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.

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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.