An Ashes campaign for the bowlers?

Fallible batting line-ups set to be at the mercy of formidable pace units as English conditions will likely ensure a series for the bowlers.

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Joe Root and Tim Paine pose with the Ashes urn ahead of Thursday’s first morning. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

And so, the Ashes have arrived again. With cricket very much in the public spotlight once more, the sport’s greatest rivalry is set to resume in Birmingham on Thursday morning – just a mere 18 days after England lifted their first World Cup on home soil.

Because of that home World Cup, the 2019 version of the Ashes is very much cricket in the fast lane with five Tests – spread across four cities – arriving in just six weeks.

And with such a short turnaround between matches, this series could well hinge on how each side handles their squad rotation and fast bowling depth.

With the English wickets expected to offer plenty of swing and seam, coupled with the obvious batting frailties on either side, it looms as a low scoring series set to be dominated by the ball.

Thankfully for each side they’re stacked in that department. Between them England and Australia have both opted to include six front line seamers in their respective squads.

England will again rely on the evergreen pair of James Anderson and Stuart Broad as chief destroyers alongside the dependable Chris Woakes, the all-round package of Sam Curran and the new speed merchants Jofra Archer and Ollie Stone.

While Australia have the veteran UK specialist Peter Siddle, the World Cup’s leading wicket taker Mitchell Starc, the ever-reliable Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, and are rounded off with the hustling seam of Michael Neser and the trump card James Pattinson.

After almost five years of frustration, Australia finally has the ‘Big Four’ of Cummins, Hazlewood, Pattinson and Starc all fit and available for selection. This, once distant, dream dates back to late 2014 when Hazlewood was the last of the quartet to make his Test debut.

A combination of injuries, both minor and serious, have meant that, until now, the four have never simultaneously been available. However, with Hazlewood having recovered from the back injury that’s ruled him out since January and Pattinson also seemingly over his own back troubles, they suddenly have an abundance of riches.

Now the visitors must stick to the fundamentals of succeeding in English climes and pick accordingly to the varying conditions. Their 2019 squad make-up suggests they have learnt plenty of lessons from their flawed 2015 Ashes campaign.

After a successful 2013-14 campaign, in which a fiery Mitchell Johnson blow England away, Australia entered English shores in 2015 intent on following a similar pathway.

However, although a pre-tour career ending injury to Ryan Harris scuppered their plans somewhat, an attack of Johnson, Starc and an off-colour Hazlewood was quickly found out across the series despite Johnson’s match winning contribution at Lords.

The 2015 surfaces of Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, in particular, were crying out for the wiles of Siddle, however he was only turned to once the series was already decided in England’s favour.

Siddle, now entering his twilight at 34, is again included in the touring party. And after a successful recent spell in county cricket with Essex, where he’s reaped 34 Championship wickets at 20.08, he’s likely to play a larger role from the get-go this time around.

With Pattinson and Cummins already etched into the starting XI for Edgbaston, Siddle’s in a three-way battle with Hazlewood and Starc for the remaining seamers role.

For England there were similar dilemmas regarding the third seamers role. With Anderson and Broad already certain to begin the series, Woakes has edged out Archer for the final spot.

With his strong Edgbaston connections and figures of 6-17 against Ireland last week, Woakes was the obvious candidate for the role, however, Archer’s inclusion is likely to come later in the series.

Despite a fine start to his international career, Archer has been carrying a slight side injury since his World Cup final exploits and is also short of red-ball practice, having not played a first-class match for ten months.

In the batting, Australia must decide whether Marcus Harris or Cameron Bancroft will open the batting alongside David Warner. Despite Harris being the incumbent, it’s likely that Bancroft will get the nod after his steady runscoring feats with Durham and match-winning contribution of 93 not out in the Australian inter-squad match last week.

England captain Joe Root has already confirmed that he will swap places with Joe Denly in the order and bat at number three. After pressure from parts of the English media and also his coach Trevor Bayliss, Root has decided to make the jump to add more experience to a top three also containing Surrey pair Rory Burns and Jason Roy – who have a combined eight Tests between them.

So, where does this leave us?

England are perhaps slight favourites at this stage with home conditions taken into account and the simple fact that not many current Australian batsmen are very equipped at playing the moving ball.

However, England’s own frailties in the batting department will concern them too. While they pride themselves on batting all the way down to number 10, their top order is a serious worry. After getting bundled out for 85 on a green Lords wicket by 37-year-old county stalwart Tim Murtagh – there are plenty of issues to iron out.

Burns is averaging just 22.28 after 14 Test innings and Denly isn’t fairing much better with 24.16 across six innings. It’s beginning to appear that a lot will rest on Roy’s ability to transform his limited overs form into the Test arena as England continue their long quest to replace Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook at the top of the order.

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A rejuvenated James Pattinson looms as a key component to Australia’s Ashes chances. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Keep an eye on:

James Pattinson
Now 29, Pattinson’s only previous Ashes experience was as far back as six years ago when he played in the opening two Tests of the 2013 Ashes series before breaking down with yet another unfortunate injury setback.

After career-threatening back surgery in late 2017, Pattinson has finally returned to his fearsome best this summer during a county spell at Nottinghamshire and the recent Australia A fixtures.

While its doubtful he will play in all five matches, Pattinson’s ability to swing and seam the ball at high speed whilst also offering control will make him a tough proportion to face for the English batsmen.

Joe Root
While England have a number of talented batsmen in their ranks, only Root can claim to be truly world class.

After stating for much of the past year that he prefers to bat at number four, Root has finally budged and moved up one.

The number three spot has been problematic for England ever since Jonathan Trott departed from the international scene in 2015 and despite Root averaging 40.47 batting there instead of the 48.00 he averages at four, it’s a decision made with the best interests of the team at heart.

How Root handles the responsibility of captaincy with the added burden of batting at first drop will likely define the series.

 

Ten under twenty 2017

With another year of the County Championship kicking off recently, I follow up last year’s list of the most exciting talent under the age of 20 with a new group of players ready to take the County scene by storm.

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Sussex’s George Garton (Centre) enjoyed a rapid rise into the England Lions side in 2016. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

 

Aaron Beard (Age 19) – Essex

A right-arm fast bowler who has spent the winter with the England U19’s in India, Aaron Beard has impressed many at Chelmsford after rising through the ranks into the first XI during the 2016 season.

He was rewarded for a strong showing with a new one year extension at the end of last summer. After impressing with 4-62 on his first-class debut against the touring Sri Lankans in May last year he went on to play two further Championship matches later that month before dropping back into Second XI and U19 cricket.

But 2016 wasn’t the beginning of Beard’s journey as a known cricketer. In 2013, he hit the headlines as a 15-year-old schoolboy, when he was asked to field for the England side during a pre-Ashes scrimmage against Essex. Luckily for Beard his school gave him permission to skip class for a day out in the field instead.

What 2017 holds in store?

With a bit of luck on his side, Beard will have a regular chance to pit his wits against First Division batsmen for the first time after Essex earned promotion last summer. He began well with 3-47 and 2-45 in the season opener against Lancashire before dropping out of the side for the next match against Somerset in Taunton.

Essex’s first season in the top flight since 2010 has seen them reinforce the fast bowling stocks with the arrivals of both Mohammed Amir and Neil Wagner – who will share the overseas responsibly. With club legends Graham Napier and David Masters having hung up their boots following stellar careers, bowling places are up for grabs at the County Ground. Beard will be vying with the likes of Jamie Porter, Matt Quinn and Matt Dixon for a place alongside either of the overseas duo.

Dominic Bess (19) – Somerset

An offspin bowler of enormous potential, Devon-born Dominic Bess burst onto the scene with 6-28 on his County Championship debut against Warwickshire last September. This was no ordinary debut. His wickets included the former England batsmen Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell with successive deliveries as he ripped apart the Bears middle order.

Bowling in tandem with fellow spinner Jack Leach, Bess followed up his dream debut with an equally polished display against Nottinghamshire later the same month. This time his first-innings figures read an impressive 22.5-10-43-5. He also showed an ability with bat in hand too, striking 41 when others struggled to adapt to a turning Taunton wicket.

