County cricket news
Kent don’t look like a second division side to us. Quite apart from the Rob Key factor – which decides the matter and draws a line under it in itself – there are so many other decent players and so few poor performances.
Kent won four matches this season – one more than Somerset who came fourth. A combination of draws and bonus points has dispatched them to the near-worthless second tier. It doesn’t seem right.
The championship format is toss
We have two issues. The first is bonus points. You get 14 points for a win and you can pick up eight bonus points in a match. Eight bonus points is too many. It wields too great an influence. It’s also ridiculous that you can get five bonus points for batting, but only three for bowling. It encourages conservatism.
The second issue that we have is with the two-up, two-down nature of promotion and relegation between the two divisions. Two teams changing places is okay some years, but not every year. Look at it this way: are Worcestershire better than Kent? We might be wrong, but we suspect not.
It would be better if there were a play-off between the runners-up in division two and the second from bottom side in division one. That would be fair and it would also be quite an intriguing occasion at the end of the season.
Division two is toss
As for Kent specifically, we now have to consider Joe Denly achievements with the sneeringly aloof tone that we reserve for division two and we’re not happy about that. We much prefer to get carried away about things.
We can also reveal why Kent got relegated, by the way. It’s because of coach Graham Ford’s sub-moronic maths. He’s been keeping this flaw concealed, the devious little innumerate, but we can finally out him after this quote about how his players will respond next season:
“I know they’ll be giving 120% to get back to First Division status.”
They haven’t a chance. They’ll be declaring for seven and thinking they’re top when they’ve got no points if this is how the man deals with numbers.8 Appeals
Durham’s bowling attack is getting all the attention, but don’t forget that they’ve prepared pitches to suit it and their batsmen have had to bat on those very same tracks.
Not many of Durham’s batsmen have prospered. Most of their 2008 averages aspire to mediocrity. Of Durham players who’ve played more than a couple of games, only four average over 30.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul – 411 runs at 37.36
Shiv’s currently ranked as the best Test batsman in the world. You would hope for runs from him. As Lord Megachief of Gold, you would positively demand them.
Dale Benkenstein – 783 runs at 43.50
Players hit more runs at better averages for other counties, but these runs were more valuable. We move that Dale Benkenstein be nicknamed ‘Benkensteino’ from now on.
Michael Di Venuto – 1,058 runs at 46
No-one else made more than 1,000 runs for Durham. Australian batsmen who aren’t quite good enough for the Test side are so important in county cricket, it’s obscene. We move that Michael Di Venuto be nicknamed ‘Dio Venuto-o’ from now, on the grounds that it’s so catchy and easy to say.
Will Smith – 925 runs at 51.38
Will Smith is perhaps of most interest. He’s scored half of his first-class hundreds (three) this season and we’re not giving much away if we say he’ll be one to watch next season.8 Appeals
County champions are sometimes garlanded with caveats in the wake of victory, but Durham deserved their win. Regardless of weather and the occasionally misleading influence of bonus points, Durham were the best side.
Quite simply, they won more games than anyone else and that’s what the game’s about, isn’t it? You don’t want champions who’ve picked up full bonus points and ‘earned’ lots of draws. You want the champions to prepare spicy pitches, safe in the knowledge that their bowling attack is better than their opponents’.
Durham’s bowling attack was the best. You can’t consistently leave out bowlers like Liam Plunkett and Graham Onions without having some firepower. Detractors might point to a general lack of spin, but we quite like that Durham have won the County Championship while practically ignoring that side of the game.
Over the last few years, the County Championship has been decided by spin more often than not. More specifically, it’s been decided by Mushtaq Ahmed. Now, it seems, there’s more than one way to win the title.12 Appeals
There’ll be a bit of Twenty20 next year, but basically this is it. This is as close to a definitive goodbye as he’ll give us.
The very reason why Darren Gough didn’t go out in a blaze of glory is the very reason why he deserved to do so. He could have retired years ago when, through injury and age, he slipped out of the Test team. He could have gone when they eased him out of the one-day side. The problem is, Darren Gough loves cricket.
We remember him being asked what he’d do if he wasn’t selected for one particular series. He said he’d be in the stands cheering England on with a pint in his hand. If some players said that, it’d smack of media-trained crowd-pleasing, but Gough’s not really one to listen to other people. If he says that, you tend to believe him.
