And so it begins; the newspapers are talking in well-honed cliches about county cricket being played in freezing temperatures in front of tiny crowds with an average age higher than Joe Root’s batting average in 2015, the counties have stopped playing against layabout students for whom the concept of an 11am start is alien and as ever, there are a clutch of players desperately trying to jump aboard the Peter Moores funbus, where you’re frowned at if you describe the Mancunian climate as “a bit damp” without first producing a 10 year spread of meteorological data.
With this being a new season, the time has come to omit certain stalwarts of this column from our thinking, so far are they now from a realistic call up in any format (and we used to include Darren Stevens and Peter Trego, so our standards are really low). Most heartbreakingly, this means no more mentions in dispatches of one Christopher Timothy Tremlett. You have no idea how much this hurts us.
AD Hales 236 & 2
JWA Taylor 59 & 35
SR Patel 4 & 76
HF Gurney 0*
TT Bresnan 21.2-4-85-2 & 21-6-77-1
JA Brooks 27-5-99-3 & 21-5-67-1
AZ Lees DNB & 3-0-12-0
AZ Lees 100
TT Bresnan 34
JA Brooks 5
HF Gurney 28.4-7-90-3
SR Patel 32.5-9-102-4
Amusingly for those of us who like to think of Yorkshiremen as volcanoes of self-righteous rage forever ready to explode, England helpfully managed to select six of the reigning champions’ squad for the ongoing tour to the Caribbean…and then leave four of them carrying drinks and crafting “Yo momma” jokes for Ben Stokes to aim at Marlon Samuels. This of course didn’t mean that their remaining squad, or indeed that of the opponents, was lacking in quality, although a rain affected third day meant that a draw was inevitable.
Having drifted from contention since the World T20 omnishambles of early 2014 (which of course, everyone has pushed to the back of their minds given that there has been another limited overs tournament since then for all England fans to enjoy), it’s possible that Tim Bresnan’s England days are done. The role he played for Yorkshire here of picking up a moderate number of wickets and scoring a few handy runs has already been filled in the national team by Chris Jordan and Chris Woakes and he’s going to need something more substantial before he can press any kind of claim for a recall. Jack Brooks was a puzzling selection for the Lions this winter; turning 31 this summer, he doesn’t seem to represent any kind of long term future and as such picking him for a developmental team doesn’t seem to make any sense. But this is England and who can say what they’re thinking at the best of times. Meanwhile Alex Lees, who is somewhat holding the Yorkshire batting together at the moment given the absences of Messrs Root, Ballance and Lyth with England and Aaron Finch being at the IPL and having hamstring knack, scored his seventh first class century. Given the ongoing travails at the top of the England order – this week’s century partnership between Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott was the first time an opening pair had made such a stand in over two years – he could well be the next man to swap Headingley for running out with a spare pair of Ian Bell’s gloves.
With considerable reason, Alex Hales has expressed his dissatisfaction with England’s handling of him in the ODI team; brought into the side arguably at least a year later than should have been the case, he was given a handful of games against India at the end of last summer before traveling to Sri Lanka, only to be dropped and then placed out of position at number three. He then was overlooked during the World Cup until the final two games of the doomed campaign, which seems a strange way to treat a man who averages almost 38 in international T20s and has topped the world rankings in that format at a time when England badly lack dynamism at the start of an innings. But this is England and who can say what they’re thinking at the best of times (I detect a theme here – Ed). Making his highest ever first class score at a strike rate of over 80 should have been a firm nudge to the selectors that just maybe it’s time to give the man a proper chance in a format where England can scarcely get worse, even if Test selection would seem to be some way off at present. Elsewhere Samit Patel had one good innings with the bat and produced a decent return with the ball, but the presence of Moeen Ali in the team in all formats would seem to block his chances for the time being. If nothing else owners of all-you-can eat buffets in the Nottingham area will be pleased. Harry Gurney took three wickets but we can’t help thinking of him as cricket’s Stewart Downing; if he bowled with the other arm then he’d never have got near the England team in the first place.