Bess was one of the key beneficiaries of the ECB’s new 2016 initiative to introduce more spin bowlers to the County game via a no-toss rule. Without the rule in place it’s doubtful he would have been given the chance to bowl alongside fellow spinners Leach and Roedolf van der Merve.

After a successful first foray into County Cricket, he spent most his winter Down Under playing grade cricket for the West Torrens Cricket Club in Adelaide.

What 2017 holds in store?

With more than half (8 out of 14) of Somerset’s Championship fixtures being played before the NatWest Blast kicks off in early July, its likely – with both Leach and van der Merve ahead of him in the spin ranks – that Bess doesn’t see any Championship action until at least August.

That could mean a summer of Second XI cricket awaits Bess unless he can break into either of the two limited overs formats. That said, if Leach continues to take mountains of wickets and England are looking for another spin option for their Test series with South Africa and the West Indies then Bess could well find a first team spot available.

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Somerset’s Dominic Bess found the 2016 Taunton wickets very much to his liking. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Ollie Pope (19) – Surrey

A talented wicketkeeper/batsman, Ollie Pope broke into the Surrey setup late last summer after some impressive performances with both the County’s Second XI and the England U19’s.

He made his Surrey debut in an important fixture too. With a place in the Royal London Cup final at stake, Pope was thrust into the spotlight at Headingley as his Surrey side defeated Yorkshire to reach the Lords showpiece. Batting at seven, he made 20 0ff 23 before being runout on the final ball of the innings.

One of many wicketkeeper/batsmen to have been on the Surrey books in recent times, Pope was rewarded with a two-year professional contract last August having represented the club since he was nine-years-old.

Before signing a professional contract, he combined his days in the Surrey academy with a prolific run-scoring spell at Cranleigh School.

He made his first-class debut in a recent MCCU fixture against Oxford University at The Parks.

What 2017 holds in store?

With former wicketkeepers Steven Davies and Gary Wilson having left for pastures new with Somerset and Derbyshire respectively, Pope suddenly finds himself further up the pecking order at The Oval.

He will still start the season as deputy to regular glovesman Ben Foakes, though. Nevertheless, with Foakes attracting series interest from the England selectors, there could still be a chance that Pope will battle with Rory Burns to see some time behind the stumps.

As for seeing time in front of the stumps, that will be a difficult task – especially as Surrey have further strengthened the batting with ex-Durham pair Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick.

Even if he doesn’t see much first-team action in 2017, Pope will at least get the opportunity to improve his skills by again working alongside former England wicketkeeper Alec Stewart.

 

Josh Coughlin (19) – Durham

Sunderland-born fast bowler Josh Coughlin is another to fall off the long conveyer belt of North East talent in recent times.

The 19-year-old made his first-class bow against a touring Sri Lanka A side last June – in doing so he joined his brother Paul in having represented the county. He followed that up a month later by debuting for the England U19 side against their Sri Lankan counterparts before succumbing to a knee injury.

He returned later in the season to help Durham capture the 2016 Second XI Championship, whilst also continuing to represent Durham Academy in the North East Premier League.

After captaining the Academy side to the NEPL T20 cup last year, he was rewarded with a one-year summer development contract ahead of the 2017 season.

What 2017 holds in store?

Despite Durham’s well-documented financial problems leading to a flurry of departures in the offseason, the quick bowling has remained relatively intact with only Asher Hart (Hampshire) and Jamie Harrison (Released) leaving the club.

That means that Coughlin will be very much fighting it out for a place in the team. The experienced trio of Graham Onions, Chris Rushworth and Mark Wood will no doubt start the season in the side so Coughlin will be left to compete for playing time alongside the likes of his brother Paul, James Weighell, Brydon Carse, Barry McCarthy, Gavin Main and Usman Arshad.

Cracking a first-team spot in 2017 will be difficult with such an array of bowling talent available to Durham. However, it only takes a few injuries and likely international call-ups for the likes of Wood and McCarthy to lead to the resources being stretched and opportunities arising. In the meanwhile, Coughlin will continue his development with the county’s Second XI and club side Hetton Lyons.

Delray Rawlins (19) – Sussex

A hard-hitting batsman and left-arm spinner, Delray Rawlins certainly comes with an interesting story.

In 2013, he made his international debut for his country of birth Bermuda at the tender age of 15. In 2014, he earned a scholarship at the prestigious St Bede’s School in East Sussex as part of a programme organised by the Bermudian cricket board and just a year later he joined the Sussex Academy after a successful trial.

After impressing in Second XI cricket, where he was often the sole spinner in the side as well as batting in the top order, he signed a one-year professional contract with the Hove-based club last October before recently adding an extra year onto that to stay until the end of 2018.

Despite representing Bermuda as recently as November – when he played in the World Cricket League Division Four matches in Los Angeles – Rawlins had pledged his future alliance to his adopted country.

And in doing so he made an immediate impression with a debut hundred for the England U19 programme in India in January. That unbeaten 109 was followed by scores of: 46, 96, 9, 17, 70*, 15, 140 and 49 as he established himself as a young man for all occasions across the five ODI and two Youth Test matches.

What does 2017 hold in store?

After making his first-class debut in a recent MCCU fixture with Cardiff University, Rawlins was selected for Sussex’s opening 2017 County Championship fixture with Kent at Hove.

Batting at number three he made a gritty 78-ball 22 after coming to the crease with his side in early trouble. He will be looking to cement his place in the side before veterans Ed Joyce, Luke Wells and Matt Machen all become available for selection again.

Going forward, Rawlins could well be battling it out for an allrounders role with the likes of captain Luke Wright, Chris Jordan and new Kolpak signing David Wiese.

His power hitting and tidy spin could well become useful in both the Royal London Cup and NatWest Blast.

 

George Bartlett (19) – Somerset

George Bartlett could well be the best batting talent to emerge at Taunton since current captain Tom Abell.

A right-handed batsman with a bright future, Bartlett graduated from the Somerset Academy last summer before signing a one-year professional contract in October after impressing in the club’s Second XI competitions.

He’s also been a regular contributor for the England U19 side in recent years. None more so that when he was part of a gigantic stand worth 321 in 82 overs with Max Holden in India earlier this year. Bartlett’s contribution was a huge 179 (The highest score by an England U19 batsman overseas, beating the 170 made by Nasser Hassain in Sri Lanka in 1987) and he added further scores of 68, 0 and 76 to round out a successful Youth Test series on the subcontinent.

What does 2017 hold in store?

Despite the retirement of Chris Rogers (Who returns as batting coach this summer) finding a spot for Bartlett in a crowded middle order looks initially impossible. With Marcus Trescothick and Dean Elgar likely to open the batting, Abell will move down to three and will likely be followed by James Hildreth at four, Steven Davies at five and then two of Roedolf van der Merve, Jim Allenby, Peter Trego or Lewis Gregory at six and seven.

And that lineup doesn’t include promising wicketkeeper Ryan Davies who is likely to perhaps miss out due to the signing of Steven Davies.

So, it’s likely that Bartlett must continue knocking down the door with Second XI runs as he waits for an opportunity further down the line.

 

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George Bartlett and Max Holden embrace during their 321-run stand in Nagpur. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

 

Max Holden (19) – Northamptonshire (on loan from Middlesex)

A left-handed middle-order batsman – who’s also capable of opening – Max Holden moved on loan to Northamptonshire until the end of June after finding opportunities limited at parent club Middlesex.

That’s not to say that he’s not held in high esteem at Lords. He just finds himself behind the likes of Adam Voges, Sam Robson, Nick Gubbins, Dawid Malan and Nick Compton in a stacked Middlesex batting unit.

Cambridgeshire-born Holden signed a four-year contract with Middlesex in 2016 after graduating from their Academy and age-group systems.

A regular captain with the England U19 side in recent years, he was part of that huge stand of 321 with Bartlett in Nagpur – a new record for any wicket for England which has only been beaten once in all international Under-19 cricket. Holden’s contribution was 170.

What does 2017 hold in store?

