England’s bowlers win key moments

Investec Ashes 2015 review

In a bizarre Ashes series of one sided matches, (not to mention the shortest ever five match Test series in terms of number of day’s play), it was England who won the key important moments – despite only having one player in each of the top four run makers and wicket takers.

Stuart Broad topped the Ashes wickets column with 21 victims at 20.
Stuart Broad celebrates his fifth victim during his 8-15 at Trent Bridge.

However, when you look at the contributions of those two players: Joe Root (460 runs at 57) and Stuart Broad (21 wickets at 20) then it’s easier to put England’s series victory into perspective. Root top scored in the first innings in each of the three Tests that England won, including hundreds at both Cardiff and Nottingham. Broad on the other hand was easily England’s most impressive bowler throughout. His breathtaking 8-15 at Trent Bridge was ample reward for his efforts earlier in the series – where he didn’t necessary get the riches he deserved.

Where England really dominated the Australians was with each of their fast bowler’s abilities to come to the party at critical junctions of the series. During the two week period where the Ashes were won and lost at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, England restricted Australia to totals of just: 136, 265, 60 and 253. Across those four innings, four different bowlers took at least six wicket hauls. At Edgbaston James Anderson took 6-47 and the returning Steven Finn 6-79, while at Trent Bridge, Broad shrugged off the absence of the injured Anderson to blast out the Australians with a career best 8-15. Ben Stokes also claimed his Test finest figures whilst wrapping the Ashes up with a second innings haul of 6-36.

England’s 2015 Ashes campaign very much mirrors that of 2009 – where they prevailed despite being very much behind the Australians on individual honours. But in a series where both sides by and large lacked the hunger and technique to bat long periods when behind the game, England found enough runs in three out of the five matches.

Moeen Ali, who is a regular no.3 for Worcestershire, made a huge difference to the balance of the England side whilst batting at number eight. Batting when his country found themselves under the cosh he snatched the game away from Australia at both Cardiff and Birmingham, where he blazed first innings knocks of 77 and 59. That his batting partnerships with Broad were England’s most fruitful of this freakish series, tells its own story.

How did they win the Ashes?

Despite going into the series as relative underdogs, a disciplined yet courageous England took advantage at Cardiff, where they played the type of aggressive cricket they had promised before the series began. After winning the toss and finding themselves in a spot of bother at 3-43, England breathed a huge sigh of relief when Brad Haddin dropped Root on nought. It would be a turning point in not just the match but also the series as Root went onto make 134 and England 430. Despite five of the Australian top six making at least 30, a procession of starts were not built upon and they could only muster 308 in reply. A pair of 60’s from Ian Bell and Root set the Australians a difficult 412 to win but they collapsed to 6-122 before Mitchell Johnson’s brisk 77 delayed the inevitable for the visitors as they eventually succumbed to a 169-run defeat.

ROOOOOOT. England's Joe showed why he is regarded as one of the world's best.
ROOOOOOT. England’s Joe showed why he is regarded as one of the world’s best.

After a huge 405-run mauling at the hands of a rejuvenated Australia at Lords, both coach Trevor Bayliss and captain Alastair Cook summoned for more “English type” wickets after their fast bowlers struggled on a flat deck at the home of cricket. Their wish was granted at Edgbaston as they were confronted with a heavily green tinged wicket and grey overhead conditions. It was a good toss to lose for Cook as Michael Clarke opted for first use on a rain hit morning in Birmingham. It all started to go wrong for Clarke and his men thereafter as Anderson, along with help from Broad and Finn, made perfect use of the conditions to bundle the tourists out for just 136.

In reply both Bell and Root again made half centuries but the innings was beginning to fizzle out until Moeen and Broad batted the Australians out of the contest with an eight-wicket stand of 87. Finn then took over, reducing Australia to 5-92 before some late order resistance from Peter Nevill and Mitchell Starc eventually set England 121. After both openers fell cheaply it was Bell and Root again doing the damage as they put on an unbroken 73 to seal an eight-wicket victory.

After seeing the Australians struggle to play the moving ball at Edgbaston, Cook had no hesitation in inserting the visitors under grey skies at Trent Bridge. What followed next was one of the most outlandish first sessions in Test history. The ciaos began when Australia were reduced to 2-10 after just one over from Broad and things soon went from bad to worse as Broad and England jumped all over Australia’s feeble middle order to dismiss them for just 60 – their lowest Ashes total since 1936.

England found themselves batting half an hour before lunch and eventually finished the day with a 214-run lead thanks to an unbeaten hundred from Root – who added 173 with Jonny Bairstow for the fourth wicket. Facing a first innings deficit of 331, Australia’s openers Chris Rogers and David Warner put on a solid hundred partnership for the first wicket before Stokes removed them both amidst a superb spell of swing bowling – that eventually reaped him his second six-wicket Ashes haul. The last rites were orchestrated by Mark Wood who bowled both Josh Hazelwood and Nathan Lyon to hand underdogs England redemption.

What next for England?

Despite seemingly winning the Ashes at ease with a match to spare, there remain a few questions to be answered over the performances of some players.

There’s no doubting that it was a bowlers series and England will be pleased with the efforts of their fast men in particular. Anderson, Broad, Finn, Stokes and Wood all form a solid pace battery featuring both experience and youth and barring injury they should all go on to play Test cricket for at least another year.

Beneath them in the standings there also remains decent depth: Liam Plunkett, Chris Jordan, Mark Footitt and Chris Woakes have all not being called upon to make an appearance during the Ashes, but England will be confident that each of them wouldn’t let the side down if they were given a chance for future assignments.

But with a Test series against Pakistan in the UAE next up, the fast bowling shouldn’t be so much an issue as that of the spin resources. While Moeen has provided England with valuable depth in the batting order at number eight, his primary role is as front line spinner and his performances in the past six months haven’t quite been up to the standards required to bowl sides out in Test cricket. The problem for England is who else they can turn to when they will need to play two spinners in the UAE?

Ales Hales looks likely to become Alastair Cook's opening Test partner in the not too distant future.
Ales Hales looks likely to become Alastair Cook’s opening Test partner in the not too distant future.

Legspinner Adil Rashid will be in the reckoning to play alongside Moeen in the UAE, but it will be a daunting task for a man who will be expected to bowl out Pakistani batsman despite not being given any previous Test experience this year. In hindsight Rashid should have played in the West Indies on England’s there earlier this year, when he wasn’t given an opportunity then, it looked very unlikely that he would have been given a chance during the Ashes unless it was as a last resort if England were going badly.

Other names that have been doing the rounds as potential touring inclusions in the past week are 18-year-old Hampshire legspinner Mason Crane and Surrey’s Zafar Ansari, 23. Out of the pair Ansari, a Cambridge University graduate who is capable of batting in the middle order and bowling tidy slow left arm, looks the most likely to be selected after earning good reviews from many who have watched him at Surrey this summer. As for Crane, it seems highly unlikely that a usually conservative English selection panel would go with an 18-year-old legspinner who has at the time of writing only played two first-class matches in his short career thus far.

After the recent failings of Adam Lyth, it looks like the England merry-go-round search for a second opener to accompany Cook, will go on. Since Andrew Strauss retired after the summer of 2012, six men have been asked to fill his void and so far none have made a sustainable case for themselves. Nick Compton, Michael Carberry, Sam Robson and Jonathan Trott have all been tried and jettisoned, while Root has quite rightly moved back down the order, and with Lyth seemingly not have taken his chance, the search continues.

One option that remains a real possibility for the Pakistan tour at least is to move Moeen up from eight to open alongside Cook. This would of course be a short term measure to allow England to play either Rashid or Ansari at number eight as a second spinner whilst not weakening the batting. While Moeen might thrive opening the batting on the slow and low pitches of the UAE, England’s next assignment to South Africa at Christmas might not be so forthcoming for the flashy left-hander. That’s where Nottinghamshire’s Alex Hales comes into the equation. The tall right-hander has already cemented his place in England’s limited overs sides and another strong showing in the ODI series with Australia, coupled with his fine recent first-class form for his county and he could well be given a Test debut this winter in either the Emirates or South Africa.

Helping the old enemy too much?

The Investec Ashes 2015

Has English cricket got the balance right between upholding the standards of the County Championship or allowing their Ashes rivals too much an upper hand in local conditions?

The silly season is upon us – But with the Ashes not yet underway, many Aussies are already dominating across our land.

As the Australian Ashes squad gets settled into life in England for the next two months, it will already feel like home for a few, that’s because for a few members of the tour party, for a few months of the year it is their home.

Both Peter Siddle and Adam Voges have already had success on these shores this summer, and they are not alone – there is as many as twenty Australian qualified players participating across formats in this summer’s county game.

It was just a few weeks ago that Voges scored a match defying debut hundred in Dominica, and one wonders how much his early season stint with Middlesex helped him keep in the form he showed for Western Australia during their recent Sheffield Shield campaign.

Although there is little doubt that his call up to the Test side was earned through a blockbuster Shield season, in which he scored 1358 runs at 104, there is also a claim that his county stints – spread across eight years at Hampshire, Nottinghamshire and Middlesex – have helped him hone his skills into a Test quality batsman.

Adam Voges on his way to a debut hundred in Dominica.
Adam Voges on his way to a debut hundred in Dominica.

Voges, of course, is not the first Australian batsman to have trodden a familiar path from the shires to international cricket.

The likes of Michael Hussey, Marcus North and Chris Rogers have all received their Baggy Green’s after many winters of toil in county cricket and like Voges they have all managed early success.

North scored a debut hundred against South Africa in 2009, while it took Hussey just two Tests, and Rogers five to register their first three figure scores.

Despite constant suggestions from the Australians that the Sheffield Shield is a tougher competition, and in many regards there is a lot of truth in that argument, the English county system has continued to act as a finishing school from domestic to international cricket for many Australians.