You could never, EVER question Darren Gough’s effort. If things weren’t going well on the pitch, it wouldn’t be through lack of trying on Gough’s part. In England’s recent Twenty20 match against New Zealand, Luke Wright twice floored himself with the effort of trying to bowl quickly. That was Darren Gough style fast bowling.
All effort, but not solely effort. He was fantastically skilful and had the nous to know when to do what as well. We still think he should have bowled more reverse-swinging yorkers though – but we think he should have bowled six an over, so maybe we aren’t the best judge. The frequency with which they shattered stumps says otherwise.
When Darren Gough started playing for England, they were basically crap. They lost half their games because they weren’t good enough and they lost the other half because they were defeatist. Darren Gough was extremely good, he was an actual fast bowler and most of all, he really thought he could do anything. His confidence was your hope.
He even thought he could bat. His early days in the England side – before they talked him down from the ledge of constant cross-batted aggression – were a halcyon period where he’d play the most outrageously full-blooded, textbook-defying shots to almost every ball. Our favourite was the back-foot drive-cum-cut which would end with the bat helicoptering around his head, taking multiple revolutions to fully decelerate.
As recently as 2006, Gough batted at three for Essex in some Twenty20 and Pro40 matches. In hundreds and hundreds of one-day innings, he’d only once passed 50. An almost unbearable weight of evidence was nothing to him. He hit 53 not out off 49 balls to win a match.
This is why we love Darren Gough. Even in middle-age, he’ll be straining for pace on some field somewhere in some insignificant match. It’s not sad. It’s what made him great.9 Appeals
Don’t think for one minute that we don’t like the wisened pile of freckles that is Glen Chapple.
We always moan about Lancashire’s ageing medium-pace all-rounders, but the truth is we’ve nothing against either Chapple or Dominic Cork. It’s just that having both of them clogs the side for younger players a bit – not that that’ll be a problem next season.
Glen Chapple made up for Lancashire’s shocking batting this week, by taking 6-40 to bowl out Kent for 92. He’d just hit 45 as well. When a man’s played his whole career for Lancashire and he can do that, how could we not like him?
When Chapple first appeared (with a ‘bing’ sound and a faint puff of smoke), everyone at Lancashire was adamant he’d play for England. It was accepted as a fact. Back then he was a fast bowler and was considered an exciting prospect.
Like most quick bowlers, he slowed but got more skilful while his batting improved a huge amount. He’s managed to maintain the exact level of performance required to warrant an A-tour for his entire career, first as a fast-bowler, then as a reliable line and length bowler and now as an all-rounder. But he’s never quite gone further than that. He played a single one-day international against Ireland in 2006.
This season he averages 25 with the bat, which puts him RIGHT UP THERE for Lancashire. He’s taken 37 wickets at 21 with the ball. This is pretty much your standard Glen Chapple season.4 Appeals
Lancashire’s bowling has been acceptable, if little more than that. Lancashire’s batting has been as embarrassing as the thought of Henry Blofeld calling someone a ‘dude’.
We’ve done the statistics about Lancashire’s batsmen already, but here are some updates. Mal Loye had previously scored 103 runs from 12 innings – now he has 103 runs from 13 innings. Also, to be fair, Mark Chilton has now hit a hundred.
We’re going to use Mark Chilton as an example though, along with Stuart Law. They’re emblematic of Lancashire’s batting woes. Chilton is an okay batsman, but with a first-class average of 32, he should find it harder to get into the side. Stuart Law is ageing and deteriorating year after year and would fit in well at Surrey. This is Lancashire’s batting line-up in a nutshell.
Many years ago, Lancashire used to spew out batsman without pausing for breath or to wipe their mouths. They didn’t even clean their teeth between the heaves. Neil Fairbrother, Graham Lloyd, Mike Atherton, John Crawley – it was all so easy.
The thing is, once Lancashire had retched themsleves dry, there was a period where no-one noticed. Most of those players were still in the team and it wasn’t until they retired that everyone suddenly panicked.
At that point, they did the only thing they could do. They signed Mal Loye and, er, Iain Sutcliffe and bolstered the middle order with a series of overseas pros. They’ve been doing this ever since.
Stuart Law’s 39. Mal Loye’s 35. Brad Hodge has no reason to be loyal. It’s not like this season’s batting abominations were unforseeable and it’s all the worse for the fact that it had happened before.