He will be available in both the Specsavers Championship and the Royal London One-Day Cup until the end of June, and looks to have secured a middle order spot at Wantage Road – a ground where he made a century for the England U19’s last summer.

He made 19 and 75 not out against Loughborough MCCU on his first-class debut earlier this month, before bagging a duck on his Championship bow against Glamorgan.

 

George Garton (19) – Sussex

A tall left-arm fast bowler, George Garton made major strides in 2016. He started the year playing for England in the U19 World Cup before representing Sussex across all formats and tasting further international honours with the England Lions.

The Brighton-born man made his first-class debut a year ago against Leeds/Bradford MCCU – taking a wicket with his first ball – and went on to play four further Championship fixtures for Sussex taking 10 wickets at 35.20.

He also made an impression in the Royal London and NatWest Blast competitions too. His immediate impact in the short formats for Sussex earned him a shock call up to the England Lions squad for a tri-series also involving the Pakistan and Sri Lanka A sides. Garton played in three of the fixtures, impressing with 4-43 against the Sri Lankans at Canterbury.

His international aspirations were further enhanced when he was selected as part of the England Pace Programme for a two-week training camp in South Africa at the beginning of the year.

What does 2017 hold in store?

With experienced South African Vernon Philander having been brought in as an overseas player, thus joining a fast-bowling arsenal that also includes Ajmal Shahzad, Chris Jordan, Jofra Archer, David Wiese, Ollie Robinson, Stu Whittingham and Steve Magoffin, finding a place in the side for Garton will prove initially difficult for coach Mark Davis.

Having said that, Garton – who turns 20 on April 15th – has impressed bowling coach Jon Lewis aplenty during his time with the club and with his left-arm quick bowling he offers something different to any other bowler at the club with fellow left-armer Tymal Mills now just a T20 specialist.

 

Kiran Carlson (18) – Glamorgan

One of two young Welshmen on this year’s list, Kiran Carlson is part of an exciting crop of youngsters currently on the Glamorgan staff that also includes Owen Morgan, Aneurin Donald, Nick Selman and Lukas Carey (see below).

A right-handed middle-order batsman and handy offspin bowler, Carlson became the youngest player to record a first-class hundred for Glamorgan when he made 119 against eventual champions Essex at Chelmsford aged just 18-years and 119 days.

Despite batting being his primary forte, he originally made his name with the ball. Turning his arm over on a spinning Northampton track he took 5-18 on debut – including the wicket of England batsman Ben Duckett.

Whilst completing his maiden hundred, he became the youngest player in English county first-class cricket to record the double of a five-for and century.

He finished off 2016 with an unbeaten run-a-ball 74 against Leicestershire and, at just 18, he promises to reach further milestones in 2017.

What does 2017 hold in store?

Now a permanent fixture in a young Glamorgan lower middle-order, Carlson will hope his first summer of first-class cricket wasn’t just a flash in the pan.

His season didn’t get off to the best start. Batting at number seven he registered a first-innings duck against Northamptonshire before making 30 in the second dig.

Although he will likely face many ups and downs during his first full season of senior cricket, with the backing of coach Robert Croft he’s likely to be given ample opportunities to find his feet.

 

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Glamorgan’s Kiran Carlson became the youngest man to record both a five-for and century in County Championship history. (Photo Credit: Glamorgancricket.com)

 

Lukas Carey (19) – Glamorgan

Like Carlson, 19-year-old Carey is a product of the Glamorgan/Wales Minor County pathways system that has helped produce a clutch of talented players over recent seasons.

Carey, a right-arm medium fast bowler from Pontarddulais, has the potential to become the most exciting bowler to emerge from Wales since James Harris first broke through a decade ago.

He made his mark last August with a fiery Championship debut spell against Northamptonshire in Swansea. Opening the bowling, Carey tore through the visitor’s top order with three wickets in his first six overs. Like Carlson he also claimed Duckett as his maiden first-class victim.

In all he took 13 wickets at 25.38 in three Championship matches last summer to kickstart a promising career.

What does 2017 hold in store?

Carey begun the 2017 County Championship season well when he claimed 4-85 in Glamorgan’s opening defeat at Northamptonshire. He followed that up with 3-85 and 1-13 in his second game against Worcestershire and looks to have established a solid opening partnership with veteran Australian Michael Hogan.

 

Also look out for…

Tom Haines (18) – Sussex, George Panayi (19) – Warwickshire, Harry Brook (18) – Yorkshire, Josh Tongue (19) – Worcestershire

 

Do Collingwood and Trescothick represent the last of the true county pros?

Veteran batsmen are among a dying breed of experienced ex-international leaders on the county circuit; but can Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott follow suit?

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Paul Collingwood and Marcus Trescothick share a moment together earlier this summer. (Photo Credit: Getty Images.)

To witness Somerset’s Marcus Trescothick pull apart a Test-quality Pakistani attack on the way to his 61st first-class hundred this week brought a certain warmth to the heart.

For men like Trescothick, who will turn 41 years old this Christmas, don’t litter the outfields of county cricket like they once did. In fact for sheer age, longevity and leadership qualities perhaps only Durham’s own elder statesman Paul Collingwood, five months Trescothick’s junior, can rival the inspiration offered by the man known as Tresco.

There’s something much underappreciated about the old county pro. If English cricket is to continue its upward curve on the international scene then the influence of such men must not be simply brushed aside. Without their vacuum of knowledge the county game could suffer immeasurably.

With restrictions on the number of Kolpak players allowed and tidy financial incentives being offered to Counties who blood English-qualified youngsters into their systems, the number of former international stalwarts in county cricket is slowly dwindling.

In decades gone by many former England cricketers would have jumped at the chance to finish their careers with their respective home counties, but the landscape is vastly changing. The cricket world is now filled with endless T20 league opportunities, well-paid media openings and attractive coaching roles that tussle for both time and attraction.

Indeed, England’s three previous Test captains Nasser Hussain, Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss each showed little-to-no interest in carrying on their county careers once the international limelight had fizzled away.

There are exceptions of course. Mark Butcher played on for Surrey five years after his international career had ground to a halt in 2004 and Mark Ramprakash continued to dominate the county scene for a decade after his England days were numbered in 2002.

While injuries have prevented the likes of Graeme Swann and Matt Prior from continuing in the county game, the blow seems to have been somewhat softened by Swann’s media work with TMS and Prior’s indulge into the world of cycling. Kevin Pietersen, despite a brief return to county cricket with Surrey last summer, was never likely to spend his final playing days out in the pastures of Arundel Castle or Scarborough.

Of course different players are motivated by different things. Be it the monetary aspects, lifestyle choices or simply the need to give something back to the game that has given them so much. Each player has his own reasons for playing on or taking an early retirement.

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Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell both have the desire and experience to become sucessful county pro’s at Warwickshire. (Photo Credit: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

With 170 Test caps between them Warwickshire’s Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott represent a new generation of county statesmen. With other batsmen now seemingly ahead of him, Bell’s chances of an England recall appear to be evaporating with each squad announcement. But with the Bears captaincy now in tow and a demanding respect in the county game, Bell could well prolong his career for a good few years yet. On the other hand Trott, much like Trescothick, is just happy to be playing the game he loves away from the international spotlight.

Recently axed by England, Middlesex’s Nick Compton is currently taking time away from the game to reassess his career ambitions. Given that his international career seems to have ended after its second reincarnation, Compton must now decide if he’s keen on the life of a county pro or if opportunities elsewhere jump out as more appealing.

Another man recently faced with the similar decision was Michael Carberry. Jettisoned from the England Test side after the Ashes whitewash of 2013/14, Carberry has since gone on reinvent himself as a number four with Hampshire, having predominantly opened the batting throughout his career.

It can’t be underestimated the fine work both Trescothick and Collingwood have done in recent years. With the bat both men can still provide measurable contributions. Prior to recently breaking his thumb against Yorkshire, Collingwood has added 402 County Championship runs at 57.42. Trescothick has also continued to roll back the years in the West Country with 557 runs at 42.80.

