton in their 312 all out. Leicestershire went past this with 405, thanks to tons from Tom New and HD Ackerman. Nadeem Malik then took five wickets as Middlesex were restricted to 258 and Leicester knocked of the required 168 for the loss of just four wickets.

Essex restricted Northamptonshire to 280 before making 503 for 5 themselves, based around a stand of 294 between Jason Gallion (171) and Ravi Bopara (150). Northants scored 237, just enough to make Essex bat again. They got the 15 required for the loss of one wicket for maximum points.

Derbyshire’s season got off to a terrible start, scoring just 124 against Gloucestershire, who replied with 314. Chris Rogers century in the second innings brought Derby to 361. Unfortunately the final day was washed out and Derby escaped with a draw.

Player of the Week
A good week for a number of ex-England players as Ramprakash, Butcher, Afzaal, Hick, Ealham, Gallian and Solanki all scored hundreds. There were also tons for two players on the fringe of the England team Owais Shah’s was in a losing cause, but this week’s player of the week, for his 150 and also for 5 wickets in Essex’s win is Ravi Bopara.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

A long road back for Flintoff

Despite what the media would have you believe, there was more to the Surrey-Lancashire game than the state of Mr Flintoff.

The relentless talk of Andrew Flintoff's comeback is tedious in the extreme. It is a sad indictment of the media's lack of regard for county cricket that, even in a match in which he has been anonymous, taking one wicket and scoring 23, he has dominated the headlines. The story of the first day was not Lancashire twice missing Mark Ramprakash before he marched to his third consecutive championship hundred (all against Lancs). Of course it wasn't. Freddie bowled 10.3 overs on the opening day of his comeback. He took 1-26. Stop the press.

The man himself: Andrew Flintoff during his 28 overs.

The obsession with Flintoff can't be doing him or his side any good. With all the talk over this game as the first step on the road to an England return, a part of him can't help but regard it more about him than his county, no matter how wholehearted a cricketer he is. Lancs must also grow tired, much like the rest of us, that all questions lead to Fred. Neither he nor his team-mates will be enjoying the disproportionate attention he is receiving for what have been less-than-stellar deeds. Frankly, he needs at least six weeks of hard, competitive cricket for Lancashire before he can be considered seriously for England again; it would be a huge mistake to recall him on reputation alone. That doesn't mean surviving unscathed, it means making decisive contributions - scoring centuries and taking five-fors. There were tentative signs of encouragement, certainly, as he kept going admirably on a flat track, but nowhere near enough to justify the hype.

Inevitably he has totally overshadowed the noteworthy displays in the match: above all a trio of centuries from Surrey's powerful middle-order. Ramprakash was actually below his usual imperious best, but he has been so phenomenal over the past two years that, visibly, opponents are in awe of him. Bowlers often bowl worse to him than they do to other batsmen; fielders react over-eagerly to any opportunities, such is the value they put on his wicket. So, just as in the last game of last season, Lancs missed out on two chances - this time a catch and a run-out - before he had made even 20. Try telling them there is one - let alone six - batsmen in England who are better. Mark Butcher was also supremely attractive driving through the off-side in putting on a double century stand with Ramprakash.

Never mind the's Freddie?

But the most noteworthy knock in the context of Surrey's season was surely Usman Afzaal's debut hundred. Butcher has spoken about providing an environment for this sometimes mercurial talent to flourish and, if this was any indicator, they have certainly done so. Pulling with authority and great power against Sajid Mahmood, Afzaal played Gary Keedy's left-arm spin exquisitely, using his feet and the aerial route. On the basis of this serene and aesthetically-pleasing knock, Afzaal will score many runs at The Oval this season. Thanks to Ali Brown's belligerent 74*, Surrey have already improved in one shocking statistic from last season, when they registered just a solitary score in excess of 70 from any player batting outside the top four, showing the extent of their reliance on Ramprakash.

Afzaal driving during his debut hundred

See, there was plenty to talk about: and that's before we even get started on Lancashire returning at the first opportunity to where they missed out on the championship at the end of last year's epic race. On this evidence they have much work to do if they are get that close again: their fielding was shoddy; their bowling lacked control, save for Flintoff, let alone any great threat; and their batting has been too loose, although the weather has been such that a draw was always the overwhelming favourite.

But the story was all about how Freddie was doing, with the score barely deemed relevant. Maybe those who are infuriated by a non-performance covering the first half of every match report are missing the point. Who needs runs or wickets for intrigue when we've got Freddie's ankle to worry about?

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Hants vs Sussex, Opening Day Report

After viewing my first competitive county cricket of the season, I thought I would report my impressions of defending champions Sussex and my own side, Hampshire.

The opening day of the new County Championship season was blessed with glorious sunshine at the Rose Bowl in Hampshire. Opting to bat, title holders Sussex had an early scare when Shane Bond was rewarded for some aggressive bowling with the wicket of opener Carl Hopkinson, clean bowling him for just 7. However, with both Chris Tremlett and Dimitri Mascarenhas strangely out of sorts, the Sharks slowly began to recover through Chris Nash and Michael Yardy. However, both batsmen fell just before the fifty mark and James Tomlinson was the man who made the first breakthrough, just before lunch. A splendid catch was taken at slip by James Adams and Nash (47) was on his way. Immediately after the lunch break, Yardy (46) attempted an ill advised hook shot off of Bond and simply guided the ball to Chris Tremlett at long leg. Hampshire were suddenly back in the game and possibly even on top. Out strode Murray Goodwin and his captain, Chris Adams. Goodwin began solidly, but Adams started with a bang, showing an attacking intent, as he plundered a few quick boundaries. Clearly the Sussex captain wants his side to continue to play competitive cricket this year. However, he was soon overtaken by Goodwin, who was in sublime form. Some marvellous shots followed as the two experienced campaigners took the ineffectual Hampshire attack to the cleaners. Mascarenhas, Tremlett and Greg Lamb were going for too many, too fast and an early criticism of Mascarenhas would be that he bowled himself for too long and failed to give youngster Tomlinson, who had comfortably been the second best bowler in the morning session, a chance until over an hour and a half after the lunch interval. Upon Tomlinson's return, Adams (30) was on his way, edging a rising ball behind to the keeper. Sussex were though very much in the driving seat and Matt Prior was soon finding the gaps and building another big partnership with the ever dependable Goodwin.