LJ Wright 51 & 21
A Shahzad 45* & 35
TS Mills 5 & 8
A Shahzad 13-2-44-1 & 16-4-46-5
TS Mills 16.3-3-63-0 & 2-1-7-0
Sussex’s victory here featured two forgotten men and one man for whom the hype continues to massively outweigh the reality. Luke Wright hasn’t featured for England in over a year and Ajmal Shahzad’s final international came in a defeat to Bangladesh (sound familiar?) in the 2011 World Cup, but both will harbour hopes of a recall given the overhaul which must surely be applied to the limited overs teams after long-standing stagnation. Wright appears to have given up his bowling which will be a disappointment to all fans of oddly stiff-legged run ups. The suspicion would have to be that he’ll need to resume those duties if he is to force his way back in; his hit or miss batting won’t be enough on its own. Shahzad has led a nomadic existence since we saw him in England colours, from Yorkshire to Lancashire to Nottinghamshire and now down to Hove, where Chris Jordan’s career was rejuvenated to the point of catapulting him into the national set up. Shahzad will hope for similar results and has certainly made an encouraging start to the season; if he can rekindle his brand of high 80s pace with a good mastery of reverse swing then there is a chance that his England days may not yet be over, although with him turning 30 this summer it is fast becoming a case of now or never for him. Tymal Mills is frequently mentioned by the media as England’s answer to the likes of Starc, Boult and Johnson, a left armer of fearsome pace, capable of blasting teams away. In reality this rarely happens as any regular observer of the county game will be aware. Like music journalists who give Belle and Sebastian albums a good review, the cricketing press really should know better.
MA Carberry 42 & 81
JM Vince 8 & 0
DR Briggs 48 & 33
WB Rankin 16.3-1-75-6 & 12.2-1-40-1
WB Rankin 4
DR Briggs 18-4-57-1 & 15-3-33-0
MA Carberry DNB & 2.4-2-12-0
A year ago we said that in all likelihood, Michael Carberry’s international career was over. A shame for a very talented player who undoubtedly was under-utilised by England for a long time, but over all the same. What seemed like a rare rock solid prediction for us was ruined by England recalling him out of nowhere to the ODI team. Nonetheless, and despite two decent knocks here, we’re going to say that Michael Carberry’s international career is in all likelihood over. James Vince will be looking to force his way into the middle order of the ODI team this summer, although that somewhat depends on the future of Eoin Morgan; if he’s still captain, he won’t be dropped, if he isn’t…then logic would dictate that he should be. But this is England and who can say what they’re thinking at the best of times. Regardless, Vince will need to improve on his showing here if he’s to make the leap from prospect (where he seems to have been stuck for a number of years now) to the actual team. Danny Briggs has steadily slid from the selectors’ view over the last 12 months, and while he appears to have used that time to substantially improve his batting – we can scarcely remember him getting into double figures when compiling previous editions of this column – it was a lack of genuine wicket taking threat which saw him disappear from contention and a solitary scalp here is the kind of return which will see him remain on the outside looking in.
When a fast bowler is described as “terrifying” thoughts generally turn to the likes of Ambrose, Patterson, Holding and those few games when Steve Harmison was actually good. However this week we were terrified to read that Boyd Rankin was talking up his chances of an England recall and that he took some wickets to potentially make them take any notice. We wouldn’t think there were much chance of England going back to a man who turns 31 this summer, has very low stamina levels and frankly looked a bit of a joke the last time he was picked. But this is England and who can say what they’re thinking at the best of times.
