Thursday, 30 October 2008

Laxman's time is now

VVS Laxman has long been regarded as brilliant and infuriating in equal measure. How can a player who has consistently put Australia to the sword in a manner only Lara and Tendulkar can rival in the last decade have had to endure constant speculation about his place in the side? Why has he been unable to dominate others in the way he does them?

But now, finally, Laxman has the opportunity to step out of the shadow of the fab four: to establish himself as the best batsman in the Indian side. In the last eighteen months, he averages a formidable 57, with his excellance asserting itself more consistently. And no easy runs, either: these Tests have been against Australia, England, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Laxman's qualities are equally apparent against pace and spin alike. His expertly compiled 79 at Perth earlier this year paved the way for India's incredible Test win there. In Sri Lanka a few months ago, the fab four suffered a slow and painful death at the hands of Messrs Murali and Mendis. Laxman was by no means immune from this, but his panache and concentration put the others to shame: he averaged 43; Dravid 24; and Tendulkar and Ganguly 16 apiece.

For all Dravid's brilliant innings over the years, it is palpable that he is in decline. With Ganguly retiring after this series, India may wish to stick with Dravid for a while longer yet. But if they are to do so, it should not be at number three.

VVS Laxman is about to turn 34; he is about to play his hundredth Test match. Yet, for all that, for all his six sublime centuries against Australia, it has been a career essentially lived in the shadows of the other three members of the fab four. In large part this has been due to his infuriating tendency to get dismissed when well set. But it is also in part because he has been hidden away at number six, to often left stranded and too late to dictate the innings' tempo.

Now that must change. Laxman has shown, during his limited opportunities, that his technique and batting style are well-suited to the pivotal role of number three. The other components of the fab four have had their best years; Laxman may yet have his in front of him. After his sublime double century, India should recognise that they must entrust Laxman with more responsibility: he has scored 13 Test hundreds, and, with several years ahead of him, 20 is eminently attainable. He has developed admirable tenacity and patience tio go with his breathtaking stroke-play. Now put Laxman in the most important position - and watch him flourish.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Stanford Substandard Series

The Stanford Super Series is underway and is yet to produce the sort of cricket that its founder was expecting.

The first Stanford Super Series has only partially lived up to its billing. It has certainly been ‘Stanford’ – the benefactor has been a ubiquitous presence, swilling beer and shaking hands with anyone available – but it has emphatically not been ‘super’.

The opening two matches have both been mere warm-ups, but they did little to help the image of the event. Turgid runscoring on a painfully slow wicket and catching incompetence must have left Sir Allen wondering about the wisdom of his investment. He will not break the American market with this sort of cricket.

Low-scoring limited overs contests can be intriguing, a game of cat and mouse where skilful batting and bowling is rewarded, but the initial Stanford warm-ups were so devoid of big hitting – England managed seven boundaries against Middlesex - that they resembled the middle overs of a 50 over match.

More significantly, the matches have been as low on quality as they have been on big hitting. No amount of excuses citing unfamiliarity with the floodlights can put a gloss on the shocking standard of catching, although Middlesex and England deserve credit for being embarrassed enough at their abject displays in the field to stay on the field to practice. Stanford looked on impassively, no doubt wishing Australia or South Africa had taken up his offer.

However, the big man should not be too critical of the teams he has invited – the wicket served up for them is so lacking in pace that fluent attacking strokeplay is virtually negated, with pacemen required to do little apart from bowl straight and spinners able to maintain 50 over sized economy rates. Some of the piles of money on offer should have been directed towards the groundsman.

If the $20m match between the Superstars and England follows the trend set so far, the one interesting element of this unsavoury series, that of players buckling under pressure will be removed.

There would have been a guilty pleasure in watching someone shell a chance that cost his team the pot of gold – that pleasure will not be had if chances are going down left, right and centre.

Twenty20 cricket retains its integrity when players perform the necessary skills under extreme pressure. This series is not overflowing with integrity and is in danger of turning to a sequence of beer matches, or rather champagne matches.

Written by Philip Oliver, a sports writer who blogs about cricket betting.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Cracks in the Aussie machine, at last?

The cricketing world have been waiting 13 years for cracks in the Aussie machine to emerge. But, having suffered a humiliating thrashing by India in the second Test, real weaknesses can finally be detected.

Most fundamentally, Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill have proved impossible to replace, especially given the injury to Bryce McGain. Cameron White is a fine cricketer, but he is a batting allrounder playing at eight: as near as Australia come to a 'bits n' pieces' man, he has taken three wickets in two Tests and has a top score of 18.

Indeed, the bowling attack currently does not look able to take 20 wickets in India conditions. Brett Lee, so exceptional since the 2005 Ashes, has been too wayward, and must step up to the plate. Mitchell Johnson has, however, risen admirably to the challenge. But an attack consiting of three quicks who had never played a Test in India, and two batting allrounders - White and Shane Watson - was always going to struggle.

The batting remains powerful, though a little less so than in recent years. Matthew Hayden, with 42 runs in four innings, is fighting against the ageing process, though people said the same after his poor 2005 Ashes. Shane Watson has the ability to make a fine Test allrounder at number six, though Australia clearly miss the multifarious talents of Andrew Symonds, axed for ill-discipline. And Brad Haddin has not yet scored a Test fifty in five games, while he is leaking more byes than Australia would like.

It should not be forgotten that, even at their peak under Steve Waugh, Australia were defeated in India in 2001, ending their world-record streak of 16 Test wins. And, of course, India ended the record-equalling streak once more as recently as January. Yet, where in 2001 Australia were undone by performances of staggering brilliance by Harbhajan Singh and VVS Laxman, the feeling this time is they are losing simply because, man-for-man, they are the inferior side.

Yet while Australia look to have a less effective outfit to win in Asia than for some time, they still have two of the finest pace bowlers in the world, in Clark and Lee, and a batting line-up that can dominate anyone. They are not quite what they once were, and it would be a surprise were they to salvage something from this series. But their side is still an outstanding one - especially in the more pace friendly conditions to be found in Australia, South Africa and England, where their next challenges lie. They are still, just about, the world's best.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Home from home

A look at how Pakistan and India playing home Tests in England can help counter the prominence of Twenty20 cricket.

The battle for survival that Test cricket faces in the Twenty20 era has been well-documented. Players, administrators and supporters all hope and believe that the longest format of the game will continue to prosper, but there has so far been a lack of action in safeguarding Test cricket’s future.

Most new proposals and developments have been associated with Twenty20, although continued trialling of the third umpire referral system and tweaking of ODI power play regulations do reveal a desire by the ICC to improve the credibility of Twenty20’s rivals.

ICC World Twenty20, IPL, ICL, Stanford 20/20 for 20 (the billionaire’s marketing department had an off-day when devising that name!) and Champions League have all sprung up during the global growth of Twenty20, but steps have finally been taken to evolve the Test game.

