Darren Stevens: There’s life in the old dog yet

There’s an old saying that goes: “Every dog has it’s day” and for Darren Stevens it was definitely his day.

Managing to steal the headlines from a 21 year old who rode to his side’s rescue with a century after they slipped to a perilous position on the opening day is an achievement in itself but this was something quite considerable.

In his 171st first class game this was his first ever five wicket haul as his wobbly medium pacers were seemingly transformed into the cricketing equivalents of hand grenades on a greenish wicket, the type you get in early County season.

Managing to take 5-14 off 12 overs including England’s hero of the winter Alistair Cook and Ravi Bopara was a wonderful effort. But perhaps the real amazing thing is that it has taken Stevens this long to manage such a feat.

Though he is rarely entrusted with the new ball by his captain, he is a capable bowler particularly in One Day cricket which allied to his batting makes him one of County cricket’s top all-rounders. But like all good County pro’s he is wholehearted and ever willing to improve. His form over the past three seasons with Kent are worthy of higher honours, though whether at 34 he will be given an opportunity is a different matter.

But for someone at the opposite end of the scale like Essex’s impressive debutant Reece Topley who at 17 is already causing quite a stir including the wicket of Denly today, here was a lesson from one of County cricket’s wiliest old dogs.

Topley will surely have his day in the months and years ahead of him, but today was the day of one old dog in particular. And as Darren Stevens has shown there’s plenty of life in the old dog yet as Essex found out to their peril.

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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.

One to Watch: The one and only Chesney Hughes

The one and only: Chesney Hughes

With a name that’s a headline writers dream, Chesney Hughes has slowly been carving out a fine reputation for himself in domestic cricket, both at home in the West Indies and in England with Derbyshire.

The name may sound like ‘The One and Only’ singer Chesney Hawkes, but Hughes is definitely doing his bit to make his name stand out in its own right.

Born in Anguilla, one of the Northern, he quickly caught the eye-turning out for the Island at 15 and the West Indies u19 team at 16, but it was in the distinctly unexotic location of Fleetwood in Lancashire where he was spotted by former Hampshire bowler Cardigan Connor.

It was Connor who tipped off John Morris, director of cricket at Derbyshire, to him and after a successful trial he was snapped up, and he quickly repaid the faith shown in him by taking to County Cricket like a duck to water.

His debut was memorable, faring better than his more experienced team-mates to score 41 against a strong Middlesex attack including internationals Iain O’Brien and Steven Finn. 15 days later, he achieved a more memorable feat, scoring his maiden first class century against Gloucestershire, in only his fifth first class innings.

By the end of the summer, he added a 156 scored against Northamptonshire to his list of centuries, and finished his debut season with 784 Championship runs at an average of 41, and 422 Limited Overs runs at an average of 35.

Now playing for the Leeward Islands this Winter, he has continued to thrive-finishing in the top 10 run scorers in the WICB 50 Over tournament-which is quite a turnaround from last season where he was omitted from their first class player list.

His strengths are obvious just to look at him. He is well built, and strikes the ball with great power but also terrific timing, plus being left-handed further benefits him against right-armed bowlers. Furthermore, his skill as a part-time finger spinner has led some to consider him as a potential all-rounder in the future.

The most impressive asset of all is his maturity, at just 19 he has a calm head, and a knack for thriving in crunch situations. Two of his most important innings show this; firstly for Derbyshire he struck 96* in a second innings total of 236 against Gloucestershire on a questionable pitch, which proved far too much for the home team who were bowled out for just 70 in reply.

Then this winter for the Leeward Islands, he struck a steady 81 in the semi-final of the WICB one day tournament in their total of 213, which was 4 runs more than the Windward Islands could manage in reply. For a young player, still learning the game, it is a promising sign and an indicator of a sound temperament.

West Indies or England?

The one question which hangs over his head is about who he could represent at international level in the future. As an Anguillan, he holds a British passport, and hence could conceivably qualify for England, though his heart is said to be set on representing the West Indies in the future.

But wherever his future lies, be it with England or the West Indies, it appears that Chesney Hughes can achieve big things in the years to come.

