If you haven’t been paying attention to every score from the weird and wonderful world of the County Championship, never fear. That’s what you don’t pay us for*. We sent the work experience kid out to bring us coffee and scorecards, put our heads together and studied how various players on the fringes of the England side had fared so far. We thought about putting together a spreadsheet and printing a couple out for our readers but ditched that in favour of something a bit more substantial because, you know, we’re nice like that. The only mistake we made was to ask Mr Nichael Bluth to ‘be creative’ with the sub-headings.
With so much talk about Andrew Strauss’s form in recent weeks, now would be a pretty good time for someone to put their hand up at county level and offer a realistic alternative option. A nice idea in theory, but with so many matches so early in the season and the weather questionable at best, there have been few outstanding performances so far. Opening the batting in April is like trying to beat Samit Patel to seconds at dinner: a forlorn quest. The other problem is that there’s a dearth of obvious candidates at the top of the order; Joe Root toured with the Lions this winter but is still too young and, in any case, has only managed 210 runs at 35 in Division Two. Alex Hales has been around the England side already and also went away with the Lions, but has struggled as well. His highest first innings score so far this season is 9 and overall his stats make for rather miserable reading – 164 runs at 20.50.
So far, so bad. Varun Chopra had an excellent 2011 (1,178 runs at 45.31, or 45.30 if you’re as bad at maths as another well-known cricket website) but has only made one score of note so far in 2012 – 105 at Hove in a rain-affected draw – without which his not particularly impressive numbers of 128 runs at 25.60 would look even less spectacular. It’s probably worth pointing out at this juncture, to appease our very angry Midlands correspondent, that he scored most of his runs last year at the start of the season and after that ‘reverted to type’. We don’t think he rates him.
Maybe those performances mean it’s one of England’s forgotten men who has made the best of his first month of the season. Joe Denly has international experience, of course, but the last of his one day appearances came over two years ago. A move from Kent to Middlesex seems to have kick-started his career and he’s managed 246 runs at 41 so far, including an excellent unbeaten 134 against Worcestershire last weekend. That hundred came at number three, where he’s been stationed during Andrew Strauss’ brief sojourn back to his county, but one would imagine he’ll spend most of the year opening. That’s certainly where he batted against Surrey at Lord’s a few weeks ago, when this particular writer went down in the hope of seeing him bat. Naturally, upon arriving a few minutes late and glancing at the scoreboard, Middlesex were already one down.
Already the sub-headings are looking a bit silly because so many potential England players don’t open for their counties but might open for the national team. Should never have let a Western Australian loose on them.
Anyway, onwards and upwards.
James Taylor has been the coming man of English cricket for a while now; he captained the Lions side in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and will lead them again against the West Indies this week. At the moment the hype is masking the fact that his returns haven’t been particularly good over the last year – he scored just one Championship century in 2011 and is yet to pass 50 in 2012. He’s had no problem getting starts – in nine innings so far only once has he failed to reach double figures – but his complete inability to convert any of them into substantial scores would make Mark Ramprakash proud. As would his overall figures of 225 runs at 28.12. If he starts tangoing about in the outfield we’ve got a real problem on our hands.
So who else has been putting their name forward? Another of England’s forgotten men, Michael Carberry, could be an option given his ability to open if necessary, but has managed just 210 runs at 35. James Hildreth is a name that has been mentioned for a few years and has a decent record thus far – 173 at 43.25 – although his unbeaten 102 against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge is his only score above 40 this season. Yorkshire’s Andrew Gale is a more unlikely candidate but has started the season reasonably well, with 229 runs at 45.80 while captaining the side. It is, however, Nick Compton who has come from way back to surge into the Lions team after grinding his way to 479 runs at a remarkable 119.75. The first Test against West Indies next week will almost certainly come too soon for him, but should Ravi Bopara struggle through the early part of the summer…
That is, of course, assuming Bopara is going to start at Lord’s. Samit Patel
overfilled that place in Sri Lanka, but that was partly down to Bopara’s side strain and partly down to Big Sam providing a left-arm filth option. A strong start could have given Samit a chance of keeping his place, but 141 runs at 23.50 falls some way short of that. He also managed to send down a Salisbury-esque 0/126 in less than 22 overs against Somerset, which probably didn’t help his cause. The other potential all-round option (in a less literal sense) is Durham’s Ben Stokes, although he’s flattered to deceive thus far in what is an important year for him having lost so much of 2011 to injury. 134 runs at 22.33, just six wickets at a shade over 25 and yet another niggle is not a great return.
With the form of England’s attack over the past couple of years, it would take some sort of flu epidemic for there to be any wholesale changes. Despite that, it’s worth noting some excellent performances at county level so far, in admittedly helpful conditions. Stuart Meaker, who had his first taste of international cricket in India last year, has picked up 11 wickets at 17.54, the same number as his team mate Jade Dernbach, who has taken his at 18.27. Incidentally, at the aforementioned Middlesex vs. Surrey game Dernbach looked every inch an England bowler. Might be slightly unfair that he’s almost been pigeon-holed as a one day specialist for the national team.
Graeme Onions has begun the season like a man determined to not only prove a point, but to propel it down the throats of any selectors who may be watching as well. He dismissed Strauss twice in the England captain’s return game and has picked up 20 wickets at just 13.05 up to now. Another man with 20 scalps is Northamptonshire’s Jack Brooks, who is another in the Lions side this week (and is a complete lunatic, so he’d fit right in). He’s some way from the national side right now, but to be taking wickets at 17.45 this season is an excellent effort, particularly in a rubbish team.
Early April, with its wet outfields and the ball hooping round corners, is probably not a spinner’s favourite time of year. The figures reflect that; Scott Borthwick has taken just one wicket so far, Danny Briggs three, Adil Rashid five and Monty Panesar six. Only George Dockrell has managed double figures, largely thanks to a superb 6/27 against Middlesex in the first week of the season.
How much weight the England selectors place on domestic performances is difficult to judge – Eoin Morgan made it into the national side last summer having spent April at the IPL and then scoring big in the Lions game against Sri Lanka – but Nick Compton’s inclusion in the Lions squad against the West Indies indicates it is at least possible to force yourself into the reckoning. The difficulty is the success of the England side; there’s one batting spot up for grabs and already at least one too few bowling places. It will take something outstanding for most of these players to get into the side this summer. But the important point is that we’ll be here to tell you all about it, and if you think someone should be included in the next England Watch, let us know! Either by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @51AllOut or using the comments section below.
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