Chris Tremlett ruffles Sussex Captain Chris Adams with a short pitched delivery

At this point it is worth pointing out that Hampshire went into this match with Greg Lamb as their only recognised spinner. He quite simply is not up to the task of being the primary spinner in four day cricket. He is adequate as a fifth or sixth bowler in limited overs cricket, but offers no real threat to a batsman with time on his side. Hampshire fans will hope that Liam Dawson soon finds himself in the side, as Lamb, whilst being a multi-dimensional cricketer, is your typical jack of all trades, who tends to excel at none unfortunately. To go from Shane Warne and Shaun Udal, bowling in tandem, to Greg Lamb would make a grown man cry, and it nearly did! To conclude this point, Lamb is the classic example of a below average kolpak signing who is blocking the path of a promising home grown youngster and I hope that the situation is soon resolved, or Hampshire will struggle to pose a spinning threat to opposition sides.

Matt Prior cover drives Greg Lamb for another boundary

Back to the action and Goodwin and Prior were in blistering form and Goodwin soon brought up his hundred. It was a chanceless knock and one of the best I have seen. Prior soon brought up his own landmark, as he passed fifty. He is an assured batsman who could yet find himself in an England side as a specialist bat. All looked lost at 317-4 and the weather forecast was already being discussed. Then, just at the last, along came Bond, Shane Bond (I had to!). Back to the pavilion went Prior (62), Luke Wright came and went for a duck, he was joined by Robin Martin-Jenkins (1) and Ragheb Aga (0) and all of a sudden Hampshire were on top on what has so far been a very good batting wicket. Next, Tremlett found some late form and removed the dangerman Goodwin, for a brilliantly played 121. Bond then wrapped up the innings with the removal of Mushtaq Ahmed (1), to finish with figures of 19.1-2-66-7, Chris Liddle the not out man (4*).

Shane Bond sends down another blistering delivery

The five overs left in the day were faced by Michael Carberry and Michael Brown and it was the former who fell victim to Martin-Jenkins for just two. Tomlinson survived the remaining few overs as night watchmen to set up a curious day’s play tomorrow.


The second opening slot appears to be a problem for Sussex as was feared. However, the middle order is still on the money and in Yardy, Goodwin, Adams and Prior, Sussex have a very experienced and able batting line up. Add in the ability of both Luke Wright and Martin-Jenkins to take the game away from an opponent in a flash and it is not good news for the other title hopefuls. It remains to be seen though whether or not the pace bowling will be up to the challenge of the season ahead. On paper, minus Jason Lewry and new kolpak signing Ryan Harris, the attack does not look that strong, with only Mushtaq the stand out threat. However, at full strength Sussex have variety and a quality XI.

Hampshire on the other hand were very reliant on Bond today. He is an excellent player, who is capable of blowing a tail away, a very useful ability indeed. Tomlinson’s performance was though the most pleasing aspect of the day, as he was threatening and deserving of at least another wicket. Mascarenhas’ captaincy is in it’s infancy, but it appears as though he will follow Shane Warne’s policy of attacking the opposition, which is commendable. He needs to rely less on himself though and put a bit more faith in the younger players at his disposal, like Tomlinson and Dawson. Lamb was a rather defensive pick in my opinion, perhaps the prospect of playing Sussex contributed to his selection. David Griffiths meanwhile has shown himself to be more than capable of filling the shoes of a pace bowler in pre-season, so Hampshire are well covered in that respect for now. They will also have Sean Ervine back for the weekend match at Taunton, and more importantly, to cover Mascarenhas’ two week absence in May. It remains to be seen how the batting line up performs tomorrow, but the early loss of Carberry will not help matters. With Brown, Adams and Lamb still to come, Sussex will be confident of establishing a lead, although John Crawley and Nic Pothas will provide stout opposition.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

2008 Season Preview: Warwickshire

Continuing our county previews, here is an assessment of Warwickshire's chances in 2008.

2007 in a Nutshell:
The season began impressively enough, with an early 12-match unbeaten streak in all competitions, with locum overseas player Dale Steyn most impressive. However, when he left the side began a steep downward curve. Despite getting to the semis of the FP Trophy, their season was amongst the worst in their history, with relegation in the Championship and Pro40 alike.

2008 Prospects
A hectic winter under Director of Cricket Ashley Giles will hopefully lead to rewards. Alex Loudon, he of the 'doosra' and a solitary England appearance, retired aged just 27, to take up a career in the city, while Adam Shantry headed to Glamorgan. Giles has reshaped the bowling attack but there are big question marks over each of Boyd Rankin, overseas man Monde Zondeki and veteran leg-spinner Ian Salisbury, who was surprisingly awarded a two-year contract. The best signing of all may just be Allan Donald as bowling coach. Overall, the feeling is Warwickshire may lack the penetration and consistency of runs to win promotion in the Championship. In the one-day game, it could prove a similar story: Tim Ambrose was their best one-day batsman last year, but he will surely miss the vast majority of games.


Warwickshire's batting let them down too frequently last season, despite the admirable efforts of Darren Maddy. However, in Division Two the axis of Maddy, Johnathan Trott and Jim Troughton should prove prolific. Trott and Troughton have both had fleeting international careers, but have much to do to get near adding to their caps. While Troughton did well enough last campaign, Trott, in between his slightly baffling England appearances, averaged less than 20 in the Championship. The openers, Mike Powell and Ian Westwood, should also have some success. But a man who has a huge job on his hands is the unretired Tony Frost, who returns to keep wicket while Ambrose continues his international career. The hardest thing will be to come close to replacing Ambrose's runs.

Monde Zondeki is best remembered to Englishmen for a tenacious debut half-century at Headingley in 2003. He is an intriguing pick as overseas player; a brilliant start could lead to an irritating call-up to the South Africa touring squad once more, though he should stay until the end of the season. Donald could have a tremendous influence on him. Likewise Rankin, who starred in the World Cup, but suffered with injuries and, according to some, attitude, for Derbyshire last year. There are a series of other quicks - Tahir, James Anyon, Lee Daggett and Neil Carter - who have all produced the occasional fine performance, while there is also highly-rated Scottish quick Calum MacLeod. But one of them has to step up and claim 50 Championship wickets this season. With the uncertainties over the seam attack, expect the spinners to have large workloads. Ian Salisbury had a dire final season at Surrey, but was a key factor in their promotion in 2006. Ant Botha's Derbyshire first-class averages - 28 with the bat; 36 with the ball - suggests he is little more than a journeyman.

