The County Championship: Division One – A Top, Top Trio

Lancashire

County Championship – 1st
Pro40 – 4th (Group C)
T20 – QF; 3rd (North Group)

Finally.

It had all the makings of another glorious failure as Murali Kartik’s batting prowess took Somerset towards an insurmountable target but, unlike Red Rose sides of years gone by, Lancashire seized the moment just in time and wrote their names into the history books. The sheer elation which took hold of the players involved as the winning runs were scored was incredibly refreshing even from a neutral perspective. For all the money and ‘glamour’ that comes from T20 success, four day and five day cricket remains the pinnacle of the sport.

This was by no means Lancashire’s greatest ever side on paper, but they found a group of players who came together as a team and exceeded all expectations. Both Paul Horton and Steve Moore, two of the architects of their last hour blitz to the title, passed 1000 runs while three men (Glenn Chapple, Kyle Hogg and Gary Keedy) took at least 50 wickets, comfortably better than anyone else in the division. Some of us are still holding out hope for Keedy to follow in Shaun Udal’s footsteps and earn an England cap while also being able to regale the rest of the team with stories of his grandchildren.

Yet more credit is due to both Chapple and Peter Moores for ensuring the team didn’t concentrate solely on their title challenge; a reasonable performance in the Pro40 something of a sideshow to the Championship and a run to T20 finals day, where they found themselves on the losing side of one of the great semi-finals. Steven Croft dispatched the last ball of their reply to send the match to a Super Over, only for Will Jefferson to fire Leicestershire through.

It’s important Lancashire don’t rest on their laurels during the close season. For all his failings with England, Moores is a superb county coach, and they must keep hold of him. The committee will be hoping beyond hope he doesn’t fancy another crack at the international game anytime soon. While that looks unlikely, there’s a chance he could look for a middle ground and go for the vacancy in Australia this winter.

Everyone around the county will remember all too fondly the way Yorkshire’s Championship winning side collapsed and disappeared through the relegation trapdoor twelve months later, and they must heed that warning. But now that the monkey is off their back, it probably won’t be 76 years before they lift the trophy again.

Glenn Chapple won't be letting go anytime soon

Warwickshire


County Championship: 2nd
Pro40: 5th (Group B)
T20: 8th (North Group)

One of our favourite things about the 2009 Ashes series was the way that, despite England winning, the numbers all pointed massively in favour of Australia. Just one of the top seven runscorers in the series was English, Australia were ahead 8-2 on centuries and the three leading wicket-takers were all Australian. One of them was even Mitchell Johnson. And yet, despite all that, England still came out on top somehow If we didn’t have anything better to do, we’d do a 39 page PowerPoint presentation on it all.

However, we do have something better to do: our county reviews. To be more specific, a review of Warwickshire’s season. And finally, after around 123 words, we get a payoff for the initial paragraph: Going into the final day Warwickshire looked set to win the County Championship, despite an apparent lack of decent individual performances with both bat and ball.

Firstly, the exception: Chris Woakes. He’s already made an impression at international level and we fully expect to see more of it going forwards, especially if he can add a Finn-esque extra yard of pace. He finished the season with 56 wickets at 21.79 and 579 runs at 48.25, sexy figures by anybody’s standards.

But aside from Woakes only two bowlers made it to 30 wickets: Boyd Rankin (55) and allrounder Rikki Clarke (46).

The batting was even more clear cut. Only Varun Chopra made it to 700 runs (albeit someway past this arbitrary marker), finishing with 1,178 at 45.31. Considerable distance behind in second place was former England man Tim Ambrose with 649 runs, presumably all through point. Still, good work on having fit sisters Tim.

So how did a side with so few star performers come so close to the County Championship title? The answer is in any number of cliches about ‘team spirit’, ‘togetherness’, ‘winning key sessions’ and that sort of thing. Four victories by an innings (plus a ten wicket win against Somerset) is remarkable going. And yet in the end it was a couple of abberations at the hands of relegated Hampshire that made all the difference – being bowled out for 98 to lose in August and then suddenly appearing so impotent on that final day in September.

From a one-day perspective, there isn’t much to be said. A Pro40 campaign that never really got going and included the ignomy of defeat by Scotland sandwiched a series of T20 results that can be best described as ‘shit’. Told you there wasn’t much to say.

Oof

Durham


County Championship 3rd
Pro40 SF; 2nd (Group B)
T20: QF; 4th (North Group)

Did we match up to pre-season expectations?

As Durham didn’t actually win anything this season, it could easily be perceived as a failure of sorts. However, on the back of a depressing season across both limited over formats through 2010, we’re inclined to conclude that making it to the knockout stages of each shows a marked improvement by the team as a whole. For the sake of morale, we won’t go in to detail about the embarrassing display against Hampshire which ended the T20 campaign, and we’ll also go ahead and blame the weather, chastise the Duckworth Lewis system and generally just bury our heads in the sand about the defeat to Somerset in the Clydesdale 40 semi final. Still, given that we didn’t make it beyond the group stages in either format last term, it’s safe to say that the level of improvement shown in the one day game easily qualifies as exceeding expectations.

Then there’s the small matter of the LV County Championship, the big one, the most important trophy, and the one that in recent years Durham have looked strongest in after back to back wins in 2008/9. In truth, Durham dropped too many important points to declare the Championship season an outright success, with third place – and a chance of winning the division until the final days – a reasonable placing that supporters can be satisfied with.

Emerging Star(s)

As ever, there are a handful of Durham players on the cusp of England selection, which is surely the best gauge available. Scott Borthwick and Ben Stokes (21 and 20 years old respectively) are both being considered regularly now, with both of them starting their fledgling International careers against Ireland in August. Both have featured in the autumn internationals and the selectors have to stick with these guys, give them a decent run and let them settle and allow them to show the world what they can do. In the future we should expect to see Borthwick’s rare leg spin talents earn him a regular place, while Stokes seems to be a strong candidate as a real all rounder. Stokes will also help towards the national ginger quota, which has been sliding since Paul Collingwood stepped back from the International scene and back in to life as a Durham regular.

A special mention has to go to Graham Onions who, granted, at 28 isn’t really new on the scene. Indeed, he made serious inroads into securing a full time berth on the England tour bus in 2009/10 until suffering a major back injury during the build up for a Test match against Bangladesh. Having overcome that injury, Onions has spent this season reintegrating into the Durham side and a few blips aside (2/126 at Taunton in the LV Championship, for instance) he looks to be rediscovering his very economical bowling boots; enough to earn him a recall to the England side in August 2011, if only to act as unused cover for James Anderson in the India Test series.

On the flop

It would be difficult to pick out any player who hasn’t, at some point pulled their weight and made their mark over the course of the season, especially with the relative success Durham have experienced so far in 2011. The two most experienced batsmen in the side, Dale Benkenstein and Michael Di Venuto, both 37, have shown throughout the season that they can still be relied upon, so expect to see them both in the side at the start of the 2012 season. Whether or not Will Smith has done enough this season to allay fears from some quarters that his brief flirtation with captaincy had devalued him as a batsmen remains to be truly answered, although his talents are plain to see. A little more consistency in his batting is required urgently, as the sporadic centuries won’t secure a place forever.

To the future

What comes next for Durham County Cricket Club? Well, the team looks to be strong enough to continue very much as they are at present, and it won’t take much more to secure a trophy for the cabinet next year.

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