Another Rubbish Championship Finale

A

First class cricket is dead. It’s boring, predictable, and nobody likes it. In fact, the only way to save it is to make the players wear coloured clothing, play music every time there’s a boundary, and cut the duration of matches to two days. Oh, and scrap the counties and create artificial city-based franchises packed full of overseas ‘stars’ too. Then the bloody thing might become more watchable.

Sorry about that. Tom Harrison suddenly hacked into my computer. Fortunately a real cricket supporter is now back in control.

Yesterday was a fantastic finale to the county championship. For the second year running things went down to the wire. Somerset retained their division one status after bowling out Middlesex (more about them later) for a paltry 113. And Hants managed to stay up without the help of the ECB for a change. They held on magnificently for a draw on the final day. Who’d have thought that batting time could prove so captivating? Not the T20 sell outs that’s for sure.

Down in division two, my team Worcestershire wrapped up the title after defeating Durham … who might not have any players left next year. Keaton Jennings announced this week that he’s leaving the Riverside. Apparently he thinks it’s more important to move counties than move his feet.

I’m absolutely delighted with Worcs’ success so please forgive this personal indulgence. We regularly lose our best players to wealthier counties – we even lost Tom Kohler Cadmore mid-season this summer – yet the club bounces back time and again. The squad is packed full of young English players, many of whom are local, and it’s clear that Steve Rhodes and the management are doing things the right way.

Daryl Mitchell, one of the few experienced heads, has been a rock this year. Talented young guys like Joe Clarke and Brett D’Oliveira have batted around him, and new skipper Joe Leach has bowled admirably. He might only be medium pace, but Leach’s 69 wickets at 19 is absolutely tremendous.

Teenaged paceman Josh Tongue has also been a revelation. He’s one of the most promising fast bowling prospects in the country, bowls with good pace despite his tender years, and thoroughly deserved his 47 wickets at 25. Honourable mentions also go to Ed Barnard and wicket-keeper Ben Cox, who’s one of the best glovemen around.

One of the things that made this year’s championship so remarkable was its unpredictability. If someone had predicted that Essex would win the title, and the champions Middlesex would be relegated, they’d have been laughed out of town back in April. The fact that Worcs finished above glamour boys Notts in division two is also quite remarkable. It just goes to show that money isn’t everything in cricket … well, not yet anyway.

On the subject of Middlesex it’s strange how a club that was on cloud nine this time last year – who can forget that emotional win against Yorkshire on the final day? – has fallen from grace so rapidly. Although Nick Compton and Nick Gubbins had dreadful years, none of their other batsmen played too badly (albeit not brilliantly). Their problem was probably the bowling. Although Tim Murtagh did his usual stuff, Steve Finn and James Harris had somewhat underwhelming years. Losing Toby Roland Jones to England surely didn’t help either.

It was also a little surprising to see Warwickshire struggle so much. None of their batsmen, some of whom have impressive pedigrees, averaged over 40. Jonathan Trott and Ian Westwood were mediocre, Ian Bell had a dire year, and Sam Hain was simply atrocious. The latter’s failure to develop as a first class cricketer is particularly disappointing. Although Hain has enjoyed some success in white ball cricket, he’s simply not fulfilling his considerable talent at this point.

Although I feel a little sad for Ian Bell, whose career has gone down the toilet spectacularly after being dropped by England, I’m hoping that The Bears’ relegation might persuade Moeen Ali to stay at New Road. There were rumours earlier this year that Mo might move back up the M5 to Edgbaston. With Worcestershire now a division higher than Warwickshire for the first time since … I can’t remember when …. the Beard to Be Feared might as well stay put. You listening Mo?

I’d be interested to hear everyone’s thoughts on this year’s championship. It’s brilliant to see that domestic first class cricket is still a brilliant product … even if the ECB seem unable or unwilling to market the competition properly. The argument that first class cricket is too slow for the modern age is absolute codswallop in my opinion. It’s just an excuse to do nothing and grab the low hanging T20 dosh.