ECB chairman Giles Clarke has suggested that England could host Pakistan Test matches in a move that would help solve Pakistan’s problem in hosting internationals. They have not played a home Test this year and have hosted just 11 Tests since January 2005.

Clarke’s proposal is not purely altruistic – any problems caused by the transformation of a Headingley green-top into a Multan featherbed to suit the ‘home’ side would be offset by the filling of ECB coffers – but it stands out as the prime example of how Test cricket can maintain its profile.

Clarke told the Wisden Cricketer that ‘Pakistan might get a better crowd in Leeds than in Karachi’ and those who have seen the team’s vocal support in this country would not argue.

Fanatical home support would encourage Pakistan to make the move and prospective opposition would have their security fears allayed; Pakistan will remain a no-go zone in players’ minds, even if security reports give tours a green light.

Pakistan have played home Tests away from home before, in Sharjah in 2002, beating West Indies twice before being hammered twice by Australia. The first defeat, inside two days after being bowled out for 59 and 53, might leave the PCB with unhappy memories of neutral Test venues.

It would not be inconceivable for India to follow suit; recent bomb blasts nearly curtailed Australia’s tour and they suffer from a similar Test apathy to their great rivals – there must be a problem when a ground is not full to watch Sachin Tendulkar attempt to beat Brian Lara’s Test runscoring record.

Dwindling Test crowds in India are partly put down to Twenty20’s popularity, which has encouraged IPL franchises to export their product in the form of overseas exhibition matches.

Such matches should not be compared to possible overseas home Tests, as the motives are very different – the IPL models itself on the English football Premier League and IPL matches at Lord’s and the Oval would be their version of the infamous money-spinning ‘39th step’ round of Premier League matches.

Cricket fans love the traditional values of Test cricket but we must not just live in hope that the most prized form of the game will survive; the authorities need to be proactive in protecting the future of the great game.

Written by Philip Oliver, a sports writer who blogs about cricket betting.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

2008 Season Review: Derbyshire

Continuing our season reviews, here is an assessment of Derbyshire’s season.

Aprils come and go and each one brings optimism that a new dawn is breaking for Derbyshire cricket. We've had more false dawns than a Tony Orlando tribute act but this year was approached with more enthusiasm and anticipation than most.

That it failed was down to a combination of factors, the main failing being the abject one that was the highly priced Rikki Clarke. His signing was heralded with some messianic status round these parts, yet by season end he was gone to pastures new. Derbyshire Second Eleven - sorry, Warwickshire - signed him as they had done Ant Botha and Boyd Rankin before.

However you try to colour it, Clarke was a disaster. He barely made a run and rather than try to battle it out, often succumbed to a "big shot" that smacked of desperation and irresponsibility. His bowling could be threatening, but he bowls two bad balls an over and cannot keep batsmen under pressure. While he caught beautifully, his other failings meant that he had to be a brilliant captain and again he showed tactical naivety. When he left the club there was little sadness among supporters and it was no surprise when his good friend Nayan Doshi followed soon after. While asserting that his departure had nothing to do with Clarke's, Doshi felt he should be in the team. The facts suggested otherwise as the left arm spinner rarely looked dangerous. While he bowled accurately in one day matches and took a 20/20 hat trick, Doshi was no problem to a batsman prepared to work it around.

Our one day season was a disaster, especially once the 20/20 campaign got underway. An early win at Headingley promised much, but the batting desperately needed an explosive overseas star. While Wavell Hinds did quite well, we were too often several wickets down for very little. This continued in the other forms of the one- day game and until we develop a strategy for the game, the feeling remains that we will continue to struggle. As soon as the run rate gets above six an over in a run chase the panic is tangible, while bowlers struggle to keep a line and length.

Yet it was not all gloom and doom. Far from it, as we had three of the best imports in the country, all of whom are re-signed for 2009. Chris Rogers made a stackful of runs and took on the captaincy, while Charl Langeveldt evoked memories of Michael Holding with his willingness to bowl at any time and do so with energy, enthusiasm and consummate skill. Wavell Hinds never produced the big innings that we awaited, but showed enough in cameos to suggest he could be a real asset in a drier summer. His wobbling medium pace accounted for several good batsmen and he was a great asset in the dressing room.

Elsewhere, Graham Wagg was again as good as any all-rounder in the country. If he worked on his batting a little more he could do even better, but 500 runs was testimony to a keen eye and flashing blade. He also took over 50 wickets with left arm seam and spin, depending on the conditions and his injuries, while fielding superbly anywhere. England Sixes recognition was deserved, but Wagg should have been in the Development Squad this winter. Name another all-rounder who has done the mini-double in the past two seasons? You can't can you? Enough said...

Jon Clare emerged like a butterfly from a winter of gym work with a new physique and had a phenomenal first season, with over 500 runs and more than 30 wickets. If Greg Smith can return from his torn bicep muscle next year as a revitalised seam bowler, we will have three all-rounders of genuine talent, as Smith played some innings of brilliance. His off spin is useful, but as a seamer he could have a big role to play in the years ahead.

Jake Needham emerged as the first choice slow bowler and bowled with good flight for a young off-spinner. Another who knows how to bat, young Needham could be another with a sizeable role in the future.

The batting, Rogers apart, was "iffy". The Australian rarely failed but while Dan Birch showed he had learned from his first season, he needs to push on next year. Steve Stubbings rarely featured after May, victim to a shoulder injury that meant he couldn't throw and the side missed his "stickability" when the going was tough. South African Dominic Telo looked composed at the crease but rarely made runs, while John Sadler was a major disappointment after a move from Leicestershire, although late-season one day innings suggested that he may yet produce the goods.

As for the bowlers, Tom Lungley had a poor year with injuries and has to produce a big season next time, while Ian Hunter was probably only re-engaged because Kevin Dean announced his retirement after a fine career. Wayne White also left and the seam bowling strength needs reinforced for next year.

James Pipe kept wicket well until a broken finger ended his season, while Tom New let no one down after moving from Leicestershire on loan. Both contributed with the bat, Pipe's demolition of Worcestershire at Chesterfield being a season highlight.

So at the end of the season there are the usual pangs of disappointment, but even more causes for optimism. Paul Borrington came from University in June to show great promise as an opening batsman, while the mercurial Dan Redfern signed a professional contract and played far better than an 18-year old really should in the last weeks of the season. With Redfern, wicket-keeper Tom Poynton and fast left armer Atif Sheikh all gaining England Under 19 tour selection, the Academy is starting to produce some real gems that should serve us well.

Fans need to temper expectation with patience. With the exception of the overseas imports, this is a young squad and the signs are that, with experience, they will make Derbyshire a side to be reckoned with.

If - note, IF - we sign another seamer this winter and perhaps another good batsman, I would quite fancy us for promotion in the Championship next year. The signing of Mark Lawson, a young leg-spinner, from Yorkshire and that of Garry Park, a punishing batsman, from Durham augurs well. The next few months will be important for John Morris, who has money to spend after off-loading Clarke, Doshi, Dean and White from the wage bill.

Six months till it all starts again. I'm excited already!

