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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Stars of an English Summertime: Robert Croft

English cricket fans may regard Graeme Swann as the finest off-spinner in the country but ask Glamorgan fans and they may well point out that the finest in Wales could probably push England’s finest quite far even at the age of 40. After all Robert Croft has always been a bit of a competitor.

Indeed up until the emergence of Swann it was Croft who was the best Test off-spinner England have had (apologies to Gareth Batty). Sure he was no Fred Titmus or Jim Laker, but with Croft you always knew that the effort would never be lacking.

As he put in prior to one of his final tours with England in Sri Lanka in 2003, he said: “I’m not Murali. I’m not coming here with a bag of tricks. I’m just coming here made up of 100% effort and a big heart.” After England opted for the duo of Batty and Ashley Giles over Croft for that tour he returned and slipped into international retirement to focus his efforts on Glamorgan.

He left with a record which though undistinguished compared with those of his predecessors or contemporaries around the world stood well by comparison to his English contemporaries. 49 wickets at a shade over 37 was no mean feat especially given that Giles who played over twice as many games took 143 at over 40. It was his misfortune, like Giles’ to find himself pitted against some of the great spinners of the game during his time with England though far better spinners than he could easily have fared far worse.

But for a man who always saw playing for England as a means of representing Wales-likening it to playing for the British Lions in Rugby-his real successes came in leading Glamorgan in the County championship year after year.

Having been at the club for over 20 years he is very much part of the furniture and will surely go down as one of the finest the club has ever had. The records are remarkable: the first Welshman to take 1,000 first class wickets and 10,000 first-class runs (he now stands on 1135 and 12642 respectively); taking over 50 wickets in a first-class season 10 times and helping the club to only their third ever County Championship title in 1997-during which he took 54 wickets at an excellent average of 23.

In One Day cricket-always his strongest suit-he helped make Glamorgan a force. He was there leading the celebrations when the County won their first Sunday league title in 1993 with the help of Viv Richards and then played a key role in 2002 and 2004-the latter which he won as captain.

Furthermore he has done so in a manner befitting a typical English off-spinner. In an era of “doosra” specialists like Saqlain Mushtaq and Muttiah Muralitharan, Croft perhaps lacked that touch of genius.

But he relied on old fashioned virtues: flight, control and a decent arm ball which were typical of English off-spinners of years gone by. Though Graeme Swann has been touted as making the art of traditional off-spinning fashionable in English cricket again it was probably Croft who was the embodiment of it in the decade previously.

He remains a potent force in limited overs cricket and particularly in Twenty20 cricket which has helped to keep his competitive fire burning bright as he enters his forty second year. Even now he shows no signs of slowing down, and during the Winter said: “My hunger is still there for playing and success and that has not waned. Once I lose that, it will be time for the boots to go into the River Taff.”

Certainly once his boots do finally go into the River Taff it will be a huge loss for County Cricket, Glamorgan and for Wales itself. Croft has always been vociferous in his passion for his county and his country. He once described his county as “the best team in world cricket” and the Welsh speaker was named as a Gorsedd of the Bards at his country’s Eisteddfod-testament to his passion for his nation.

It is that passion which has fired him over his long career and which continues to fire him when many of his former team-mates and contemporaries have long hung up their boots. And when that fire does finally go out expect Glamorgan and County Cricket to be a much dimmer place without Robert Croft weaving his magic.

The County Cricket Five-Fer: Round Two

Five Things We Learned From The County Championship

1) Graham Onions will play for England again sooner rather than later

England’s successful last 18 months have created their own fair share of victors and victims. But few can have been more of a victim of England’s success than Graham Onions who was surely the forgotten man of English cricket.

When he stonewalled South Africa to ensure England got a draw from the 4th Test which gave them a fair chance of securing a series victory his place appeared beyond all reasonable doubt, especially given that he had enjoyed a fine series with the ball too.

Yet history tells us differently. Onions was dropped for the very next match for Ryan Sidebottom, England lost and drew the series and the Durham man was to suffer a terrible injury to his back which prevented him from bowling for almost a year.

During that time England have gone on and conquered all while discovering the talents of Steven Finn along the way plus enjoying the pleasant double surprise of Tim Bresnan and Chris Tremlett’s impact at Test level over the Winter. Pace bowling places in this England team are now contested more fiercely possibly than at any stage previously.

As if hes never been away

But don’t rule out Onions making a return to the Test arena. Because he is back, and judging by his performance against Yorkshire then it’s like he’s never been away. Pace, bounce and that devilish late movement gave him a five-wicket haul on his first game back and helped set up Durham’s victory.

He already looks a class above the County Championship which is remarkable given the length of time he has spent out injured. A good sign for England perhaps, and if he continues to kick on then don’t rule out a return sooner rather than later.

