Burns Eye View
2017 Season Review
An English cricket season which began in Abu Dhabi on 26th March with County Champions Middlesex playing MCC, ended amid much drama at Edgbaston on 28th September.
As Hampshire defended resolutely to secure the points they needed from a drawn match Middlesex were waiting anxiously after losing to Somerset in a ‘must-win’ match for the hosts at Taunton. As the final ball of the season was bowled at Edgbaston, Hampshire achieved the draw they needed, and sent Middlesex down to Division 2 of the County Championship. The headline for Middlesex was ‘Champs to Chumps’ but legal recourse may enable them to preserve their status. For two successive seasons, the relegated teams may be decided by ECB disciplinary tribunals weeks after the last ball is bowled.
But there was more to focus on than Division 1 relegation battles. Essex were the story of the year with a remarkable 10 victories from 14 fixtures in their first time back in Division 1 for a decade. And England enjoyed much success on the international stage, setting them up for a possible Ashes win Down Under this winter. But much like the County Championship, their prospects of victory hinge on a disciplinary hearing, with pivotal all-rounder Ben Stokes uncertain of his involvement until police clear up their inquiries into an alleged assault by Stokes on a fellow citizen in Bristol late at night during the ODI series v Windies.
And so another summer passes, and the winter will be kept warmer and brighter for those of us who enjoy reminiscing about the past season. Here’s a few of my headlines:
Kumar Sangakkara – his elegance on the field and his eloquence off the field charmed all who had the privilege to watch and admire his brilliant contributions to the English county game for Surrey.
Most Remarkable Cricketer:
Darren Stevens at 41, excelled again. He enjoyed one of his best-ever seasons. And, like fine wine, just seems to get better with age.
Most Improved Cricketer:
Somerset’s Craig Overton looks the real deal as an opening bowler and number 8 batsman. Could he be a surprise selection for the 1st test in Brisbane next month? With his height and pace allied to his outswing, he could prove a real handful at The ‘Gabba'.
Pitches. How can cricket people fuss over the surface so much? It is the same for both teams. And, if it spins, it will sort out those who can play the turning ball and help England select better teams when they next tour the sub-continent.
England’s batting woes at 2,3 and 5. Hoe can so many have been tried, and so many fail since Strauss, Trott and Pietersen stood down? Is county cricket providing the right test of technique and temperament to develop test batsmen? Or have the selectors erred in not backing the right player(s)?
Best England Cricketer:
Ben Stokes has matured rapidly as a batsman and his bowling at Lord’s was sensational. Controlled, late swing at pace, is a rare skill. At times, he was almost the equal of James Anderson this summer.
West indies winning the test at Headinlgey and James Anderson taking his 500th test wicket at ‘The home of Cricket’. I was privileged to witness the moment at Lord’s and the reception from the crowd was one of deep admiration and great joy. Anderson remains a jewel in the crown of England’s cricket team.
Best One Day Performance:
Alex Hales in the RL 50 Over Final at Lord’s. He is a match-winner, and could break all manner of records, most of them will be his own such is the pace at which he is making his own history in the white-ball game.
The Saddest Story:
Durham keeps bleeding –
9th Div 2 out of 10
9th bottom in t20
5th in 50 over
won 10 matches all season, out of a combined red and white ball total of 36 fixtures. A points deduction, followed by relegation, the releasing of former captain Phil Mustard, the departures of Mark Stoneman, and Scott Borthwick to Surrey impacted their 2016 season. Now, after a dismal 2017 season, Keaton Jennings, Paul Coughlin, and Graham Onions have left too, Durham’s immediate future looks bleak.
In 2018 they will also be without highly-promising batsman Jack Burnham due to a 12 month drugs ban. Burnham, who scored 900 runs for them in 2017, will be missed but at least Paul Collingwood is fighting on despite almost retiring a few seasons ago. He appears to be moving seamlessly into coaching roles, so Durham will need to find a replacement soon. And 2018 ended with their superstar local cricketer Ben Stokes being in trouble with the police for allegedly fighting in the streets of Bristol. It will take all of their Chairman Sir Ian Botham’s superpowers to breathe life into Durham for the winter preparation in advance of the 2018 season.
The Best Story:
Essex – ONE TEAM
Ryan ten Doeschate’s men were unstoppable once they took the lead in the County Championship midway through the season. To win the title by 72 clear points, and achieve 8 more wins than the third place team Surrey, is phenomenal. They went unbeaten through the 4-day season, winning 10 out of fourteen games is an incredible achievement, especially for a newly-promoted team. And, they were a whisker away from a Lord’s Final after dominating the RL50 Over league, which meant they earned an automatic semi-final place, losing out to eventual winners Nottinghamshire who defeated them with a record total in the semi-final at Chelmsford.
The Best One Day Team:
Nottinghamshire dominated One-Day Cricket, and looked a powerful force in 4-day crickt for most of 2017. I tip them to be contenders for the 2018 County Championship as well as likely retainers of their two one day trophies won in great style under the astute coaching of Peter Moores, one of the game’s really good guys.