Probable side:
Powell (Bell)
Maddy (c)
Frost (wk) (Ambrose)

Maddy (c)
Powell (Bell)
Frost (wk) (Ambrose)
Rankin (Anyon)

Maddy (c)
Frost (wk) (Ambrose)

Warwickshire will probably line up with two spinners in the majority of games, as both Botha and Salisbury are handy batsmen. Their strength lies in the middle-order trio of Darren Maddy, Johnathan Trott and Jim Troughton. Sanath Jayasuriya will add an explosive dimension to the Twenty20 side - but his uber-canny left-arm spin could prove equally significant.

Key Man:
Skipper Darren Maddy could not be faulted for his efforts last season. He is invaluable in all three forms of the game, contributing runs, wickets, with his canny bowling, and fine fielding. His partnership with Jayasuriya in the Twenty20 Cup, may be the Bears best chance of silverware.

Rising Star:
His star rather waned last season, but many eyes will be on 6ft7in Boyd Rankin in his first season for Warwickshire. He possesses tremendous bounce, good pace and consistency when all is going well, and was terrific against Pakistan, South Africa and England in the World Cup. At 23, he now needs to develop the stamina to perform over a full season, for the good of both Warwickshire and Irish cricket. There were complaints over his attitude at Derbyshire - if he does not heed Allan Donald's advice however, he will only have himself to blame.

Captain and Coach:
Alongside Giles and Donald will be Dougie Brown, as the rather pretentiously-titled 'elite player coach'. The spectre of the mid-90s glory days looms large. Maddy will have rather more realistic goals during what is a time of 'transition' for Warwickshire.

Click on '2008 county preview' to view the previews for the other 17 counties.

2008 Season Preview: Lancashire

Continuing our series of county previews, Ben Fyffe analyses Lancashire's chances in 2008.

2007 in a nutshell
Perhaps feel they should have won the Championship but the wait continues for the red rose county. 4th in Pro40 League One wasn’t a bad result but the FP Trophy performance was nothing short of poor. Reaching the semi-finals in the T20 was nothing to be ashamed of.

Best Performers
Batting: SG Law – 1277 runs @ 63.85.
Bowling: M Muralitharan – 51 wickets @ 18.66.

Limited Overs (not including T20)
Batting: BJ Hodge – 439 runs @ 87.80.
Bowling: SI Mahmood – 20 wickets @ 17.65.

Worst Performers
SJ Croft – this lad isn’t going anywhere quick, his 4 wickets came at 51.75 each while he scored 323 runs @ 21.53.

Limited Overs
DG Cork – a surprise choice but he is far too expensive to be considered a limited overs bowler anymore, 5 wickets at 51.20.

Strongest XI
PJ Horton
IJ Sutcliffe (MJ Chilton)
BJ Hodge
MB Loye (F du Plessis)
SG Law
A Flintoff (DG Cork)
LD Sutton+
G Chapple
SI Mahmood (TCP Smith)
G Keedy (SD Parry)
JM Anderson (OJ Newby)

Limited Overs
GD Cross+ (PJ Horton)
MB Loye
BJ Hodge
SG Law
A Flintoff (DG Cork)
F du Plessis
SJ Croft
G Chapple
SI Mahmood (TCP Smith)
G Keedy (SD Parry)
JM Anderson (KW Hogg).

The sides will not be especially settled, with Flintoff and Anderson likely to spend significant periods away with England (unless they are injured). Furthermore, Lancashire have a large squad and an element of rotation and 'horses for courses' is expected to give them the best possible chance of finally claiming their eighth outright Championship.

Openers: Paul Horton stepped up to the plate last season in place of Iain Sutcliffe at the top of the order. However, with Mark Chilton having resigned as skipper, expect Horton and Sutcliffe to be given the opportunity to develop their partnership.

Middle Order: Strong. Hodge and Loye are proven run-getters; and Stuart Law often looks in a class of his own against Championship attacks. Andrew Flintoff may play more often for Lancs this season in his bid to get match fit. Francois du Plessis, a highly rated Pretorian, is the only new signing at Old Trafford over the winter and will push for a place in this area. At full strength, there is perhaps no better middle-order quartet in county cricket.

Wicketkeeper: Luke Sutton will start as keeper but Paul Horton also keeps and Gareth Cross has done so as well. Sutton’s poor one day record should cost him his limited overs place.

Fast Bowlers: If he plays, Flintoff will hope to take wickets with his international pace. It seems to me that Dominic Cork is ready to be replaced in the team. Assuming England stop preferring James Anderson to Matthew Hoggard, he could spearhead the fast bowling attack this summer for Lancs. Sajid Mahmood has a point to prove, while Glen Chapple is one of the most highly respected bowlers in the league. Backup comes from Tom Smith, Oliver Newby and Kyle Hogg.

Spinners: Gary Keedy is the only recognised spinner at Old Trafford - a stern one day operator and often miserly in the Championship. Stephen Parry is a promising youngster, who may get a chance if Keedy is injured. There is no Murali though.

Key Man: Stuart Law, if he doesn’t get runs then the top order could be susceptible to collapse. He is in his 40th year, but is nonetheless still amongst the most-prized wickets in the county game. His hunger for runs continues to astound and the captaincy could yet bring even more out of him.

Rising Star: Francois du Plessis comes with praise from South Africa and if there are injuries in the middle order, he could realise his potential on English soil, with the South African selectors in town towards the back end of the season.

Captain and Coach: Mike Watkinson is a respected coach and a Lancashire man to the core, but he will be working alongside a new man. Veteran Stuart Law was a tremendously successful Queensland skipper and captained them to their first ever Sheffield Shield triumph, so he knows all about ending long waits for titles. Can these figureheads inspire the team to recover from the disappointment of last season's glorious failure?

2008 Prospects: They have a chance of winning the title of course, but this team isn’t getting any younger and there are other teams who could sneak up on the outside. Their one day prospects don’t look especially spectacular.