In Paul Horton and, surprisingly but increasingly impressively, Steven Croft, Lancashire have a top opener and an all-rounder who can actually bat rather than just chip in. Under no circumstances should these two be separated by ageing, deteriorating ‘stars’ in division two. There shouldn’t be any need for it and it would be a continuation of the short-term view that’s been taken.
There’s been some robust paper over these cracks, but paper’s still paper.8 Appeals
We’ve made an unbelievable discovery. The F5 key on our keyboard is a shortcut that leads to the fall of a Lancashire wicket.
Go and look at the scorecard for their current match and give it a go yourselves. See if you too have the power.
We have honestly just done it four times in a row.11 Appeals
LancsTV do one minute interviews with the players. Oliver Newby was interviewed by Mal Loye.
One question was: ‘What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done in cricket?’
“Slept with Mal Loye and Gareth Cross.”
Other highlights include: ‘What’s the worst thing you ever did at school?’
“I once came in after lunch and put a johnnie in someone’s ham sandwich and they ate it.”
You could interview most sportsmen every day for a year and get nothing half as good as that.5 Appeals
Does it have to end in September?
Obviously it does, but the start of autumn’s a maudlin sort of time anyway. Do we really have to exacerbate it? While a big finish to the season would appear a cheering sort of thing, what it actually seems like is the death of summer.
Let’s say the championship’s decided on the final day of the season again. The final ball goes for four or whatever and the winning team cheer.
‘Hurray,’ they say. They punch the air, grab a stump and then run inside, because it’s getting chilly and dark. Once inside, they stay there for seven months.
There’s also the problem that the counties have been playing for five months now and the county in first place, Nottinghamshire, have four wins and eight draws, while the county in seventh place, Lancashire, have three wins and nine draws. Have we got anywhere at all? There was a bigger gap than that after one match.
Firstly, they should change the County Championship to three leagues of six. With ten first-class fixtures a year, they could have reserve days and therefore get through more matches. If they get more results, championship victory will be more meaningful and with fewer matches ordinary people could actually have an outside chance of knowing what’s going on.
Secondly, they should play the Twenty20 Cup – not the Twenty20 league, but the EPL thing – in Sharjah or somewhere in October or November so that we all have something to look forward to.
They could even charter a load of flights and try and organise some affordable, week-long holidays, so that British people could submit themselves to some daylight while also catching a bit of cricket.
Of course it can’t happen because cricketers all play for five different teams and it’s impossible to find a window where anyone’s free.7 Appeals
We learnt a lot through Graeme Hick. We learnt that nothing’s preordained. We learnt that heroes can let you down. We learnt that huge talent isn’t the sole ingredient for Test success and we learnt that if you mess about dropping and reselecting players it doesn’t help them one bit.
If you’re a bit too young to know all that much about Graeme Hick, during the period that he was qualifying for England he was quite plainly the best batsman in the country and quite possibly the best for several generations. At the time he qualified, he was 25 and he’d hit 57 first-class hundreds with a top score of 405 not out. Michael Vaughan’s 33 and he’s still only scored 42 first-class hundreds. Andrew Strauss is 31 and has 26.
In his first two Test matches, Hick made six, six and nought and never looked back.
Actually, that’s grossly unfair. For three years he averaged over 45 in Tests, back when that was actually quite meaningful, but after such a colossal initial disappointment, he could never win people back round.
We used to be mental about Graeme Hick. We believed he’d be better than Viv Richards for a long time after it was clear that was never going to happen. We’d check his average for every Test series. If it was above 40, it was proof. If it was below, we’d look forward to the next series. Hope was more important than facts during the Nineties.
Graeme Hick, despite his barely-even-mediocre overall Test record, has been an exceptional cricketer. It’s not hotly-contested, but he’d get into England’s best ever one-day side and he’s scored so many first-class runs it’s not even comprehensible.
A thousand runs in a season is considered ‘successful’. Graeme Hick has hit 41,112 first-class runs. Just think about that. He’s hit 136 centures and 158 fifties. He averages 52.
We don’t know how he’d know, but Steve Waugh thought Hick was the best 18 year-old in the history of cricket. Hick couldn’t maintain that level of overachievement, but he still ends his career a phenomenon.10 Appeals