While their inputs with the bat allow for them to continue playing at county level, it’s their abilities to transfer knowledge that continues to be most invaluable asset.

Trescothick, captain of the Somerset first-class side until this summer, has overseen the recent development of the likes of Jos Buttler, Tom Abell and the Overton twins Craig and Jamie.

Since taking over as captain four years ago, Collingwood has performed miracles in the North East. Durham, a county beset by financial cripple in recent times, are now down to the bare bones of a playing squad that keeps punching above its weight when logic predicts otherwise.

The tenure of Colly has instead coincided with the emergence of recent England players Scott Borthwick, Ben Stokes and Mark Wood. While promising England U19 batsman Jack Burnham could hardly ask for a better mentor than Collingwood.

Others warrant a mention too. Nottinghamshire’s Chris Read and Gareth Batty of Surrey deserve huge credit for giving back to the county game. Read, even at 37, remains one of the country’s outstanding glovesmen, while Batty’s leadership of the dressing room after the death of Tom Maynard has been second to none. The 38-year-old now combines his time captaining Surrey with the mentorship of potential England Test player Zafar Ansari.

When players such as Collingwood and Trescothick eventually decide to call it a day, how easily will they be replaced?

That’s a question for later. For now we must sit back and appreciate the county pros of today before they are gone.

 

Ten under twenty 2016

With 2015 champions Yorkshire kick-starting another summer of County Cricket with defeat against the MCC in the annual curtain-raiser fixture in Abu Dhabi this week, I take a look to the future with ten young names under-20 to watch out for in 2016.

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At just 18, Yorkshire’s Matthew Fisher looks set to have a long international future in front of him. (Photo Credit: Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

Saif Zaib (Age 17) – Northamptonshire

A stylish left-handed batsman who also bowls left-arm spin, Zaib is highly regarded by many at Wantage Road. In July 2014 – just months after becoming the youngest man ever to represent Northants in an unofficial match against Durham UCCE – he made his much anticipated senior limited overs debut against a touring New Zealand A side aged just 16 and 70 days old.

While he saw his opportunities diminish somewhat thereafter, an impressive string of second XI knocks during the middle of last summer saw him break into the first XI – making both his Royal London Cup and County Championship bows in the process. Despite registering a 12-ball duck on first-class debut, he impressed not long after with an assured 21 off 26 deliveries against a strong touring Australian attack.

What 2016 holds in store?

After signing a new three-year contract prior to last summer, the future looks bright for Zaib. With the departures of club stalwarts Stephen Peters (retired) and Kyle Coetzer (released), there should be more opportunities for him to earn a regular berth in the middle order and follow the likes of Ben Duckett and Olly Stone in graduating through the system in recent years.

With former England spinner Monty Panesar also training with the club during pre-season, expect some of his wisdom and experience to rub off on Zaib’s own left-arm tweakers.

Matthew Fisher (18) – Yorkshire

Still only just 18 years old, It’s hard to believe that almost three years have passed since this strapping fast bowler made his first team debut for the White Rose. Then just 15 years and 212 days old, he became the youngest post-war County cricketer when representing Yorkshire in a Yorkshire Bank 40 fixture against Leicestershire in June 2013. Whilst he scored just ten and returned figures of 1-40 from seven overs, it was clear for all to see – this was a special cricketer in the making.

With a fast bowling battery that’s unrivalled across the country for its sheer depth and variety, its understandable that regular opportunities haven’t been so easy to grasp for Fisher. That said, 2015 did represent a breakout season for the right-arm quick as he made both his first-class and T20 debuts for the county.

After a spate of early season injuries and England call-ups decimated the Yorkshire attack, Fisher was called upon to make his County Championship bow against Nottinghamshire in April – earning high plaudits in the process as he claimed former Zimbabwe batsman Brendan Taylor as his maiden victim in first-class cricket.

Further opportunities arrived in the form of the limited overs competitions too – where he became a regular across the summer after taking a dreamy 5-22 against Derbyshire on T20 debut. He would go on to claim 16 wickets in 13 T20 matches and eight wickets in as many matches in the one-day format.

What 2016 holds in store?

With David Willey arriving from Northamptonshire during the winter, and sighting a burning desire to fight his way into the England Test setup as a key factor, Fisher’s first-class exposure may have to put on hold for a little longer as Liam Plunkett, Jack Brooks, Ryan Sidebottom, Tim Bresnan and Steven Pattinson also still stand above him on the depth chart.

Limited overs cricket remains a different prospect though. Yorkshire’s recent philosophy of blooding youngsters in the T20 Blast and Royal London one-day competitions will surely see Fisher earn more opportunities to further enhance his rapidly developing reputation.

Daniel Lawrence (18) – Essex

Right-handed batsman Lawrence burst onto the scene with a chanceless 161 against Surrey last April, in doing so he became the third youngest batsman to register a Championship hundred at just 17 years and 290 days old.

His 2015 Championship fast-tracking was based on a strong winter campaign down under with Geelong side Newton and Chilwell and backed up with a string of impressive pre-season performances for Essex.

While his County form tapered off as the summer wore on, he reinstated his rich promise with two hundreds in three innings for the England U19’s against their Australian counterparts in August and continued to dominate during the winter with further impressive campaigns both in Sri Lanka and during the U19 World Cup in Bangladesh.

What 2016 holds in store?

The tides are turning in Chelmsford. After years of underachievement finally caught up with head coach Paul Grayson he left the club by mutual consent late last summer and has since been replaced by former England bowler Chris Silverwood.

Following Grayson out of the door over the winter were batsman Mark Pettini and Greg Smith, which is sure to spell more opportunities for Lawrence. While Alastair Cook will open the batting for Essex before England duties arrive in May, Lawrence is thereafter likely to slot in alongside Nick Browne at the top of the order with Tom Westley, Ravi Bopara, Jaik Mickleburgh and Jesse Ryder rounding out the top six.

Aneurin Donald (19) – Glamorgan

Not since Simon Jones arrived onto the scene in the late nineties has there been as much fanfare over a cricketer heralding from the land of the red dragon.

Like Jones, former England U19 captain Donald hails from the Welsh city of Swansea and like Jones, and Robert Croft before him, there is hope that he can one day represent the senior England side.

A middle-order batsman of huge potential, Donald made his Glamorgan debut in a first-class match at the backend of the 2014 summer and progressed further last year with five more Championship appearances including a career-best score of 98 to conclude the season in fine style against Gloucestershire.

Despite having played five limited over fixtures for Glamorgan last summer and being a former captain of the side he was initially left out of the England U19 setup throughout the winter before returning to play two unsuccessful matches during the disappointing World Cup campaign in February.

Prior to the tournament Donald spent time honing his batting at the Darren Lehmann Academy in Adelaide, where he also played grade cricket with mixed success.

What 2016 holds in store?

After finished the 2015 summer as the incumbent number four in the Glamorgan side, Donald will be hoping he retains his place for the beginning of the 2016 season.

Without the added pressures of academic work to concentrate on during the 2016 campaign, the whole of Wales will be hoping Donald can graduate into a regular contributor in the middle order, scoring his maiden first-class hundred in the process would also be a major goal.

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Durham’s Jack Burnham topped the run-scoring charts at the recent U19 World Cup with 420 runs at 84. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Jack Burnham (19) – Durham

Unlike Donald, Durham’s Burnham had a excellent World Cup. His three hundreds in just six innings were enough to see him top the batting charts with 420 runs at 84.

In recent times the Championship’s most northerly county appear to be the gift that keeps on giving. Scott Borthwick, Ben Stokes and Mark Wood have all progressed through the Durham ranks into the England side recently and Burnham could become next off the conveyer belt.

After batting at number six and making 0 and 50 against Yorkshire at Scarborough on his first-class debut in August, Burnham struggled thereafter after being asked to open alongside Mark Stoneman in his remaining three matches.

Despite having success opening for Northumberland in Minor Counties cricket, Chester-le-Street -with its green wickets and overcast skies – is at times an unforgiving task, especially for an inexperienced rookie.

What 2016 holds in store?