Test XI of 2007-2008

With the batting order already set out, the bowling line up for the statistical side of the year is revealed...

Top 6 Opening Bowlers (Last 12 Months – Minimum 5 Games)

Steyn (SAF) - ave 16.24 / s/r 28.90 / eco 3.36
Lee (AUS) - ave 20.57 / s/r 42.2 / eco 2.92

Sidebottom (ENG) - ave 25.39 / s/r 54.10 / eco 2.81
Vaas (SRL) - ave 25.50 / s/r 54.10 / eco 2.82
Zhan (IND) - ave 25.52 / s/r 48.50 / eco 3.15
Martin (NZL) - ave 26.90 / s/r 51.80 / eco 3.11

Top 3 First Change Bowlers (Last 12 Months – Minimum 5 Games)

Clark (AUS) - ave 31.00 / s/r 64.00 / eco 2.90
M. Morkel (SAF) - ave 31.35 / s/r 50.90 / eco 3.69
R.P. Singh (IND) - ave 39.32 / s/r 58.30 / eco 4.04

(Chris Tremlett (ENG) (ave 29.69 / s/r 66.00 / eco 2.69) was the best performing first change bowler of the year, but only played three matches versus India)

Top 3 Spinners (Last 12 Months – Minimum 5 Games)

Muralitharan (SRL) - ave 24.39 / s/r 54.50 / eco 2.68
Panesar (ENG) - ave 31.40 / s/r 63.80 / eco 2.95
Harris (SAF) - ave 31.66 / s/r 54.5 / eco 2.62

So the Test XI of 2007-2008, as indicated by the statistics, is as follows:

Virender Sehwag (IND)
Neil McKenzie (SAF)
Kumar Sangakkara (SRL)
Mahela Jayawardene (c) (SRL)
Shivnarine Chanderpaul (WIN)
Andrew Symonds (AUS)
Kamran Akmal (wk) (PAK)
Brett Lee (AUS)
Stuart Clark (AUS)
Dale Steyn (SAF)
Muttiah Muralitharan (SRL)

Some Thoughts...

The immediately striking feature of this list is that it contains not one single England player. Furthermore, only Alistair Cook made it into the top three for any one position in the batting line up. On the bowling front both Ryan Sidebottom (who but for many a dropped catch would have been in the XI) and Monty Panesar put in good showings. Furthermore, both Chris Tremlett and Stuart Broad would have figured were it not for their lack of games over the past twelve months. This indicates well where England's problems, the batting line up should be under careful scrutiny over the coming months.

The wicket keeping situation is of particular interest also. The three leading run scoring wicket keepers are not the three best wicket keepers in terms of dismissals. Whilst the number of chances created, types of chances created and type of bowler kept to obviously effect these statistics, it is still an interesting point. Most cricket fans would take Gilchrist or McCullum over Akmal, Prior or Dhoni.

Neil McKenzie and Virender Sehwag have obviously benefitted from flat tracks this past year, with a double hundred and triple hundred scored by each respecitively on the same placid wicket. However, this is a statistical XI and to have compiled such vast innings takes huge amounts of concentration, desire and skill. Matthew Hayden and Younus Khan meanwhile would have pipped McKenzie and Kumar Sangakkara, were it not for the latter two's cash-in games against Bangladesh.

Mahela Jayawardene (even discounting games against Bangladesh) and Shivnarine Chanderpaul were the stand out batsmen of the year. Both of them taumented England at different stages in the year and have shown an aptitude for not giving their wickets away. They are two batsmen deserving of the utmost respect and it would have beeen interesting to see how they would have performed in the Australian side over the past decade.

Andrew Symonds has emerged as an integral cog in the Australian middle order. For the purposes of this review only his batting was considered, but he did also boast an average of 25.27 and strike rate of 55.60 with the ball in the last twelve months. When put together with his superbly athletic fielding, he is a formidable package indeed, being able to bowl both accurate and swinging medium pace and off-spinners as well.

Dale Steyn's figures meanwhile deserve a remark. To take 78 wickets in 12 months is remarkable, even if 14 of those came in Bangladesh. He is a frightening prospect who appears to be realising his potential and the upcoming tours of England and Australia will show just how good he, and team mate Morne Morkel, are.

The final comment must be about the spin bowling department. There is no surprise about the leader here, but some concerning second and third. Both England and South Africa have notoriously been missing a quality spinner for well in excess of a decade. Monty Panesar and Paul Harris share much in common. They are out and out spin bowlers and do not pretend to be multi-faceted cricketers, although they do work hard. They have both done well to come in well ahead of Daniel Vettori, Harbajhan Singh and Danish Kaneria, although Anil Kumble was close (ave 32.68 / s/r 61.50/ eco 3.18). Meanwhile, the Australian spin bowling duo of Stuart MacGill and Brad Hogg, did not manage to average below 60 with the ball. The Australian seamers have so far been good enough to make up for this failing, but will that continue? We shall have to wait and see.

Monday, 14 April 2008

My Five to Watch

Here in my first year as a cricket blogger I am going to pick five players from the county scene and tell you to watch out for them season. I am not going to look just at young players, but perhaps the older players who have not shone yet – or maybe even an old pro, who may have the season of a career. As my interest is generally in the domestic game, I am going to stick to that.

1) Rikki Clarke (Derbys) – having been essentially a fringe player at Surrey for a few years, Clarke finally looked to have pushed into the first XI last season, however, he ended up playing only 10 championship matches. Having finally accepted his medium pace bowling is never going to be a threat, he appears to be concentrating on his batting. However, an average of only 23 was not good enough to keep him at Surrey – and the revolution that is Derbyshire quickly snapped him up. I see a fruitful season ahead for him, named as captain and likely to have no issues over selection, this could be a big season for the perennial underachiever.

2) Steven Finn (Middx) – perhaps a predictable one this, but you just cannot ignore a 6’ 8” fast bowler! Having already played 5 first class matches and boasting a highly impressive bowling average of 20.50 (16 wickets) this could be a big season for the young Londoner. He probably won’t be in the first XI at the start of the season, but expect to see his name around, and he is my pick to emulate JAR Harris of Glamorgan as young player of the year.