Before I sign off I’d like to nominate my championship players of 2017. I’d love to hear your choices too. I’m going for the legendary Kumar Sangakkara as TFT player of the year. You can’t argue with 1491 runs at an average of 107 with 8 centuries! When does he qualify for England again 😉 ?

When it comes to the young players I can’t see past Essex’s Dan Lawrence, who averaged 45 at just 20 years of age, and Jamie Porter who took an amazing 75 wickets at just 17. What a future these two young cricketers have.

James Morgan

27 comments

  • Well done to Worcs for their promotion James and for a change you didn’t lay in to Hampshire, well only a little dig anyway :).

    The last few weeks of the Champo has thoroughly gripped me and my cricket buddies and, bar Warwicks, kept everyone interested in Div 1 up until the final set of matches and in my case, the final few minutes! My only gripe has been the fact that is has been shoe horned into 2 parts. April – June and then late Aug to late Sept. I have no idea when they are going to schedule it when Harrison’s hair brained hit a ball (did I get that right?) competition starts next year. Presumably we will be playing 4 day cricket in March and October !

    Ah well, over for another year, although I think there is something going on down under in a few weeks time!

  • As a somerset man, commiserations to their supporters but really, it was a wonderful day staying up and at the same time being able to send Middlesex down and to then listen to their captain complain about dodgy pitches! They found themselves stuck in the same situation we were 12 months ago – helplessly looking onto another match praying for a result that towards the end neither side were interested in.

    The 2 team relegation is very unforgiving but it makes for so many more important matches, the margins are incredibly fine for what becomes a successful season in this format. Had rain not affected some earlier somerset matches they might have been closer to the championship. But I suppose that can be said for a number of sides.

  • As an Essex supporter, obviously quite a good season for me personally! This season’s cricket, however, has been thoroughly absorbing. Both divisions have provided great entertainment throughout with the nail-biting finish a bonus. The Saffies and Windies Tests were equally interesting with results see-sawing following a wicket or a batsman staying at the crease for a few overs.

    Thoroughly agree with ANDYH that the scheduling this year has spoilt the enjoyment somewhat for me as I’m not a ‘slogfest’ fan.

    For me, either Dan Lawrence or Simon Harmer – just shades out Jamie Porter because he is a spinner which tends to be a tad more difficult over here and over a season – are the pick of this season’s players.

  • Agree with all these comments. Being a Surrey man what a performance from Sanga! Magnificent.
    When you think we new that Essex had won two weeks ago ( well done) by 70 points! The relegation battle this week was fascinating – it’s hard with only 8 Div 1 teams and 2 down. You can never say never in cricket but Middlesex didn’t help themselves by not enforcing the follow on against Essex early on, not even attempting a relatively easy run chase against Surrey mid season and playing on a dodgy out ground (Uxbridge) in September which took 3 days to dry out. Plus in my opinion they are a boring side to watch.
    In saying all that really Hampshire were only in Div 1by default due to the ECB’s appalling penalties against Durham. And Somerset’s home pitches are a bit iffy to say the least. More last year with 2 games barely lasting 2 days. ECB haven’t the balls to do anything though.
    Pity about the scheduling these days, a season of two halves really. How can you compare the hit and giggle with the drama of this?

    • Sometimes you wonder why a player is still there (eg Sachin, Beefy at the end of their careers). With Sanga, you wonder if he retired too soon, especially watching the struggles Sri Lanka have had without him (+ Mahela and Dilshan). But I think if anyone knows his game, it’s Sanga. A career test average between Sobers and Hobbs is testament to that. A modern great.

