Five Things We Learned In County Cricket This Week

1)      Marcus Trescothick is getting better

Only an idiot would doubt Marcus Trescothick. In an ideal world he’d still be in the England team, possibly as captain and be both their highest century maker and run scorer but he’s not and sadly the tendency is to treat every county achievement with a sense of “what if”. It is only natural, but does Trescothick, Somerset and the County Championship a disservice by almost diminishing his achievements. Because if anything ‘Banger’ is getting better; no mean feat at the age of 35 and without the motivation of a Test spot to aim for.

Marcus Trescothick: Better than the rest

His captaincy continues to develop; he is an astute and understated leader who has had to lead an often inexperienced batting and bowling line-up while keeping up his form with the bat. Indeed the remarkable thing is that his batting continues to astound. He stands head and shoulders above the rest of the county circuit there. He has notched up 978 runs before the end of May and is over 250 runs away from Varun Chopra, his closest rival. He also boasts the highest average-81.60 and has a strike rate at 71 which is matched only by fellow big hitters Ben Stokes and Ian Blackwell-neither of whom opens.

His latest effort for Somerset-189 in the first innings followed by a typically belligerent 151* off 131 balls was too much for Yorkshire, a county with an attack which contains Ryan Sidebottom and Adil Rashid. Somerset’s fluctuating form this season is often tied to their captain’s, when Trescothick fires, his county tends to as well-that is how crucial he has become and a sign of how good a player he really is.

2)      Ravi Bopara has got serious competition as England’s potential part-timer

Ravi Bopara has every reason to feel aggrieved. One imagines he will have watched this England match with a vested interest given how close he came to selection, and felt more than aggrieved at the sight of James Anderson going off and Jonathan Trott being forced to bowl some overs as a relief bowler. For that was Bopara’s role in this team before Eoin Morgan intervened.

Ben Stokes: The next Collingwood

Instead Bopara was at Chelmsford, getting out twice for single figures and taking three wickets for 130-odd runs, in terms of a riposte it was far from a telling one. Meanwhile elsewhere there were further ominous signs for Bopara in the form of another confident young star that is both scoring runs and taking wickets in Durham’s Ben Stokes.

Stokes, who has already scored two centuries this season, took 7-145 in Durham’s comprehensive victory over Warwickshire. His bowling has never been his strong suit but it has begun to develop with an extra yard of pace added over a winter spent training with the England Lions and the results have manifested themselves in 16 first class wickets at an average of 31. As Ian Botham would put it, his averages are the right way round, 42 with the bat, 31 with the ball this season and if he carries on like this then England honours will surely be just a matter of time. Having just lost one red-headed northerner who bats, bowls and fields well, it would be ironic if England replaced him with another one.

3)      Alviro Petersen really is Glamorgan captain

Of course we all knew that Alviro Petersen was Glamorgan captain, he arrived in such controversial circumstances that we could not have missed it. Yet after his first innings double hundred against Surrey now we can safely say, he REALLY is the Glamorgan captain. The innings itself was special-210 off 352 balls with 24 fours and 1 six-but ultimately in the context of the match it was meaningless as neither side appeared capable of dislodging the other on a relatively tame surface, but in the context of Glamorgan’s season and Petersen’s captaincy it could yet be crucial.

Alviro Petersen: The knock of a captain

This was the innings of a leader, opening the batting and taking responsibility to lead his side forward in a match which had potential significance against one of their promotion rivals. It was one which spoke of a leader, a real captain’s knock which perhaps for the first time we had really seen from Petersen in his tenure. His arrival may have been controversial, but he has been doing a good job in difficult circumstances this season and after an innings such as this, a real captain’s knock, he really has become Glamorgan’s leader.

4)      Lonwabo Tsotsobe has found the only way isn’t Essex

Lonwabo Tsotsobe’s brief stint in county cricket will probably go down as one of those mysterious ones-like the signings of Andy Blignaut by Durham in 2004 (4 wickets at a cost of 50) or Iftikhar Anjum by Surrey in 2009 (8 wickets at 40). Yet Tsotsobe unlike those two was a genuinely gifted international bowler who was seemingly at the top of his game having starred for South Africa in their series against India and performed well at the World Cup. So how he managed to end up with just five first class wickets at an average of 77 will surely remain the subject of much debate.

The mystery of Tsotsobe

It has already proved to be quite the storm with Paul Grayson publicly slating the player (a rare event for a County coach) after the player himself had used his Twitter feed to bemoan the environment at the club and his decision to move there instead of staying in South Africa. The exact reasons behind his failure will now be investigated thoroughly by both Essex and Cricket South Africa to determine both why it occurred and how it could have been avoided.

It is a great shame because county cricket can be a great learning environment for pace bowlers. Zaheer Khan said this week that all Indian pace bowlers should go there after his spell at Worcestershire in 2004. Thus it is a real shame that Tsotsobe has gone, a shame for Essex and South Africa but most of all for the player himself, because what has now gone down as one of the worst moments in his career should have been one of his finest.