What they say:

“He is the best 19-year-old I’ve seen for a long time. I cannot remember anyone in my age group – and that included players like Neil Fairbrother, James Whitaker, Matthew Maynard and Rob Bailey – being any better than he is.” John Morris, head of Cricket at Derbyshire.

“Chesney is someone whose progress I will be following with interest. He is a cricketer that you guys in England should be getting very excited about and who England should certainly be trying to get on board now.

“He’s only 19, but he’s built like Matthew Hayden, and he has that same imposing figure at the crease. And some of the innings he’s played this year, including the 90-odd not out he made at Bristol, have been exceptional.” Former Derbyshire opening partner Chris Rogers.

The beginning of the end for County Cricket’s congested calendar?

The good news is that change in County Cricket coming. The bad news? Only in 12 months time.

It’s the change which County Cricket’s fans, it’s players, even it’s coaches have wanted, a new structure which promises to reduce the season by eight to twelve days.

Having watched county sides slog it out game after game over a domestic summer, it’s a change that is long overdue. Good quality cricketers may actually get sometime to rest and recover between games, a situation which ought to eradicate the frankly farcical situation which Somerset faced when they had to dash from the Twenty20 finals day (which to boot they lost!) straight to a Pro40 match against Lancashire two days later.

In total Somerset, who ultimately ended up winning zero trophies despite being in two finals and finishing level on points with Nottinghamshire for the title, played almost 50 games from May to September. Premier League teams play less matches in a nine month season.Before the season former England coach Duncan Fletcher, no fan of County Cricket’s slog, wrote:

“Nothing is ever done about the glaringly obvious fact that county cricketers play too much cricket. It has to be the major reason why England have never won a global one-day trophy.

“Not only do they play too much, they also play it at the wrong time. Generally games are tagged on to the end of four-day championship matches, when players are tired, and sometimes from long hours of travelling as well as playing. There is no time to think and reflect, no time to rest, no time to practise.”

Thankfully having seen the error of their ways, the ECB has devised a strategy which will eventually reduce the number of days which players play cricket.

However, the details are muddled and unclear, with few sides yet to agree on what form the cuts will take. Furthermore as the talks regarding the cuts have gone on so long, they will not be implemented until 2012. Which means one more year of the county treadmill which neither players or spectators want.

Then you get to the minor details, for instance the reform of the Pro40 competition back to 50-Overs or the refusal to consider changing the County Championship format or the Twenty20 competion.

These are good competitions, producing good cricket and cricketers when there is less cricket being played. County teams play a huge number of Twenty20 games which has prompted talk of overkill, with county’s struggling to attract spectators on a consistent basis.

Though some counties, Essex and Yorkshire in particular, do very well out of Twenty20, other poorer counties do not-so keeping the competition in a status quo is hardly ideal.

County Cricket is the lifeblood of English cricket, a quintessential part of being a cricket follower and as we have seen recently, a fine breeding ground for players to graduate into the England team.

The cuts in playing time, if and when they eventually come could be a vitally important step to preserving the game.

Good quality cricket can attract spectators in vast numbers, but equally too much of it can drive them away. Reductions in the number of games, helping to preserve the quality of the cricket, can only be a good thing.

The domestic game may never be able to fulfil the needs and hopes of players, fans, coaches and administrators, but it can still do a lot more to help ensure that all parties’ concerns are catered for.

Though there’s a long way to go but perhaps this decision, after years of piling more cricket onto the County calendar, could get things moving in the right direction at last.

 

 

 

Sensible cricket is at the heart of both Somerset and England’s recipes for success

Two games in 24 hours witnessed two thoroughly proficient performances of limited overs cricket as first England beat Pakistan and then Somerset defeated Essex in their Pro40 Semi-Final to set up a final against Warwickshire at Lords.

Both teams are enjoying a prolific time within limited overs cricket, England fresh from being crowned T20 World Champions have emerged victorious in series over Bangladesh and Australia, while Somerset reached the Twenty20 Finals Day only to be pipped by Hampshire and are now in the Pro40 final-not to mention being genuine contenders for the County Championship.

On paper there are plenty of similarities between the two teams, both are incredibly fit, well organised and drilled. Both are well led both in terms of captaincy and with the bat, England by Andrew Strauss, Somerset by Marcus Trescothick.