12 months ago, Middlesex were crowned county champions after a tense final day of the season in which one of 3 clubs, Somerset, or the winners of the Yorkshire v Middlesex match at Lord’s could have won the title. How ironic that one year on, all three teams went into the last day of the season facing possible relegation. The fact that it was Middlesex who ended up with the ignominy of going from ‘champs to chumps’ is a poor reflection on a team with so many quality, experienced players at their disposal. A team full of players with international experience such as Compton, Robson, Voges, Malan, Morgan, Franklin, Finn, Roland-Jones, Murtagh, and prospective internationals such as Gubbins, Helm and Patel plus the country’s leading spinner in 2016 Rayner, an outstanding wicket-keeper batsman in John Simpson plus back up from previously highly-rated recruits James Harris and James Fuller suggests Middlesex will need a period of deep reflection and much of their spiritual leader Angus Fraser’s commitment and resilience if they are re-emerge as a the champion county team again in 2019, should they gain promotion at the first attempt. Fundamentally, their white-ball cricket has been poor for too long and the disruption this causes to playing personnel and a team’s confidence mid-season is a factor Middlesex may need to address as a club. They won only 7 out 22 one day matches and only won 10 matches out of 36 (red and white ball combined) all season.
They lost first 9 out of 14 games, 5 by an innings, including 4 out of the first 5 matches by an innings!
Ian Bell woeful form and dropping from the t20 team (which eventually got to the final, before losing to Nottinghamshire), then stood down from the captaincy. Jonathan Trott continued to play well after the difficulties which ended his international career.
Ashley Giles’ return to the club in a senior leadership role may be the start of a turnaround. Clearly there has been a poverty of West-midlands based cricketers coming through the system with the exception of Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali (who left for Worcestershire many years ago) since Ian Bell emerged in 2000. Too often, Warwickshire’s performances have been underpinned by Jeetan Patel’s excellence as an overseas player and a return to the philosophy which inspired the glory years which included local midlands-based cricketers such as Andy Moles and Paul Smith at the top of the order, Andy Lloyd, Gladstone Small, Tim Munton, and Neil Smith. In reality, Warwickshire has always relied on imports back to Bob Willis’s day. In their glory years, Dermot Reeve came from Hong kong via Sussex, Richard Davis from Kent, Ashley Giles from Guildford, Keith Piper from Haringey cricket college, Roger Twose came from Devon, Nick Knight from Essex, and an over-reliance on southern-africans down the years from Allan Donald, through to Trevor Penney and Neil Carter through to Jonathan Trott. Today’s Warwickshire team is a poor reflection on the club’s talent development programme(s) – Keith Barker (Lancashire) Boyd Rankin (Ireland via Derbyshire and Middlesex) Will Porterfield (Ireland via Gloucestershire) Chris wright (Middlesex and Essex) Tim Ambrose (Sydney via Sussex) Sam Hain (Queensland) Rikki Clarke (Derbyshire via Surrey) Oliver Hannon-Dalby (Yorkshire) Andrew Umeed (Scotland) Ryan Sidebottom (Victoria) looked a good ‘discovery’ from the Birmingham League and they have recruited Will Rhodes (Yorkshire) Adam Hose (Somerset) Dom Sibley (Surrey) and Olly Stone (Northamptonshire) Ian Mellor (w/k), Josh Poysden (leg-spinner). Hope comes from young players at the start of their careers, with batsman Matt Lamb and Liam Banks, spinners Sunny Singh and Alex Thomson and fast bowler Grant Thornton all suggesting much promise..Opener Ed Pollock and all-rounder Aaron Thomason both helped the mid-season transformation of the T20 team, but it may be a long-term re-building job for The Bears unless Ian Bell can re-discover his touch and Jonathan Trott can keep churning out the big scores.
Poor batting standard across the board – Only 3 players scored over 1000 runs in Div 1. Or was it pitches and the early start times of 1030 in September plus April/May fixtures when the ball is most likely to dominate the bat? Plus a plethora of white-ball cricket as a mid-season block disrupting players form and rhythm.
If the purpose of county cricket is to feed the national team with quality players so the finances of the game are healthy through the continuous success of the England team, then the domestic competitions must be set up in a way which best enables that objective to be achieved.
An 18 team championship with prize money to reflect status of finishing position so each match is meaningful and you don't get player movement to influence international selection and you don't get even financial distribution to clubs who don’t have realistic aspirations to become a top first division team.
And so it is farewell to some fine cricketers... Chris Read, Ryan Sidebottom, Jacques Rudolph, and Kumar Sangakkara signed off in style but one mustn’t forget the lesser-celebrated cricketers who have left the stage and also gave their heart and soul to their respective county clubs for the majority of their early adult lives. Here’s wishing David Murphy, Fabian Cowdrey, Zafar Ansari, and others every future success too.
All we need is England to retain the Ashes, excel in ODI matches and set themselves up for a bumper 2018 in England as preparation for winning the 2019 World Cup. Sounds easy doesn’t it?!