5)      County cricket can learn a lesson from Adrian Shankar

If Tsotsobe’s story is a mystery then what can you make of the case of Adrian Shankar? The story is covered in far greater detail here, but needless to say the story of a cricketer who managed to bluff his way into first class cricket will go down in history. Though the story hardly reflects well on Shankar himself, what to make of the counties who signed him without proper investigation. Neither Lancashire or Worcestershire have exactly covered themselves in glory in this tale, and the apparent ease with which Shankar has managed to forge a career will serve as a warning to them in the future. As much blame as Shankar will ultimately take for his part it is worth remembering that with appropriate measures in place he would never have managed to get so far. Next time, if there is a next time, they will surely have learned their lesson.

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Five Things We Learned In County Cricket

1)      Dominic Cork is the Mark Ramprakash of pace bowling

For years County Cricket has been built on three things: overseas players, young prospects and experienced pros who have been there and done it before. As financial stabilities have become threatened so the number of overseas players and aging players has decreased as County Cricket now bears a more youthful look.

Dominic Cork: As competitive as ever

Yet there are two old pro’s who have bucked the trend, one is Mark Ramprakash of 100 100’s fame, the other is the under-rated Dominic Cork.

Cork is nearly 80 days away from turning 40, he is just 21 wickets away from 1,000 first class wickets at an average of 26 and who brought up his 10,000th first class run against Yorkshire while picking up a first innings five-fer and picking up match figures of 8-126. Ok, so he hasn’t been as prolific as Ramprakash in his elder years (few could be) but he has averaged around 25 with the ball in six of his last eight seasons which is by no means disgraceful and he will probably end up with more wickets than either Andy Caddick or Darren Gough-his great rivals in the England set-up. If Ramprakash continues to remain the epitome of batting excellence as an elder statesman, surely Cork’s continued success after over 20 years in County Cricket make him very much the pace bowling equal of his former England team-mate.

2)      Ed Joyce is the form Irish batsmen

Once upon a time it was Ed Joyce who was the Irish batsmen upon whom England relied. He began in trying circumstances, flourished enough to score a century against Australia before ultimately having it end in ignominy at the 2007 World Cup. Three years in the wilderness forced Joyce to seek a return to Irish colours, embittered by the lack of opportunities provided to him by England selectors.

His World Cup form on his return to Ireland action was disappointing, but this season he has sparkled for Sussex as they continue to defy the critics in Division One.

Ed Joyce: The form of the Irish

Two centuries, two fifties and an average of nearly 60 have played a key part for Sussex so far this season as he has confirmed his status as one of the best batsmen around. Certainly he is the form Irish batsmen, quite something considering the talents of Morgan. But while it will surely be Morgan in contention for an England place this summer it is Joyce, the man who has turned his back on his adopted country, who is the form batsman from the Emerald Isle.

3)      Glamorgan are showing signs of life

It’s fair to say that this winter was no ordinary winter for Glamorgan. Captain and coach left, their best young batsman soon followed and their form batsman of the previous season found himself being told that he was not required to return. In came Alviro Petersen as captain and Matthew Mott, the former New South Wales coach, as the club’s board attempted to appease supporter unrest with some big name appointments and talk of a brave new era at the club. It’s fair to say things have not exactly started swimmingly for the captain and coach as Petersen and his team’s form has fluctuated badly with defeats against Essex and Leicestershire offset by a fighting draw against Surrey and wins against Gloucestershire and now Kent.

Yet the signs of life are growing, certainly though one would excuse Glamorgan fans from being overly optimistic as one of the longer suffering set of fans. Their bowling attack is proving potent with James Harris continuing to develop at a handy rate of knots, Will Owen and Adam Shantry taking wickets and Dean Cosker continuing to thrive as one of the country’s more underrated left-arm spinners by taking 23 wickets already on early season wickets. But their batting needs work, as they have scored just one century all season and appear to lack the bulk of runs provided for them last year by Cosgrove with Petersen struggling to strike a balance between captaincy and good batting form. Yet the fears for the club’s form in the County Championship after their winter of discontent are slowly being put to bed, as the Petersen era is finally getting up off the ground.

4)      The students can give lessons too

This was surely not the way in which Kevin Pietersen envisaged his return to first class cricket, captaining one of the few County sides who have been beaten by a University side-indeed the first at Fenners where the County team have been dismissed in the second innings since 1982. And he fell to a left-arm spinner, surely rounding off a fairly miserable match.

Granted, Pietersen apart, this was a weak Surrey XI but this was still a major coup for a Cambridgeshire side comprised entirely of students and containing only a handful of players on the books of counties including Surrey’s own Zafar Ansari and Warwickshire’s Paul Best. They didn’t just win, but they won handsomely by almost an innings as they outbowled and outbatted their County counterparts and in truth looked much the better team throughout. For once it was nice to see the students, so often the butt of plenty of cutting remarks regarding the first class status of their matches, giving County cricketers a lesson. Proof that the kid’s can be alright after all when given half a chance.

5)      Controversy will always overshadow class

I’m not going to debate the faults of modern journalism, there’s just no point. Salacious incidents and controversies nowadays will forever generate the headlines and overshadow the more mundane, and yet perhaps worthwhile stories which accompany them. It’s the modern media for you. Yet it still seems a shame when moments of inimitable class can get overshadowed by controversy and it happens all too often.