For more about Derbyshire cricket, go to my blog at

If you're interested in writing a season review for your county (we still need reviews for Somerset, Lancashire, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire) or contributing in any way, it would be much appreciated - please email

Friday, 10 October 2008

2008 Season Review: Sussex

Continuing our season reviews, here is an assessment of Sussex’s season.

Final Placings:
Championship – 6th
FP Trophy – 5th South East Division
Pro40 – Winners
Twenty20 – 5th South Division

This may well be remembered as the season when the most extraordinary era in Sussex’s history – that brought three Championships in five years after they had never won one before – came to an end. Chris Adams announced he was relinquishing the captaincy. While he ended with a trophy in the shape of the Pro40, there was no such luck for Mushtaq Ahmed.

It proved a season too far for one of the most influential overseas players in the history of the game. After legal wranglings to ensure he could take the field for this campaign, Mushtaq was ravaged by injuries. When he did play, the spark stubbornly failed to materialise; in six games, his wickets came at 41 apiece. But his status as Sussex’s favourite adopted son will live on.

Goodwin secures Pro40 glory
After the heady days of the past five years, this was essentially a mediocre season for Sussex. They mustered a meagre two Championship wins, conspiring to come close to relegation as they relinquished a position of complete dominance in their final game against Yorkshire. Meanwhile, they managed three wins in their Twenty20 and Friends Provident Trophy campaigns combined.

Yet domestic one-day cricket can be immensely hard to predict. Logically, Sussex were amongst the favourites for Pro40 relegation, given their dreadful early-season showings in pyjamas. But with Luke Wright, James Kirtley and Rory Hamilton-Brown restricting opponents, Sussex were able to chase down targets; indeed, they batted second in all of their games. Matt Prior, in between England duties, contributed some fine innings at the top of the order, including 137 to lead Sussex home against Somerset. The real star, however, was Murray Goodwin.

Oozing class, skill and calm, Goodwin has come as close as anyone to mastering the art of the run-chase. In the last three Pro40 games, Goodwin saw Sussex home on each occasion with superb half-centuries. The most incredible came in the final game. Chasing Notts’ 226, Sussex, as so often, left Goodwin facing a mammoth task. Needing 97 from 10 overs with just two wickets in hand, their chances cannot have been much better than 20/1. Yet Goodwin unfurled a series of big shots – not slogging, but high-class batsmanship – while Mohammad Sami played with commendable calm at the other end. Goodwin won the game with a six off the final ball: a fitting end to the Chris Adams era.

Batting struggles
Throughout, Goodwin was outstanding, as if to remind everyone that Sussex’s success was down to more than one import. With six Championship centuries, he often stood alone – the other batting was disappointing in the extreme. Adams’ top score in 14 games was 61, as he moved himself down the order in a vain attempt to find some form. Wright’s form was disastrous and no way justified his continued England ODI place, as he scored just one half-century for Sussex in all competitions. Mike Yardy battled hard and contributed some significant runs, but the new skipper should have scored a century. Chris Nash managed two in a solid season, while Carl Hopkinson and, as ever, Robin Martin-Jenkins chipped in admirably.

After being dropped by England, Matt Prior knew he had to score big runs and improve his keeping. He did both and was magnificent, fully meriting his recall. Averages of over 50 in Championship and List A cricket, whilst moving up the order in the Championship, say it all. And he played perhaps the finest innings in the Championship this season, scoring 133* out of Sussex’s second innings 212 against Steve Harmison and Calum Thorpe, with five sixes and brilliant marshalling of the tail.

Replacing Mushtaq
No one was as outstanding as Goodwin or Prior with the ball, with Jason Lewry’s 41 wickets being the most. But contributions were evenly spread, with Lewry and Corey Collymore forming a potent opening attack, Martin-Jenkins claiming a characteristic 31 wickets at 32, and Olly Rayner making most encouraging strides. The 6ft5in off-spinner was given increased responsibility after Mushtaq’s retirement, and responded with two Championship five-fers; along with leg-spinner Will Beer, he should ensure spin remains a crucial Sussex weapon.

There was embarrassment as Ryan Harris had to return to Australia without playing a Championship game. But Mushtaq was heavily involved in the signing of Sami. From the evidence of his late-season stint – his aggressive bowling, responsible batting and the way he fitted into the side – Sussex could do a lot worse than sign him up as their new overseas player.

As Mike Yardy takes the reins, Sussex are at a palpably difficult stage, with, for differing reasons, Prior, Adams and Mushtaq unlikely to contribute much next campaign. Ambitions may have to be downsized accordingly.

Player of the Season
For six Championship tons and winning the Pro40 almost off his own bat, it’s impossible to look beyond Murray Goodwin – second only to Mark Ramprakash amongst county batsmen in the noughties.

Most Disappointing Player
Dwayne Smith began with a bang in Twenty20, but he soon became the victim of perennial recklessness at the crease, lacking any selectivity. In the Pro40, his brainless batting let the side down, as he averaged just 14. Was not trusted with a solitary Championship game; providing he stays, simply must do better.

Goodwin’s last-ball six to complete an astonishing Pro40 win away at Notts, securing the title in the process. Could any other batsman on the circuit have retained his equanimity facing such a hopeless situation?

The sad shuffle into retirement of Mushtaq Ahmed. A season too far, yes, but too many he is the greatest player in the county’s history.

What does the future hold for Sussex?
Share your views on the piece by leaving a comment below.

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Bias or Continuity?

The England selectors have come in for some heavy criticism recently. Are they casting their net wide enough?

Closed shop, private club, old boy’s network. These common descriptions of the current England squad reveal a widespread belief that the national selectors are conservative in their choices and unfairly biased towards players established in the ‘Team England bubble’.

On being elevated to chief selector Geoff Miller stamped his authority but also maintained continuity, evidenced by the axing of Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison and the subsequent retention of the same Test team for six matches.

Suggestions that the first choice eleven were too comfortable in their places were not addressed by the dropping of the out-of-form Paul Collingwood or Ian Bell, but rather by the inclusion of Darren Pattinson for the Headingley Test.

This decision was merely a clumsy attempt to show that any productive county player could earn a chance at national level and the selectors have since returned to a policy of blind loyalty, or continuity as they prefer to call it.

Giving players a fair chance to adapt to Test cricket is the correct policy – during the darkest days of English cricket in the 1990’s virtually any player was two bad performances away from being dropped – but the selectors must maintain impartiality.

This does not just apply to selectors’ own picks or county affiliations (and we will never know whether Tim Ambrose’s continued involvement after a horror summer is due to favourable treatment by Peter Moores or Ashley Giles, or perhaps both), but also towards the divisional structure.

The selectors rightly place more significance on performances in the top flight, otherwise there is little point in having split divisions and an apparent difference in quality. However, it could be said that it is too hard for second division players to earn international recognition.

The fact that Warwickshire and Worcestershire bounced straight back to division one after suffering relegation in 2007 suggests there is a gulf in class, although the Surrey vintage of 2008 would surely have struggled in division two.