    • I’d much rather watch 2 teams battle it out on a day 1 spinning pitch than a captain bring on 2 openers to turn over schoolboy deliveries in order to set up an arbitrary total in a 3 way championship decider 😉

      I don’t see why teams can’t manufacture some practice wickets of their own that spin sideways. Instead of hiding behind referees that rule whether a day 1 spinning pitch is “poor”, just get better at playing spin

      • Perhaps we should go back to uncovered pitches. With the new generations of super soppers they could easily be ready for play after rain with minimal extra delay, and modern batsmen would then have to learn to play spin (and there would be a better balance between bat, seam and spin through the season).

  • I just wish that the championship was not shoe-horned into the bad weather months. wouldn’t it be nice to see a championship and promotion riace not affected by weather -induced rrsults/

    • Totally agree. The championship used to have appeal. It still could. Why does the ECB assume that the only cricket people are interested in involves a white ball and dancers? It has been clear for some time that the authorities consider the championship to be a poor relation. It drives real cricket fans mad.

  • As an Essex supporter, I’ve enjoyed this season as much as any of our other 6 title wins, and I’ve seen them all.
    I was able to watch most home championship days. What’s been impressive is when needed somebody has stepped up. Alastair Cook was always going to score runs, he’s the best English batsman in all conditions. When he was unavailable, 7 other batsman made first class centuries. The bowling was dominated by Porter & Harmer, but Amir/Wagner, Bopara & Sam Cook all got vital wickets. And despite his age James Foster is still the best pure wicketkeeper in the country. The task now is to make sure we don’t do a Middlesex.
    Strauss & Harrison can politely stick their T20 franchise somewhere uncomfortable.

  • What I love about watching country cricket is that every county introduces new academy players each year., so we get a chance to see if our membership fees are bearing fruit. It’s nice to have the odd transfer and overseas player, but it hasn’t swamped the game like footie, where foreign mercenaries are the order of the day at the top.
    Totally agree with you about Sangakkara. I think he’s the best all round batsmen I’ve ever seen. He seems to accumlate runs in the same elegant and forthright manner whatever the circumstance, and had done for years.
    Jamie Porter as young player definitely. As with every year it is the second one that counts more for a career.
    As a Warwickshire member I echo the disappointment of relegation, where established players have not stepped up to the plate. However, I hope you keep Ali at Worcester. How many championship games will he be eligible for anyway?

  • Fairly new to this site but it ‘warms the cockles’ to read such knowledgeable and impartial comments! That’s one of the many things I’ve always loved about cricket. Everyone has a team but is willing to graciously concede losing to the better side. As an Essex (and WHU) supporter, I am used to underachieving and disappointment so best wishes to all contributors to this great site whoever you follow.

    Now for ‘down under!……..

  • As a Surrey fan, it’s been a decent season in the championship. We managed to come 3rd despite winning only 2 games, and saw some good development. Of course, Kumar really helped, but it’s worth pointing out we had the 3 best batsmen (in terms of runs) in the league. How there has been so little talk about Rory Burns going to Australia is beyond me. At least Ben Foakes is going along with Rocky.
    In terms of bowling, both Currans have looked promising again this season. We still need to keep improving here though, as we didn’t really take enough wickets.
    Good season all round really, congratulations Essex.

  • It does seem odd that all the complaints are now emerging about Somerset preparing a spinners wicket. Given the number of times wickets have been deliberately prepared for seamers (leave a bit more grass on is the easy way) it seems bad form to point the finger at Somerset. And that is ignoring the other benefits home teams accumulate, such as Middlesex having the benefit of experience on a wicket which still slopes across (why do the ECB not insist on a maximum drop from one side to the other?). Sour grapes come to mind.

  • Nice round up, James. And congratulations to Woosters on a sparkling season. So many new names this season that it feels like the England team could be very interesting in 3 year’s time (I think that’s how long it takes for the selectors to catch up).
    Re Moeen, I think it was Will MacPherson at the Guardian who said that, earlier in the season, Moeen’s agent started making noises about a move, thinking that Mo’s contract was up about now. He was quietly informed that the contract runs until September 2018, and no more was heard about it…
    Finally, silver medal in “surprise of the season” (behind Essex) goes to my team, Northants. 6 months ago, they looked like a white-collar outfit who had given up on the Championship. And they were nearly promoted!

