Chris Nash: Bargain of the winter?

The news that Sussex had agreed to release Chris Nash a year early from his contract was probably one of the most surprising pieces of news on the County circuit and after the departure of Graham Onions from Durham to Lancashire, the second case of a County stalwart moving on after many years in the last two months. Rumours suggest it relates to his failure to get the captaincy when Luke Wright stepped down last year, but even so the loss of an experienced and capable player will leave a large hole (arguably improbably large) to fill. Furthermore given the strong suggestion that at 34 he’ll join another county, he could be an excellent signing for an ambitious team next year.

On a personal note, Nash has always been a player I’ve had a soft spot for across all formats. Technically adept, aggressive and capable of scoring consistent and quick runs he’s been regarded as one of the better players in County Cricket for a few years and that’s borne out in the numbers.

Indeed no-one in all formats has scored more runs than Nash since 2010 and he ranks 3rd for runs scored in T20 cricket, 5th in F/C cricket and 16th in List A cricket which is a noticeable achievement for a player who largely operates under the radar.

Runs since 2010

Given the quality of the respective company at the top of the lists, particularly in T20 cricket (given his companions at the top of the list all boast England caps), it’s a surprise his name hasn’t been mentioned as an England option before.

But that’s been a positive for Sussex and his record over the last few years for them is remarkably consistent, with relatively few fallow years with the bat and a consistently high strike rate particularly in f/c and T20 cricket.

Chris Nash Bat

All of which underlines just how hard a time Sussex will have replacing him. Indeed, comparing their team over the last two seasons and Nash tops the rankings for total runs scored across all formats which only demonstrates how big a hole this will leave for them to deal with.

Sussex Bat

When you consider the loss of Ed Joyce to Ireland duty, the retirement of Matt Machan and the release of Craig Cachopa last year, the batting ranks of Sussex have been thinned considerably already with only Stiann Van Zyl stepping up to cover all of which has already increased the pressure on Luke Wright and Luke Wells to provide big runs to cover for the growing gaps.

The question then is how can they cover for Nash’s departure and in short, it’s challenging within existing ranks to see credibly how they can do so bar relying on stellar seasons from Wells, Wright and Van Zyl. The likes of Finch and Burgess may improve while Laurie Evans and Angus Robson have decent pedigree in limited overs and first class cricket respectively. Otherwise Delray Rawlins has a great reputation but is unproven at county level while Archer and Jordan could both kick on further as all-rounders with the bat but beyond that options are short unless a signing is made and even then it would probably have to be from overseas as players of Nash’s pedigree are in short supply domestically. His are big shoes to fill.

As for Nash you can’t imagine he’ll be short for suitors. Somewhere like Kent, a good young team probably needing some experience to supplement it, would be a good fit but given his record you’d imagine most Division 1 sides would probably be taking a long look and you’d be hard pressed to bet against him thriving. Sussex’s loss could well be someone else’s gain.

Time to unleash the Jonny

Two nil down and facing the prospect of a second successive away whitewash, whilst once again being both out batted and out bowled (save for James Anderson) by Australia, it’s clear that something needs to change for England in the Ashes.

Given the injuries to Toby Roland-Jones, Steven Finn and Mark Wood, the travails of England’s bowling arguably couldn’t be helped but England’s batting problems are arguably harder to explain away beyond the simple point that the quality doesn’t exist. When only four of your batting picks average 40+ in first class cricket (and you clearly don’t trust one of them in Gary Ballance), you can’t expect the personnel to average much more in Test Cricket and thus put up sufficient scores to win games. Which then brings us to the question that England ought to be asking of themselves as they seek to get back into this series: Do we need to pick Bairstow purely as a batsman?

The reality is that for anyone who has followed County Cricket over the last four years, Bairstow is a giant in terms of domestic batsmen. His returns for Yorkshire dwarf anyone else in the County game including some hugely big names. Over the last three years his form has been nigh on ridiculous whenever he’s stepped back into the County ranks, topping the averages with an average of 82 and a century percentage of 35% (plus a healthy conversion rate). The below table highlights the leading run scorers over the last three years in County Cricket (minimum innings 20) and Bairstow averages over 15 more per innings than his closest rival.

Batsmen (Min 20 inns) Inns Runs Ave SR 50s 100s Conv Cent%
JM Bairstow 20 1649 82.45 0.79 5 7 1.40 35.00%
AG Prince 22 1478 67.18 0.68 5 5 1.00 22.73%
AN Cook 22 1445 65.68 0.53 4 6 1.50 27.27%
KC Sangakkara 54 3400 62.96 0.67 10 14 1.40 25.93%
SA Northeast 61 3522 57.74 0.64 16 9 0.56 14.75%
RN ten Doeschate 49 2648 54.04 0.67 17 5 0.29 10.20%
AC Voges 24 1241 51.71 0.53 8 2 0.25 8.33%
BM Duckett 59 2988 50.64 0.77 10 11 1.10 18.64%
JWA Taylor 20 991 49.55 0.57 5 2 0.40 10.00%
LS Livingstone 33 1618 49.03 0.58 9 4 0.44 12.12%
S van Zyl 21 1023 48.71 0.52 4 2 0.50 9.52%
AD Hales 30 1459 48.63 0.66 4 4 1.00 13.33%
AN Petersen 43 1995 46.40 0.62 7 6 0.86 13.95%
MJ Cosgrove 76 3484 45.84 0.64 15 11 0.73 14.47%
RJ Burns 70 3204 45.77 0.51 20 5 0.25 7.14%
WL Madsen 65 2974 45.75 0.55 14 9 0.64 13.85%
T Westley 56 2560 45.71 0.54 13 6 0.46 10.71%
CDJ Dent 71 3199 45.06 0.50 20 8 0.40 11.27%
JL Denly 65 2921 44.94 0.55 16 7 0.44 10.77%
GJ Bailey 20 894 44.70 0.59 5 3 0.60 15.00%

