The 51allout mailbox is a scary place, full of dodgy emails about cheap solar panels. cheap hookups for sexy time and cheap ways to install a ransomware virus onto your machine. Truly one of the great mailboxes. But amidst all that darkness comes the occasional ray of light – perhaps an email from a betting company (falsely) promising to send us free stuff or a reader offering to actually write an article for us, thus saving us from having to even do any work. Bar changing almost every word, in a forlorn attempt to make it ‘funny’.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying thanks to reader Harry Wright for the following piece, reflecting on the county season thus far. Bear in mind that if any of the numbers are out of date, that’s because he sent it to us a while back and we just sat on for quite a while, hoping that it might somehow update itself, an idea that turned out to be as unrealistic as expecting Somerset not to bat like a bunch of fucking useless shitgibbons.
The tranquil atmospheres and blissful aesthetics of the County Championship are the perfect antidote to the chaos of the modern world. Nothing could seem further removed from the harshness of reality than the cathartic crack of a James Vince cover drive or the sultry curves of Tim Bresnan’s away swinger. The standard in Division One has been exceptionally high this year, except whenever Somerset are playing, which makes it all the more encouraging to see so many young English players standing out from the illustrious crowd of players in the top domestic division. Whilst the so called ‘quality gap’ in Division Two continues to widen, and murmurs of a third division have Gloucestershire fans glumly tutting into their pints and ruefully imagining the squalor, there are still a handful of very good teams in the second tier. Whilst Ben Duckett’s exceptionally ordinary returns in the Test team may have added validation to the widely held belief that scoring a shed load in Division Two is a far from reliable indicator of international class, anyone who can score big runs against a Nottinghamshire attack consisting of Stuart Broad, James Pattinson, Jake Ball and Harry Gurney deserves consideration. As the 2017 championship ambles into its third month, I thought I’d take the time to reflect on some of the stand out performers from across the competition. Here, in no particular order, are my top five.
His lethargic run up and conservative delivery stride resemble that of your average medium pace dibbly dobber seamer. But looks can often deceive. He may run in with a the sort of urgency usually seen when bowling at your niece on a hungover morning in your garden, but Archer can get the ball down at 85mph and some. He’s tall too, and milks this advantage with a freakishly high arm that drops the ball onto the pitch with such care and delicacy as to give contrast to the menacing bounce he generates off it. His sparkling bowling lit up a difficult start to the Sussex campaign, figures of 7/67 in a heavy home defeat to Kent at least giving the fans something to cheer for. There have been more consistent bowlers in the division, and his average of 27 hasn’t exactly set the world alight, but Archer is showing bags of potential and despite his laid back persona he has set himself high ambitions: he wants to play test cricket for England. The Sussex coaches reckon they can squeeze a lot more pace out of him, too, which would probably involve getting him to actually try when running in and bowling. Whether this upsets his natural rhythms is yet to be seen, but if he can join the illustrious 90mph+ club he will be a valuable asset for England to exploit in the future.
Sangakkara might be the most underrated batsman of all time. His test average of 57.4, sustained over 134 tests, is better than the averages of Ponting, Lara and Tendulkar yet his name is rarely mentioned alongside the ‘big three’ of twenty first century batsmen. His stats are all the more impressive considering he had the pressure of carrying an often ordinary Sri Lankan batting line up and this experience has been vital for Surrey this year. He has been the immovable anchor of a Surrey batting line up which has otherwise looked wobbly at times this season. He became the first Surrey batsman to hit five centuries in five first class innings and was only 26 runs short of becoming only the fourth batsman ever to hit six in a row in the following outing against Essex. He makes batting look impossibly simple. Blessed with the eye of a hawk and a natural rhythm for batting, he picks the ball up so early that any delivery fractionally missing the specifications of a good one will be hit for a boundary. That’s a fact. I have never seen Sangakkara miss out on a bad ball. If you have, I don’t believe you. He is retiring from First Class cricket at the end of this season and if he can continue scoring runs at such a sense-defying rate then this will go down as one of the great send-offs in cricket. If you have the chance, go and watch him bat this year and cherish every run. Players like this don’t come around very often.