Alongside giving the Australians more first-class experience, the fact that so many Australians are currently plying their trade in county cricket and not sitting idle back home in Australia, could have major impacts on the forthcoming Ashes campaign.

Should injuries strike upon the Australians – not uncommon in a five-Test Ashes battle – then the visitors will have many back up fringe players around who have already played in England this summer.

When Siddle joined Nottinghamshire last season, he had just been dropped from the Test side during their victorious tour of South Africa, by the season’s end he was reinstated to the team for a tough away date with Pakistan in the UAE – all after a fruitful summer at Trent Bridge. When he was dropped by the green and gold for a second time in less than a year he turned to Lancashire and again strong county form has led to a national recall.

While the early season spring conditions have helped both Voges and Siddle gain more exposure to red ball cricket in England ahead of the Ashes – Perhaps the greatest benefit to Australian cricket could come in the form of a trio of their key limited overs players, who have been given the chance to play more first-class cricket.

Due to limited over commitments – including ODI series against South Africa and India as well as a home World Cup – three of Australians most talented cricketers managed just seven Sheffield Shield matches between last season.

James Faulkner (3, Appearances), Aaron Finch (2) and Glenn Maxwell (2) have all spoken of their desire to play Test cricket, but with Australia’s home ODI commitments running alongside the Sheffield Shield campaign, their opportunities to play more red-ball cricket have been few and far between – Until the counties stepped in that is.

Yorkshire coach and former Australian quick Jason Gillespie has handed opportunities to both Finch and Maxwell this season as his side look to defend their Championship crown without a host of batsmen plucked away by England.

Finch was originally signed last summer as a limited overs bet, but his attitude and willingness to play the longer form left an impression on his coach – who was then rewarded when the Victorian helped lead the White Rose towards their first title in thirteen attempts.

Finch was rewarded with a second season as Yorkshire’s overseas, but a hamstring injury sustained in the IPL led to a delay in his arrival, in his place was Maxwell, who like Finch last year, was originally signed as a t20 Blast prospect but ended up, much to his delight, being awarded an unlikely first-class opportunity.

Faulkner, who incidentally replaced Siddle at Lancashire, has proven an instant hit at Old Trafford. A valuable hundred and a hat trick in his first handful of Championship appearances have made a huge impression on those in Manchester and for Faulkner himself the opportunity could not have come at a better time.

Although the Australians have arrived in England with their most exciting quick bowling line up in recent memory – five match Ashes series with back-to-back Tests involved have a habit of testing the fitness of even the most durable of fast bowler. An injury or two and with Faulkner already in the country then perhaps another Ashes opportunity could arise.

Like Faulkner, Jackson Bird last made a Test appearance on English soil almost two years ago. Since that defeat at Chester-le-Street, a spate of serious injuries has threatened to put his international career on the backburner – this is where Hampshire has stepped in.

Bird was signed by the newly promoted south coast outfit after missing some of the Australian summer with various injuries and like his Tasmanian teammate Faulkner, the left-armer will hope that a potential opportunity could arise as the summer unfolds.

Like those mentioned before him, Ben Hilfenhaus’ mid-season stint with Nottinghamshire is looked upon as a good opportunity to get back into the national selectors minds should an opening arise – Despite last playing for his country in 2012 – he was last called up just last October as an injury replacement for Shane Watson against Pakistan.

Joe Burns, who last played county cricket for Leicestershire two years ago and who made his Test debut against India in December, was a surprise exclusion from the Test squads for the tours of the Caribbean and the United Kingdom. His place in that squad was taken by Voges, but after one window was closed another one was opened and he managed to secure another spell in the County game as Voges’ replacement at Middlesex. With another former Middlesex player in Chris Rogers retiring from Test cricket after the Ashes, runs on the board for Burns will likely quicken his return to the national set-up.

While young batsman Peter Handscomb, fresh off a breakthrough Shield-winning season with Victoria, has had an early season stint with Gloucestershire filling in for regular captain and Western Australian Michael Klinger. Handscomb like Burns and Maxwell will soon join up with the Australia A squad on their tour of India due to start later this month.

Can it have a negative effect for some Australians?

Despite the fact that many Australians (Who can’t get an IPL contract of course!) would jump at the chance to play some pre-Ashes cricket in the County Championship, it doesn’t always lead to success in the main showpiece later in the summer as two examples from previous Ashes campaigns can relate to.

Much was made of Nottinghamshire’s decision to sign Australian Test opener Ed Cowan ahead of England’s previous home Ashes campaign in 2013 but in the end it didn’t seem to matter as the previous incumbent opener was dropped after the first Test, in which he scored just a total of 14 runs, to date his final Test appearance.

Four years previous it was Phillip Hughes who’s five innings for Middlesex in early 2009 included three hundreds and two fifties – all this coming after he scored back-to-back hundreds in just his second Test match in South Africa – A fine start to Test cricket indeed.

When Hughes arrived to England he was an unknown quantity – An aggressive young opener who liked nothing more than width outside off stump so that he could free his arms into his favourite square cuts and drives. Unfortunately when the Ashes arrived he ran into a fired up Andrew Flintoff. Fred, much like he had done to Adam Gilchrist in 2005, found a weakness in Hughes’ technique outside off stump and Hughes lasted just two Tests before he was dropped from the side in favour of Watson.

Does it benefit the County game?

While it appears to benefit most Australians in getting more first-class exposure in English conditions – how does it benefit English cricket?

For starters having the calibre of international standard players is sure to strengthen the competition. A competition that has been criticized in recent years for a tightening on the rule of overseas and Kolpak players – leading to a dilution of the talent spread across the eighteen counties.

Another reason that the counties chose to sign Australian players is that they usually more available than players from other countries during the summer months. Many Australians look towards the UK to play county or club cricket in their winter before returning for pre-season ahead of their state season back home.

With the IPL running between April and June and the CPL between June and August, many international players who used to consider county cricket as a summer option are now taking their talent elsewhere for a shorter stint and a heavier pay packet.

There are exceptions of course and a host of Australians are now part of the furniture in the county game. The likes of Jim Allenby, John Hastings and Michael Hogan, Michael Klinger and Steve Magoffin have strengthened the county circuit in recent years much as the likes of Hussey, Rogers and North have in the past.

While all have had success in their own right across many years in county cricket, it’s the stability that they provide their counties that makes them such valuable players. The fairytale stories of the likes of Rogers and Voges also provide hope to these players that sustained success in the county game can lead to unexpected national call ups.

Leicestershire are a perfect example of a club who have looked towards the Australian winning mentality to resurrect their fortunes that had seen them not win a single Championship match since 2012. Andrew McDonald was appointed head coach with Mark Cosgrove captain, while seamer Clint McKay was brought in to spearhead the bowling.

Do English cricketers benefit in return?

With so many Australians rightly or wrongly allowed to progress their careers in the English game, does the game in Australia return the favour to English cricketers?

With just six state sides involved in the Sheffield Shield, it has in recent times become very rare to see any overseas involvement – with only Johan Botha of South Africa appearing in the competition in the last few years.

With very little chance of any English players being involved in first-class cricket in Australia, it’s another form of the game that has enticed many Englishmen down under in recent years.

This year’s Big Bash competition included nine Englishman. While it’s highly unlikely that Michael Carberry, Andrew Flintoff, Michael Lumb or Kevin Pietersen will appear for England again, the benefits that the likes of Tim Bresnan, Alex Hales, Eoin Morgan, Luke Wright and Ben Stokes will have gained from the competition could prove invaluable.

Stokes especially benefitted enormously. After a year in which he fell from grace as an English cricketer, he turned to the Big Bash and the Melbourne Renegades after a poor ODI series in Sri Lanka, although it wasn’t enough to secure him a place in the England World Cup squad, a 37-ball 77 against the Hobart Hurricanes in January seemed like the catalyst for a resurgence in the confidence and freedom missing from Stokes’ game after his dismal 2014.

While the competition in the Big Bash is currently higher than that of England’s NatWest Blast equivalent, another area that the Australians have long mastered is the high standard and competitiveness of their grade and club cricket competitions.

Each winter hundreds of English cricketers, of various degrees of age and talent, escape the cold of home and head down under to participate in grade or club cricket in Australia. For many years this has been viewed upon as a vital learning experience for young English cricketers.

Essex's Daniel Lawrence is one of a number of players to have benefited from club cricket down under.
Essex’s Daniel Lawrence is one of a number of players to have benefited from club cricket down under.

This past Southern Hemisphere summer saw two of English cricket’s most promising young batsmen follow this route down under as they looked to gain valuable cricket and life experience that will later benefit English cricket.

One of those batsman was Surrey’s Dominic Sibley, who hit the headlines in late 2013 when, aged just 18, he became the youngest ever double centurion in the history of the County Championship when he blasted his way to 242 against Yorkshire. Sibley spent his winter playing for Midland-Guildford CC in the WADCC First Grade competition in Perth. This season has seen Sibley become a regular in the Surrey side.

Another player who has benefitted from his winter spent in Australia is Daniel Lawrence of Essex. Lawrence left the comfort of home for Geelong and more specifically Newtown and Chilwell CC – where he was the club’s top run scorer with 556 at 42.77. In just his second first-class match upon arriving back in the UK he became the third youngest century maker in the history of the county game when he defied his tender years of 17 and 190 days to score 161 against Surrey in April.

Sibley and Lawrence are just an example of two amongst many English cricketers who have benefitted from a stint in Kangaroo country. While of course the County Championship is littered with Australians – it’s too simplistic to suggest that the English game is helping the old enemy without any favours in return. The beauty of cricket is that we will perhaps never know the true worth of the player development each country benefits from their Ashes rival.

