County Championship: Division One- The Chaff
September 30, 2011 | Matt H | First Class
Yes, we do like to end paragraphs with a row of dots…
County Championship: 7th
CB40: 7th (Group A)
Twenty20: 5th (North Group)
Worcestershire were written off even before the summer began. Perceived as fortunate to gain promotion in 2010, relegation back to division two in 2011 was a certainty. Wasn’t it?
For whilst the followers of Hampshire and Yorkshire drown their sorrows in white wine and bitter respectively, the dedicated fans of Worcestershire are still necking scrumpy in delight. Only four points separated seventh and eighth, but those points afford the county another season in division one. In truth, there was some luck involved. Played 16, lost 11 is a record matched only by Leicestershire this year, but for once the River Severn stayed away from New Road, meaning that only one match ended in a draw (and meanwhile Hampshire were being deducted points for producing death trap pitches). Simple arithmetic (never our strongest subject) tells us that means there were four victories, all massively important. In particular, the 10-wicket win against Lancashire, in which Alan Richardson took 6-22 from 15 overs in bowling them out for 80, was scarily impressive.
It is Richardson who deserves most credit this season. Similar to Darren Stevens and David Masters, Richardson is rarely considered anything more than a county trundler, but 73 wickets at 24.42 is a mighty fine return for anyone, let alone a 36-year old medium-pacer. He was given useful support from Gareth Andrew (52 at 29.71). With the bat, Vikram Solanki was as usual very consistent, scoring 1148 runs at 42.51, but he lacked support.
One day cricket was not a strong point for the county this year, finishing bottom of their CB40 pool and nowhere particularly special in their T20 group. Both Moeen Ali and James Cameron had good seasons, but we can’t help but feel the team would have had benefitted from either Shakib-al-Hasan or Saeed Ajmal being available for more matches.
There has been little talk yet about changing personnel at New Road, but with Middlesex and Surrey joining them in division one next year, there is little doubt that irrespective of who might be on the staff, they’ll surely be relegated by August…
County Championship: 8th
CB40: 6th (Group A)
T20: 6th (North Group)
This should be easy. After all, the Yorkshire Chairman Colin Graves has already reviewed the season succinctly:
“The performances have been a disgrace; they have been unacceptable. The players need to take a long, hard look at themselves as far as I’m concerned.”
“We’ve given them everything they wanted – contracts, salaries, we’ve given them everything.”
“So they can’t turn round and say Yorkshire’s done this or Yorkshire’s done that.”
“In the past, they’ve blamed the Headingley pitch and said we can’t get a result pitch at Headingley. Well, we’ve had bloody result pitches this year, but we kept losing on them.”
“Don’t blame the bloody pitch, it’s not the pitch. It’s the fact they can’t play on it, that’s the problem.”
Thank you, Mr Graves, you have saved us some work. For he’s not wrong. A team with several promising young players really misfired this season, with only Jonny Bairstow meeting pre-season expectation (Ryan Sidebottom did take 62 wickets at 22.00, but he doesn’t really count as a youngster anymore).
Looking for high points, we could only really find the two victories over Lancashire in the T20, but these wins will have been long-forgotten as the Red Rose celebrate their championship victory from now until 2088.
Yorkshire are already clearing the decks, with a few players who we have never heard of being released. And David Wainwright is leaving at his own request because of his lack of first-class cricket.
However, the likes of Gary Ballance, Andrew Gale, Joe Root, Ajmal Shahzad and Adam Lyth really should do well next year in division two. Just as they should have done well this year…
Someone should really tell the Hampshire team that the season begins in April, not June. Other than a solitary CB40 victory over Warwickshire, the Royals – as we are now obliged to nickname them, which in no way confuses them with Worcestershire who also have the same nickname – failed to win a single game until the summer’s Friends Life T20 competition got underway on the first of June.
A second consecutive appearance at T20 Finals Day after a near-flawless qualifying campaign gave the side a healthy dose of momentum going into the latter stages of the Championship season, but ultimately the horrendous performances earlier on proved their undoing and resulted in relegation to the second division.