He also had one of the great County seasons in recent years in 2015 (though second only to Sangakkara’s epic 2017 in terms of recent efforts) as the below table of top 10 highest County season averages (min 8 matches) indicates:

Player Mat Runs Ave Year
KC Sangakkara 10 1491 106.5 2017
MR Ramprakash 14 2211 105.28 2006
MR Ramprakash 15 2026 101.3 2007
NRD Compton 11 1191 99.25 2012
NV Knight 10 1520 95 2002
DJ Hussey 12 1219 93.76 2007
JM Bairstow 9 1108 92.33 2015
SG Law 16 1820 91 2003
MR Ramprakash 11 1350 90 2009
MEK Hussey 14 1697 89.31 2003

And of the active England eligible players (if we ignore the bloke the ECB ask us to) he is the only one with a 50+ average in County Cricket (min 20 innings).

Batsmen (min 20 inns) Sum of Runs Ave
KP Pietersen 5031 59.89
JM Bairstow 5937 51.63
LS Livingstone 1618 49.03
ME Trescothick 13729 48.51
AN Cook 6465 47.54
GS Ballance 5396 47.33
JE Root 2679 47.00
NLJ Browne 3831 44.03
BM Duckett 3748 43.58
JM Clarke 2656 43.54
RJ Burns 5711 42.30
DW Lawrence 2072 42.29
IR Bell 8174 42.13
RS Bopara 8844 41.52
NRT Gubbins 2317 41.38
JC Hildreth 13344 41.19
H Hameed 1968 41.00
CT Steel 899 40.86
WL Madsen 8602 40.58
NRD Compton 9186 40.47

So, as we can see. of all the options available to England in terms of batsman to bring in, no-one even comes close to matching Bairstow in terms of output. If this scenario feels familiar, it’s probably because it mirrors the same such debates England were having in the mid 90’s about Alec Stewart and the wicket-keeper position.

Which then brings us on to what are the downsides?

Firstly Bairstow himself doesn’t want to do it and is committed to keeping for England, which is understandable given his keeping improvements over the last two years and the obvious kick he gets from being the focal point in this team. Yet there is a point where England management need to intervene and point out that to truly fulfil his potential greatness as a batsman and help England where their need is greatest, Bairstow ought to drop the gloves. Few wicket-keeper batsmen thrive in Test cricket if their top order cannot post scores (see Quinton De Kock for South Africa this summer gone). England need Bairstow the batsman to make this happen. Plus, unlike for England in the 90s, England have a mean batsman in Ben Foakes as their backup keeper. He may potentially be the best keeper in the world, but he also averages 40+ himself over the last three years in County Cricket.

Secondly, Bairstow’s Test form as a batsman alone is patchy. Which is a fair point

Grouping Span Mat Runs HS Bat Av 100 Wkts BBI Bowl Av 5 Ct St
Keeper 2013-2017 30 2179 167* 44.46 3 113 7
Not Keeper 2012-2015 17 753 95 28.96 0 10 0

Yet Jason Gillespie in 2015 remarked that a key part of his form turnaround was based on allowing Bairstow to dictate his technique and avoiding confusion in his approach.

In reality, given these considerations, the likeliest option available is a move up the order to 5 enabling Bairstow to keep and bat higher up the order (as he does very well for Yorkshire). Yet few keepers in Test history have combined excellent top to middle order batting, particularly in a struggling team, which suggests Bairstow could always be slightly compromised by two roles.

WKTKEEPER

Ultimately given the situation in the series, although there are risks and England will be reluctant to disrupt their fielding and batting by changing their keeper halfway through an Ashes series, desperate times call for desperate measures. With quality batsmen lacking, England should be thinking hard about giving one of their best ones  every chance to shine.

Postscript – Mark Butcher eloquently states the case for this move here. It’s worth a listen. 

Warwickshire: When batsmen fail, you can always blame the bowlers

For Warwickshire, the 2017 County Championship season was something of a disaster and ended in a disappointing relegation to Division Two. Ashley Giles, Director of Cricket, the winter ahead promises to be challenging and he has acted quickly by announcing the start of a “backroom restructure”.

To look at how they matched up in terms of averages for Batting and Bowling in Division One, it’s clear to see where Warwickshire’s problems lie both with bat and ball, although their batting arguably stands out with only Jonathan Trott having anything close to a decent season:

Warwickshire

Even with the arrivals of Adam Hose and Dominic Sibley mid-season, their batting ended scoring the lowest average in the division and scored the joint lowest number of centuries in the Championship. Meanwhile their bowling averages, weakened through losing Chris Woakes for much of the season, was third highest in the Division but below Surrey and Hampshire.

Like, their batting, they’ve struggled to get an experienced unit of players to perform at the level required (none of Chris Wright, Boyd Rankin or Keith Barker broke an average of 35 and had 54 wickets between them) but they were buoyed by a couple of breakthrough bowlers in Ryan Sidebottom (not that one) who averaged 22 for 23 wickets and Sukhjit Singh (2 5fers in six innings) after coming in.

So, who of their specialist coaches was the one who got the chop first? You guessed it, it was Alan Richardson their bowling coach. It’s certainly a twist on the logic that when batsmen fail, it’s usually the bowlers who get dropped.