How the Season is Shaping Up

By Bill Ricquier - April 24, 2019

Three weeks into the new English season seems a reasonable time to try to take stock.

The most surprising thing, given the early start, has been the high scoring, particularly in the four-day County Championship but also in the 50-over Royal London Cup. Good weather must have helped but the main factor seems to have been the fact that the powers that be requested the manufacturers of the Dukes ball that is used throughout the English professional game to tighten, very slightly, the stitching on the seam. This minor adjustment has had startling consequences, with some seriously big scores. When Glamorgan played Northamptonshire in a Division Two clash at Cardiff the home side made 570 for eight (Billy Root, Joe’s brother made a century for his new county). Northants responded with 750, with three centurions including the promising Rob Keogh. (Of course the re-calibrated balls will be used in The Ashes – bad news for James Anderson.)

There are ten teams in Division Two with three going up at the end of the year, so you would expect captains to want results (the Cardiff pitch must have been at least partly responsible for what happened there). The early running is being made by the generally unfancied Derbyshire and Leicestershire. Bigger clubs like Middlesex and Lancashire have found things harder. Some good news for Lancashire though; Hasseb Hameed, who seemed so promising when opening for England with Alastair Cook in India but averaged just 9 last year, started his Championship season with a hundred against Middlesex.

But the biggest talking point in Division Two has been the appointment of Cameron Bancroft as captain of Durham. Cameron…who? Yes, you heard it right the first time; the guy at Cape Town who did as he was told to do with the sandpaper and then lied about it at the press conference (read my post from March 2018 here). Marcus North, Durham’s new director of cricket and, like Bancroft, a Perth man, says he has spotted definite leadership potential. The new skipper got things off to a cracking start by missing the first game so he could attend a WA awards dinner. He has since made a big hundred in the Royal London Cup, but one cannot help feeling Durham should have been able to do better.

In Division One, with eight teams, only one of which will go down, competition looks tough. Somerset won their first two games and, unlikely to be troubled by national selector Ed Smith (unless Jack Leach gets very lucky), are a team to watch. Champions Surrey seem bound to dominate again, but if skipper Rory Burns can cling on to his England place 2019 may be more challenging for them than 2018. Essex will have Cook for the whole season for the first time since 2005. They had a shaky start against Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl but then the south coast county got walloped by Yorkshire. Hampshire’s James Vince has promoted himself to opener, one of a number of players with an eye on England’s shaky top order. Nottinghamshire are profiting from their periodic raids on their poorer neighbours; Joe Clark, lately of Worcestershire, made a stellar start for his new club.

The Royal London Cup has come up with some fantastic close finishes. It seems sad and surely misguided that this competition will be basically a second eleven tournament from next year, forced to coincide with the ECB’s expensive potential white elephant, the Hundred. If you want a tip for this year look no further than the holders Hampshire, with Sam Northeast as player of the year.

There were no big surprises in England’s preliminary World Cup squad, except perhaps Smith’s continued faith in Joe Denly. It is not entirely clear what Denly’s role is, but if it is as an alternative, or even additional spinner to Moeen Ali and/or Adil Rashid, then perhaps Liam Dawson can consider himself unlucky.

Unlike most of the teams, England have a bit of one-day cricket to play before the World Cup, so nobody is pretending that this is the final fifteen. One unexpected development has been the sudden withdrawal from all cricket of Alex Hales; for “personal reasons”. Much more predictable was the selection of Sussex player, and t20 franchise superstar Jofra Archer – who has very conveniently just become eligible for England – in the 17- man squad to face first Ireland in a one-off ODI, and then Pakistan in a five-match series. By the end of that it is not inconceivable that not only Archer but also his mentor Chris Jordan might have played themselves into contention.

And which of the players who have played so brilliantly to make England, after their grisly showing in the 2015 World cup, the best one-day side in the world? Well, Liam Plunkett, who amazingly made his World Cup debut in 2007, is looking a bit vulnerable.

There is clearly something very special about Archer (who has played strikingly little 50-over cricket). That decision of Smith’s could be a profoundly significant one.

Enjoy your cricket!

By Bill Ricquier

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