Selectorial discussions must include phrases such as ‘he scored his runs in division one’, suggesting division two players must score and take a certain amount more of runs and wickets. Such a figure is hard to pinpoint, so selectors are more inclined to go for players from top flight counties.

13 of next year’s 19 central contracts belong to players from division one counties in 2008 and both of the most recent additions to the national squad (Ambrose and Samit Patel) ply their trade in the top flight.

There is something not quite right in the selectors’ dynamic. How can Ravi Bopara go from 12th man for the Oval Test against South Africa to out of a 15 man touring squad? He heavily outscored Owais Shah in division two this season and it is a myth that the latter is in irresistible One Day form (three half centuries in 17 knocks since his breakthrough ton last summer).

Similarly, do the selectors really see a Twenty20 future for Alastair Cook and deserving of a Stanford place? The belief persists that the selectors have their favourites and are failing to reward good domestic displays, especially in division two.

Written by Philip Oliver, a sports writer who blogs about cricket betting.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

2008 – County Team of the Season

So once again, congratulations to Durham, Warwickshire and Worcestershire, while Surrey and Kent look forward to life in a lower league (hang on – didn’t I say that would happen?). One last duty before the tremendous 2008 county season is put to bed. Following Tim’s review of the season, comes my Team of the Season. Same rules as last year: only those who win a player of the week are eligible, so Jacques Rudolph and Steve Harmison aren’t eligible for selection but Josh Cobb and Darren Pattinson are. The team also fits to county regulations with only one overseas player, although I must admit that was through merit rather than planning!

Openers - No specialist openers won a POTW this season, so the places have to go to two players who have filled in rather a lot.

1, Andrew Gale (Yorks) A breakthrough season for the young batsman, who scored a match winning century in week 2 and has been one of the reasons for Yorkshire scoring more batting points than anyone else in Division 1.

2, Vikram Solanki (Worcs) Outscored by Stephen Moore over the season, but scored big when it mattered, including 270 at quicker than a run a ball against Gloucestershire. Captained the team back to Division 1, averaged 47 and scored well over a thousand runs – a fine season.

Middle order – also available for selection were Josh Cobb, Sean Ervine, Tony Frost, Ian Blackwell and most unlucky of all, Martin van Jaarsveld

3, Ravi Bopara (Essex) Following a disappointing winter with England Bopara delivered very quickly for Essex, making POTW in week 1 and keeping that form going all season. He still looks unsure in an England shirt, being dropped for the more recent One Day matches and the forthcoming tour, but for Essex he has averaged nearly 65 and keeps Martin van Jaarsveld out of this team.

4, Mark Ramprakash (Surrey) In any other team he would be a star. In the current Surrey set up, he is so far ahead of the rest of his team mates, it is embarrassing. He couldn’t perform his heroics of single handedly keeping the team up again, but averaging over 60 and reaching his 100th hundred, he had a fine season.

5, Will Smith (Durham) The champion’s only representative shows how much of a team effort winning the title was. He started the season as Paul Collingwood’s stand in and ended up by outscoring the likes of Chanderpaul, di Venuto and Benkenstein.

Wicket-keeper – missing out were Chris Read and James Pipe

6, Matt Prior (Sussex) Like Bopara, Prior had a lot to prove after a difficult winter with England. Like Bopara, Prior answered his critics by scoring a lot of runs regularly, averaging over 50 for the season. At the start of the season, Prior was responsible for keeping the Sussex batting together as the rest of the team struggled. His keeping has reportedly improved immensely and he has been rewarded with an England recall.

All-Rounders – missing out are Jonathan Clare and Ian Blackwell (again)

7, Adil Rashid (Yorks) The final POTW, with his sole century of the season and a 7 wicket haul to kleep Yorkshire in Division 1. His bowling got better and better during the season, with 62 wickets despite the damp summer, while his batting went backwards until that last, vital innings. The England Lions tour beckons for the winter and it will be a surprise if he isn’t in the full England squad this time next year.

8, Dimitri Mascarenhas (Hants) With the loss of Shane Warne at the start of the season, Hampshire went to one of the title favourites to relegation candidates. However, a remarkable run at the end of the season, inspired by Mascarenhas, who averaged 30 with the bat and took 41 wickets at 23 with the ball, saw them as unlikely title candidates even one the last day of the season, finishing 3rd. A downside to the season was the loss of his England limited overs place, to the bemusement of everyone.


9, Imran Tahir (Hants) Of course, Mascarenhas was helped in his turning around the Hampshire season by the introduction of a spinner who looked awful in his one performance for Yorkshire last season, but took 44 wickets at 16 in just 7 games at the back end of this season. Tahir gave the team the mystery factor that Warne’s absence had taken away. It will be interesting to see how he fairs over a full season next year.

Seamers – missing out are Yasir Arafat and Ryan McLaren

10, James Tomlinson (Hants) Hampshire’s third representative in the team, Tomlinson was the top wicket taker in Division 1 and was responsible for keeping Hants in touch with the rest of the division during the first half of the season, particularly inspiring a vital win over Yorkshire, which started the Hants revival.

11, Darren Pattinson (Notts) Michael Vaughan may not have heard of him, but he’s never been that interested in county cricket anyway. Pattinson, a Grimsby born Aussie bred roofer ended up being selected for England based on some excellent early season form, leading the Notts attack in the absence of Broad and Sidebottom

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

2008 Season Review: Middlesex

Continuing our season reviews, here is an assessment of Middlesex’s season.

Final placings:
Championship Division Two – 3rd;
FP Trophy – 3rd, South-East Division;
Twenty20 Cup – Winners;
Pro40 Division One - 8th

How to judge Middlesex’s season? It was one in which they lost two captains, never looked like getting County Championship promotion and saw a members’ revolt. But they also ended 15 trophyless years with a pulsating win in the Twenty20 Cup – earning riches unprecedented in county cricket in the process.

Still, for all the excitement of winter trips to Antigua and India, deep problems remain. A batting line-up that appears one of the best in the county game is still prone to alarming collapses; all too often, it fell to the line-up’s less-vaunted members, wicket-keeper Ben Scott and Shaun Udal, to repair the damage wrought by injudicious strokeplay.

Underachieving batsmen
In Andrew Strauss, Billy Godleman, Owais Shah, Eoin Morgan, Dawid Malan and Eds Smith and Joyce, Middlesex possess an array of supremely talented stroke-makers. Yet too often the side proved less than the sum of its parts. Where in the Twenty20, there was a relish for responsibility – witness Owais Shah’s sublime innings in the final and Malan’s breathtaking quarter-final century against Lancashire, from the depths of 21/4 – it was a sadly different story in the Championship. Consecutive wins to end the campaign secured third, but no one was fooled.

In between England duties, Strauss was much-improved upon last season and Shah played a few magnificent innings, though a CC average of 42 was still disappointing. Godleman struggled at times, but, still not 20 and with 35 first-class games under his belt, a long future in the game looks assured.