With finances still tight in the North East, substantial player recruitment has been consigned to the back burner in recent times – leading to a major need for developing talent from within. This will again mean more opportunities in 2016 for Burnham and other young batsman such as Ryan Pringle, Graham Clark and Keaton Jennings.

Despite opening last summer and batting at number three in the U19’s World Cup, skipper Paul Collingwood would do much worse than letting Burnham develop his game further down the order.

Haseeb Hameed (19) – Lancashire 

Bolton-born Hameed made huge strides in 2015. After making his first-class debut for the Red Rose in August he went onto establish himself at the top of the order as Lancashire earned immediate promotion back to the top flight.

Those inside Old Trafford were not entirely surprised by the way Hameed took to Championship cricket with relative comfort. After all he had been earmarked as a player of special talent for quite some time.

A right-handed batsman with an excellent defensive technique and sound temperament, Hameed -who has represented the County since he was nine – was recently awarded with a new four-year contract for his progress in 2015, which included a career-best 91 against Surrey in September.

What 2016 holds in store?

After the disappointment of missing out on a place in the England U19 World Cup squad, Hameed will make the step up to Division One cricket with an extra motivation to prove a few people wrong.

He will make the step up seemingly in pole position to partner Karl Brown at the top of the Lancashire order after club stalwart Paul Horton was released during the fall.

As fellow young teammate Luis Reece will testify though, opening against Division One bowling attacks is a totally different proposition to that encountered in the Second Division. Facing international-quality attacks in early season conditions will test Hameed’s technique and temperament more than ever before – but many say he’s got the game to prosper in such circumstances.

Saqib Mahmood (19) – Lancashire

Much like Hameed, Lancashire also have high hopes for right-arm quick Mahmood. Born in Birmingham but raised in the Lancs’ town of Rochdale, he’s progressed through the youth ranks at both county and international level – impressing many along the way.

A strong fast bowler who stands at 6’3, Mahmood has endured a memorable year. After signing his first professional contact with Lancashire at the beginning of last summer and winning the England Development Programme cricketer of the year award in May, he went onto play three T20 matches in June before recently excelling with the England U19 side in their World Cup campaign.

His 13 wickets at just 12.69 in that tournament were six more than any of his teammates individually managed and only bettered throughout by Fritz Coetzee of Namibia (15 wickets) and Nepal’s Sandeep Lamichhane (14).

What 2016 holds in store?

Like rivals Yorkshire, Lancashire aren’t short of fast bowling options. Breaking into a side that’s likely to include several options in Tom Bailey, Nathan Buck, George Edwards, Kyle Jarvis, Neil Wagner and the evergreen Glen Chapple won’t be an easy task for Mahmood.

But like with any side hoping to challenge on all three fronts over the course of the summer, injuries and rotation are expected to play there part, meaning that Mahmood could once again become involved across the shorter formats.

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Could Mason Crane of Hampshire be England’s next great legspinning hope? (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Mason Crane (19) – Hampshire

Crane is a rare commodity in English cricket, a highly promising young legspinner with a well disguised googly.

Such is the current concern over English spin bowling, that when an 18-year-old Crane took ten wickets at 33 across his first three first-class matches last summer – he was being heralded as a saviour to the country’s spin crisis.

Many, including former England batman Mark Butcher, were even going as far as suggesting he should have being picked for England’s tour of the UAE in October. In retrospect, Crane must be given a longer chance to learn his craft at county level before he’s considered for the international scene.

Growing up watching Shane Warne play for Hampshire during the 2000’s, Crane has been a member of the academy since he was 14 and has developed soundly under the tutelage of Rajesh Maru and Darren Flint.

Like Mahmood, he impressed during the U19 World Cup. As well as taking seven wickets at 23, his economy rate of just 3.97 suggests he can also play a holding role with the ball.

What 2016 holds in store?

With longtime first choice spinner Danny Briggs seeking pastures new by moving east to Sussex, Crane could be given plenty of opportunities to be the number one spinner across all formats for Hampshire. That is if they decide to play the extra slow option to accompany spinning allrounder Liam Dawson.

Either way, Crane is regarded as a special talent who will definitely be given opportunities later in the summer once the pitches begin to dry out.

Matthew Carter (19) – Nottinghamshire

Much like Crane for Hampshire, offspinner Carter arrived onto the first-class scene with a bang. Making his bow at Taunton in July, he returned first innings figures of 7-56 – the best by a spin bowler on Championship debut since Leicestershire’s Jack Walsh took 7-46 against Northamptonshire in 1938.

Although he went onto turn the first innings seven-for into match figures of 10-195, he was unable to starve off defeat for Notts as Somerset squeezed home by two-wickets.

Despite his exploits at the County Ground Carter, the younger brother of former-Notts bowler Andy, wasn’t called upon again for the remainder of the summer. Instead he combined his playing time between the Notts Second XI and Minor Counties action with Lincolnshire.

A tall, but slender offspinner with a classical action he was awarded with a new two-year contract at the conclusion of he 2015 season.

What 2016 holds in store?

Whilst one swallow doesn’t make a summer, the impact of Carter’s debut performance at Taunton has led to a real long-term hope that he can one day replace Graeme Swann at Trent Bridge.

The major problem facing Carter though is that Notts play half of their matches at the seamer-friendly Trent Bridge. In recent years they have preferred to get by with four fast-men and the part time left-arm spin of Samit Patel.

His great hope for more playing could lie with the new ‘no toss ruling’ that could result in the Trent Bridge ground staff producing more even surfaces as the summer wears on.

Sam Curran (17) – Surrey

At 17, Curran is perhaps the best of the lot. A quick left-armer with the ability to swing the ball back into the right handers, his rapid rise in 2015 was nothing short of miraculous. From Wellington Collage pupil to Surrey match-winner in the blink of an eye.

Opening the bowling on debut alongside his older brother Tom, Sam Curran became the youngest player ever to take a County Championship five-wicket haul when he claimed 5-101 against Kent in July, aged just 17 and 40 days old.

After such an impressive debut, Curran went onto finish the season with 22 first-class wickets at 26 – helping Surrey win the Second Division title and finish runners up in the Royal London Cup in the progress.

Also a very capable batsman, Curran has followed in the career footsteps of his not just his brother Tom but also their late father Kevin, who was a professional cricketer for Northants, Gloucestershire and Zimbabwe. Thankfully for England both Sam and Tom have rebuffed advances to represent Zimbabwe and pledged their futures with the Three Lions.

What 2016 holds in store?

Despite the arrivals of West Indian Ravi Rampaul and Derbyshire’s Mark Footitt and the presence of Matt Dunn, Jade Dernbach and Stuart Meaker, both Curran brothers should be among the first names on the Surrey team sheet in the County Championship this summer. Making the step up from Division Two will ensure plenty challenges along the way, most notably the greater standard of batting and quality in pitches prepared.

After a stand out U19 World Cup campaign, further England opportunities such as the England Lions would represent a successful summer for this hugely exciting talent.

Also look out for…

Joe Clarke (19) – Worcestershire, Karl Carver (19) – Yorkshire, Matt Critchley (19) – Derbyshire, Brad Taylor (19) – Hampshire.

Can Mitchell Marsh emulate the successes of Ben Stokes?

While both hard-hitting allrounders are of a similar age – Stokes’ international career has taken off spectacularly in recent times. Marsh meanwhile remains, for now, a project player.

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Mitchell Marsh celebrates his maiden international hundred against India last month.

Mitchell Marsh will struggle to remember a better day than Saturday 6th February 2016. It began with news of a gigantic cheque arriving from the IPL, involved a tidy bowling spell of 2-30, and concluded with an unbeaten series-levelling knock of 69.

Whilst Marsh watched on at the non-strikers end as big John Hastings hit the winning runs in Wellington, I instead found myself 5,258 kms away observing another game of cricket. A far simpler encounter between two WACA: 1st Grade sides at the picturesque Stevens Reserve ground in South Fremantle, Western Australia.

