The County Championship: Division One- The Middle of the Road

Somerset

County Championship: 4th

CB40: 1st (Group C), Runners-Up

T20: 4th (South Group), Runners-Up

‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
Alfred Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam, 1850, line 27, stanza 4
English poet (1809 – 1892)

Or, in other words, it’s better to repeatedly get to finals and balls them up than it is to crash out in the group stages.

A bizarre season for Somerset that lurched from a disastrous start (two innings defeats in the first two County Championship games, being bowled out for 50 by Warwickshire) to a disappointing end (defeats in the T20 and CB40 finals and the final three County Championship games) via a remarkably successful middle (making serene progress to said finals and getting into a decent position to challenge for the Division One title).

It’s probably best to split out the four- and one-day games separately. Let’s start with the former:

In terms of the batting, while Marcus Trescothick and Nick Compton both made over a thousand County Championship runs, the rest of the top order was a disappointment. Arul Suppiah was a bits-and-pieces allrounder pushed up to open, while James Hildreth saw his England hopes dashed by a series of poor scores. Add in middling returns from Marmite Kieswetter, Jos Buttler and Peter Trego and the end result was a far cry from the ‘rack up 600 runs in the first innings’ approach of years gone by.

With the ball there was a real lack of a top-class performer. Steve Kirby had a decent debut season, picking up 53 wickets, and Charl Willoughby was exactly as he always has been – good, but not that good. Murali Kartik and Alfonso Thomas both failed to hit their previous heights, albeit partly due to injury in the latter’s case. And it would be wrong for us not to comment on two of the less succesful signings: Ajantha Mendis (4 wickets at 71) and Gemaal Hussain (22 wickets at 45). Indeed, after a terrible start the latter struggled to find a place in the team, even as injuries ravaged the squad in the final weeks of the season. We can think of worse places to spend a summer not doing much – Taunton being just a short distance from the likes of Bath (famous for its Roman baths), Wells (famous for its cathedral) and Shepton Mallet (famous for having a massive Tesco and loads of crime).

In the one day game, things were very different. Jos Buttler continued to dazzle – finishing the CB40 season with an incredible average of 137 and strike-rate of 133 – while Trescothick and Kieswetter regularly set the tone at the top of the order. Kieron Pollard’s annual T20 pilgramage was again a success (albeit one with a top score of 47) while Lewis Gregory appeared from nowhere to play a major role with the ball, flanked by a number of slow left armers.

Jos Buttler, presumably after a semi-final

Gregory was one of several young players to make the breakthrough this year, as the team looked to the future. Craig Meschede looks a decent prospect, the likes of Alex Barrow, Chris Jones and Adam Dibble perhaps less so. With the likes of Alfonso Thomas not getting any younger and Buttler and Kieswetter likely to be spending more time with England, there will be more game time for these youngsters next year.

The main priorities for the winter is to recruit another wicketkeeper to prevent the current situation, where Shepton Mallet Gazzette competition winner Steve Snell is the only available gloveman for the Champions League, and to strengthen in both the seam and spin departments (with Murali Kartik seemingly unlikely to be back). Actually, another quality top order batsman wouldn’t hurt either.

That’s quite a lot of priorities, suggesting that Somerset may be no closer to that elusive trophy win than they’ve ever been. Perhaps losing in just the one final will have to do for 2012.

Sussex

County Championship: 5th

CB40: Semi Finals (Winners Group A)

T20: 2nd (South Group), QF

A solid all-round season for Sussex, with a comfortable mid-table place in the first division complimented by some excellent one-day cricket. Despite all that, there was a slight hint of disappointment at what might have been, with strong performances in the one-day group stages followed by disappointment in the knockout stages. The Pro40 semi final was particularly painful with Surrey blasting a previously frugal bowling attack to all parts in a rain-reduced match.

Despite those disappointments, there were some strong performances. In the four-day game Murray Goodwin made nearly 1,400 runs, including a superb 274 against Yorkshire , while Ed Joyce wasn’t far behind. Monty Panesar also showed enough to suggest that he can adapt and change his bowling, picking up 69 wickets in the County Championship as well as a further 28 in the Pro40 and T20 competitions. The idea of Graeme Swann being injured causes us to wake up at night in a cold sweat but it’d be fascinating to see Monty Panesar back in the England reckoning.

Insert hilarious caption about spin doctors here

A couple of other notable performances: Chris Liddle bowled well in the one day side while Michael Yardy overcame both depression and a lack of natural ability to post some decent numbers. We probably talk about Samit Patel a bit too much on 51allout but when you’re looking at a player and wishing Michael Yardy was in his place you clearly have some issues to address.

Talking of things that we like to go about: Amjad Khan. The big man continued his relentless pursuit of mediocrity, picking up 39 wickets at 32.28, narrowly edging out his obvious rival in the battle of who could care less, Saj Mahmood (35 wicket at 29.86).

With England call ups unlikely to be a major factor next year (bar Matt Prior, who made just a handful of appearances this year) the foundations are in place for Sussex to push on in 2012. There’s an opportunity to do something more exciting in terms of overseas players – Rana Naved, Wayne Parnell and Umar Gul didn’t pull up any trees collectively – and make a more significant challenge for the one day trophies.

 

Nottinghamshire

County Championship – 6th

Pro40 – 2nd (Group C)

T20 – 1st (North Group), QF

After the sheer elation of last season, 2011 was something of a disappointment for Nottinghamshire. The County Champions followed their triumph with a year in which they never threatened to retain their title, but at least they stayed well clear of the ignominy of relegation. For a side full of quality, they will feel they let themselves down in the longer form of the game. Their biggest problem was a lack of contributions throughout the team. Batting-wise only Warwickshire had fewer players past 700 runs than the three Notts managed (Hales, Read and some fat bloke) while Andre Adams was something of a lone wolf with the ball – his 67 wickets almost double that of next highest scalp-claimer Luke Fletcher.

Alex Hales: a fine season that resulted in being selected for England

On the plus side, their one day performances were very good in both Pro40 and T20, and in each they came within touching distance of turning a middling season into another successful one; second to Somerset in their Pro40 group while losing to the same side at the quarter final stage of the T20. It’s worth pointing out there is no disgrace in that, the Sabres have probably been the best one day side in the country for the past couple of years. One can only assume that by next year their opponents will start awarding trophies for every game in attempt to panic them into submission.

Mick Newell had one eye on next season throughout the latter part of the summer, deals had already been agreed to let Charlie Shreck leave for Kent and bring in Harry Gurney from Leicestershire, while he also moved quickly to release Patel. Unfortunately it was the wrong Patel – Akhil heading for pastures new while his brother remains on the staff.

With the squad the Outlaws have – even taking into account the fact they’ll be without Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann all summer, as well as Alex Hales and, depressingly, Samit Patel for parts of it – the squad is still comfortably strong enough to challenge at the top end of Division One. They are one of the few counties who look like they have the talent as well as the depth to challenge across the board.

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