Further cause for optimism came in the pair of young left-handed stroke-players Malan and Morgan, both of whom are in the England Performance Programme Squad. Morgan looks well set to follow Joyce in representing both Ireland and England. His limited-overs batting is fearless and highly innovative – perhaps overly so at times – and an ODI debut cannot be too far away. But he also possesses a temperament and elegance that are well-suited to the first-class games, as three hundreds (the first, against South Africa, being his first for Middlesex) and an average of 50 are testament to.

Captaincy troubles
However, things were less rosy for Messrs Smith and Joyce. Smith’s campaign was injury-ravaged. Joyce did superbly to steer the side to Twenty20 glory, but he struggled with the bat and as captain in the other formats of the game, leading him to pass the reins onto Udal, who oversaw the encouraging end to the season. Whilst signing Udal out of retirement proved inspired, as he batted terrifically and bowled with tremendous nous, especially in Twenty20, it is decidedly uncertain whether the Eds will begin the 2009 season in the Middlesex ranks.

The mainstay of the bowling was Tim Murtagh. Indefatigable and increasingly canny, he took more wickets all told than anyone else in the land. The support was rather mixed, however, owing much to injuries. Alan Richardson did very well after coming back from injury, but Chris Silverwood barely played. Young tyros Steven Finn and Danny Evans both have bright futures, especially the beanpole Finn, provided they are not overbowled too young.

Middlesex’s foreign imports were something of a mixed bunch. Dirk Nannes proved an excellent recruit, fantastic in the Twenty20 and averaging just 20 with the ball in his five Championship games. Tyron Henderson is a superb Twenty20 player, but failed in other competitions. Locum overseas player Vernon Philander was uninspiring, whilst Murali Kartik, so outstanding last season, failed to repeat his success, though he too was crucial in the Twenty20 win.

As they prepare for an exciting winter, Middlesex have many issues to be resolved – a permanent captain being the most pressing. But with Twenty20 riches to boost the club coffers and a band of immensely promising youngsters, Middlesex are in better shape than for many years.

Player of the season:
Tim Murtagh is the only realistic choice after taking 104 wickets this campaign, including 10 wickets in a match for the first time. An increasingly skilful operator and handy lower-order biffer – how Surrey must regret letting him cross the Thames.

Most disappointing player:
It may seem harsh but Murali Kartik’s 16 wickets at 34 from seven Championship games was a pretty woeful return for a man recruited to be a match-winning spin bowler who could lead the club to Division One.

Tyron Henderson holding his nerve, when all others were losing theirs, to win the Twenty20 Cup. With 11 wins from their 13 games, no one could dispute Middlesex were the tournament’s best side.

Losing consecutive Championship games by an innings and 10-wickets just before Twenty20 finals day, virtually ensuring another season in Division Two.

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2008 Season Review: Yorkshire

Final Placings

Championship – 6th
FP Trophy – Semi-finals (walloped by Essex)
Pro40 – 2nd in Division 2
20Twenty – Thrown out of the quarter finals

A frankly bizarre season, even in relation to what has happened in the past couple of years. Had the Championship been a single innings competition, Yorks would have won it by a country mile. The strength was supposed to be in the bowling, yet Yorks finished with more batting points than anyone else. Even so, they were only topped by Hampshire on the bowling point front. However, when it came to the second innings, the aging seem attack were impotent and the plan seemed to be throw the ball to Rashid and see what he can do.

A remarkable run of injuries also hampered matters on the seem bowling front. During the first half of the season, Rana Naved, Morne Morkel, Darren Gough, Matthew Hoggard, Dion Kruis and Amjal Shahzad were all injured. This led to a debut for the promising Oliver Hannon-Dalby, but for most of the first half of the season, the bowling was carried by Tim Bresnan, especially as Adil Rashid was struggling for form.

Despite the injuries, Yorkshire topped the table at the 20Twenty break. However a mixture of poor weather and appalling 2nd innings performances – notably against Kent, where the teams were tied after the first innings and Kent ran out 10 wicket victors, meant that there was not another win in the Championship. The best performances came when the likes of Gough, Kruis and Naved were unavailable which augers well for the future.

Batting-wise, Yorks often went into matches with just four specialist batsmen, with the likes of Gerald Brophy, Rashid and Bresnan going in at 5, 6 and 7. The bonus point situation shows that this tactic had some merit as Jacques Rudolph, Andrew Gale, Antony McGrath and Adam Lyth all contributed well, despite none of them being specialist opening batsmen. Rudolph has taken the headlines, but it is the transformation of Gale from promising youngster to regular which has pleased the Yorkshire faithful most. Less pleasing is the transformation of Joe Sayers from gritty opener to walking wicket and hopefully he can recover his game over the winter.

There was much more success on the limited over front. Despite his aging years, Gough is still one of the canniest One Day bowlers around and has passed much of his experience onto Bresnan, who was rewarded with an England recall. Rudolph and McGrath in particular showed the benefits of building an innings, although this fell apart in the FP Trophy semi final, which saw the worst limited over performance of the season. Promotion to Division 1 for the final season of the Pro40 was merited and this competition saw the best of Rana Naved, particularly with the bat.

The 20Twenty farce has been done to death. However, it is worth repeating that it seems bizarre that Azeem Rafiq was eligible to play for England schools, but not Yorkshire. An administrative cock-up by Yorkshire, dealt with very poorly by the ECB.

2009 will see a new captain, with Jacques Rudolph having put his hand up for the job. A hopefully refreshed Michael Vaughan will be looking to score big runs to get back into the England team, taking the pressure off the current four batsmen. Yorkshire nearly got relegated this season despite being on top of many of their games. It won’t take a big shift to be challenging at the top of the table again.

Player of the Season
Rudolph and Rashid have taken all of the headlines. However, for his contribution throughout the season, the Player of the Season has to be Tim Bresnan. He’s only 23 but has been around for years and has become the on-field leader that everyone hoped he would. He scored less runs and took less wickets than Rashid, but he held the team together as all around him fast bowlers dropped like flies.

Most Disappointing Player
Rana Naved was supposed to create a cutting edge, but ended up with just 16 wickets at nearly 40. Yorkshire looked a better team when he wasn’t playing and Steve Patterson was.

The win against Somerset was a brilliant team effort. Also days 2 and 3 in the last game which saw Rashid and David Wainwright score tons before Sussex were forced to follow on, securing safety. The same eleven players played in both games, with Naved and Gough among those missing.

From a personnel point of view, the emergence of Adam Lyth and Andy Gale, who along with Bresnan and Rashid give a young Yorkshire spine to the team.

The FP Trophy semi-final was disappointing, but we didn’t play well enough and got what we deserved.