3) Of all of the new signings this winter, one has hardly managed to bat any eyelids at all – but could indeed be one of the shrewdest acquisitions of them all. William Porterfield has finally made the step into county cricket and I would not be surprised to see him finish near the top of the batting averages come September. Boasting a highly impressive set of averages – ODI – 59.92 (how many England players can say that); first class – 47.13 – he certainly has pedigree. I really admire Gloucestershire for taking this gamble and it is one I fully expect to pay off – especially look out for him in the one day competitions.

4) James Tredwell (Kent) – I saw Tredwell in a T20 game at Notts last season and his economic 4 overs really impressed me. The off spinner, who can also bat more than a bit, took 36 wickets at 35 last season, and I can see this getting better as he gains more experience. Never mentioned in the same breath as the words ‘England’ and ‘No. 8’, Tredwell will keep plugging away this season – do not be surprised to see him top 50 wickets this season.

5) Finally, and predictably enough, I have to include a Worcestershire player, and I am going to go for Simon Jones. This is a really big year for ‘Jonah’. He has made the break from his home county, and perhaps the break will do him the world of good. He has wintered well and if he stays fit all season he will be pushing the 75 wicket mark on a relatively new, green track at New Road. That is a heck of an ‘if’ though and it is without doubt a risk from a county that is already in some serious financial problems after the floods of 2007. All of that said however, England play the first Ashes test of 2009 at Sophia Gardens. . . incentive if ever there was any. . .

Thoughts from the first viewing (II)

Such a good title, I had to nick it to give my thoughts about the MCC v Sussex match.

I only caught days two and three, so missed the Sussex first innings collapse (though caught up with it on the SussexTV highlights) and it seems that we are still susceptible to doing this in bowler friendly conditions. . After the match, Adams said that his reason for batting was because he believed the Rose Bowl would be similar conditions and that we needed to practice in them, so I guess that is fair enough and it is clearly something we need to work on as it has been the weak point of the side for several seasons.

Onto what I did see and I must say that the signs are looking very good.


First of all, a word about Harris. Whilst it is dangerous to jump to too many conclusions on the basis of one match , he looks like he has the potential to fill the gap left by Rana. On this performance he looked to be on the quicker side of fast-medium, bowled on a good length, accurate and able to swing both the new and old ball in both directions. Whilst I can't comment on Kirby's 1st day performance, he was certainly the pick of the bowlers on show in the next two days.

Lewry only bowled 6 overs, didn't feature on day 2 and is out for at least two weeks, having picked up a leg injury. He will be missed but perhaps it is better that this happened here than at the Rose Bowl.

Martin-Jenkins was his usual steady self and made the batsmen play more often than not. He picked up the wicket of Foster, who unfortunately looked very badly out of sorts at the moment.

Luke Wright bowled with fire, as both Shah and Kirby will testify, but on the whole perhaps a little too short and not quite accurate enough to make the batsmen play on a regular basis but certainly signs of improvement on previous years and will be a very useful option as 4th seamer in the regular season.

The two new boys also performed creditably. Aga picked up the wicket of Tredwell and impressed many with the swing he generated. Perhaps his miracle ball against Glamorgan earlier in the pre-season is something he can produce on a regular basis. Beer showed great temperament after being hit for two 4s in quick succession by Harinath, gaining immediate revenge by having him caught by Prior with what looked from side on to be a top spinner or googly.


Like many, I was a bit surprised at Hopkinson's inclusion ahead of Hodd but given the management's recent record on such calls, it would be wrong to make to many criticisms. The reason is Hodd's lack of opening experience, so he is likely to be opening for the 2ndXI and will certainly be pressing for a reversal of the decision.

The other opening position will not be up for grabs for a while yet. Nash showed that he has grown into the role after a creditable performance last year by following the first innings top score with a well crafted 90.

Of Shreck's three victims, both Yardy and Prior looked to be in decent nick before misjudgements gave their wickets away but Adams, who can be a relatively slow starter in a season, looked less fluent. He was a little early on his shot the penultimate ball of his innings and very early on his dismissal, lobbing a gentle catch back to the bowler. Perhaps some credit to the bowler there as it did look a slightly slower delivery and he may have been bowling for it.

It is unlikely Wright will ever have a chanceless knock of any substance but after a few wafts and scares early on (some sweetly timed shots too) he got his head down set about building a fine innings. Plenty of power and placement and unfazed by a rain break, completed a fine century just before tea (and more rain) by hammering three fours off an Onions over. On the next resumption he set off his own brand fireworks for the very few who stayed to the death.

Martin-Jenkins also showed his ability with the bat with a half century at almost a run a ball, comfortably outscoring Wright in a 100 partnership. He should perhaps have been stumped in his 20s, when he dragged his foot out of the crease to Tredwell (the pick of the MCC attack by a long way in the second innings) but he was fortunate that Foster rather grabbed at the ball in his haste. However, this was pretty much the only chance offered in a typically aggressive innings.


Before Lewry's injury it was pretty certain that Aga and Beer would be the ones to make way for Goodwin and Mushtaq in the upcoming Hampshire match but the former is probably now in a three way battle with Kirtley and Liddle, who was very impressive bowling off a short run in the nets to Goodwin. It is a tough choice but not an unpleasant one and whichever it is will add another dimension to what already looks to be a good attack in fine form. If the batting can overcome its first innings woes, with Wright and RMJ at 7 and 8 and three bowlers who at least know how to bat a bit, there is enough depth to have confidence against any county bowling attack.

Test XI of 2007-2008

With a new domestic season fast approaching here in England, we take a brief look back on the last 12 months and the top performers at Test level, using those wonderful statistics...