England’s slow bowling options in a spin

The Investec Ashes 2015

In a week where there has been plenty of clamoring and debate over the selection or subsequent non-selection of legspinner Adil Rashid in England’s pre-Ashes holiday party to Spain – It’s easy to forget that England selected a legspinner in their previous Ashes encounter – In the form of Scott Borthwick.

Scott Borthwick (centre) was the last legspinner to represent England in an Ashes Test.

On that occasion, a three day hiding in Sydney, Borthwick was almost brought in as a last resort. Graeme Swann decided he had had enough after Perth and Monty Panesar was so bad in Adelaide and Melbourne that he was almost deemed as “un-selectable” as Steven Finn had been on that same tour. Borthwick was seen as a “horses for courses” selection – He was already in the country playing grade cricket and it was hoped his enthusiasm would help boost an English morale that was already a long way past shot.

A similar section was made by the Australians three years previous when they called up a then little known legspinning allrounder going by the name of Steve Smith. “I’ve been told that I’ve got to come into the side to be fun,” said Smith. “For me, it’s about having energy in the field and making sure I’m having fun and making sure everyone else around is having fun, whether it be telling a joke or something like that.” For Smith the rest is history as he enters his fourth Ashes campaign as the world’s number one ranked Test batsman.
Borthwick subsequently took debut match figures of 4-82 but it was his lack of control and high economy rate of 6.30 that has prompted the selectors to turn their attention elsewhere in a time when spin bowlers in England don’t exactly grow on trees.

That Borthwick is now a number three batsman who only very occasionally rolls his arm over for his County side Durham is indicative of where the slow bowling stocks now lie in English cricket.

Borthwick, who took 4-46 in Durham’s victory at Arundel on Thursday – to more than double his tally of three championship wickets for the season, is now a long way down the pecking order in the English spin cupboard with his only realist chance of selection now being as a middle order batsman – But where are the English spinners to take this new looking aggressive England side forward?

After Panesar and Borthwick were tried and quickly disregarded as viable options, England has since stumbled across Moeen Ali as their chief spin hope. Despite his success against India last summer he remains more middle order batsman and less front line spinner.

Much criticism was directed towards Moeen after his inability to bowl out the West Indies on a spinning deck in Bridgetown and if England were ever going to select Rashid then that Barbados Test was the perfect opportunity.

Despite the fact that Rashid bowled poorly in the two Test warm up matches in St. Kitts he should have also been given an opportunity ahead of the reliable but steady James Tredwell in the series opener in Antigua.

Instead a half fit and undercooked Moeen returned to the side in Grenada where the exceptional James Anderson masked over any dramas with the Worcestershire spinner by leading England to victory. The same can’t be said of Barbados where Moeen underwhelmed in the fourth innings on a pitch inductive to spin, claiming just 1-54 while going at over four an over.

He went only marginally better in the recent home series against New Zealand where he picked up just five wickets at 50 apiece. Despite having his solid batting to fall back on, the successful promotion of Ben Stokes to number six in the line up means that Moeen now bats as low as eight in the order.

His recent form or lack of will not have gone unnoticed by the Australians and they will look to target the offspinner in the way that they targeted Swann during his Ashes swansong eighteen months ago – leaving Alastair Cook to over bowl his front line seamers.

A big concern surrounding Moeen is his lack of variation on the international stage. Although Swann was an out and out

Moeen Ali's form remains a huge concern ahead of the Ashes.
Moeen Ali’s bowling form remains a huge concern ahead of the Ashes.

orthodox off spin bowler he used his subtle changes in flight and pace to gain many wickets – while Moeen doesn’t have the same skill set as Swann he does possess a doosra. He learnt this off his great friend Saeed Ajmal whilst they were teammates at Worcestershire, but while he has the doosra in his repertoire, his reluctance to use it in Test matches could prove a huge downfall.

Rashid on the otherhand has impressed with his all round game in the recent New Zealand ODI series. Mixing sharp turning legbreaks with the odd googly and slider he claimed 4-55 as England ran out huge victors in the series opener at Edgbaston.

Having been a player and coach in Australia during Shane Warne’s dominance in the nineties, new coach Trevor Bayliss should know more than most the importance of an attacking legspinner, especially in a side lacking as much variation in its attack.

Another positive reason for having a legspinner in the side is the recent struggles the Australians have faced against such bowling on their two latest away tours. First Pakistan’s Yasir Shah claimed 12 series wickets at just 17 last October before Devendra Bishoo picked up 6-80 in the West Indians 9-wicket defeat in Dominica earlier this month.

During the dominance of Warne and to a lesser extent India’s Anil Kumble, having an aggressive legspin bowler in your attack was seen as a necessity. These days the infatuation has moved on to left arm pace bowlers – which are seen as cricket’s latest fashion accessory in the wake of the recent successes of the two Mitchell’s, Johnson and Starc along with Trent Boult. To counter this recent trend England have called up Derbyshire’s Mark Footitt.

Along with the introduction of Footitt now was surely the right time to include Rashid in the side as a make way for Moeen. Despite his exclusion from the 14-man party which leaves for Spain next Saturday, Rashid will return to county action for Yorkshire with one eye still on the Ashes.

Look beyond Moeen and Rashid and the spin bowling stocks in England remain extremely thin.

Offspinner Adam Riley, 23, of Kent showed promise last summer whilst keeping Tredwell out of the Canterbury-based side but his 2015 returns of four wickets at 86 don’t make for pretty reading. While Simon Kerrigan, 26, has a respectable mid-season return of 20 wickets at 31, it is still unknown how much a disastrous Ashes debut two years ago affected his confidence as Shane Watson and co. pummeled his slow left arm bowling to all parts of the Oval.

It also looks like Panesar’s international days are a thing of the past after the slow left-armer recently took an enforced break from all cricket – At 33 it remains to be seen if he will ever return to the game.

England will hope it doesn’t take them as long to find a permanent replacement for Swann as it did for Australia when Warne, the greatest legspinner of them all, retired in 2007.

From Beau Casson to Steve O’Keefe, thirteen men were tried before the Australians decided to put all their trust in Nathan Lyon – who recently became their most successful offspinner of all time. Their current legspinner Fawad Ahmed, like Rashid, looks set to watch the Ashes from the outside looking in.

An unfulfilled talent…Rest in Peace Phillip Joel Hughes

On Thursday 27th of November 2014 the cricket world was left in mourning as it lost one of its own.

Gone too soon. Phillip Hughes shared his love for cricket with a love for cattle.

Phillip Joel Hughes was a hugely popular and successful batsman in the modern Australian cricket circuit and when he was struck on the back of the neck by a bouncer that would eventually claim his life whilst batting for South Australia against New South Wales at the SCG last Tuesday – It became by a distance the most shocking and devastating incident that has hit cricket in my lifetime.

Such a rareness to the injury that he sustained only made it more hard to comprehend that in this day and age a player can lose his life whilst playing the game he loved.

In the day following the devastating death of Australian batsman Phillip Hughes, I thought it would be best to express my sadness of his passing in the way of an eulogy towards his tragically short-lived life.

But my mind wasn’t right to write a balanced piece that would befit the man. I was still in shock and disbelief that an Australian cricketer had died playing cricket. For a while I blamed cricket, how could the game I love take away the life of someone who I had enjoyed watching play the sport so closely over the previous five years.

This is how far I got.

Right now I don’t know how I feel about cricket. I don’t even want to think about watching it at the moment. How can I even think about watching Mitchell Johnson bowl at bouncer at Murali Vijay at the Gabba next Thursday or anyone bowling a bouncer at anyone else for that matter.

For those who know me best, this is hard to comprehend as usually I would eat, sleep and breath cricket. But not right now. How could cricket kill Phillip Hughes? Cricket’s a game, how can it take a life of someone so promising and young?

When I first heard the news of the accident that had put Hughes in hospital, I was of course concerned, but never did I begin to think that two days later I would be left as numb as when Hughes lost his battle – A battle I had assumed he would overcome.


Hughes walks off after scoring back-to-back hundreds in only his second Test match.
Hughes walks off after scoring back-to-back hundreds in only his second Test match.

As the song Forever Young played out to a packed Macksville sports hall celebrating the life of Phillip Hughes today, I started to finish the piece I had started almost a week earlier. ‘Forever Young’ turned straight to ‘Too Young’ in my head – Taken far too young.

Born Macksville, Northern New South Wales, a few days over 26 years ago, Phillip Joel Hughes was a talent taken from us far too soon.

I first became familiar with the attacking left-hander when he was called up by Australia for their tour of South Africa in February 2009 as a replacement for the legendary retired opener Matthew Hayden – Big shoes to fill I thought, but at least the Aussies were looking towards youth to begin their rebuilding process.

But boy did Hughes fill those shoes. Facing a Proteas attack that included heavyweights Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Makhaya Ntini and Jaques Kallis his first four innings in international cricket read: 0, 75, 115 & 160.

Hughes had almost singlehandedly rejuvenated a stagnating and declining Australian side and he became an overnight batting star. His rich form also. continued into the English summer with a hugely successful stint with Middlesex. In short he had become a run machine.

That form soon became short lived though as Andrew Flintoff amongst others, found a weakness in the left-hander’s batting technique outside of off stump. Two Tests into his Ashes debut series and he found himself out of the side for the first of many occasions during his 26-Test career.

He returned to the side on regular occasions during the next five years but always seemed to be the first batsman dropped even when others were suffering a similar form slump.

His batting itself was always exciting to watch. Although he became more of a force as an onside player during the course of his Australian career, he will be forever remembered as predominantly an offside player. And a damn fine one at that.

The sight of Hughes flaying attacks with his square drives and fierce cut shots will be greatly missed throughout the cricket world.

Despite his struggles to maintain a permanent place in the Australian batting lineup, Hughes remained a huge contributor of runs for both New South Wales and South Australia in the Sheffield Shield as well as the Australian A side in various forms. His best attribute as a cricketer was that he was a run scorer. He loved to score runs and usually he would contribute bigs runs at a high strike rate in an attacking manor.