SC Kerrigan 0 & 0
MHA Footitt 24-9-63-2 & 20-7-53-1
MHA Footitt 2 & 0
SC Kerrigan 18.5-7-21-3 & 1.2-0-3-1
If the potential selection of Boyd Rankin fills us with dread, thinking of Simon Kerrigan in an England shirt again brings a feeling of apprehension. After being comprehensively smashed around by Shane Watson (10 years in Test cricket, four centuries, keep up the sledging of batsmen who average vastly more than you, Shane) on his Test debut and seeming to be completely overcome by nerves, another similar display would almost certainly end his international career for good. Yet, given the paucity of spin options open to England, and given the kind of returns he can produce as shown in this game – even allowing for Derbyshire being predictably rubbish again this year – we could really do with him being a viable alternative. Hopefully the presence of Ashley Giles this season at Lancashire can help him take his game forward; after all the King of Spain himself was an oft-derided figure who eventually turned into a key part of a highly successful team.
England seem hell-bent on eventually finding a left arm seamer, because that’s what all the cool kids are doing. When the media aren’t blithering on about Tymal Mills they seem to think Mark Footitt is the closest thing we have to a selectable option, so we’ve included him in our round-up for now. Whether he genuinely can follow in the hallowed footsteps of Mike Smith, Simon Brown, Mark Ilott, Alan Mullally and Ryan Sidebottom, only time will tell.
SW Billings 20 & 6
MS Panesar 11 & DNB
Slim pickings from an ultra-low scoring affair at Chelmsford; Sam Billings produced some outstanding innings in limited overs cricket for Kent last season which has seen some excited chatter about him in the press, although with Jos Buttler firmly in possession of the gloves in all formats it’s hard to see when England would ever be picking him in the short term. Unless, of course, there’s a repeat of the “two keepers” policy which saw both Matt Prior and Geraint Jones in the ODI team around a decade ago, with spectacular results.
We thought long and hard about whether to omit Monty Panesar from this year’s thinking; despite his last Test outing being a little over a year ago it appears that it’s all over for him, as international teams don’t mind having the odd lovable eccentric around the place, but they tend to be less keen on unreliable weirdos. He didn’t bowl a single ball in this match, but he did make Essex’s joint third highest score in their first innings, which doesn’t really reflect well on anyone.
KP Pietersen 19 & 53*
SM Davies 200* & 21
JJ Roy 32 & 29
JW Dernbach 24-7-62-0 & 6-2-11-0
JJ Roy 1-0-6-1 & 3-1-10-0
You may have heard that Kevin Pietersen is back in the England reckoning. Well, sort of. Maybe. Depending on who gets sacked. Or if he’s still actually any good. Colin Graves’ comments – has any man ever lived up to stereotype so quickly – have dominated the landscape to the extent that KP’s hundred against a combined Oxford University team received blanket coverage. This obsession with an undoubtedly fascinating character who was, at least relatively recently, a genuinely world class player is to some extent understandable but also damaging. For one thing, media coverage of cricket is becoming ever more scarce, with broadsheets largely failing to cover the domestic game in any kind of depth and TV coverage remaining for now stubbornly locked behind a paywall which prevents any kind of growing audience. Developing a cult of personality which continually pervades the agenda is neither helpful nor welcome. In addition, there actually isn’t room for Pietersen in the Test team at the moment. The middle order is going rather well at the moment and there isn’t any realistic prospect of him opening the batting. While it should be celebrated that Gary Ballance is averaging over 60 at number three in his nascent Test career, or that Joe Root looks an incredibly assured figure at number five with some astonishing returns over the last 12 months, instead we’re left with a perpetual debate about whether Kevin Pietersen should be returned to his rightful spot in the team when that spot isn’t actually there any more. Anyway he made some runs here. Fewer than Steve Davies who has given up wicketkeeping but might not yet be totally discounted from the reckoning as a specialist batsman. More than Jason Roy who should but probably won’t play a part in the ODI team this summer. Roy did manage to take more wickets in this game than Jade Dernbach, which is a relief after all those Boyd Rankin thoughts earlier on.
That concludes this week’s round-up; we’re off to watch Liam Plunkett brood on the sidelines in Grenada.