Top 6 Test Openers (Last 12 Months – Minimum 5 Games)

McKenzie (SAF) - ave 77.62
Sehwag (IND) - ave 73.11

Hayden (AUS) - ave 62.87
Jaques (AUS) - ave 56.10
Smith (SAF) - ave 55.35
Cook (ENG) - ave 43.72

Top 3 Number 3 Batsmen (Last 12 Months – Minimum 5 Games)

Sangakkara (SRL) - ave 96.63
Khan (PAK) - ave 58.33
Amla (SAF) - ave 51.57

Top 3 Number 4 Batsmen (Last 12 Months – Minimum 5 Games)

Jayawardene (SRL) - ave 84.92
Kallis (SAF) - ave 76.68
Hussey (AUS) - ave 73.87

Top 3 Number 5 Batsmen (Last 12 Months – Minimum 5 Games)

Chanderpaul (WIN) - ave 91.44
Misbah-ul-haq (PAK) - ave 78.71
Clarke (AUS) - ave 66.50

Top 3 Number 6 Batsmen (Last 12 Months – Minimum 5 Games)

Symonds (AUS) - ave 85.50
De Villiers (SAF) - ave 54.26
Laxman (IND) - ave 53.35

Top 3 Batting Wicketkeepers (Last 12 Months – Minimum 5 Games)

Akmal (PAK) - ave 42.30 (3 ct per match / 0.33 st)
Prior (ENG) - ave 40.14 (2.8 ct per match / 0 st)
Dhoni (IND) - ave 37.47 (1.93 ct per match / 0.36 st)

Top 3 Dismissal Wicketkeepers (Last 12 Months – Minimum 5 Games)

Gilchrist (AUS) - ave 31.00 - 5.83 dismissals per match (5.83 ct / 0 st)
McCullum (NZL) - ave 27.33 - 4.43 dismissals per match (4.43 ct / 0 st)
Ramdin (WIN) - ave 18.00 - 3.44 dismissals per match (3.33 ct / 0.11 st)

Come back for the bowling line up and comment...

Tame draw, but...

A good workout for the players.

The bowlers all had good spells, and it was nice to see Greg Smith and Nayan Doshi bowling long spells on what appeared a slow and docile pitch. No bad thing to get into an early groove.
Also good to see James Pipe and Graeme Wagg in the runs. If they could both make 500 this year it will make a huge difference and it is well within their capabilities. Both have a habit of going for their shots too early, but both can take a game away from opponents very quickly in doing so.

I'd like to get Tom Lungley back in the side asap as he can also be a dogged tail end batsman. I know its a different level, but he did score a double hundred in local league cricket not that long ago, and is a fair bat.

Mind you, if the top eight don't score, should you expect 9, 10, jack to do so?

I would like to see us play two spinners in one day matches, as they'll often slow the scoring when the seamers are going all over the place. For what its worth, my ideal one day side for this year would be as played in this first match, except I'd substitute the eagerly hoped for Langeveldt for Hunter, and on occasion play Needham instead of Lungley. This is more to give a very good and talented seamer a break when the wicket allows it than becase I don't rate him. We would still have Dean, Wagg, Langeveldt, Smith and Clarke to bowl seam, plus the two spinners.

Indeed, the presence of all rounders in Clarke, Wagg and Smith - all of them genuine, rather than batsman who bowl and vice versa, may be a big factor this season. I can't wait for things to start ...

Saturday, 12 April 2008

2008 Season Preview: Worcestershire

Continuing our series of county previews, here is an assessment of Worcestershire's chances in 2008.

2007 in a Nutshell:
Again, like normal, 2007 was a mixed season for Worcestershire! Relegated from the First Division in the County Championship, finished champions in the Pro40 Division One, had another disappointing T20 effort and made a fairly poor attempt in the Friends Provident Trophy, would be how the season went in terms of cricket played.

Best Performances

Batting – Graeme Hick, again – 963 runs at an average above his age – 42 - (only just!)
Bowling – Kabir Ali – over 50 wickets at 22 – standout bowler once again

Limited Overs
Batting – Graeme Hick – an average of over 70, what more can be said!
Bowling – Kabir – an average of 19 – brilliant.

Worst Displays

Phil Jaques – only 500 first class runs from the overseas “star”
Gareth Batty – only 8 one day wickets at 55. Awful.

Probable side:

County Championship
Mitchell, Moore, Solanki*, Smith, Hick, Davies+, Batty, Kabir, S. Jones, Magoffin/Edwards, Mason

One Day Games
Davies+, Solanki*, Moeen, Smith, Hick, Mitchell, Batty, Kabir, S. Jones, Magoffin/Edwards, Mason

Openers: Mitchell and Moore formed a pretty decent partnership towards the end of last season, they will look to consolidate this early on in the season. With no real openers in back up, attention could turn to Solanki or perhaps the promising Moeen Ali to step up should Mitchell or Moore look out of touch early on.

Middle Order: As has been the case at Worcestershire for the last 20 years, Graeme Hick is key here. Although he has moved down from 3 to 5, he still nearly topped 1000 runs last year and will be looking to do that this year, as many think this could be his last. Ben Smith is not getting any younger either and with players such as Moeen Ali and the young Dutchman, Alexei Kervezee, waiting in the wings, the pressure will be on early doors.

Wicketkeeper: There is no doubt here – Steven Davies. Although he didn’t enjoy too profitable a year with the bat – just 690 runs at exactly 30 and with no centuries, Davies will be looking to shake that off and put himself back into England contention. He is, however, an almost faultless wicketkeeper – responsible for 47 dismissals last season – a good effort from a keeper in a team who often failed to bowl the opposition out twice. Backup will come from Josh Knappett – an Oxbridge graduate who has impressed in the second team.

Fast Bowlers: This is where we really struggled last year and Kabir would have often been seen bowling 20 odd over’s in a row. However, this year we hopefully have a bit more depth than in previous seasons. The overseas combination of Magoffin and Fidel Edwards will be interesting – and could work out really well with Magoffin bowling on green tops early on in the season and Edwards bowling on the harder, bouncier tracks later on. Simon Jones is an incredible acquisition and with a full pre season behind him looks fit and ready to go – maybe a stab at the Ashes in 2009? Matt Mason is also hopefully fit again, after missing all of last season with a shoulder injury. He will probably start the season in the team, but will face competition from youngsters Richard Jones, Gareth Andrew and Chris Whelan.

Spinners: Gareth Batty was the main spinner last season and with the departure of Ray Price, looks as though he will be again. He was ineffective in one dayers, but economical and probing in the championship and will thrive playing on second division pitches – most notably going back to the spinner’s paradise at Northampton! His poor performance in one dayers last year may mean that one of the younger spinners – David Wheeldon, or Moeen Ali - will get a chance to shine in the shorter version of the game.