Twenty six first-class hundreds before his 26th birthday suggest he would have eventually cracked Test cricket if he was finally given a sustained run in the first team. With the batting talent and tough mentality that he possessed it surely would have only have been a matter of time before he started scoring regular ODI and Test hundreds for his country.

Despite suggestions he was going to be recalled to the Australian side in the place of the injured Michael Clarke for the first Test against India which was due to start this week, one would imagine his first opportunity to maintain a permanent place in the batting lineup would have been as an opener alongside Dave Warner once Chris Rogers stepped aside next year.


As a man Hughesy or Huge Dog (as he was known by both of his mates and teammates) was a quiet team man with a huge love of life. He was a tough man in the mould of the Chappell’s, Waugh’s, Border’s and Ponting’s before him.

Despite not knowing Phillip Hughes, he seems like a man and cricketer who I would have loved to have met – After all we share the same love for both cricket and cattle!!

He was a player I followed very closely over the years and in recent times I found myself constantly looking at the South Australian and Australian scorecards hoping to see yet another Hughes hundred as I knew that alongside Steven Smith – He was the future of the Australian batting lineup for the next decade.

Unfortunately life can be cruel to the people who don’t deserve it, there will be no more watching his fierce cut shots or seeing his infectious smile.

It’s with a heavy heart I have to say, Rest in Peace Phillip Joel Hughes – Forever 63 not out. X

What now for Jesse?

So Jesse messed up again then.

Will Ryder ever represent the Blackcaps again?
Will Ryder ever represent the Blackcaps again?

In the past few weeks I haven’t been able to get Jesse Ryder out of my head.

At the beginning of the month I visited the University Oval in Dunedin, Ryder’s adopted home ground with his third state side Otago and then came out stories in the media of his reintroduction into a national A touring side and talk of a possible World Cup berth for the entertaining hitter.

Things started looked promising once again – could the Wellington-born maverick be making his way back into the Blackcaps setup just in time to make a strong World Cup claim? After all his country has just lost comprehensively to South Africa in a home ODI series – Where the need for another opener was evident…But this is Jesse, Jesse tends to f**k up once things start looking up for him!

And so it was. After been named in the New Zealand A squad for their tour of the UAE – Due to begin this weekend, he withdrew from the squad citing personal matters after a meeting with the Otago Volts management in Dunedin last Monday morning.

Despite the fact that the statement from NZC General manager of national selection Bruce Edgar read: “Jesse Ryder has withdrawn from the tour due to personal reasons, NZC respects Jesse’s decision and is currently considering options for a replacement.” Something didn’t seem quite right.

So It was not a huge surprise to learn that Ryder had missed Otago’s Super Smash match in Christchurch last Sunday because he missed the team’s flight out of Dunedin on the Saturday after an evening drinking in his new hometown following an Otago Volts social golf day on Friday. – It all read a strikingly disappointing but familiar story as far as Ryder is concerned.

It was hardly a shock that it all ended this way. You can’t blame New Zealand Cricket for wanting to reintegrate him back into the side with the World Cup approaching – They know how good both a player and a marketable opportunity he can be, but in the end it’s up to Jesse himself and right now he seems unwilling to want to return to international cricket.

When asked about Ryder after the Blackcaps recent ODI series loss to South Africa, captain Brendan McCullum distanced his team from a return to the powerful all rounder.

The gist of what McCullum said included terms such as: “Got to make sure Jesse is desperate to play for New Zealand” and “We will not compromise the team dynamic.” Hardly terms that make it seem Ryder would have been easily accepted back into the group.

That’s what made his selection a surprising one only a few days after McCullum had made it clear he didn’t particularly want Ryder back in the setup – the national selection committee promptly named him for the forthcoming A tour of the UAE.

Ryder had seemed keen to force his way back into the national team at the time of the squad announcement by saying the right things expected of him:

“It’s just a stepping stone and hopefully it’s a good one for me and I’ll go over there and just do what I need to do to show them I’m still keen to be a part of it.”

It defiantly seemed that he had woken up and realised that there might be a chance of a potential inclusion in the World Cup provincial squad of 30 to be announced next month.

“It’s definitely something I want so I have to put the hard work in first and see what happens. The A tour is the first step of it.” He added further.

But things change quickly for Jesse. After blasting his way to a match winning 136 off 57 balls against an Ireland XI a month ago, he quickly rejected the chance to take part in a North verses South Island t20 clash to kick start the Super Smash competition – Surely not the act of a man who was desperate to represent his country again in a hurry.

Without knowing the man, it’s hard to figure what goes through the head of Jesse Ryder and why he continually finds himself in such situations and predicaments. Some suggest he struggles majorly whilst in the limelight and it would be easier for him to continue playing domestic cricket instead of accepting the scrutiny that hovers around the game at the highest level.

During a recent visit to the Basin Reserve cricket ground in Wellington, I got speaking to a gentleman who has worked in the ground at the National Cricket Museum for the past five years and he suggested that the vibes he received were that Ryder was an isolated figure and a disruptive influence whilst playing for the Wellington side less than two years ago and many of the players were happy to see him leave for Otago last July.

What could have been?

Despite continuously working with a sports psychologist, it’s a great shame that Ryder hasn’t been able to put aside his personal issues over the years and fulfil the talent we all know he has.

It’s now not inconceivable that he may never add to his 18 Tests and 48 ODIs in the future and that we have seen the last of Jesse Ryder as an international cricketer.

He continues to be a man of the people and a modern day throw back of the cricketing larrikin’s of yesteryear. It’s the fact that he is different personality and enjoys a drink like us all that makes him a standout in a day and age when sport is becoming ever more professional and many of the great characters of the game have disappeared into retirement.

In the days directly following his life threatening assault outside a Christchurch bar in March of last year, one article that has stuck with me to this day was written by Australian journalist Jarrod Kimber on the site ESPN Cricinfo. Due to the seriousness of Ryder’s injury at the time, Kimber was asked to be on stand by to write a eulogy incase the worst happened, it went something like this:

Jesse’s worst made the media’s job quite easy. He churned out headlines, gave angry middle aged men their moral editorials and gave talkback radio days of free funny. Even on the field he never quite gave us what his wrists promised. Unfulfilled potential is the ugliest phrase in the sporting vocabulary.

At his best he was everything that was great about cricket. A shy man in a large body who could play a square drive so perfectly it would stop you in your tracks. If you ever saw one live, you’d never forget it. It was an immaculate cricket moment. This monstrous beast pushing the ball with statue stillness and perfect cricket hands in a gracefully delicate way. It was pure. It was artistic. It was flawless. It was brutal elegance and precision. It was a water buffalo doing a magnificent tango.

It was what cricket should be.

Most people try their whole life to do one thing absolutely as it was intended. Jesse did that almost every time he batted.

Now because of a seemingly violent act of randomness, Jesse has been taken from us. Leaving us with a few moments of cricket perfection, the sort that live in the stories people tell the next generation of cricket lovers.

Heroes, villains and artists don’t often come in the one package.

Cricket exists for men like Jesse Ryder. And men like Jesse Ryder exist for cricket.

Although thankfully Jesse made a full recovery from that dramatic incident in Christchurch and resumed playing cricket twelve months ago, the Kimber article goes to show how adored Ryder is worldwide for his maverick presence on and off the cricket field.

He’s a player you want to come good. I find myself constantly willing him not to go off the rails again, but deep down knowing that he will again eventually let me and more importantly his fellow Kiwi’s down at some point – Just waiting for the day I open a webpage or pick up a newspaper and there it is…The oh for god sake Jesse messed up again story!

In a parallel universe he could have easily already played fifty Tests and made at least ten hundreds – similar figures to that of teammate Ross Taylor (59 Tests and 12 hundreds). But unlike Ryder, Taylor has kept his head down and made the most of his talent at the international level.

So what now for Ryder?

The chances are that he will go back to domestic cricket to be out of the media spotlight and start performing to a high standard once again. In the short term it remains to be seen if he will return to action for bottom of the table Otago Volts for their final two Super Smash matches in the coming weeks. The Volts have currently won only two of their eight matches to date and have no hope of qualifying for the playoffs.

After the conclusion of the current Super Smash series, he is set to head across the Tasman and participate in his first Big Bash tournament for the Melbourne Renegades after signing a deal with the franchise in June that will see him line up amongst the likes of current Australian ODI players Aaron Finch and Matthew Wade. A good performance over the pond could also lead to further interest from the IPL.

After performing outstandingly during his stint with English County Essex in the season just gone he was rewarded with a new two-year contract with the Chelmsford-based side. Despite being signed predominantly as a batsmen, his medium-paced seamers became a surprising weapon. Whilst opening the bowling in Division Two cricket he went on to claim four 5-wicket hauls and ended the summer with a bowling average of just 18.09.

His performances on and off the field certainly left a huge impression on Essex coach Paul Grayson who was in no doubt to the value that Ryder has brought to his side as an overseas player.

“He’s been great. He’s a super lad and he’s one of the most naturally gifted cricketers I’ve worked with,” he added. “Some would say we took a little bit of a risk when we signed him and we probably did. But we felt we could work with him and it’s been great.”

Despite his latest misdemeanour, one amongst many others across the past six years, Ryder is still only 30-years-old and with time on his side, it’s still not out of the question that he can make a name for himself on the international front in the next few years. Again the NZC selectors have taken the first step and shown a willingness to integrate him back into the setup – Now it’s over to Jesse to show he wants to represent his country once more.

Until then we will have to make do with videos such as these.


Bowling allrounder’s lead Northants title push

Northants_Cricket_BadgeWith a 25-point lead at the top of the LV County Championship Division Two table, onlookers could be forgiven for thinking that by September promotion for Northamptonshire will be a foregone conclusion – but things in the County Championship are rarely foregone conclusions.