The first day skirmish between Fremantle District CC and Perth CC, played under the unrelenting WA sun, seemed a world away from the Chappell-Hadlee duel at the ‘Cake Tin’, even if it did include a pair of highly impressive youngsters in Tom Abell and Jhye Richardson.

So what’s the link you may ask?

Well, Fremantle is where it had all began for the Perth-born Marsh. The international recognition and IPL paycheque (Marsh was bought by new franchise Pune Rising Supergiants in Saturday’s auction IPL for INR 4 crores – around $1 million AUD) are both just rewards for an upbringing that began, like many Australian cricketers before him, in Grade cricket.

While a busy international schedule has contrived to restrict Marsh to just two Grade appearances for Freo this summer (the last of which was in early December) and accumulated in him contributing just eight runs, he remains a player still highly regarded among his contemporaries at the club.

After making his First Grade bow in 2006/07, Marsh lived up to his enormous potential two summers later when, as a 17-year-old, he made 208 from 171-deliveries when batting at number five against Gosnells. A week later he became the youngest Australian to play in the country’s domestic one-day competition, debuting for Western Australia against South Australia at Bunbury.

Such lofty heights were followed with more success in the U19’s – where he captained the side to World Cup success in New Zealand in 2010. Among his compatriots in that side were current limited-overs teammates Josh Hazlewood, Kane Richardson and Adam Zampa.

Whilst Marsh was ascending through the ranks in Australian cricket, at the other end of the planet Ashes rivals England were unearthing a promising allrounder of their own.

Like Marsh, Ben Stokes also played in the 2010 U19 World Cup – impressing with a century against India in the process. The similarities run much deeper than that too. Both men were initially introduced into the international game via the limited overs route, with Stokes’ ODI debut preceding that of Marsh’s by just two months in August 2011.

They also both made their Test bows in trying circumstances. Stokes in the Ashes whitewash of 2013/14 and Marsh a year later as Australia were demolished 2-0 by Pakistan in the UAE.

While they share several comparisons, what currently sets them apart is the impact that Stokes has already had in Test cricket. With 23 Tests to his name, the Englishman has contributed three centuries (including a double), Marsh, on the other hand has just one fifty across his 13 matches – an 87 in his second Test at Abu Dhabi.

Up until securing his maiden century in his 44th international appearance (an unbeaten 102 off 84 deliveries against India at the SCG), Marsh had encountered a difficult summer with the bat.

Unable to pass fifty before that joyous occasion at the SCG, he spent most of the summer in the dressing room nursing pad-rash after the top five all scored a glut of runs in series against New Zealand and the West Indies. His 88 runs across five Tests owed as much to a lack of opportunity than to any particularly poor form.

Even so he’s spent the summer keeping the wolves at bay as both the tabloids and social media alike took turns to jump on his back – something which Shane Watson had himself once become accustomed to.

So desperate to get his premier allrounder some time in the middle, captain Steve Smith contrived to promote Marsh up the order in both the rain affected new year Test in Sydney and the fourth ODI against India in Canberra.

Twice promoted to bat at number three, he endured relatively subdued knocks of 21 off 63 (against the West Indies) and a 42-ball 33 (against India), stalling the earlier progress of the openers on both occasions. Only later in the ODI series did Smith’s plan come to fruition when Marsh ended his four-year wait for an international ton.

Were it not for his bowling – once seen as his weaker suit – he could well have found himself out of the side. After initial doubts over his ability to hold up an end, his bowling has come on leaps and bounds in both control and pace. This has allowed Smith to use both Mitchell’s (Johnson and Starc), along with James Pattinson, to attack in short bursts.

With both Johnson and Starc absent for the duration of the West Indies series, Marsh eventually found himself as the side’s enforcer. Regularly clocking up speeds in excess of 140kph during the Boxing Day Test at the MCG, he finished the match with career-best figures of 4-61.

After initially taking four matches and seven innings to take his first Test wicket, Marsh’s record of 21 wickets at 31.61 are a solid return for essentially a fourth seamer. That 12 of those wickets have come in his six matches this summer shows of the hard work he’s put in with bowling coach Craig McDermott.

Marsh’s upturn in fortunes have occurred at a time when Stokes is rightfully being showered in appraisals. Coming off the back of a breakthrough series in South Africa, Stokes’ stock has never been higher. Australians across the land must be left wondering if their own 24-year-old allrounder can develop into such an attacking match winner.

The Man-of-the-series performance against the formerly number-one ranked South African’s bookended a year in which Stokes has played an enterprising part in a new beginning for English cricket.

He finished the series second to only Hashim Amla on the run scoring charts with 411 runs at 58.71 and fourth on the wickets tally with 12 victims at 29.16. His thunderous innings of 258 at Cape Town was brutality and insouciance at its very best.

Despite Stokes taking a little while to find his feet at the international level (he made three successive ducks against India in his second series in 2014) his Test performances in the past year have been highly impressive. Sitting alongside the Cape Town 258 are the 92 & 101 he made against New Zealand at Lords and the second innings 6-36 against Australia at Trent Bridge – both in the past twelve months.

On the surface combined Test batting (33.73) and bowling (38.07) averages hardly suggest a pathway to greatness for Stokes. But similar to both Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff before him, it’s his ability to stand up and be counted that marks the redhead out as a dangerous customer in all forms of the game.

His inclusion adds much needed balance to an England side, not only ensuring Alastair Cook can play five bowlers, but also allowing Moeen Ali (a man with 14 first-class hundreds to his name) to bat at number eight. Rod Marsh and his selection committee will hope Marsh can soon fulfil a similar role for Australia.

While Marsh has a poor batting average of 24.64 throughout the 21 times he’s walked to the middle in Test cricket, it must be noted that at times, he’s been asked to perform a selfless act when batting with a declaration looming.

Despite his often infuriating ability to throw his wicket away when well set, Australia must resist the urge to drop Marsh down to number seven and bat keeper Peter Nevill ahead of him. Such theories were muted at the conclusion of November’s day/night Test in Adelaide – where Nevill scored an accomplished first-innings 66 in trying conditions. Thankfully for Marsh’s development those ideas were soon quickly forgotten.

After started out as a number six, Stokes was briefly shifted down to number seven during England’s tour of the Caribbean last spring. The move, aided by a strong desire to promote Moeen up the order, only truly resulted in Stokes adopting a reckless attitude to batting.

“If you pick someone to bat in a certain place they’ll bat that way” – words of former Durham teammate Stephen Harmison on describing Stokes’ demotion in the order last year.

Fortunately for Stokes’ development as a batsman, the dismissal of coach Peter Moores – following that disastrous series in the West Indies – abetted his return up the order. The decision to reinstate him at six – made by then interim-coach Paul Farbrace – has since being vindicated with the Left-hander excelling under on the added responsibility.

For Marsh the forthcoming two-Test series in New Zealand looms as a potentially defining one. With the ball expected to swing and seam as it did in England last winter, Trent Boult and co are sure to demand a thorough test of his defensive technique. A technique previously found wanting in such conditions.

With the ball, he also has a huge role to play for skipper Smith. With Starc still out injured and doubts over the short term fitness of both Pattinson and Peter Siddle, expect Marsh to bowl his fair share of tough overs.
There’s certainly a lot to admire about both Stokes and Marsh. In an era when allrounders in Test cricket are often portrayed as something that closely resembles gold dust, having one equipped to bat in a positive manner at number six, whilst also being able to bowl 140kph-plus as a fourth-change seamer, is invaluable.

Could next year’s Ashes campaign be a battle of the allrounders?

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.

Australia capitulates to swing and seam, again.

The Investec Ashes 2015

If spin won’t get them then swing and seam surely will.

The Australian total of 136 all out on the first day of the third Ashes Test reads all too familiar for this side on their travels in the recent past. Make no mistake about it, this is no aberration for Australia, they have been notoriously bad tourists for a long time now.

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Adam Voges is caught behind trying to leave a James Anderson delivery as Australia’s recent woes against swing and seam bowling continued at Edgbaston.

Too many times their top order batting has collapsed in the face of decent spin or swing bowling – on many occasions they have been bailed out by their lower order, but not on this occasion as even though their final three batsmen all made double figures (the same total the top eight managed) they look sure to surrender the advantage they gained in the series with a thumping victory at Lords ten days previous.