Key Man: Difficult to say. It would be easy to say Graeme Hick, as although he is going to be 42 this season, when he scores runs, we tend to win matches. However I am going to go for Kabir Ali. Over 50 wickets in the championship last year, he has developed into a very mature bowler as well as a very, very useful lower order batsman. He is key to the bowling attack and to get promoted we will need to win a lot of matches – and to do that we need to bowl teams out twice – something we cannot do without the male model on top form. Do not be surprised if he “does a Sidebottom” in the next couple of years.

Rising Star: Last year this would have gone to Steven Davies, or maybe Darryl Mitchell, however, both of these are now pretty much cemented in the team. For this reason I am going to go for Moeen Ali. He got a fair crack of the whip towards the end of last year and if one of the top 4 or 5 start badly this time around, he will be chomping at the bit to get in. Also look out for young Dutchman, “the new Graeme Hick”, Alexei Kervezee.

Captain and Coach: Steve ‘Bumpy’ Rhodes and Vikram Solanki. Bumpy’s first season was a tumultuous one – as if replacing the legendary Tom Moody needed to get any harder he then had to face the prospect of playing every match away from New Road for the last 1/3 of the season. Interesting to see how he develops, however his iconic status at New Road will ensure he gets time. Vikkers, now entering his 3rd season as captain, has flourished in the role and, assured of his place in the team for both forms of the game, will be looking to lead his team to at least one trophy this year and himself to 1000 runs for only the 3rd time.

2008 Prospects: Again, I would say that our best chance is in the championship as our team looks set up for that and promotion back to the top tier has to be the priority. Lack of investment in real "stars" means the T20 is out of the window and the other limited over’s competitions are of little real importance anyway. If our key players – Solanki, Hick, Kabir and Simon Jones – all play well, then we will walk the second division and maybe even get to a Lord's Final.

Championship (Div 2) - 2nd
Pro40 (Div 1) - 4th
T20 - Group Stage
Friends Provident - Group Stage

We are still looking for Warwickshire and Lancashire previews to complete a full set (the other 16 counties' previews are already on the site). If you fancy giving them a go, do email :it would be much appreciated!

2008 Season Preview: Leicestershire

Continuing our series of county previews, here is an assessment of Leicestershire's chances in 2008.

2007 in a Nutshell:
Awful! Leicestershire finished second bottom in the County Championship, third bottom in the Pro40 and failed to make it out of the group stages of the two cup competitions. We've been a team in decline for the past decade, but few of us expected such a uncompetitive season, which has to go down as among the worst in our history.

A lot of the blame must be put onto the coach and recruitment committee. The overseas player appointments were both bizarre and badly thought out. RP Singh is a talented bowler, but was never going to be available to us for long because of the Indian tour of England. I don't understand why we set out to sign a bowler who was available to us for only a month! Mansoor Amjad on the other hand was just not ready for the demands of county cricket and should never have been offered a contact while he still had so much to learn.

The mid-season axing of Darren Robinson, the decision to appoint Snape as a specialist one day captain and the panic signings of Arno Jacobs and Garnett Kruger also contributed to a very disjointed team. These decisions coupled with a few injuries and a worrying lack of depth meant we never built up any momentum and struggled from week to week. In all honesty we gave up after the Twenty20 cup was washed out and were lucky not to finish bottom.

Probable side:
County Championship
New, Boyce, Ackerman, Dippenaar, Allenby, Nixon+*, DuPreez, Henderson, Malik, Lawson, Kruger.
One Day Games
New, Ackerman, Dippenaar, Allenby, Nixon+*, Boyce, Snape, Henderson, DuPreez, Lawson, Kruger

It looks like we'll go in with quite an inexperienced opening pair this season, which could be a cause for concern. Tom New is a sure starter having had a very solid 2007 season, but he needs to convert his starts into big scores if he's going to progress as a cricketer. Matthew Boyce looks likely to partner him, but his first team outings and indeed his second XI games, haven't shown much in the way of performances and he could face pressure from 18 year old James Taylor.

Middle Order:
HD Ackerman, Boeta Dippenaar and Jim Allenby will fill the middle order slots and much will be expected of them this season. A lot rests on the two South Africans because they are the only two players with a pedigree of scoring hundreds. If we are to score big totals then realistically one of them will have to get in and make a big knock. Allenby had a solid first full season, but its thought that he can do better with the talent at his disposal.

There are no doubts about Paul Nixon after he enjoyed a fantastic 2007 season. He has the added burden of captaincy this season but that's unlikely to effect his performance because he has always risen to the big occasion and coped well under pressure. Tom New and young Joel Pope can also keep wicket, so it's quite a strong area for the foxes.

Fast Bowlers:
The quick bowling department looks potentially menacing and should cause problems for many. Lawson and Kruger both have international honours and DuPreez is the leading wicket taker in SA domestic cricket this season. The fourth seamer's position is up for grabs with Nadeem Malik, Ryan Cummins and Daniel Rowe all challenging each other. It's hoped that this competition will lead players to spur each other on.

There are some good one day spinners at the club with Claude Henderson and Jeremy Snape impressing in limited overs games in recent years. The concern is that they lack the penetration and tools to take wickets in the first class arena. Young Jigar Naik may be given a chance if Henderson proves to be as ineffective as in last season's County Championship.

Key Man:
HD Ackerman will be the key man for us this season. He looks like the only batsman capable of exploiting the fielding restrictions in one day games and will be instrumental if we are to have another good Twenty20 cup. He badly underperformed last season and the results show. If he can get back to his 2006 form then we'll be a hard to beat side.

Rising Star:
James Taylor has rejoined the county from Worcestershire and has bags of talent. He was among the top runs scorers in the recent U19 world cup and with a decent strike rate too. He may have to wait for his chance but could make an impression.

Captain and Coach:
Tim Boon and Paul Nixon have both signed on until 2010 which on the face of it looks like a good move as it ensures some stability. I have no qualms about Paul Nixon being captain as for most of last season it was like he was playing on his own anyway. His enthusiasm on the field and his little quirks and theories about the game could pay off. I'm not so sure about Tim Boon though who seems to have put his hat in for every top job going. He hasn't impressed so far and will need a good season.

2008 Prospects:
It's difficult to say. We've signed some genuine match winners in Dippenaar, DuPreez, Kruger and Lawson. We have better individuals than last year and if they blend together then we could cause a surprise or two. We probably lack the depth for what will be a tough County Championship season, but may fancy our chances in limited overs cricket.