Just ask the Northants fans – who in 2011 – found themselves in a similar position to what they are in now. That was until they entered the final match of the season against Gloucestershire needing to better Surrey’s points total in their match with Derbyshire.

For Northants it ended in heartbreak. Despite beating Gloucestershire and gaining 22 points, they could do nothing about Surrey result against Derbyshire. As it turned out – Surrey not only won, but they gained 24 points in doing so and pipped Northants to the second promotion spot by just a single point – such margins can be the difference between agony and ecstasy in County Cricket.

This time round Northants will hope that the lead they have built up over their first six matches of the season can help them avoid another final game shoot-out with their nearest challengers.

The fact that they are in such a lofty position is mainly down to their array of fast-bowling allrounders.  The quartet of Trent Copeland, Steven Crook, Andrew Hall and David Willey have not only provided the majority of their wickets but have also scored the bulk of their runs – masking the lack of runs from further up the order.

Perhaps the best of the lot has been overseas signing Copeland. The 27-year-old Australian seamer has exceeded all expectations with excellent performances with both leather and willow in hand. Figures of 116 runs at 55.33 and 27 wickets at 18.25 – suggest true allrounder status.

Copeland is not a glamorous name when compared with Northants’ overseas signings of the past (Bishan Bedi, Kapil Dev, Curtly Ambrose, Matthew Hayden and Mike Hussey to name just a few) but he is the ideal modern day County signing – A line and length bowler who can contribute with the bat down the order.

Indeed his batting has surprised many this season but he did come with a reputation as a lower order hitter from his time with New South Wales. It was only as recent as February that he scored his maiden first-class hundred and he finished the Sheffield Shield campaign with a batting average of 34.72 across his eight appearances.

Copeland is not the only Australian-born bowler who has reaped early season rewards in both disciplines for Northants. Journeyman Crook has been a revelation since re-joining the club from Middlesex over the winter.

Crook hasn’t always found the going so well, since making his first-class debut for Lancashire over ten years ago he has managed just 57 first-class appearances. Since first signing for Northants in 2005, he found the going tough and after a spate of injuries at Wantage Road he stepped away from the game in 2009 before signing for Middlesex in 2011 and returning to the form his potential suggested.

Northampton-born David Willey is leading the way for his home county.
Northampton-born David Willey is leading the way for his home county.

This season, Crook’s form has been a revelation for all to see in Northampton, not only has he taken the wickets many knew he was capable of (24 wickets at 19.54) – he has also excelled with the bat – regularly digging his side out of a hole with late order hitting of the highest class. 249 runs across five innings at 62.25 suggest more than just a lower order slogger.

The case of Willey is a much simpler and local story. The 23-year-old is the son of former Northants and England allrounder David and has progressed through the counties’ youth programmes; making his debut in 2009 he led the club’s bowling charts last year with 43 first-class victims.

The left-armer has lived up to last season’s hype with 24 wickets at 24.33 as well scoring 193 runs at 27.57 with the bat and he is now a vital clog in the Northants wheel of success.

Experienced former South African allrounder Hall, 37, has been vital to the balance of the side with both runs from number five and important wickets as a second change bowler. Since relinquishing the captaincy after the side’s poor 2012 campaign (where they finished second bottom) Hall has topped the batting charts with 362 runs at 60.33 along with claiming 15 victims at 23.20.

As well as improving the form of Hall, the change of captaincy as done wonders for Northants as Stephen Peters has taken over the role like a duck to water. The veteran opener has not only been astute with his on field skipper duties but he has also contributed 311 runs at 51.83 before a broken thumb ruled him out for six weeks.

Whether Northants can keep up the pace at the top of the table is a different matter all together. Copeland will return back to Australia when his time as overseas player comes to an end at the conclusion of this week’s fixture against Worcestershire and his presence will be highly missed not just on the field but in the dressing room too.

A lack of a quality spin bowler could also affect the side later in the summer as the pitches will likely change from the seamer-friendly surfaces Northants’ attack are geared towards to more dryer spin-orientated affairs.

A lack of such slower bowlers has yet to affect Northants as off-spinner James Middlebrook has be only been required to bowl a handful of overs – largely to keep the quicker men fresh.

Although Middlebrook is an experienced campaigner, he is unlikely to run through sides the way former Steelbacks’ Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar once did.

Elsewhere across the spinning cupboard, Con de Lange has disappointed since arriving on English shores last season. He managed just three first-class wickets in 2012 and will find himself further down the pecking order upon the arrival of former left-arm spinner Graeme White – who will rejoin the side next week on a one month loan deal from Nottinghamshire.

Waiting in the wings...England U19 players Ben Duckett and Olly Stone as pushing for more first team opportunities.
Waiting in the wings…England U19 players Ben Duckett and Olly Stone are pushing for more first team opportunities.

Despite a relative lack of quality spin options, the club do have depth elsewhere. The recent draw with Leicestershire brought up the potential of England U19 wicketkeeper Ben Duckett – who scored a maiden fifty on his first-class debut covering for regular keeper David Murphy – who was away with the Scotland set-up.

Another England U19 player, Olly Stone, has also been gifted limited opportunities in the side this season due to the form of the incumbent seamers and with Copeland soon to depart – chances are the 19-year-old will be given a chance to stake his place as a regular in the coming weeks.

Other options in the bowling department include Pakistani Azharullah, who recently took 3-59 against Hampshire as well as Lee Daggett – who has impressed in recent second XI fixtures.

To have such options in the bowling department despite the departure of Jack Brooks to Yorkshire over the winter, is decrement to the system Northants have. They have in recent years been criticised for fielding too many Kolpak players, but the county are now moving themselves away from that avenue towards a more home grown approach.

The top order batting remains a concern. Despite runs from Peters at the top of the order and the quartet mentioned above, only Rob Newton with 251 runs at 41.83 can say he has done justice to his talent with the bat so far this season.

Keeper Murphy along with Alex Wakely, David Sales and Kyle Coetzer have all averaged between 17-21 and the report card would read – must do better!

The questions remain for Northants and with matches against Worcestershire, Leicestershire and Lancashire to come in the next month – many of answers could arrive before June is out – will it be the ecstasy of 2003 or the agony of 2011?

County Championship – five to watch in 2013

With the start of the County Championship just around the corner, I take a look at the five young players to look out for during the 2013 season.

2012 brought the likes of Joe Root, Danny Briggs and James Harris into England recognition and these five men will hope that first-team opportunities in 2013 will lead them down a similar pathway.

Shiv Thakor – Leicestershire

Shiv ThakorThe 19-year-old allrounder first rose to promise in 2011 when he scored 134 on his first-class debut against Loughborough MCCU – In doing so he became the first Leicester-born player to score a hundred on debut for his home county.

A hard-hitting batsman with a good temperament, Thakor has shown remarkable talent from a young age. He was first signed up by Leicestershire as a nine-year old and has not looked back since.

His school highlights included a score of 237 for Loughborough Grammar School and an unbeaten 219 for Uppingham – a school who awarded him an all-round scholarship at 13-years-old.

Since leaving school, Thakor turned down university opportunities from Cardiff, Durham and Loughborough in favour of signing a three-year professional contract with his county, a move that seems justified by his 2012 form.

With James Taylor having left for Nottinghamshire ahead of the 2012 season, Thakor was left to pick up some of the batting slack and did not disappoint. His six first-class appearances yielded 427 runs at 61 and included four fifties.

His most impressive batting performances included an unbeaten 85 on a green top against Hampshire and dual knocks of 61 and 38no to save at draw at Northamptonshire.

Such was his Championship form, that it was a shock that he was overlooked for England’s U19 World Cup squad in August. He did however return to the U19 set-up as captain earlier this year, only for injury to rule him out.

If he can go about replicating his 2012 form then a call-up to the England Lions set-up is not out of the equation in the next twelve months.

Reece Topley – Essex

Reece Topley.Not since Steven Finn has there been such hype over a tall English fast bowler and Topley certainly has the same talent and qualities to make a similar mark on the international game as Finn did a few years back.

The 6’7 left-arm fast bowler first hit the headlines for Essex in early 2011, where he burst onto the scene with 14 wickets in his first three County Championship matches, aged just 17.

Two-years on and having already represented the England Development and Lions squads over the winter, the future looks very bright for the Ipswich-born man to follow in Finn’s footsteps and represent his country.

Despite his early success, Topley was used sparingly in first-class cricket last season and was restricted to just three Championship matches, taking 11 wickets at 31.82 in the process.

It was limited overs cricket that he really caught the eye in. First he helped Essex’s T20 campaign by taking 17 wickets in nine matches and then he returned from the U19 World Cup as the tournaments leading wicket taker with 19 wickets at an average of just 9.10 and an economy rate of 3.17.

He remains an incredibly grounded man, mainly thanks to his father Don, who himself played for Essex and Surrey and it won’t be long before he is given further England honours.

If injuries stay away then he has the potential to form a deadly potent opening partnership with fellow youngster Tymal Mills (20) this season, as Essex look to spark a promotion push.

Ben Foakes – Essex

Ben FoakesLike Topley, 20-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman Foakes is held in high regard by the Essex hierarchy and Graham Gooch in particular.

Despite having only played five first-class matches to date, Foakes’ potential is there for all to see and it was this potential that saw him make his first-class debut against the touring Sri Lankan’s in 2011.

He made his Championship debut against Leicestershire the following summer, and impressed with a flashy 93 –that included no fewer than 14 boundaries.

His fine Championship start was followed by an impressive showing at the U19 World Cup, where he was England’s vice-captain and leading run scorer with 234 runs at 39.

He spent the winter with the England Development squad in India, where he worked on his batting with Mark Ramprakash and Graham Thorpe, before he joined up with the Lions set-up for their tour of Australia in February.