More disappointing was the 20Twenty - Rafiq farce, which robbed Gough of a fitting climax and has wrecked the confidence of a promising young player who was blameless in the whole affair.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

To spin or not to spin: The Australian selection dilemma

Australia's spin department is cursed one might think. Ever since the king of spin, Shane Warne retired, a horror run with injuries, retirements and losses of form has left Australia with the unsavoury decision of whether to throw in an uncapped spinner against the world's best players of spin, India, or turn to the power of a promising pack of pacemen, led by Brett Lee and Stuart Clark, on the world's biggest turning pitches.

With both of Warne's initial replacements, Stuart MacGill (who walked out mid-series due to debilitating injuries) and One Day specialist Brad Hogg both retiring within a year of making their long awaited returns to test cricket, Australia's hopes now lie in the hands of the talented Tasmanian Jason Krejza, and Victorian batting all-rounder Cameron White, one of the country's most talented young batsmen, but certainly not so in the bowling department. Their First Class bowling averages are 50 (Krejza) and 38 (White) respectively, which shows how desperate Australia have become for a wild card to emerge from the pack.

Interesting is Beau Casson, the second choice spinner (who played after MacGill retired) in the West Indies, now seeming to be on the outer, merely because he's a left arm spinner, especially when Bryce McGain, clearly the best spinner in Australia, fell to injury and was forced out of the tour, White's inclusion ahead of Casson seemed an interesting bet.

While it can be said that White's batting will come in handy, it is still a mystery as to whether his bowling is good enough to trouble the Indians. White is as unorthodox as they come, his stock ball is a wrong un, he doesn't extract much turn, and he relies more on changes in pace, and often just being slogged at the wrong time, to take his wickets.

Krejza on the other hand is capable of getting good turn, and decent flight too, but he has never taken a 5 wicket haul, and would seem more of a future project than someone ready to be playing test cricket.

It seems that Australia has the choice of either sending in a raw, and perhaps unprepared spinner, or to play four pacemen instead. With Lee, Clark and Mitchell Johnson are all shoe-ins, so the question is whether Australia will use batting all-rounder Shane Watson as their fourth paceman, and then use either Krejza or White as the 5th bowler, or whether they will use one of the country's most exciting bowlers, Peter Siddle, already earmarked as part of the future after a breakthrough season for Victoria, or New South Wales' Doug Bollinger, a more experience option, though one that did not play in the Aussies' tour game.

It seems most likely, however, that the Aussies will stick with Krejza, despite being belted around the park in the tour game (he conceded over 6 an over across the match, and took no wickets) with logic dictating that a good spinner is required to win test matches in India, but it certainly seems that with the spinners' track records, Siddle or Bollinger would be a better option. To spin or not to spin? That is the question.

Monday, 6 October 2008

2008 Season Review: Kent

Continuing our season reviews, here is an assessment of Kent's frustrating season.

Final placings:
Championship Division One – 8th;
FP Trophy – Finalist (1st, South-East Division);
Twenty20 Cup – Finalist (3rd, South Division;
Pro40 Division Two - 4th

It was so nearly a great season for Kent. Two domestic Cup finals; and Championship favourites halfway through the penultimate round of games. As it was, they lost both finals and were somehow relegated from the Championship, ending their proud record of having never played in Division Two.

How did this happen? Kent coach Graham Ford was frank that "Possibly over the last few years we focused a lot more of our preparations on one-day cricket and even our summer signings have been one-day cricket orientated.” Along with Essex, Kent proved themselves to be the best white-ball side in the country in 2008. But so many players – Justin Kemp, Azhar Mahmood, Darren Stevens, James Tredwell and even the much-vaunted opening pair of Rob Key and Joe Denly – made a far greater impact in the shorter versions of the game. Indeed, Kent’s great strength in limited-overs – a plethora of players able to contribute with bat and ball – proved their weakness in the longer format.

Too reliant on van Jaarsveld
The lack of specialists was particularly noticeable with regards to their batting. With only Martin van Jaarsveld (see below) averaging over 31 from those who played more than six games, the batting line-up was desperately susceptible to collapse. Several options were tried, with players being shuffled around – including the mysteriously under-used, and now departed, Neil Dexter – and lower-order players tried at number three. James Tredwell understandably struggled there, but Geraint Jones had a little more success.

Jones’s brilliant, counter-attacking 91 from just 88 balls at Liverpool in the penultimate game briefly made them county Championship favourites. But the bowling, normally their strength, allowed Lancashire back into the game before yet another feeble collapse saw them subside to a defeat. In the final analysis, Kent were made to pay for two narrow losses on ‘sporting’ pitches – the other being the Riverside pitch that prompted Key to launch a scathing attack on the “muppet show”.

Skipper Key had a particularly chastening last few weeks, as the Twenty20 Cup, the England captaincy, the Friends Provident Trophy, Pro40 promotion and Division One Championship cricket all slipped from his grasp. His commitment cannot be doubted and, alongside Denly, he formed perhaps the best limited-overs partnership around. Mixing powerful orthodoxy with daring – but calculated innovation – their stand of 89 in the Twenty20 Cup final, apparently free of risk, showed both could have much to offer England’s limited-overs sides. But their Championship displays were pitiful in comparison. Conditions were frequently tough, yes, but averages of 31 apiece were a huge factor behind their relegation.

Pace-bowling excels
The bowling was rather better – although Tredwell’s season, on the back of an England ODI tour spot, was a major letdown. The star was Robbie Joseph who established himself with a superlative run in August, including 6/32 at the Riverside and a spell in the FP Final that could have been match-turning – even if he could not quite keep it up until the end. Amjad Khan appeared almost back to his best after his injury-ravaged last few campaigns, giving much hope for next seasons. Throughout, however, imports Yasir Arafat and Ryan McLaren were exceptional.

Arafat was fantastic in the Twenty20 Cup, claiming 23 scalps with his band of yorkers and variations, and was also brilliant in the run to the FP Final, claiming more wickets than anyone else (24) at a shade under 16. McLaren – currently the subject of conjecture concerning his international future – is a prime asset to the club. He bowls with impressive speed and movement, and, like Arafat, also contributed with some vital runs in all competitions. Azhar Mahmood, meanwhile, was revitalised, delivering brilliant death-bowling in limited-overs, trademark huge hitting (especially in Twenty20) and topping the Championship batting and bowling averages alike. Kent members will question the wisdom of limiting him to only six four-day games.

As they embark upon their first season in Division Two, Kent clearly need to do some rebuilding, with reliable top-order batting the most fundamental room for improvement. This, more than anything, was what let them down. Had they not collapsed so feebly in the FP Trophy and last two Championship games and had Justin Kemp connected with the last ball of the Twenty20 Final – that is, if the results of just four games had been changed – Kent would have been triple champions. Funny game, cricket.

Player of the season:
Robbie Joseph is a strong contender, but it is impossible to look beyond Martin van Jaasrsveld. He produced the ‘perfect game’ to transform the Championship game at The Oval, with twin unbeaten centuries and 5/33, while he was the lynchpin of the FP Trophy run, producing four hundreds and three fifties in nine games. Deserved to be the PCA Player of the Year – and deserves some proper support next campaign,

Most disappointing player:
Justin Kemp arrived with a big reputation – and lots to live up to after belatedly being allowed to play this season following his ICL participation. But he was an ignominious failure, lacking the application to thrive in testing Championship conditions and managing to average just 18 even in the Twenty20, though he almost took Kent to an improbable win.