  • Now that the domestic season is over how about a reflective for our bloggers on a particular moment of cricket watching that stays in the mind. It can be as long ago or as recent as you like, but something you feel you’ll take to your grave with a smile on your face.
    To start the ball rolling just a short piece on artistry in this great game.
    Many moons ago I was given a ticket to the under 19 final between Northants and Leicester at Edgabaston, on the face of it not the most promising event. However it was my first glimpse of a cherubic 17 year old called D I Gower. He didn’t make many runs and his team lost the game, but from the moment he clipped his first ball to the square leg boundary you knew you were watching a special talent. His bat was never anything as vulgar as a tool, it was more like a wand which he wafted about like an extension of his body, incapable of an ugly movement. I have seen a young Richards, Tendulkar and Lara, all greater batsmen than Gower, but never been so entranced by one. Like Torvil and Dean he couldn’t be appreciated in the context of competition, he was above that. Batting in its purest form, devoid of success or failure. Maybe it was his vulnerability, where you felt he could be out at any time, that made you every moment more precious. Averages and technique were irrelevant here, it was the unique grace of movement that seems to be prevalent more amongst left handers for some reason. I will never forget that cameo in the sun.

  • I will be interested to see how Leach goes in Div 1 as a bowler. Whilst he is a bit sharper than medium, I have long railed against the fetish for pure speed – ever since watching (as a schoolboy) the great Tom Cartwright make even batsmen like Boycott and Cowdrey look like club players whilst bowling at barely 70mph. A good medium pacer (or just into the FM category) is, from what I have seen over 50 years of watching, likely to take more wickets than any out and out quickie except in those very rare cases where the quickie can match the control and variety of the medium pacer. Cook and Porter have shown 80mph is more than enough in Div 1. But I would so like to see a modern version of Cartwright. It might resurrect the type in the same way as Warne brought back leg spinners.

    • As a Warwickshire man I wholly endorse the greatness of Cartwright, whom regrettably I only saw towards the end of his career. However it was noticeable, despite being acknowledged as a class act over here, he was rarely in the wickets abroad, and spent most of his career bowling on uncovered green tops. However, his consistent nagging line and length is a lesson to modern day bowlers.
      I wouldn’t say Warne resurrected the leg spinner, as you can count them on the finger of one hand over here and in Oz. The best way to encourage any type of bowler is prepare sympathetic pitches.
      For some reason the modern trend is to make life easier for the batsmen to provide the entertainment. If a bowler uses the conditions to take wickets it doesn’t seem to be rated as highly.

    • The reason I personally am against the trend of sub 83mph bowlers in county cricket is based on how unsuitable they would be in world cricket. What’s he point of them stealing a living and denying genuine pace game time if they’ll never be anything outside of England where medium plod gets so much assistance.

      Now, I wa t the county and test cricket to be more bowler friendly than bat but it also needs pace.. genuine pace .. not <83mph which county Cricket has loads off

      (Odd exception naturally like Phillander )

      This is exactly the same with technical batsmen.. it’s been almost killed off at all levels and then we wonder why there are no top order batsmen around

  • The Championship finished leaving many who follow it wanting more, I’m not sure if anyone at the Rose Bowl last night would say the same.

    Agree very much about Kumar Sangakkara. I saw his final day at the Oval and how much he cared about what he does was a good thing to see.

  • I hope essex’s triumph slows the rush of talent away from the smaller clubs to the test ground counties. There’s a growing assumption that the England team should only be drawn from division 1, which is generally populated by the biggest, richest clubs. Surely England is big enough to support 18 elite cricket teams. Movement between the divisions should be regarded as a good thing, showing how competitive the Championship is. Watching highlights this season, some of the best cricket I saw was in division 2. The selectors should give players like tongue and northeast a chance based on their quality, not the division they play in.

By James Morgan

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