2) England’s pace bowling cup runneth over

While Onions was running in to destroy Yorkshire’s top and middle order, there were familiar tales elsewhere across the County Championship.

At Cardiff it was James Harris laying waste to Gloucestershire with 5-39, Nathan Buck took 4-112 for Leicestershire against Derbyshire, 17-year old Reece Topley destroyed Middlesex at Lords only for Steven Finn to do the same to Essex twice and Chris Woakes took match figures of 9-101 as favourites Somerset were thrashed by an epic margin at Taunton.

Reece Topley: One of the new brigade

Five pace bowlers, all under the age of 23, playing pivotal roles in their side’s County Championship matches are the stuff which Andy Flower’s dreams are surely made of. With the likes of James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan and Chris Tremlett set to return then batting in the Championship could be a nightmare.

But for England the long-term prospect in the bowling department are healthier than ever. Flower has long talked about building up England’s strength in depth to enable weary players to be rested. Such developments will allow him to do just that because on the evidence of the County Championship so far England are spoiled for choice in the seam bowling department.

3) Jonathan Bairstow will get the century monkey off his back

Sometimes the monkey on someone’s back is hard to get away. For instance it took Ian Bell to his 10th Test century before he scored one without a team-mate scoring one. But as Jonathan Bairstow was edging ever closer to that elusive first Championship hundred doubtless there were more than just Yorkshire fans willing him onto that mark.

Sadly Bairstow fell for 81 as he edged leg-spinner Scott Borthwick to slip to become the seventh wicket to fall as Yorkshire eventually succumbed to defeat. He now has 16 first class 50s but has yet to reach the magical three figures mark. But don’t doubt that he will get there because he certainly will.

Too good not to ton up

For all the concern over Bairstow’s ability to convert starts into substantial scores, spend time watching him bat and you see a young player of great promise and such concerns tend to wash away. His capacity for playing innings of note in difficult circumstances was apparent from his debut when he top scored in the second innings on debut.

One particular instance was an unbeaten knock of 63 off 51 balls to see his side home in a key clash with Nottinghamshire at the back end of last year-an innings of real character. Yesterday’s innings came in trying circumstances with his side slipping to 158-6 before Bairstow and Pyrah managed to drag them to 225-6 which ultimately was not enough.

Sure he hasn’t got that elusive first hundred, but his ability to grind out scores of note when it really matters is the one which counts most. When he scores his first hundred, which he most certainly will sooner rather than later, don’t doubt it’ll be the first of many.

4) Paul Grayson might not have wanted an overseas players but Essex badly need one

“It’s been a complete nightmare. If it was up to me I don’t think I’d have any overseas players for championship cricket anymore, it’s just been so difficult.”

So said Paul Grayson after his club were unable to agree terms with Peter Siddle to be the club’s overseas player for this season. They would subsequently be unable to secure terms with Tim Southee before finally agreeing to sign Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

Yet his side could arguably have done with a decent overseas batsmen judging by their early season batting collapses. Batting cards this season reading innings of 201 and 227 against Kent and 115 and 215 against Middlesex speak volumes for the problems in their batting line-up. Though the subsequent arrivals of Owais Shah and Ryan Ten Doeschate after IPL duty ought to help matters they will be offset by the departures of Alistair Cook and probably Ravi Bopara once England duty resumes.

In their place the onus falls on young batsmen Tom Westley, Billy Godleman and Jaik Mickleburgh and the experienced James Foster and Matt Walker to cope. It is hardly a recipe for success and the departure of the experienced Zimbabwean Grant Flower at the end of last season is clearly having an impact. Though the arrival of Tsotsobe will clearly be a boost for the club, a batsman rather than a bowler would have been vital.

5) Who will win Division Two is anyone’s guess

Seven of the nine Counties in Division Two have recorded one victory so far this season with only Essex and Surrey, who have played one game less, yet to get off the mark though Surrey admittedly almost pushed leaders Northants close in their first match.

Certainly this division promises to be a wide open contest. Surrey were initially tipped as the favourites for the division though their lack of a top class spinner could potentially count against them. Northants have experience in the likes of Andrew Hall and Chaminda Vaas but little strength in depth.

Derbyshire and Glamorgan are both rebuilding under new captains, Kent have a decent blend of experience and youth while Leicestershire’s young side captained by Matthew Hoggard are perhaps a little too green for promotion despite boasting in James Taylor and Nathan Buck two of England’s finest prospects.

Certainly compared with last season when Sussex steamrollered the division to romp home with the title by a fair margin there are few outstanding candidates. Ultimately this is the Division which could be one by anyone. All the teams have strengths and weaknesses which may dilute the quality of the cricket somewhat but makes the quality of the spectacle all the better.

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.