We are still looking for Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Lancashire previews to complete a full set (the other 15 counties are already on the site). If you fancy giving them a go, do email :it would be much appreciated!

Friday, 11 April 2008

Thoughts from the first viewing...

Well, I'm safely back home after seeing my first cricket of the season, the pre-season game between Derbyshire and Notts.

To be honest, I didn't expect more play after I left with the score 84-5 and the combined temperature of my Dad, son and I slightly less. There were a number of bobble hats on display in the field and my sympathy went out to slip fielders taking sharp catches in such conditions. Summer game?!

We arrived late and Dan Birch was already out. John Sadler looked solid, then came a first sight of the small yet stocky frame of Dominic Telo. He made only a single, but can rarely have faced such conditions. A greater contrast to Cape Town would have been hard to find, but Telo will have learned from the experience, and a faster than run a ball 50 against Northants suggests he will be an asset.

Rikki Clarke looked a fine player and was little troubled by the substantial deviation of the ball, vertically and horizontally. Greg Smith misjudged the line and looked lbw from where we sat at backward point, so the umpire had an easy decision. Stubbo ground it out as he always does and Pipe struck three fours from Graeme Swann in one over before the rain came.

I'm not sure what John Morris will have got from the game, except the hope for better pitches as the season progresses. I'm confident that we will be more competitive this year. If we can get a run of results together, who knows where it may lead?

2008 Season Preview: Nottinghamshire

Continuing our series of county previews, here is an assessment of Nottinghamshire's chances in 2008.

2007 in a Nutshell:
A more than satisfactory season given a lengthy spell where 6 seamers were injured, leaving Notts scraping around other counties for stand ins. Without all the injuries, a title might have been possible, but promotion was more than acceptable. Key performances were from David Hussey and Stephen Fleming (second half of the season), with Samit Patel finally forcing a regular place in the side after some consistently high scores in the seconds. In the bowling department, Ryan Sidebottom proved what Notts fans already knew, that he would do a sterling job for England and he was ably backed by Charlie Shreck. Perhaps one of the more unexpected successes was Mark Wagh, who was expected by many to simply be a filler, but turned out to be a consistently high performer.

2008 Prospects:
Whilst Notts knew that they would be without Ryan Sidebottom for most of the season, few expected Stuart Broad, our new signing, to be selected as a regular too at such short notice prior to the start of the new season. This left Notts with only really Charlie Shreck as a key wicket taker, putting them in a precarious position. The signing of Darren Pattinson just a few weeks before the start of the season has given fans hope that we may survive in the top division, though he is a bit of an unknown quantity. As a swing bowler he may well have some success in our cloudy country. With David Hussey joining the controversial IPL and being selected by the Aussies, it looks at though Notts overseas player for the year will be Adam Voges, who looks a useful signing. Whilst new Notts Captain Chris Read has stated that they will be chasing a title, I think Notts fans would be satisfied with a mid table position this year.

For a few seasons now, one of Notts problems has been the lack of consistency of the opening batsman, often leaving the likes of Pietersen and Hussey to bail us out lower down the order. After the popular Darren Bicknell finally hung up his boots (and often picked up his pint at Trent Bridge), it was only a matter of time before we said farewell to Jason Gallian too, as he departs to Essex. Bicknell’s replacement, Will Jefferson, performed well last season, though he suffered a few injuries, he still looks a good signing. It remains to be seen whether Gallian’s replacement, Matthew Wood, can do the same. It’s hoped that Mark Wagh can carry last seasons form through and that Samit Patel continues to improve. If he does it can’t be too long before he also strengthens England whilst further depleting Notts! Of course the big ‘downer’ this year is the loss of David Hussey to the IPL. With him now being called up by the Aussies too, it looks unlikely we will see him this season, but hopefully his replacement, Adam Voges, will fill the role of the Huss.

This season is probably also important for Bilal Shafayat, who only a few years ago was being feted as an England player but now struggles to break into the first team. Whilst undoubtedly talented, this could be his make or break year.

As mentioned earlier, this is the key area for Notts this season. With the batting line up looking reasonably strong, most Notts fans last year probably felt that if we could get a good replacement for Sidebottom, we would be in with a shot of the title, so when Stuart Broad was signed that looked done and dusted. However, with his call up and the possibility of losing Graeme Swann for a few games too, it left the bowling with just Charlie Shreck to open, backed by the steady Mark Ealham, who must surely now be in his last season, Paul Franks who can take wickets but is so inconsistent, AJ Harris who must also be near the end of his career and Mark Footitt, who looks a promising youngster, but has suffered injuries and has yet to deliver. A couple of local youngsters have also been signed but it is probably too soon for them.

When Broad was called up late on, this left the management with little time to find a replacement and finally Grimsby born Aussie, Darren Pattinson, was signed. He is an unknown who plays in Victoria with David Hussey and is a swing bowler, which could work at Trent Bridge. He could be the difference between staying in the division and not.

Probable side:
Read (wk) (c)
Broad (Franks when Broad not available)
Sidebottom (Pattinson when Sid not available)

Also looking to break into the side are Mark Footitt, Bilal Shafayat, AJ Harris, Rob Ferley and possible a couple of youngsters.

One-day and Twenty20
Read (wk) (c)
Broad (Franks when Broad not available)
Sidebottom (Pattinson when Sid not available)

Without Hussey, Sidebottom and Broad, it’s unlikely that Notts will have a great deal of success in the 20/20 and they will probably be mid table in the one day game. As with the County Championship, I suspect most fans will be satisfied with some decent performances and a mid table position.

Key Man:
It has to be Darren Pattinson. Whilst our batting looks fairly solid, if Pattinson fails to perform, Notts will struggle to take the wickets needed to win games.

Rising Star:
Samit Patel . After a great first season last year, where he performed so consistently it felt like he’d always been in the side, he needs to continue his form and an England call up can’t be too far away, though probably not this year. Mark Footitt, a fast bowler, also has some potential, but injuries and inconsistency have blighted his career to date. He is a bit of an unknown for now.

Captain and Coach:
Although like all managers Mick Newell has come in for some stick, on the whole, the fans seem to be behind him. A shrewd manager rather than an outspoken one, Mick quietly seems to get on with building a winning side. The only doubt sometimes expressed is whether he has what it takes to turn things around when they aren’t going well.