If it not for Chris Rogers, who just a few days ago looked uncertain to even play in this match, then they would have struggled to have even past three figures – all on a pitch that had Michael Clarke grinning with glee upon winning the toss at 10:30 this morning.

It was hardly a surprise that Rogers was the most accustomed batsman in trying but not treacherous conditions as James Anderson and co made use of the overcast conditions to send the Australians back to the shed almost quicker than their teammates could open their kit bags.

Rogers, almost certainly due to retire at the conclusion of this series, is the only Australian batsman who looks comfortable when the ball is seaming and swinging like it did in Birmingham today. Part of this is of course because he has enjoyed over a decade of service in County cricket, where he has represented Derbyshire, Northants, Leicestershire and Middlesex – scoring over 15,000 first-class runs in due course. But another way in which Rogers has succeeded is that he has been particularly strong at waiting for the ball to come to him as much as possible and playing it as late as he can – many of his teammates should take notice.

David Warner received a good one first up from Anderson, a ball that nipped back to trap him in front before Steven Smith, fresh off a double hundred at Lords, played too aggressively at one from the returning Steven Finn that left him a touch to be caught in the slips. One soon became two for Finn as he yorked the horribly out of form Clarke with a delivery that he seemed slow to pick up.

As the rain came and went, Australia post-lunch batting was a precession of ordinary shot play on a pitch that was no minefield. Adam Voges nicked off after trying to leave a ball from Anderson and the same man soon picked up Mitchell Marsh, playing an expansive drive to one he should have left to be out for nought.

Peter Nevill, chosen ahead of the more experienced Brad Haddin for this encounter, left one he should have played only to see his off stump knocked back and Anderson was soon celebrating his five-for with the wicket of Mitchell Johnson, who was caught low down in the gully. Anderson’s 6-47 were his best figures against Australia.

When Stuart Broad returned to finally nail Rogers for 52 with a straight one that he seemed to completely miss, the damage was well and truly done, Australia will have their work cut out to not find themselves 2-1 down with two to play.

Much was made of England’s inability to leave the ball well while they were being rolled over for just 103 in their second innings at Lords, and much of the same can be directed towards their Australian counterparts. England lasted just 37 overs in that innings. Here Australia lasted two balls less than that.

It’s not the first time the Australian batting has collapsed away from home to either quality pace or spin. Times such as the 47 all out at Cape Town in 2011 spring to mind as does the 128 they managed against England at Lords in 2013 from which they never recovered from in the series as they lost their third successive away Ashes campaign. The same could be said of their capitulation here – a potential series turner perhaps.

In the grand scheme of things this latest setback should not be a surprise to those who follow Australian cricket closely. Since they won a two-Test series in New Zealand in early 2010, they have only won back-to-back Test matches once on the road, and that once came in the West Indies last month against a poor side ranked eighth in the world.

Since, they have struggled against the wobbling ball in England and South Africa and against the spinning ball on their two previous tours to the subcontinent, in India 2013 and the UAE last year.

This is not a great batting outfit when taken out of their own conditions. Rogers has struggled hugely in spinning conditions, whilst the likes of Warner, Smith and Shane Watson have all previously struggled against the swinging ball, when you also throw in that Voges, Mitchell Marsh and Nevill are fresh to Test cricket and Clarke is ridiculously out of form then it doesn’t read for pretty reading. If Clarke continues to struggle in this series, it’s not inconceivable that it could be his last – certainly as captain and maybe even as player.

Anderson claimed his best figures against Australia as the tourists were routed for just 136.
Anderson claims his best figures against Australia as the tourists were routed for just 136.

But it’s hard to find alternatives at this stage. Shaun Marsh has also previously struggled against the new swinging ball and is next in line among the batsman on this tour whilst Joe Burns, another who has debuted in Test cricket recently, has just finished a stint with Middlesex, in English conditions without a whole heap of success. The end line of it is that there just isn’t enough quality young batsmen knocking on the door in Australia who are accustomed at playing the swinging ball – hence the reason that 37-year-old Rogers and 35-year-old Voges are still donning the baggy green this series.

For England, they finally got the pitch they have been crying out for since the series began in Cardiff – one with something in it for their fast bowlers. This pitch had both more grass and pace in it than the previous two offerings at Cardiff and Lords. In a nutshell it was tailor made for Anderson.

After their 169-run defeat at Cardiff, Australian coach Darren Lehmann was suggesting if not moaning about the lack of pace in the wicket produced in south Wales, at Lords a similar wicket was rolled out with the Australian’s coaxing far more out of it than their English counterparts.

On that occasion Johnson, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood, (all generally quicker bowlers than any of the English), used the conditions far better to their advantage and suggestions in the England camp were that they needed to make better use of their home comforts and start producing English wickets to aid the likes of Anderson and Broad.

Low and behold it was an English wicket and standard English cloud cover at Edgbaston, to their detriment the Australian’s played it the way they have been playing on seamer-friendly wickets far too often on their recent travels – very badly. Advantage England.

One series too many for Australia’s dad’s army?

The Investec Ashes 2015

Just one Test in and three senior players are already out of the side.

While it’s far too early to suggest the wheels have fallen off – Australia’s start to the Ashes has been less than ideal.

Much was made of Jason Gillespie’s “Dad’s army” comments made in the build up to the Ashes. While the comments were taken with a pinch of salt by the Australian camp, much more was made of them in the British media and perhaps in retrospect, quite rightly so.

With the Ashes campaign just four days of cricket old, the visitors find themselves heading to Lords tomorrow without three of their veteran players in the starting line up.

One LBW too many...Shane Watson has been dropped for the second Test of the Ashes series.
One LBW too many…Shane Watson has been dropped for the second Test of the Ashes series.

While there is inevitably casualties in any Ashes series, Australia wouldn’t have imagined they would be going into the second Test of the series 1-0 down and without arguably their number one bowler, all-rounder and wicketkeeper. But with Ryan Harris having to announce his retirement ten days ago and Shane Watson facing the drop alongside the unavailability of Brad Haddin for personal reasons that remains the case.

Things started to go wrong before the series had even began when Harris pulled up before the final tour match at Chelmsford. Although not a likely starter for the first Test in Cardiff, Harris’ type of accurate bowling was missed dearly during his side’s 169-run reversal and with doubts surrounding the fitness of Mitchell Starc ahead of the second Test, Harris’ name would surely have come into serious contention with the selectors.

After another couple of starts, 30 and 19 to be exact, Watson’s luck has finally appeared to run out. There has been for a long time, endless running jokes both on social media and in also in the media itself about Watson’s ability to consistently fail to contribute significant match-defining performances for his country, while at the same time seemingly being un-droppable.

This time Watson’s place in the side became untenable. His continuous ability to get out LBW (29 times in 109 Test innings) after making yet another start in the middle order appears to have reached its point of no return in the eyes of both chief selector Rod Marsh and coach Darren Lehmann.

For too long Watson has been chosen on what he might be capable of doing on the field rather than what he really delivers on the field. For all of his beautiful off drives and fierce pull shots he has continued to frustrate with innings of no great substance – pretty 20’s or 30’s and not match winning contributions.

Watson will be replaced by 23-year-old Mitchell Marsh and it is hoped that he can provide some youth and enthusiasm in the side after they looked old and ragged in the field at Cardiff. For Watson in Test cricket the end looks nigh. Marsh, being Watson’s junior by over ten years, should now be given a fair run in the all-rounders role with an eye on both the present and the future.

The future of Brad Haddin remains far more unclear. The 37-year-old is missing the second Test at Lords due to a personal family matter and is widely expected to call it a day from Test cricket at the conclusion of the Ashes in August. Although his batting and keeping has reclined in the past eighteen months, he remains a vital part of the dressing room for his vast experience in the game. While his place for Lords will be taken by his long time New South Wales understudy Peter Nevill – It remains to be seen if Haddin will play any further part in the series or in a baggy green for that matter.