Although he is a keeper-batsman, it’s his batting that has earned rave reviews in recent times; comparisons have been drawn with his Essex teammate Alastair Cook and playing as a specialist batsman looks his best way of forcing his way into the starting XI this season as captain James Foster is the incumbent behind the stumps.

The departure of reserve keeper Adam Wheater to Hampshire will also mean that should anything happen to Foster over the course of the season then Foakes will be next in line to keep wicket.

If he can work his way into the Essex middle-order during the summer then there will remain opportunities for him continue his international career that has seen him represent his country at every stage since under-16 level.

Daniel Bell-Drummond – Kent

Daniel Bell-DrummondBell-Drummond is another player that has been involved with the England U19 set-up in the past year and is regarded as the next great opening batting hope to develop after Joe Root.

His idol is Brian Lara and it is clear to see a calypso style to his batting – mainly brought about through his father Percival, who himself played Minor Counties cricket.

The 19-year-old aggressive right-hander has been around the Kent set-up since a seven year old and has represented his country since the age of 15.

He continued his rich promise whilst at the highly successful Millfield School in Somerset, a school that’s alumni includes: James Hildreth, Craig Kieswetter, Rory Hamilton-Brown and Tom Maynard amongst other, before he signed a three-year contract with Kent in 2011.

He made his first-class debut whilst still at school as a 17-year-old, making an impressive 80 opening the batting against Loughborough MCCU.

He followed this up by hitting 40 off 32 balls in his Pro40 debut against Worcestershire a few months later and finally made his much anticipated Championship debut at the end of the 2011 season, replacing the injured Rob Key.

2012 saw him mainly involved in Kent’s second XI but his chance to shine came in July against the touring South Africans. Opening the batting with fellow youngster Sam Northeast, Bell-Drummond scored 42 and 48no against an attack compromising of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and Jacques Kallis.

Big things were expected of him in the 2012 U19 World Cup but he disappointed with just 57 runs at 9.50 in six innings before returning to Kent to play in their final Championship match of the season, where he scored 33 and 0.

Despite Northeast and former captain Key currently holding the opening slots, there have been murmurs that Key will drop down to number three and let Bell-Drummond continue his progress alongside Northeast at the top of the order.

Craig Overton – Somerset

Craig OvertonOverton is one of two twin brothers (His brother Jamie is the other), who broke into the Somerset side in 2012, and the 18-year-old bowling allrounder has been compared to a young Stuart Broad in recent times.

Both Overton twins came to Somerset’s attention in 2011 when they helped North Devon win the Devon Cricket League and Devon win the Minor Counties League.

He made his Championship debut against Lancashire in April 2012, ahead of brother Jamie and went on to make a further six first-class appearances during the summer. Although he disappointed with the bat making just one fifty, he did take twelve wickets at 30.35 and his batting must be given time to develop.

Both Craig and Jamie were involved in the U19 World Cup last August and Craig impressed as much as anyone in the squad with 122 runs and five wickets as England finished in 5th place.

He was awarded a place on the Lions tour of Australia in February and played six matches in all, but he will be disappointed with his overall rewards with both bat and ball.

2013 will see Overton again up against his brother along with Adam Dibble and Gemaal Hussain for a place in the Championship side to provide the pace bowling options alongside stewards Alfonso Thomas and Steve Kirby.

Ex-England bowling quartet looking to revive careers

It might not be the fast-bowling merry-go-round, but it isn’t far off this close season as four former England bowlers have moved Counties in a bid to try and revive their stagnating careers. During some part of the past decade, Sajid Mahmood, Liam Plunkett, Ajmal Shahzad and Kabir Ali have all been seen as England’s next fast bowling hope – only for injuries and inconsistent form to scupper their careers at some point or another.

In this post I look back at the highs and lows of each player’s career and try to predict what we can expect of them in their new homes of 2013.

Sajid Mahmood – Lancashire to Essex

Sajid MahmoodCareer so far: The 31-year-old cousin of boxer Amir Khan has decided to swap recently relegated Lancashire for fellow Division Two outfit Essex in a hope to fulfil his promise that once saw him earn eight Test caps for his country in the mid 2000’s.

Originally spotted by Lancashire whilst playing in the Bolton Leagues, he was signed up to a professional contract in 2002. Such was Mahmood’s impact in his early Lancashire career that he was called up by the then England A side after just six first-class matches under his belt.

Then England coach Duncan Fletcher liked what he saw from Mahmood, with his ability to bowl at 90mph a particular interest to the England set-up and he was rewarded with an ODI debut against New Zealand in July 2004.

Mahmood was eventually called up to make his Test debut in May 2006. He took steady match figures of 5-168 as England failed to beat the visiting Sri Lankan’s at Lords.

More Tests followed against Pakistan that same summer, but it will be England’s disastrous Ashes campaign during the winter that Mahmood’s Test career will be remembered for. He was called up for the third Test in Perth with England already having suffered defeats in both Brisbane and Adelaide, for Mahmood it appeared damage limitation. England were already on a hiding to nothing and Mahmood was probably made a scapegoat in the aftermath of such an Ashes hammering.

The Sydney game marked the end of his Test career. 20 wickets at 38.10 perhaps don’t do his talent justice and many good bowlers have had worst figures after eight Tests then his.

Despite his Test career hitting a wall, he remained in the ODI plans and was part of the disappointing World Cup squad of 2007, making six appearances as England fell short at the super eights stage. He was dropped from all formats by his country after that tournament and only briefly returned to make his final (and 26th) ODI appearance – taking 1-41 against South Africa in November 2009.

His form for Lancashire since the England days has been indifferent. Between 2007 and 2010 he averaged over 30 in first-class cricket – before coming back into form to take 35 wickets at 29.85 in his side’s 2011 Championship winning effort.

Things turned sour for Mahmood and his side in 2012. In what was a disastrous season for all involved with the Lancastrians, he managed just four wickets in three Championship matches before being dropped. Unable to force his way back into the side after the arrival of Shahzad, he subsequently joined Somerset on loan for the rest of the season.

His form at Taunton was consistent with that of his previous few seasons in county cricket –as he took eight wickets at a touch over 30. He was released by Lancashire at the end of the season after ten years and 260 first-class wickets worth of service, and made no secret at his disappointment of the decision.

What 2013 holds? The now grey-haired Mahmood moves down to Chelmsford after signing a two-year deal with the Eagles in late November. He joins a young Essex attack looking for an experienced figurehead to lead the line. Talented youngsters Reece Topley (19) and Tymal Mills (20) will start the season as first choice seamers and it will up to Mahmood to challenge the likes of Maurice Chambers and David Masters for a place in the side.

It will be the first time in his career that he will play in the Second Division of the County Championship and a good start is vital for his confidence. Should he hit his straps early and take regular wickets then there is no reason he can’t be the man to spearhead Essex’s push towards their ultimate goal of promotion.

What he said: “I am delighted to be joining Essex. Playing at Lancashire was a great experience for me and I thank them for all they did for my cricket. I see this move as a new beginning and can’t wait to get started. Paul Grayson has been brilliant throughout the recruitment process and I appreciate the faith he’s shown in me.”

Liam Plunkett – Durham to Yorkshire

Liam PlunkettCareer so far: It’s hard to imagine that Liam Plunkett is still just 27. His long career at Durham has already spanned ten years and with his 28th Birthday only around the corner he should still be ready to reach his peak.

Despite many successes at Durham including winning the County Championship in both 2008 and 2009, Plunkett had reached a crossroads in his career and a move to Yorkshire looks a wise career choice for a man with so much more to offer County cricket and perhaps, even still English cricket.

The Teesside-born man made his first class-debut at Chester-le-Street as an 18-year-old and from an early age it looked as if he was destine for England honours. His breakthrough season came in 2005 where he took 50 Championship wickets for the first time and it was this form that led to him earning an England call-up for the tour to Pakistan after Simon Jones pulled out through injury.

His debut on that tour was an unspectacular event as the Pakistani batsmen pilled on the runs, but he was given further chances notably coinciding with Mahmood’s debut in the 2006 home series with Sri Lanka. Unlike Mahmood, Plunkett escaped any involvement in the Ashes whitewash of that winter as he remained an unused squad player throughout the Test leg of the tour.

Impressive performances in the following tri-series, where he took 12 wickets, were enough for Plunkett to book his place in the 2007 World Cup squad although he failed to make an impression in the three matches he was involved in.

He was recalled for the 2007 home series with the West Indies as a result of the Ashes backlash – but he let himself down in two of the three matches and drifted out of the reckoning as England favoured of other bowling options.

A superb 2009 in which he claimed 49 Championship wickets as Durham recorded back-to-back Division One titles earned him a recall to the England Test side but he remained unused on the winter tour of South Africa. Ironically it was his teammate Graham Onions who kept him out of the side and Plunkett has failed to add to his nine Test caps since.

A brief return to the ODI side in early 2011 proved a false dawn and later Plunkett struggled for consistency when back at Durham taking just 11 Championship wickets at 38. If 2011 seemed a disappointment then 2012 would be looked upon as catastrophic. He started the season will poor fitness levels and out of the first XI. Things didn’t improve over the following months as the likes of Chris Rushworth and Calum Thorp kept him to just one Championship appearance. To top this off an Achilles injury finally put pay to his season in July and despite having a year left on his contract he was allowed to speak with other Counties in September.

What 2013 Holds? After weighing up his options, Plunkett decided to sign a three-year contract with Yorkshire in October, a move that sees him reunited with former Durham coach Martyn Moxon – now director of cricket with Yorkshire.

Fully recovered from the Achilles injury that blemished his final months at Durham, Plunkett recently spent a two-month stint at the Darren Lehmann Cricket Academy in Adelaide before joining the rest of the Yorkshire squad in their pre-season tour of Barbados.