The young seamer has made a remarkable start to his First Class career. Five wicket hauls in each of his first three appearances endeared him to the club’s fans but the 6/25 he’s just taken in the Roses clash has revealed his folkloric potential. White Rose insiders who have seen him playing in the second XI for a few years have identified a more aggressive approach to his bowling, combined with an extra yard or two of pace as the profitable returns from an intensive winter training program. The big question now is can he continue his prolific wicket-taking as the pitches dry out in the heavy sun of the middle season [apparently that’s not a joke – Ed]. Many young seamers past have made exceptional starts to a campaign, making use of the moisture under the pitches and perhaps a rusty batsmen or two, only to find their lack of experience leaving them wanting as batsman get their eyes in on the flat wickets of the later season. Coad is a little bit too reliant on seam movement and will need to work on a sharper away swinger to keep finding edges. Still, 31 wickets at an average of 14 is remarkable in even the most abhorrent batting conditions. Stats as impressive as those will begin to speak for themselves if they can be sustained.
Don’t ask me to explain the details of the Kolpak rule. It basically just means that county teams with enough money can bring in as many players from overseas as they wish because of the EU or the Commonwealth or Brexit or something. The deals had maintained an underground status before this season but the extra press attention Abbot’s deal received revealed the practice to the mainstream, much like Paxman’s coverage of the Oasis/Blur rivalry did for indie music in 1995. The deal made headlines because Abbott (and South African teammate Rilee Rossouw, who also signed for Hampshire on a Kolpak) still had clear potential to play for their country. South Africans bemoaned a lack of patriotism while county fans feared an overabundance of foreign players stifling opportunities for young homegrowns. But the possible controversies or pop music analogies won’t be bothering Hampshire one bit. Abbot has given life to a lustreless bowling attack this year; his second innings 7/41 in a victory against Yorkshire in the first game of the season set the standard and he has gone on to collect 35 wickets at an average of 15.4. That’s the biggest tally across both leagues. Accuracy and height are his most valuable assets. His steep bounce makes him difficult to drive but he rarely bowls full enough for that anyway. Dropping the ball onto a good length with unending consistency and patience, Abbot knows his tall frame will find life in the pitch, however dead, slow or low it may have become over the course of the game. Indeed, he seems to take a lot of wickets in the second innings, a trait more readily associated with spin bowlers making use of the slow, dry and crumbly conditions. Games are won and lost in the fourth innings and with the high quality spinning duo of Mason Crane and Liam Dawson [again, not a joke – Ed] starting to take shape, Hampshire could become ruthlessly efficient at taking the 20 wickets required to win a first class match.
Allrounders are usually cursed to sway between form with the bat and the ball, rarely able to synchronise optimum performance in both fields. This year, however, Darren Stevens has found a way to defy that curse. His statistics are frankly ridiculous: 30 wickets at an average of 14 and a batting average of 62.8 with a strike rate of 89.25. Yes, they were collected in Division Two but come on, give the guy a break. He’s 41 after all; he has no right to still be performing to such a high standard with such fruitful returns. Make no mistake, he would walk into any Division One team with the form he is currently in, so valuable can the genuine allrounder be over the course of a season. His no-nonsense, see ball hit ball approach to batting has dug Kent out of several holes this year and I can think of no better man currently on the circuit to hit a team out of a batting crisis. He is the master of the counter attack and seems to thrive on edgy situations. His approach to his bowling is equally simple. His old fashioned, side on approach gives extra spice to his away swing which makes up for a lack of pace. He bowls a teasingly drivable length which draws batsmen in, eyes illuminated at the thought of a boundary, to a careless swipe and fatal edging of the ball. If Kent have any chance of catching Nottinghamshire in the title race, a fit and in form Darren Stevens is key. He provides the team with perfect balance between bat and ball and in this capacity, he is irreplaceable.
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