A Mohammad Yousuf masterclass gets overshadowed

Take this weekend’s match between Warwickshire and Worcestershire for example. This game will always be remembered for the wrong reasons: Worcestershire losing three men to injury, the ECB pitch inspectors declaring the pitch unfit and Warwickshire being punished for it. Yet along the way there were some rare moments of class amidst a pitch which played almost like a minefield. Take for instance the first innings hundred and second innings half century by Mohammad Yousuf, an innings which stuck out like a sore thumb and confirmed that despite his advancing years, his touch of class still remains. Think also of 20-yeard old Chris Metters, who on debut took 6-65 in his first ever Championship match. These are moments where class deserves due acclaim, and yet they find it overshadowed by controversy, as is all too often the case.

Glamorgan CCC’s winter of discontent

For all its history and tradition it is unlikely that Glamorgan Cricket Club have endured a more turbulent twenty four hours than that which has hit the club lately.

Losing their captain Jamie Dalrymple and coach Matthew Maynard have potentially left the club in turmoil. But how did it come to this, and what are the reasons behind their departure?

The start of a beautiful friendship

Former batting coach Maynard took over in 2007

In 2007 Maynard took over at Glamorgan, and the former England batting coach was then joined by Dalrymple in 2008 who immediately made a huge impression at the club, being named Glamorgan’s Player of the Year that season. That summer he was named club captain permanently with Maynard praising his “experience and strong character”.

Building for the Future

Under Maynard, the club adopted a policy aimed more towards developing their own young players, mixed with a sprinkling of seasoned professionals such as Dean Cosker and Robert Croft.

James Harris has thrived under Maynard's tutelage

This proved beneficial with the likes of James Harris, Huw Waters and Tom Maynard developing well. But real progress as a team was slow and in 2008/09 the club finished fifth in Division Two with only two wins, while they made little impression on the Twenty20, Pro40 or Friends Provident competitions.

Under Pressure

After a decent season in 2009, where the club came fifth in the County Championship, both Dalrymple and Maynard signed new deals with the club after the season. However Glamorgan chairman Paul Russell said: “You’re as good as your last set of results. The results have been enormously disappointing and that’s what Matthew and I, and [chief executive] Alan Hamer will be discussing in some detail.”

A season of peaks and troughs

Despite starting the season poorly against Sussex, the team bounced back quickly with victory at Lords against Middlesex, before recording a further four victories by June to put them in a handy position in the Championship, prompting Maynard to declare himself “delighted with the first half of the season.”

Yet the spanner in their works came in the limited-overs competitions which were a priority for the Glamorgan hierarchy. The team struggled to make an impact in the T20 Cup-finishing second bottom in the Southern Group, while worse was to come in the Pro40 where they finished bottom of Group A, below minnows Unicorns.

Meanwhile in the County Championship their form fell away, despite the prolific form of Cosgrove and the excellence of Harris and Allenby, and they were eventually pipped for promotion on the final day by Worcestershire, after drawing three of their last four games.

At the end of the season, Maynard hinted at potential trouble behind the scenes, stating: “How the season is viewed is up to the board as it is them I am answerable to. It will be interesting to get their views, one committee man blanked me and Jamie earlier so that suggests that they’re not too happy.”

Winter of discontent

Initially the winter began well, first with the signing of Graham Wagg from Derbyshire, plus the announcement of new deals for Harris, Tom Maynard and Robert Croft. But behind the scenes the club’s management were conducting a stringent review of their performances on the field, led by Colin Metson (more on him later).

Eventually the club came to the decision to remove Dalrymple as captain yesterday and Paul Russell, Glamorgan chairman, said it was made because “the management was under pressure from the committee to improve results.”

As Dalrymple’s replacement, in came Alviro Petersen, the South African batsman, who was charged with improving their short-form fortunes. The club’s statement barely concealed their motives behind his signing, stating: “Glamorgan’s record in one-day cricket over the past few years has been very poor and the appointment of Alviro as our captain forms a crucial part of the club’s strategy to improve our playing fortunes.”

Later Russell declared Maynard’s position at the club was “certain”, but the club’s decision to appoint Metson as head of their coaching staff, eventually forced Maynard into the inevitable as he declared his position “untenable”. Within 24 hours both the captain and coach had gone.

What next?

In truth, who knows what can happen next? The club have not only shorn themselves of the services of a club legend and a capable coach, but their former captain and potentially one of their better players. Dalrymple’s future is in doubt according to club legend Steve James, while a new captain and coach with little track record must take over a group of players who developed well under Maynard.

Furthermore Petersen’s arrival means an end for Cosgrove’s spell at the club, meaning they must also do without their leading scorer in First Class cricket last season.

After a season of peaks and troughs which generally showed that while they are not yet the finished article they were definitely heading in the right direction with a young team has been destabilised.

Though this is a story which has taken on many twists and turns already, there promises to be much more to come in an eventful winter for Glamorgan CCC.