Early signs are good that Plunkett has recovered well from his injury problems and Yorkshire will hope he returns to the bowler of 2005 or 2009 – where he was consistently one of the country’s best opening bowlers.

Following the release of Shahzad, Yorkshire have not only recruited Plunkett but also Northamptonshire and England Lions bowler Jack Brooks too. The duo are likely to challenge veteran Ryan Sidebottom, youngster Moin Ashraf and the wily Steve Patterson for a place in the starting XI.

All being well for Plunkett then he will open the bowling for the Vikings in all forms of the game. With time on his side he certainly has the skills and talent to return to the Plunkett of old, perhaps leaving the comfort zone he had at Durham will be the tonic for him to challenge himself and return to the international scene.

What he said: “I have been fortunate enough to represent my country as recently as last year and there is no doubt I want to pull on an England shirt again. I strongly believe I have what it takes to play at the highest level again and I feel Yorkshire is the best environment to help me achieve this.”

Ajmal Shahzad – Yorkshire to Nottinghamshire 

Ajmal ShahzadCareer so far: What a difference a couple of years make. Shahzad was breaking through into the England squad and adored by the Yorkshire faithful – fast forward a couple of seasons and he finds himself forced out of the club and moving down the M1 to join rivals Nottinghamshire.

There wasn’t always animosity towards the Huddersfield-born Shahzad. In 2004 he became the first British-born Asian to represent his County – this led the way for the likes of Adil Rashid, Azeem Rafiq and Moin Ashraf to follow suit in recent times.

Despite making his first-class debut in 2004, it took a few seasons for him to establish himself in the side and it wasn’t until 2009 that he really had a breakthrough year.

With Tim Bresnan away with the England squad, Shahzad took his run in the Yorkshire side with both hands and finished the 2009 summer with 40 wickets and 445 Championship runs.

Such form was bound to impress the England selectors and he was duly called up for England’s tour of Bangladesh in early 2010, although he didn’t play any part on that tour he made his much anticipated Test debut later that year against Bangladesh at Old Trafford, taking a decent 3-45 and 1-18 in the process.

Despite a promising debut he was dropped for the following game in favour of Steven Finn and remained on the outskirts of an England side that was stocked with fast-bowling backup. Although he toured Australia with the successful Ashes campaign of that winter, he remained a backup squad player behind the likes of Finn, Bresnan and Chris Tremlett.

His all-round skills also earned him a place in England 2011 World Cup squad, but yet again he remained on the fringes of the side and with the rapid rise of Finn he was soon out of the immediate England thinking altogether.

Upon his return to the Yorkshire side, he was hit with injuries and couldn’t quite get over the disappointment at being axed from the England setup, as a result of this his form and temperament suffered and he was blamed by some as one of the reasons his County suffered relegation.

Yorkshire then dropped a bombshell at the start of the 2012 season, announcing that Shahzad would be allowed the leave the club on loan, whilst also branding him a ‘non team player’ and someone who refused to accept team discipline.

It later emerged that his stormy relationship with Yorkshire was a prolonged one, with the club and player in disagreement over his bowling tactics and general attitude.

Unwanted by Yorkshire, he joined bitter rivals Lancashire on loan until the end of the season, but despite his 20 wickets at 35.45, Lancashire were relegated just one year after they claimed their first Championship title in 77 years.

Despite Lancashire’s relegation, he was keen to join the club on a permanent basis as it was close enough to his Bradford home, but he eventually received a better three-year contract offer from Nottinghamshire.

What 2013 holds? Despite Nottinghamshire not being his first choice of destination and despite Nottinghamshire openly confessing that they would have preferred to have signed Glamorgan’s James Harris instead, this move looks a good one for both parties.

For Shahzad he has the chance to join a successful County and also to be based at Trent Bridge, a venue which isn’t far from his Yorkshire home and more importantly is a venue which will assist his style of bowling.

Nottinghamshire have signed someone that they believe can open the bowling and bat at number eight for them whilst replacing the impact left with the departure of Darren Pattinson, who has returned to play for Victoria.

After initially putting his name down for the Pakistan Super League, the league was a non-starter and he instead headed to South Africa and Barbados to continue his pre-season and fitness work with Nottinghamshire.

Like Plunkett, Shahzad is still just 27 and has time on his side to improve on his first-class bowling average of 34.01.

If he can regain his fitness and form and build up bowling partnerships with Henry Gurney and Luke Fletcher then the future looks bright for the Outlaws.

Don’t bet against an England recall for Shahzad in the next 18 months.

What he said: “As a seam bowler there is no better ground to play at than Trent Bridge. Hopefully playing alongside so many England players and performing well for Notts will put me back in the limelight.”

Kabir Ali – Hampshire to Lancashire

Kabir AliCareer so far: Surely it’s now or never for Ali. A career that began fourteen years ago has seen him divide his time between Worcester, Southampton and now Manchester, and then of course there was a time when he threatened to earn himself an international career.

At 32, time is just about on his side and with this move to Old Trafford he has a chance to claim back a career that injuries have so often threatened to stall.

His talent has never being in question and if it wasn’t for the multiple injuries that have blighted his cricket, then he would have no doubt have added to his solitary Test cap – gained almost ten years ago.

England first became aware of his talents back in 2002, where after eight successive Ashes defeats, he was called into the Adelaide Academy as cover for an injury affected bowling unit.

He was awarded a Test-cap a year later and despite taking 3-80 and 2-56 against South Africa on debut, injuries started to take there toll.

Despite the injuries, Ali continued to represent England in ODI cricket and earned 14 appearances between 2003 and 2006, taking 25 wickets at 34.10.

He was over looked for the 2007 World Cup despite showing good form with Worcestershire and fell away from the England radar, before injury again scuppered his participation in an England A tour of India in 2008.

After ten years of service to Worcestershire, Ali decided he needed a change of scenery to fulfil his desires of playing for his country again and he joined Hampshire in a disputed move ahead of the 2010 season.

Despite the change of scenery, injuries again returned and he was ruled out of the entire 2010 summer due to a knee problem. He returned ahead of the 2011 season but was restricted to just five Championship appearances before a pre-season injury affected the start of his 2012 campaign.

He returned to hold his nerve and bowl the last over to lead Hampshire to victory in the Clydebank Pro40 final against Warwickshire in September, before being released as his contract expired. He made just 33 appearances in his three years with Hampshire and joined Lancashire on a two-year contract in November.

What 2013 holds? A record of 483 wickets at 27.35 spread across 130 first-class games show that Ali is no mug in County cricket and if he can starve off the injuries of old then there is no reason he can’t act as a like for like replacement for Mahmood at Old Trafford.

Word is that Ali’s injuries are behind him, for now. A prolonged run for the Barisal Burners in this year’s Bangladesh Premier League have helped him get off to an early pre-season and like Shahzad, he showed a willingness to participate in the Pakistan Super League.

It’s no secret that Lancashire would have preferred the younger Shahzad as their marquee bowling signing for the season, but after his move to Nottinghamshire they decided to give a chance to Ali and he will be looking to reward their faith in him with performances that help fire them back into Division One at the first time of asking.

He will compete with the likes of Oliver Newby, Kyle Hogg and Tom Smith for a place alongside stewards Glen Chapple and Steven Croft in the line-up.

What he said: “Lancashire is a fantastic Club with a proud history. I am excited at the prospect of working under Peter Moores and his coaching team as well as playing alongside Glen Chapple who is still one of the best in the country. Lancashire has an exciting and emerging squad and I am looking forward to playing my part in the challenges ahead.”

2012 – The Year That Was

Cricket Fireworks

In this post I look back at the major happenings in World Cricket over the past twelve months.

Test Cricket:

Number one ranked side England started the year with a humiliating 3-0 defeat against Pakistan in the UAE, as Saeed Ajmal (24 wickets) and Abdur Rehman (19) tormented their batting throughout the series.

Newly appointed captain Michael Clarke led Australia to a 4-0 home whitewash of India. Both he and Ricky Ponting helped themselves to double hundreds in the final Test in Adelaide, following on from Clarke’s triple hundred in Sydney.

Mystery Spinner? Saeed Ajmal ran England ragged as Pakistan whitewashed England 3-0 in the UAE.
Mystery Spinner? Saeed Ajmal ran the English batsmen ragged as Pakistan whitewashed England 3-0 in the UAE.

Less than a year after returning to the format, Zimbabwe suffered their worst ever Test loss with an innings and 301-run defeat in New Zealand.

South Africa returned home from a tour of New Zealand with a 1-0 victory in a 3-Test series, the highlight of the series was paceman Vernon Philander becoming the second fastest man to 50 Test wickets, he achieved the feat in just seven matches.

England’s failure to play decent spin bowling well was again shown up as Rangana Herath took 12 wickets, leading Sri Lanka to victory in the first Test. A superb 151 from Kevin Pietersen helped the visitors level the two-Test series with an 8-wicket win in the second match.

The West Indies showed gradual improvement on their form in the longest format, but started the year with a 2-0 home loss to Australia despite three close Test matches.

A weakened West Indies team suffered at the hands of England in their 3-match series, falling to five and eight-wicket defeats at Lords and Trent Bridge before a rain affected third Test was drawn, despite an extraordinary innings of 95 from Tino Best.

South African captain Graeme Smith holds the ICC Test Mace aloft after his side's victory over England.
South African captain Graeme Smith holds the ICC Test Mace aloft after his side’s victory over England.

Centuries from Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara led Sri Lanka to a 209-run win and a 1-0 series victory at home to Pakistan, the other two Tests ended in dull draws.

Chris Gayle marked his Test comeback for the West Indies with a century as his side beat New Zealand by 9-wickets in Antigua. Marlon Samuels then scored 123 and 52 in the second Test at Kingston to wrap up the series whitewash.