Defeating Essex in the Twenty20 semi-final, seemingly through sheer self-belief. Dreams of a treble were very much alive.

Subsiding feebly to an innings defeat at home in the final game, prompting the club chairman to bemoan a lack of support.

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Sunday, 5 October 2008

2008 Season Review : Leicestershire

County Championship D2 - 7th
FP Trophy - Quarter Finals
Twenty20 Cup - Bottom of North Division
Pro40 D2 - 7th

Its ultimately been another disappointing season for Leicestershire. The 2007 season was among the worst in our history but there was some optimism ahead of this season. We released quite a few players who were obviously not up to the demands of first class cricket and substituted them with high profile foreign players. Dippenaar, Kruger and Lawson had played international cricket and Dillon DuPreez was on the verge after an impressive SA domestic season. I'm not saying I was particularly pleased with the Kolpak invasion but it had looked to have brought some much needed quality to the side.

We actually started the season pretty positively too. In the county championship we opened up with a 6 game unbeaten run which included wins over Middlesex and Glamorgan and a near miss against Essex. We topped the table early on with Ackerman scoring runs for fun and the new ball pairing of DuPreez and Malik looking like an inspired combination. We also played some impressive cricket in the Friends Provident Trophy and came through the group stages ahead of Northants and Warwickshire.

Then I guess you would say it was really June that our season fell apart. Ravi Bopara played the most brilliant of knocks to send us packing in the Friends Provident QF and we were an absolute shambles in the Twenty20 cup. The Twenty20 period of the season is something that the people of Leicestershire normally look forward to. We've had a good string of results in this form of the game and since we were rained out of the competition last year, well I expected some extra vigour and another decent shot at the trophy. We just didn't compete at all and lost our first seven games in the competition in pathetic fashion.

Looking back it is quite evident that we didn't have the firepower to compete with other teams. We ha vent really replaced Darren Maddy and struggled to clear the rope and post competitive scores. Our average innings total was 133 and at times we didn't even post run-a-ball totals. The bowlers did a credible job in keeping us in games but ultimately there just wasn't enough runs on the board to defend.

Our season never really got going again as we suffered a Twenty20 hangover. We failed to get a single batting bonus point in the next three games and struggled for runs throughout the second part of the season. HD Ackerman went off the boil and the other top order batsmen failed to deliver. We simply couldn't put ourselves into competitive positions in matches and even when our batsmen did find some of his form, we couldn't push home the advantage. It was a pretty disappointing end to the season and our season was over by mid August.

The Pro40 campaign was disappointing with only one win from eight games. The disappointing thing from the county's point of view is that we were competitive for large parts of games but failed when it came to the crunch time. It was a familiar tail throughout the season that we weren't able to capitalise in games when we were ahead or had a chance of winning. I think Paul Nixon has been a great cricketer for Leicestershire but his captaincy shows a lot of naivety and a lack of killer instinct.

If you were to analysis the main cause of our problems then you would have to point the finger primarily at the batsmen. We struggled to post competitive totals all season long except when Ackerman would make a score and drag other batsmen with him. Four of our top order batsmen averaged under 25 including our overseas player and our vice captain. We also threw youngsters right into the deep end and watched them struggle to stay afloat. I thought the whole point of our strategy of playing seven senior players with four youngsters was to help the younger players develop and give them some sort of protection. It seemed at times during the season like it was the other way round.

The 2009 season already looks like it will be another difficult campaign. The future of Paul Nixon is in doubt after he committed himself to another ICL season and there is a big possibility that he may not be able to represent the club. Garnett Kruger has left the club after some impressive late form and it looks unlikely that we will make any high quality additions to the squad. Lionel Baker and Andy Harris have already been earmarked to join the county in what are both very uninspiring signings and I expect more of the same. The one silver cloud is that we have recently extended the contracts of several of our young players. I don't expect them to perform miracles but at least it shows that the county is on the right track.

Player of the Season: HD Ackerman
Young Player of the Season: Joshua Cobb
Most disappointing player: Boeta Dippenaar
Highlight: Getting into the FP Quarter finals.
Losing our first seven T20 games.

Plunkett to become a Pear?

Why Liam Plunkett is the man Steve Rhodes should look to. . .

Since writing in a previous article that Worcestershire need to sign a quality fast bowler to partner Simon Jones and Kabir Ali for the club’s bid to stay up in Division One, it has come to my attention that Liam Plunkett is unhappy at Durham and wants a chance to play more regular cricket to try and claim his England place back. For me, Steve Rhodes should drive up to Durham himself and get the boy signed.

Despite not playing much (seven championship games) he still managed to hit two fifties down the order, and took 16 wickets at 32.5. Whilst this average would not scare most Division One batsman, he was in and out of the side and is likely to face competition once again from Harmison, Onions, Davies and whoever else the champions sign.

Often much maligned as an England cricketer, he did show potential in his handful of showings for his country. One of Duncan Fletchers “bits and pieces” players, he played for England’s ODI team in their worst run in history, and despite this still took 37 wickets in 27 matches.

Still only 23, Plunkett has massive potential, and if he needs first team cricket to realise this then there is no reason at all why this shouldn’t be at New Road.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

2008 Season Review: Nottinghamshire

Continuing our season reviews, 'OBR and the Nottinghamshire 606ers' offers an assesment of Nottinghamshire's season.

Final placings:
Championship Division One – 2nd;
FP Trophy – 2nd, Midlands Division (Beaten Quarter Finalists to Durham); Twenty20 Cup – 4th, North Division; Pro40 Division One - 4th
All stats are CC (unless otherwise stated)

Following on from promotion from Division two last season, once again Nottinghamshire’s season was a rollercoaster of joy, to despair, back to joy and more often then not ending up in despair. Thoughts at the start of the season were ones of how to avoid a struggle at the bottom of the County Championship and hopefully sneak some silverware in the one day competitions. In the end thoughts were one of ‘If only’ with Championship and Pro40 titles slipping away on the last day of each competition.

There were many changes towards the start with captain fantastic, Fleming moving on and David Hussey not sure how much cricket he would play for Notts, if any at all. The batting was strengthened with Matthew Wood coming in after being released from Somerset. The bowling department was also strengthened with the Stuart Broad coming in from Leicestershire, Darren Pattinson (more about him later) coming in after a recommendation from David Hussey and after a few games. Ex-Overseas player Andre Adams also came in, on a Kolpak agreement, as cover for Broad and Sidebottom, who were to be regulars in the England team. Once Hussey had made it clear that he would not play any cricket for Notts till at least July, Notts quickly moved to bring in Adam Voges and then when he made it even clearer that he would play no part at all, Ashwell Prince, came in as a replacement from Voges, who had to return to Oz in July. Chris Read took the captain’s armband with Fleming moving on.