While Australia are only one-nil down after one of five Tests, it was the way in which England grabbed the momentum from the moment Haddin dropped Joe Root on nought mid-way through the first session that defied the entire match and could have follow on effects as the series unwinds. Yes England had some luck along the way but the way they played Australia at their own game and came out comfortably on top will worry the visitors.

England was far better at batting, bowling and fielding and at times they looked a much younger and fitter side in the field. That’s probably because they were. The average age of the Australian side in the match was just under 31 while the England side was just above 27. That same English side still included plenty of experience though with James Anderson, Alastair Cook and Ian Bell having all played over 100 Tests and Stuart Broad 80.

Compare this to the Australian side which includes both Chris Rogers and Adam Voges who have a combined 74 years but just 24 Test caps between them and it says a lot about the current situation this aging Australian side faces.

The careers of Australian and English players, rightly or wrongly are usually defined by the Ashes and each campaign brings with it an end to a certain player cycle. England’s five-nil whitewash eighteen months ago more or less brought with it an end to the careers of six men. Graeme Swann retired after just three Tests, Kevin Pietersen, Michael Carberry and Chris Tremlett haven’t been selected since, while it was effectively the end for Matt Prior, who was dropped before the fourth Test and played just four more matches last summer, and Jonathan Trott who went home after one Test and played just three more since before retiring from international cricket.

Although Australia expected the retirements of Haddin, Harris and Rogers at the conclusion of the Ashes series, they would not have expected to be entering the Lords Test without Watson and two of their key components from that Ashes whitewash less than two years ago.

Aggression key in Ashes duel – Preview

The Investec Ashes 2015

The fates of David Warner and Jos Buttler vital to either side

Hurrah, the build up is finally over! The sledging, the predictable interviews and all the nonsense that goes with an Ashes series build up is almost complete – It’s time to bring on the cricket!!

The form of the aggressive Jos Buttler and David Warner are key to the Ashes.
The form of the aggressive duo Jos Buttler and David Warner is key to the Ashes.

Australia will start as slight favourites, due to their superior fast bowling depth, but only slight favourites. A tight series waits between two sides that are not by all means finished articles. England is still a side in transition while Australia still has a few worries with their batting and the age of their squad.

Like the beginning of most Ashes campaigns there remain plenty of questions to be answered for both sides.

Will England walk the talk and play with the aggression and freedom they have promised and that they showed in their recent ODI series with New Zealand?

They certainly have the players in their side to go with this new philosophy brought about by a combination of a new coaching set up, some new blood and a mimicking of a Brendan McCullum-led New Zealand. If they are to go with this new theory then they will need huge contributions from their attack-minded middle order of Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler.

Buttler could well be the key player for England. If you look at the way in which Brad Haddin outperformed Matt Prior in the 5-0 whitewash eighteen months ago, you could say after destruction caused by Mitchell Johnson, the way that Haddin rescued the Australians with counterattacking innings was the defining moment of the series. Buttler could well be that man for England.

Despite playing just eight Tests since being fast tracked into the side to replace the injured Matt Prior, Buttler has made a promising start to his career with the bat in particular. He has the ability to play not just the swashbuckling innings that he is renowned for in one day cricket but to get his head down in times of need and pace a ‘proper’ Test innings. This was evident during his most recent Test innings where he scored a rearguard 147-ball knock of 73, as others around him simply threw their wickets away.

But of course with his exploits in ODI cricket in the past year, the hundreds against Sri Lanka and New Zealand of course stand out; he has the ability and talent to take the game away from the opposition in Test cricket too, much in the way that Adam Gilchrist used to for Australia. Another bonus for Buttler is that he has Moeen Ali behind him in the batting order at number eight. This should allow Buttler even more freedom, knowing that he has a batsman who has made his living in county cricket as a number three, below him in the order.

Like England, questions still remain for Australia. How will Steve Smith react to batting at number three in English conditions is a question that has been flying around in the media for the past few weeks, but equally important is how David Warner will go about his business conquering both James Anderson and Stuart Broad with the new cherry in their hands.

Warner is certainly coming into the series a more compact and mature cricketer than the one who arrived on English shores two years ago and made the headlines first by having a twitter row with two Australian journalists and then by punching Joe Root after a Champions Trophy defeat in Birmingham.

Warner’s game has improved massively to the point that it’s hard to look past him, alongside an inform Alastair Cook and India’s Murali Vijay as the world’s top opening batsman. But while he remains a superb player on the fast and bouncy wickets found in Australia and South Africa, opening the batting in overcast English conditions remains a different kettle of fish.

Warner must find the correct balance between his batting with gay abandon approach and the caution required to succeed in England. If he is to do this, then forget Smith, Warner – with his ability to take the game away from the opposition in just a session, could well be Australia’s key batsman in the series.

Another key battle that could go some way to deciding the winner of the Ashes is the fates of the veteran pair Michael Clarke and Ian Bell. After both making their Test debuts in 2004 the pair now aged 33 and 34 respectfully are the only survivors from what was perhaps the greatest Ashes series of them all ten years ago and it’s not inconceivable that it could be their final campaigns against their old foes.

Ian Bell and Michael Clarke are the sole survivors from the 2005 Ashes series.
Ian Bell and Michael Clarke are the sole survivors from the 2005 Ashes series.

They have both played 110 Test matches and between them they have scored almost sixteen thousand Test runs to go with fifty Test hundreds and unlike many current batsman on either side, they have the experience of having performed in previous Ashes campaigns.

Clarke has seven Ashes hundreds to his name, while Bell has four – including three in the series between the sides two years ago, a campaign in which he went on to become the player of the series.

But while both men remain vital to their sides, their current form remains a concern. Clarke has averaged just 30 in the last year and has had serious back and hamstring injuries which have affected his ability to play long innings in the middle, he has been replaced by Smith as the sides best batsman and one wonders how long it will be until he is replaced by the younger man as the teams captain. He did spend vital time in the middle against Essex in the last warm up fixture at Chelmsford, where he scored 71 and will be confident he can return to lead his side with the crucial runs he has scored in the past.

For Bell it’s a similar story. Despite scoring a hundred in the first innings of the first Test during his side’s tour of the West Indies in April and May, it has been a lean time with the willow in hand. His recent Test scores read: 11, 1, 0, 0, 1, 29, 12 and 1. Like Clarke with Smith, he too has been replaced as his Country’s premier batsman by the emergence of Joe Root. Bell though still has plenty to offer this England side which includes plenty of youth and not a whole lot of experience. Alongside his captain, Bell has to step up as a senior batsman especially as the side step away from the era which included Kevin Pietersen and Jonathon Trott in the middle order.

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There was talk of England including Adil Rashid in their side as an extra spin option alongside Moeen Ali, but with recent weather in Cardiff keeping the pitch wet and damp that idea will now be put on the backburner. It remains likely that they will go in with the same side that played the two Test matches against New Zealand earlier in the summer with Mark Wood getting the final seamers spot ahead of the recalled Steven Finn.

For Australia, the retirement of Ryan Harris means that its likely they will go in with the same bowling line up that they used in Jamaica last month, meaning Josh Hazelwood and Mitchell Starc with start alongside England’s tormentor of eighteen months ago Mitchell Johnson. With the current grass on the wicket, there has been talk that Clarke will go into the match with four seamers but it seems unlikely that Peter Siddle with get the nod ahead of spinner Nathan Lyon.

Elsewhere, Shane Watson looks to have won the all-rounder’s spot ahead of the younger Mitchell Marsh. Watson’s bowling is seen as the stronger between the two especially in English conditions and he will be given at least the first Test as the current incumbent in the side.

Likely line-ups:

England: 1. Cook, 2. Lyth, 3. Ballance, 4. Bell, 5. Root, 6. Stokes, 7. Buttler, 8. Moeen Ali, 9. Broad, 10. Wood, 11. Anderson.

Australia: 1. Rogers, 2. Warner, 3. Smith, 4. Clarke, 5. Voges, 6. Watson, 7. Haddin, 8. Johnson, 9. Starc, 10. Hazelwood, 11. Lyon.

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.