In what was billed as the unofficial Test Championship, England relinquished their number one ranking to South Africa with a 2-0 series loss. Hashim Amla was the pick of the batsmen at The Oval, smashing an unbeaten 311 as the Proteas recorded an innings and 12-run victory. Weather affected the second Test at Headingley leaving both teams to settle for a draw, before the South African’s gained the Test mace, they have long craved after, with a 51-run win at Lords in the third and final Test.  The series will also be remembered for the Kevin Pietersen debacle, which caused him to miss the third Test.

Cheteshwar Pujara’s first Test century led India to an innings and 115-run victory in their first home Test against New Zealand and they sealed the series win with a 5-wicket return in the second Test where Virat Kohli top scored in each innings with 103 and 51no.

Despite Sri Lanka’s Rangana Herath taking 20 in two Tests, New Zealand took a share of the spoils as the series ended 1-1. Sri Lanka eased to a 10-wicket win in the first Test only for the Black Caps to charge back in the second thanks to centuries from Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson and eight wickets from seamer Tim Southee.

South Africa somehow held onto their number 1 ranking with a 1-0 win in Australia despite been outplayed in the first two Tests of the series. Australia had the better of the first two Tests in Brisbane and Adelaide thanks to a pair of double hundreds from the ever more dependable Michael Clarke, but despite pushing for victories in both matches, the South Africa’s held on. But Like all true champions, Graeme Smith and his men roared back with a huge 309-run thrashing of the Aussies in Perth to take the series and hold on to the Test mace.

After playing well for a couple of sessions against the West Indies, Bangladesh finally folded on the fifth day to lose by 77-runs, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, still defying age at 38, was the mainstay of the West Indies batting effort with an unbeaten 203. The second Test was more of a one-sided occasion as the Windies dominated with a 10-wicket win, Marlon Samuels top scored with 260 and Tino Best finished off the Tigers with 6-40 leaving only a small chase to complete a series whitewash.

Captain Cook...Alastair Cook led from the front with three hundreds in his side's series win in India.
Captain Cook…Alastair Cook led from the front with three hundreds in his side’s series win in India.

England finished the year with an impressive 2-1 series win in India, their first in almost 28 years. After a demoralising 9-wicket loss in Ahmedabad, a performance that suggested England hadn’t learn from their woes against spin bowling on the subcontinent, England, led by their impressive new captain Alistair Cook, the reintegrated Pietersen and the spin duo of Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann, stormed to a 10-wicket series levelling win. Cook was again at it in the third Test scoring a superb 190 in the first innings as England went on to win by 7-wickets. The final Test seemed a formality for the visitors as second innings tons by Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell sealed a draw and England returned home for Christmas having created history.

ODI Cricket:

The main highlight of the 2012 ODI calendar included England overtaking Australia to top the ODI rankings after thrashing them 4-0 in mid-summer home series. In fact England went on to record an English record of ten consecutive ODI victories after whitewashes against Pakistan (4-0), the West Indies (2-0) and the Australians.

Elsewhere South Africa impressed with a 3-0 win in New Zealand and a 2-2 draw in England. While India thrashed hosts Sri Lanka 4-1 after the Sri Lankans had themselves beaten Pakistan 3-1 and New Zealand 3-0 at home. It was a poor year of ODI cricket for the Pakistani’s as they also lost to Australia 2-1 in the UAE.

The West Indies started the year off well with a 2-2 draw at home to Australia and a 4-1 win against New Zealand also at home, but their away form wasn’t so impressive. As well as them losing 2-0 in England they also suffered a humiliating 3-2 series loss in Bangladesh.


T20 World Cup:

Hitting out...Marlon Samuels blasts his way to a match winning 78 in the World T20 final.
Hitting out…Marlon Samuels blasts his way to a match winning 78 in the World T20 final.

After two decades of heartbreak the West Indies finally seemed back on the right track as they claimed their first World Cup victory in 33 years. Going into the tournament as many people’s favourites, the Windies overcame many obstacles to seal a 36-run final victory over hosts Sri Lanka in Colombo. Marlon Samuels was the star of the show, blasting 78 of 56 balls to leave his side with 137 runs off their 20 overs after they had found themselves on just 32-2 at the half way point in their innings. 137 never looked another to defend against an experienced Sri Lankan batting line up but a combination of good bowling and panic in the hosts batting cost them dear and they were eventually bowled out for just 101, sparking wild celebrations and Gang’nam Style dancing from the West Indian players.


County Cricket:

Warwickshire won the LV = County Championship for the first time since 2004, as they finished 32-points ahead of second placed Middlesex. For the Bears, key contributions came from fast-bowler Chris Wright (67 wickets) and opening batsman Varun Chopra (1052 runs).

Elsewhere Hampshire won the Friends Life T20 beating Yorkshire in the final by 10-runs. Setting the White Roses 151 to win, Hampshire, led by rookie bowler Chris Wood, kept their calm to pick up their second title in three years.

The Clydesdale Bank Pro40 final consisted of Championship winners Warwickshire and T20 winners Hampshire and was not a disappointment. After being set 244 for victory by Hampshire, Warwickshire were seemingly in control of the run chase and required just one run from the final ball, only for Kabir Ali to bowl a dot ball to Neil Carter and deny Warwickshire victory via too many wickets lost.

Indian Premier League:

Kolkata Knight Riders won the fifth episode of the IPL after defeating the Chennai Super Kings in an exciting final in Chennai. Set 191 to win the Knight Riders scraped a victory with 5-wickets and just two balls remaining thanks to a 136-run partnership for the second wicket between Jaques Kallis (69) and Manvinder Bisla (89). Kolkata’s Sunil Narine was the tournament’s best player with 24 wickets at 13.50 as well as an economy rate of just 5.47.

Farewell to:

2012 saw the loss of many influential figures in the game, both through death and retirement.

English cricket lost both young and old talents in the game. In June a tragic tube accident claimed the life of Surrey’s Tom Maynard. Maynard was just 23-years-old and many claimed he was a future England star in the making, his life was one cut far too short.

A fond farewell...Tony Greig 1946-2012
A fond farewell…Tony Greig 1946-2012

As much as Maynard was the future of the English game, Tony Greig played a significant part in its past. As a former England captain and founder of World Series Cricket in the late-70’s, Greig would go on to become one of cricket’s most iconic broadcasters, his voice was heard across the world for the best part of 30 years and his death to a heart attack in late December brought great sadness to everyone.

2012 also saw the end of the careers of a host of the generation’s great batsmen. In March the Indian great Rahul ‘The Wall’ Dravid finally called it quits from international cricket after a career that spanned 164 Test matches and 344 ODI’s.

Like Dravid, VVS Laxman was part of the golden generation of Indian batsmen during the 90’s and 2000’s and it came as a surprise as he ended his career in August before the Test series with New Zealand, he played 134 Test and 86 ODI’s for his county with great success.

Despite claiming the Tour of England would be his last series, no one would have wanted Mark Boucher’s career to end the way it did. Keeping wicket in a tour match before the series began, he was caught in the eye by a bail and lost all sighting in his eye because of it, this forced him into an earlier than expected retirement after 15 years of service to the Proteas, in which he played 147 Test matches and 295 ODI’s. He left the international game with 999 dismissals to his name.

Not since the days of Sir Donald Bradman have Australia produced a batsman with the quality of Ricky Ponting and the modern day great finally announced his retirement in late November after battling a series of poor scores again South Africa. He leaves the game behind having played 168 Test matches (in which he won 108) and 375 ODI’s.


Warwickshire claim Championship title

Warwickshire have claimed their first LV County Championship title in eight years after thrashing Worcestershire by an innings and 202 runs.

The Bears now hold an unassailable 41-point lead over Sussex at the summit of the division one table with one match remaining.

Winning their first title since 2004 should go somewhere towards getting over the agony they faced a year ago when they were piped to the title on the final day by Lancashire. This time round has been straighter forward for the Birmingham-based side as they went into their latest match knowing a victory would be enough for the title.

The victory in their match at New Road could hardly have been more emphatic. In the first innings they bowled out the division’s basement side for just 60 with Chris Wright and Keith Barker claiming five wickets apiece.

Key Duo…Keith Barker and Chris Wright hold the Championship trophy aloft

Varun Chopra led the way in their reply with a superbly crafted 195 along with support from Ian Westwood (54), Jim Troughton (54) and Ian Blackwell (83) as they piled up a huge 471, for a first innings lead of over 400.

Wright again led the way in Worcestershire’s second innings as he took 4-65 to go with his first innings 5-24 – leaving the home side all out for 209 and the Bears celebrating their success after six months of toil.

Warwickshire’s success this season has been down to a valiant team effort.

The batting, in the absence of England regulars Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott for the majority of the season, has been strong throughout. In a summer of bad weather and poor batting conditions they have passed 400 runs on seven occasions.

Individually the batting has been led by opener Chopra, who has 1028 runs at 42.83, he is closely followed by captain Troughton, who alongside leading his side with verve and vigour, has also scored 788 runs at 39.40. Allrounder Rikki Clarke (758 runs @ 47.37) and opener Westwood (724 @ 42.58) have also impressed, while Tim Ambrose (660 @ 44.00) William Porterfield (558 @ 26.57) and Darren Maddy (432 @ 24.00) also deserve a mention.

The bowling has been equally impressive with the wickets well spread around. Wright, who was disregarded by Essex just a year ago, leads the way with 63 wickets at 23.11 and was backed up by former Blackburn Rovers trainee-turned left-arm seamer Barker (54 @ 20.33), New Zealand spinner Jeetan Patel (46 @ 22.02), promising allrounder Chris Woakes (25 @ 23.32) and former England man Clarke (24 @ 20.50).

Warwickshire’s 2012 success could also be doubled as they face Hampshire in the Clydesdale Bank Pro40 final at Lords a week on Saturday. Success there would underline the talent and hunger of this side, until then, let the celebrations continue.