Surrey have won the County Championship. You win 10 of 12 matches and draw the other two and these things happen.
We were checking the averages in the first division of the County Championship earlier today and two things struck us. Firstly, very few people have averaged over 40 and secondly, Surrey have had the three stand-out cricketers this season.
The three are:
While the wicket table is somewhat unexpectedly topped by two Lancashire players (Graham Onions and Tom Bailey), Morkel isn’t far behind despite only playing two-thirds as many games. He has so far taken 50 wickets at 13.96 and should quite honestly be playing a different standard of cricket or attempting some other similarly challenging activity, like limbo.
Burns is way off on his own as top run-scorer with 1,241 at an average of 68.94. This is a weight of runs to defy Ed Smith’s funkiest selectorial urges, so you can’t imagine he’ll be playing quite so many matches for Surrey next year.
Ollie Pope is the only batsman who has made a significant number of runs at a higher average. He has made 802 runs at 72.90.
There are currently 16 players averaging more than 40 with the bat in the first division. Only seven of them have played more than eight games. Batting in England is really hard.
We found ourself talking about Ollie Pope quite a bit early this season, way back when they played County Championship cricket semi-regularly.
The ability to counter green pitch dobblery in April may not be wholly relevant to the challenge of facing India at the back end of an arid British summer in which the grass has turned beige. Fortunately, Pope has managed to squeeze in four more Championship innings since May and they have gone okay. He made 41, 117, 69 not out and 30 and almost certainly faced a few overs of mediocre spin during that time.
Given a choice between him and James Hildreth, it makes sense to go for the younger guy who is in better form. And make no mistake, Pope is a great deal younger. He was born a year after Face/Off came out. (We use Face/Off as a reference point largely because we watched about 40 minutes of it the other night and the overacting was even more incredible than we remembered. Nicolas Cage simultaneously whooping and crying shortly after kicking Frank Sobotka in the nuts is a particularly fine moment.)
The BBC reports that Pope played for Campbelltown-Camden in Sydney grade cricket last year, living with club secretary Jason Ellsmore.
Ellsmore said: “When it came to laundry, he didn’t realise that in Australia we let our clothes dry outside. He asked me where the dryer was. His first life lesson was how to use a washing line.”
Setting aside the suggestion that washing lines are somehow a uniquely Australian innovation, it’s an interesting gauge of a young man’s life that he would never have really encountered one (or at least would assume that using a machine was ‘normal’).
We don’t exactly know what it says. Maybe it’s just a damning indictment of the energy wastefulness of modern Britain. Consider this revelation ‘colour’ ahead of the second Test.
As for what Pope will deliver in that match, all that we can be certain of is that it will by definition be papal. We’re very much interested to see what that means in a cricket context.
A combination of (a) the current state of the England cricket team and (b) the nature of early season cricket means that we’ve almost exclusively been talking about batsmen so far this summer.
This isn’t actually all that great for those of us who consider batsmen necessary impediments to the progress of cricket matches. Maybe later in the year, we can focus on fast bowlers and spinners. Please let that happen.
But priorities are priorities and England need people who can make runs, or at the very least avoid edging to slip while someone else makes runs from the other end. (Hard to justify having excessively lofty standards at the minute. We’d definitely settle for prolonged runless crease occupation from a number three.)
A few weeks ago, Ollie Pope made a hundred for Surrey and we took notice because not very many people have been making hundreds, let alone children. (How High by The Charlatans came out a year before Pope was born. We still think of How High as being one of the “new” Charlatans songs. (We went to the same school as Tim Burgess, incidentally, although he is quite a bit older than us.))
This week Ollie Pope made another hundred. In fact he made 158 not out in Surrey’s 414 all out against Yorkshire. That is a good knock – and not just because three of Kevin Pietersen’s first six Test hundreds were 158.
Oddly, just as it did last time, Pope’s hundred again coincided with one from James Hildreth, who made 184 for Somerset.
Finally, Keaton Jennings made 126 in Lancashire’s innings victory over Nottinghamshire and that too seems significant.
Nope. Draw your own.
Matt Renshaw, James Hildreth, Ollie Pope and Sam Northeast: four centurions in an April where wickets have arrived as frequently as buses on Manchester’s Oxford Road.
Clearly we’re talking about all four of them. But let’s say we’re pressed for time and can only talk about one. Who should that be? Whose hundred was the most admirable, impressive and meaningful?
The County Championship is a thing in its own right, but at this point in the season ‘talk’ generally revolves around possible future England players. As such, the way we gauge talkaboutworthiness is by asking and answering these three questions.
Let’s do that for all four of them. Let’s do that for Matt Renshaw, James Hildreth, Ollie Pope and Sam Northeast.
While Matt Renshaw was born in Middlesbrough, the answer to (1) is technically ‘no’ – he is Australian.
However, the true thrust of the question is ‘how likely is this player to take part in an England Test match?’ and the answer to that is ‘highly likely, albeit infrequently because he’ll of course be playing for the opposition’.
At 22, Renshaw could yet play a part in very many Ashes Tests and this is largely because he is good. As we saw this week, he is the kind of batsman who can score an influential first innings hundred when only one other team-mate can get past ten.
Matt Renshaw is very important and worth talking about.
The other person to get past 10 in that first Somerset innings was James Hildreth, a man who is English, but perhaps too old to be considered for Test cricket. (Another way of looking at it is that he’s old enough to have made many hundreds and learnt plenty about batting – but that kind of thing doesn’t ever seem to elicit much excitement or talk.)
After providing support to Renshaw, Hildreth went solo in the second innings and made a hundred. He was dropped twice.
‘You don’t get that many lives in Test cricket,’ they say – even though you absolutely do. (No-one’s picked for the national side because of their fielding, so Test teams pretty much always fall some way short of expectations in that area. All that really changes is that when you miss a catch in a Test match a commentator says something like, “you can’t afford to drop those at Test level”. To repeat ourself, you can, because everyone else does. That’s just the way it is. International teams are typically better than domestic teams not because they field better but because they bat and bowl better.)
Hildreth is unarguably good. He always averages plenty on that flat Taunton pitch that also somehow manages to unfairly favour the spinners and which just saw both teams double-dobbled for relatively low scores.
It’s worth mentioning that even at 33, a batsman who is good on flat pitches or turning pitches (or possibly both) is worth keeping an eye on with England’s next two tours being Sri Lanka and the West Indies.
James Hildreth is worth talking about.
Ollie Pope is English and young enough to have been born in the year that Will Smith released Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.
How good is he? Well, we’re a bit short on data, but he’s apparently good enough to score hundreds at a time of year when very few can.
Ollie Pope is worth talking about.
If Ollie Pope eventually ends up in exactly the same career place as James Hildreth is in right now, Sam Northeast is roughly what he will be when he’s eight-thirteenths of the way there.
Northeast is not too young but not too old. While he has many hundreds, he does not yet have many, many hundreds. He is either at some sort of sweet spot of youth and experience or he is neither here nor there. He is English.
Sam Northeast is worth talking about.
On balance, everyone has a sufficiently equal case for being talked about that all you actually end up talking about is who you should be talking about.