Both also contain versatile bowling attacks, with real quality spinners in Graham Swann and Murali Kartik, and explosive young talent in Eoin Morgan and Steven Davies, and for Somerset Jos Buttler and England’s very own Craig Kieswetter.

Yet the key for both teams, beyond the sheer depth of talent at their disposal, is that both harness it in the right way-using their talent to full, something which both team’s could have been accused of not doing in the past.

The buzz word around each team has been sensible cricket, not so much approaching matters in a cavalier matter but approaching it with a methodical, calculated approach while also performing their key skills under pressure.

Take England, who have yet to concede more than 150 runs in a T20 innings in almost 2 years, and Somerset, who lost only two of their 16 T20 matches and just two of their 11 Pro40 games. These are not statistics achieved through chance, but through rigorous effort and a methodical, common sense approach.

Certainly, the improvements in both lie in the powerful management both on, and off the field-both by their coaches Andy Flower and Andy Hurry, and on the field with Strauss and Trescothick.

The coaches are particularly key, Flower built on the base which was constructed by the well-meaning, but under-respected Peter Moores, who laid the foundations for this success. So too, as Hurry and Trescothick built on the base constructed by Justin Langer during his time as captain.

Langer, a keen workaholic whose career outlasted many more talented batsmen as a result, helped introduce the kind of work ethic and fitness work which were unpopular among certain maverick players like Ian Blackwell, but which has proved beneficial to the likes of James Hildreth and Peter Trego who are thriving, as are the team.

It is about managing resources, covering every base, rigorously planning ahead, and ensuring that skills are performed under even the most pressured of environments. These may sound purely like plain common sense, but that is the very notion which is at the heart of their success. Sensible cricket, which as both England and Somerset are proving, is also successful cricket.

Alastair Cook’s loss of form opens the England door to County contenders

As the England test team begins to enter the final straight in their quest to retain the Ashes they appear for the first time in years to be entering an away series in Australia in better shape than their bitter rivals.

While Australia continue be concerned by the fluctuating form of both bowlers and batsman, for Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower this has been a remarkably tranquil period where stability and success have gone hand in hand over the past year.

However the one cloud on England’s horizon is the form of vice captain Alastair Cook.

Cook's loss of form is a real worry for England

After a dramatically poor English summer, it is easy to forget what a productive winter Cook had with a century against South Africa and two against Bangladesh in his first tour as captain.

But now just a matter of months later, Cook looks all at sea. After spending the latter part of last summer working on technical issues which had plagued him during the Ashes he appeared to have hit upon a method which was working.

Yet now the technical issues have re-emerged, with a continued flaw outside off stump making him a target for a fuller ball. As his former Essex team-mate Nasser Hussain commented during Friday’s painstaking innings of 17, “his technique is shot”.

The question now is what do England do with their vice captain. Continuity has been a staple part of their success, and Cook is a vital part of that. Yet with an Ashes Winter looming, can England afford to persevere with their vice captain and back him to come good?

Given Cook’s record you wouldn’t bet against him making a battling hundred in his next innings, but should his woes continue then perhaps the kindest thing to do would be to take him out to allow a refresh and a rethink.

Such a tactic worked for Andrew Strauss when he struggled with his form in 2008 before returning with a battling 177 against New Zealand, it could well work with Cook.

Jonathan Trott: Ready to open?

England are not short of credible candidates who could step up in Cook’s place. The one name among the current team is to suggest pushing Jonathan Trott up to open with Ian Bell coming in at number 3.

Though quite whether England would be willing to jeopardise the success Trott has had as a number 3 in favour of trying him in an opening position he is unaccustomed to, is another matter.

Another option could be to dip into the county cricket pool, which has proved particularly productive for them in recent years given the success of Trott and Morgan over the past 12 months.

Two names standout in the county championship so far this season, Yorkshire’s Adam Lyth and Hampshire’s Michael Carberry.

Adam Lyth: Breakthrough season

Lyth, who sits atop of the run scorers list, is a left handed opener who has enjoyed something of a breakthrough season this year after struggling to break into the Yorkshire team last season.