As seems customary these days, they were well-fancied at the start of the season, having finally got Simon Jones out of the treatment room, and with new Kolpak signings Friedel de Wet (still, remarkably, on the ICC top 100 Test bowlers list) and Johann Myburgh both making an impact in pre-season, there appeared to be a bit of strength in depth.
However, neither de Wet or Myburgh featured for the first team beyond May. Two of the great wastes of money, you might say. Simon Jones started the season fit and raring to go, but couldn’t last the first 4-day game against Durham, bowling just 1.3 overs in the second innings, and Kabir Ali – another forgotten ex-England player – followed a similar pattern with on-off injuries throughout the year.
The foundations of last year’s T20 success was built upon a core of young players coming through the Academy system at the Rose Bowl, aligned with the experience and nous of captain Dominic Cork and other experienced pros like Jimmy Adams and Neil McKenzie, and that trend continued this year with James Vince, Danny Briggs, Chris Wood and Michael Bates all featuring heavily. Bates and Wood also made their breakthrough in the longer form of the game this year and both have settled in well, and you could argue that they will be better served in the second division to gain a bit of experience against slightly weaker opponents next year.
In the Championship, they actually finished the season quite strongly, despite the last-gasp defeat at Lancashire – Simon Kerrigan’s 9th wicket of Hampshire’s second innings with just ten balls remaining in the match proving crucial for the Red Rose county to win their first Championship since David Lloyd was a mere twink in his mother’s eye – winning three of their final six games to give them a glimmer of hope of survival. Sadly for them, Worcestershire’s end-of-season form was equally solid which enabled them to secure another season in the top flight and condemn both Hampshire and Yorkshire to relegation.
It would be cruel to point out that the upturn in form in the 4-day game coincides with captain Dominic Cork’s absence from the side (“rested” was the official line, but “dropped by agreement” seems more accurate). However, it would also be negligent of me to omit that fact. While he was once again inspirational in the T20 competition (it could be argued that his final over in the Somerset semi-final was one of the great overs of death bowling, limiting them to just three runs which forced a second Super Over of a frankly mental day), his impact was less impressive in the Championship. I guess we shouldn’t really be too surprised as he “celebrated” his 40th birthday the week before Finals Day, and his departure from the club, while done with a heavy heart, is done with the best interests of the club and its young players in mind.
Shahid Afridi was as “box office” as one would have hoped during his stint as the second overseas player for T20, and while his batting only came off occasionally – most notably in that Somerset semi-final – his bowling was outstanding throughout the competition, taking 17 wickets in 10 games with an economy rate of just 5.50 runs per over – by far the stingiest out of the leading 45 wicket-takers in the competition.
Looking forwards, Hampshire appear to have got most of their business done and dusted already. Cork, de Wet, Myburgh and veteran wicketkeeper/batsman Nic Pothas have all been released, Jimmy Adams has been given the captaincy after making a decent fist of it in Cork’s absence and Australian batsman Simon Katich has been signed up as overseas player.
With the welcome return to fitness and form after a career-threatening illness to Michael Carberry, it gives them a very strong-looking batting lineup, especially for a second division side. A top six of Adams, Katich, Carberry, McKenzie, Vince and Sean Ervine looks pretty fearful, and young keeper Bates’ batting has already shown signs of marked improvement since being given a run in the 4-day side.
The bowling attack almost looks like an embarrassment of riches, albeit with a few patched-up legs in there with Ali, Jones and Dimi Mascarenhas unlikely to be available for the full season, but James Tomlinson, Chris Wood, Liam Dawson and David Balcombe should expect plenty of opportunities and wickets next year.
Hopefully having the squad settled at this early stage will enable preparations to take place earlier and as a result make a good start to life back in the second division. While the 4-day game isn’t particularly lucrative for counties, it is still the bread and butter, and the better all-round players will want to be playing in the top flight more often than not. For the long-term Bransgrove financial plan at the Rose Bowl, immediate promotion may be crucial. No pressure, then, Jimmy…