So Notts went to Kent for the first game of the County Championship season without Broad and Sidebottom, who had been told to rest after a long hard winter (Cough!). With this in mind, many fans were just willing Notts to get up to the magical total of 155 points to avoid relegation and kick on in 2009. OK maybe that was just me but one or two other people agreed with me (I think!). But after 53.4 overs Kent were dismissed for 162 and fans everywhere were punching ‘Darren Pattinson’ in various search engines on the web to find out exactly who he was. He ended the game with figures of 36-15-85-8 and Mick Newell had unearthed a new bowling genius to add to the already cupboard stocked full of bowling geniuses. Notts finished the game with 22 points and but for rear guard actions from Key and Mahmood in each innings, Notts would have finished the game well inside 2 days.

After this game things stuttered along a little with a draw at The Parks, a win in Dublin in the FPT, an abandonment at Egbaston in the FPT, a draw at Headingley (when Notts were well on top). A D/L win against Northants was followed up by revenge for Kent at Trent Bridge. Whoever let Broad and Sidebottom play wants a stern talking to!

The first month provided an accurate pre-cursor as to how the season would pan out. A great start but a disappointing end, with the bowling being great but the batting was sadly not up to scratch.

As the season progressed the Notts fans were soon questioning the ability of openers Jefferson and Wood to provide a stable base from which to score big runs. The running joke being that Notts were starting their innings a wicket or two down, before they crossed to rope. Jefferson finished the CC season with 442 runs @ 22.10 and Wood 539 @ 26.95. Both players didn’t managed a century and both obtained a top score of 98. It was only when Shafayat (541 runs @ 41.61) came in for Wood at the top of the order did Notts get a substantial opening partnership, 157 against Sussex at Hove and that was late August!

Behind the top, two Mark Wagh proved to be Mr Consistency by eight fifties and getting past the one hundred mark twice. He ended the season with 1033 runs @ 46.95. Samit Patel didn’t quite make the 1000 run mark but ended strongly with scores of 135, 70 and 77 to end the season with 977 runs @ 51.42. Then came the Swann, Read, Ealham middle order that was either saving an innings or throwing it away. They ended up with 525 runs @ 37.50, 726 runs @ 45.37 and 329 runs @ 20.56 respectively. The two interesting things from these three is Ealham started the season with a 130* at Kent and then amassed 199 runs in the CC after that and Read’s ave was boosted by 5 NotOuts but his batting was sadly affected by the captaincy. The only two other notable contributors to the scorebook in the CC were our two Overseas players who managed 627 runs @ 36.88 and Prince 123 runs @ 30.75. This disappointing return from Voges and Prince along with Jefferson and Wood’s ‘contribution’ of 5 fifties and zero centuries, lead, in no small part, to Notts finishing second in the County Championship. As opposed to top where at one point they looked like finish.

The theme of starting well and finishing up poorly continued in the Friends Provident Trophy, Twenty20 and especially the Pro40. In the FPT we managed to finish second behind Leicestershire and then went out in a nail-biter to Durham at the Riverside, where the batting, Samit’s run a ball 114 apart, failed but Durham struggled to a win by one wicket, with Samit also picking up three wickets and the MOM award. The Twenty20 record after 6 games was W,W,L,D,W,W the next four had a consistent look about it L,L,L,L. Notts were then thrown a lifeline when Yorks fielded an ineligible player at Trent Bridge, in the decider and Notts were given the points to take them through to the Knockout stage.

That lifeline was rapidly taken away by the ECB as it somehow transpired that Notts shouldn’t be given the game points but Yorkshire should have their points taken away. This meant Glamorgan would go through to the Knockout stages after crying like babies. Strange that Glamorgan profited from this decision after the other remarkable decision of being granted the first Ashes test on an untried ground. Anyone would think that the ex-head of the ECB was Welsh or something. As for the Pro40 outings Notts won 3 from the first four games and one of the next 4, we all know what happened in the decider at Trent Bridge on Sunday the 14th September. I blame my brother who with Sussex needed loads off not many proclaimed that Notts had won and we could all go home. Murray Goodwin must have heard his big mouth and tried to ram the last ball down his throat on the middle deck of the Radcliffe Road.

In the end, as we all know, Notts threw away a great chance of sealing the CC total to make up for the Pro40 by collapsing in their first innings against Hants when they had them for the taking and the title went to Durham with their mix of imports and local stars.

I always like to end on a positive note so here it is; the bowling, Sussex game apart the seam attack of Shreck, Pattinson, Adams and Ealham was superb throughout the whole season. In the CC they ended up with 58, 47, 31 and 30 wickets each. Averages were 28.67, 24.65, 19.16 and a poor by Ealham’s high standards 29.56. They were backed up by the spin twins of Swann and Patel 32 wickets @ 27.03 and 12 wickets @ 37.91. Samit did manage to take 26 wickets @ 15.73 in List A games which catapulted him into the England ODI side and potentially on the biggest pay day of his career in the WI in November.

The 'Roof Tiler from Grimsby' as he was dubbed by the red tops was also selected to play for England in the Test at Headingley, leap-frogging the likes of Tremlett and Hoggard much to the dislike of 99.9% of the cricketing fraternity. He didn’t bowl too badly against SA, they just completely outplayed England but it would appear that Pattinson was made scapegoat for the defeat and would never darken the England dressing room door again. As I type he is on Cricinfo as saying he wouldn’t have picked himself. The point being that he didn’t pick himself the England selectors did and he was hardly going to turn them down was he now! It was only in the last game of the season did Pattinson and his seam/spin colleagues look weary. As much as our batting was fragile the bowling sextet always seem to pick up wickets early on and at the right times.

Overall 8/10

Player of the season:
Notts say it is Charlie Shreck and they are about right but not far behind him are Samit Patel and Mark Wagh from the batsmen and Pattinson, Adams and Swann from the bowlers. All the other players are far far behind and I include Read in this due to his poor batting and keeping at times. Hopefully the captaincy doesn’t affect him as much next season.

Most disappointing player:
Lots to choose from here Jefferson, Wood, Voges, Prince, Franks (a CC bowling ave of 50+!), Ealham’s batting post Kent,

The start at Kent, the last ball win against Leics in the FPT, the stuffing of Surrey, Samit’s innings in the same game, Samit’s allround play against Durham in the FPT Quarter Final. All things considered 2nd in the CC when we were playing Div2 cricket last season is a great achievement. Fletcher, Saleby and Hales all playing for England U19 in the same game.

Oh where to start. Obviously Sussex in the Pro40 and Hants in the final CC game, Yorks, Lancs and Durham all at home and all on Sky. Four home Sky games and four defeats. Jefferson and Wood’s batting. The Overseas contribution, we expect them to score big and they didn’t. Newell’s inability to bring youth into the equation. The ECB T20 debacle, I know we didn’t deserve to go through but don’t tell us we are through and then listen to whinging Welsh people who claim to be sooooo hard done to.

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