At 22 he still has plenty of improving to do, but he is well organised and keen to attack at every opportunity-very much a Flower/Strauss sort of batsman.

Carberry on the other hand was capped by England during the Bangladesh tour, where he admittedly struggled-top scoring with 34.

Carberry: Scoring runs for fun

Despite failing to shine, he has enjoyed a fruitful county season-recently scoring two centuries against Durham in Hampshire’s last County game.

A powerful hitter, an excellent fielder and a thoroughly capable batsman, he has plenty of fans including Shane Warne, and remains very much in England’s thoughts as James Whittaker has been a regular at the Rose Bowl this year.

There are certainly options if Cook’s fortunes continue to fade. While his record automatically ensures he will be in the squad for the Ashes trip, only time will tell if he remains in the starting XI.

Competition in a squad is something Andy Flower has wanted for a long time, and Alastair Cook certainly has competition for his place, from both in and outside this England squad.

Hampshire’s Impressive Young Stars Continue to Lead the Way in Twenty20

A season which was fast going off the rails for Hampshire has all of a sudden begun to pick up speed at just the right time as Dominic Cork’s team find themselves in the Twenty20 finals day for the first time at their home ground after a storming victory over Warwickshire at Edgbaston.

Cork, who has played a huge part in the resurgence of this side after taking over the captaincy from Nic Pothas mid-way through the season, has found himself saddled with a young team in the absence of a number of senior players.

For one reason or another, be it international duty or injury, he has been forced to do without Simon Jones, Nic Pothas, Dimitri Mascharenas, Kevin Pietersen and Kabir Ali for large parts of this campaign, yet in their absence Hampshire’s young stars have begun to find their feet in impressive fashion.

None was more impressive than young batsman James Vince, whose unbeaten 66 was the key factor in his side’s victory and was an innings which was audacious as much for its startling maturity than its majesty.

Impressive performer

The man-of-the-match hit the headlines last year after former England coach Duncan Fletcher compared him with Michael Vaughan. The comparisons may be a touch premature, but they are now without reason. In terms of his shot selection, the sweetness of his timing and the sheer composure at the crease, Vince has a lot in common with the former England captain.

While he may not have garnered the praise of either Ben Stokes or James Taylor, Vince has quietly and efficiently got on with doing what he does best, making runs. While he has not yet got the big scores, he has a happy knack of scoring runs whenever he is at the crease-and as he showed today-is capable of making them at the right time.

But there are others, especially left-arm spinner Danny Briggs, the third highest wicket taker in the competition with 27 wickets at an average of 14.29.

Today he took three vital wickets and showed plenty of nous and accuracy, something which will undoubtedly have impressed the watching Ashley Giles.

Giving it a tweak

He also managed to out bowl the vastly more experienced Imran Tahir, and had former England captain Michael Atherton purring in the commentary box.

Those two were the decisive men today for Hampshire, but there were also decisive contributions from wicketkeeper Matthew Bates,who kept wonderfully both standing up and back from the stumps, and left arm seamer Chris Wood, who despite failing to pick up a wicket had the vastly experienced Darren Maddy in all sorts of trouble at times.

It is worth remembering that were their more experienced men available or had Michael Lumb not endured such a dismal run of form, then these four young men may never have played in the first place.

But it is also testament to the quality of the Hampshire academy and the work that goes on behind the scenes that these players, along with the missing Liam Dawson, are capable of performing so well on the big stage when called upon.

Though they too will pay compliments to the roles of some of Hampshire’s experienced men in their success. Throughout the team there is a real team ethic, and a supporting influence, which perhaps starts from Cork but has permeated throughout this team.

Led by opener Jimmy Adams, the first ever batsman to score over 600 runs in a domestic T20 season, and backed by solid contributions from Michael Carberry and Neil McKenzie in the middle order and with the nous of experienced campaigners Abdul Razzaq, Daniel Christian and Neil Ervine.

Altogether it makes for a potent T20 mixture, and one that appears to be serving the Hampshire Hawks well.

Come finals day they ought to be tough opposition for whoever they come up against, and if Cork and his team do succeed on their home patch, don’t be surprised if it’s their young stars who are once again leading the way.