It’s lighter outside, the clocks have moved forward, but it’s still bitterly cold and frosty. This can mean only one thing: the county championship is back. Oh yes! To get you in the mood, Rob has come up with an XI of county stalwarts that he’ll be keeping an eye on this summer. It’s a personal XI (based purely on players that he enjoys watching) who seem unlikely to play international cricket this summer. Enjoy.
1. Alastair Cook: No real explanation needed to select the old warhorse back for one final year for Essex. At one point it was commonplace for ex England players to return to the county ranks and pass on their wisdom to the next generation (I remember Messrs Gooch, Gatting and Lamb as examples) but this seems to be a rarity nowadays. Cooky is back for his 5th season as an Essex player post-retirement, and it is good to see him enjoying the game still.
2. Luke Wells: The first Lancashire player in my XI. I was a little sceptical when he signed as he had struggled for a couple of years at Sussex. However, Luke is a player transformed from the supposed blocker at Sussex. He opens the innings with Keaton Jennings at Old Trafford and has developed his game considerably, attacking both seam and spin alike in all formats of the game, while his fine slip fielding and useful leg spin also add to his all round worth. One of the best signings Lancashire have made in my time as a fan. Probably too old to attract England’s attention though.
3. Josh Bohannon: A player who was tipped for England at the start of 2022 to fill the problem no. 3 position (but Ollie Pope was selected instead). I hope this doesn’t prove to be a sliding door moment for his career. His more adhesive style seems unlikely to fit in with the Bazball template although he possesses a fine all round game and Mike Atherton, who rates him highly, has compared him to Jonathan Trott. His excellent fielding adds to his worth. Lancashire will benefit if England ignore him.
4. Sam Northeast: One of those players tipped for greatness, but has never somehow managed a call up for England. Still, one of the most elegant stroke makers on the circuit, and the scorer of a quadruple hundred last season. Always a pleasure to watch. Should enjoy himself at Sophia Gardens this summer. Should have a couple of seasons left.
5. Tom Abell (captain): Another fine county batsman, and a useful 4th seamer. Also an experienced county captain, who won a maiden call-up for the one day series in Bangladesh only to pick up an injury. With England’s strength in white ball cricket, it seems unlikely he will win another opportunity pending an injury crisis, but Somerset will benefit accordingly, particularly with such a young side.
6. James Bracey (keeper): Rather a forgotten man for England now, but a solid keeper and batsman who was harshly treated in his two Tests in 2021. Seems unlikely to get another go for quite a while at international level. More of a blocker, so adds stability a la Ben Foakes to the lower order.
7. Jamie Smith. Another option to keep but also a brilliant all round fielder and fine attacking batsman, Smith is one of the best uncapped young players I’ve seen. A lynchpin in my XI (even if he does play for rivals Surrey) and seems likely to play for England as the white ball side develops post the upcoming World Cup.
8. Lewis Gregory: Has played the odd white ball game at international level but seems destined to remain an excellent domestic player. A solid county seamer and useful batsman, one of many all-rounders in the county game whose career has coincided with the maestro Ben Stokes. Always a whole-hearted trier, and a player I enjoy seeing do well.
9. Luke Wood: A left-arm option, pretty sharp, and useful batsman to boot. One of the most enthusiastic cricketers currently playing, a little like his namesake Mark in the energy and character he brings to the game. A player who seems to “make things happen” with the ball, so a great favourite at Lancs. Played a couple of white ball games for England last year but down the pecking order so unlikely to feature much barring injury.
10. Luke Fletcher: A legendary county bowler – almost the Angus Fraser of his age – no frills but hits a length time and again at his considerable height, and seems likely to trundle in for a few years yet. One of the great county triers of his era. Seems to personify all that is good about the county game.
11. Matt Parkinson: Another Lancastrian, who has been around the England squad without playing much and now seems unlikely to play again in the near future due to Rehan Ahmed’s emergence. That said, Parkinson is an excellent county bowler who brings a different threat to Lancashire’s attack. Needs to work on his fielding and batting though…..
Which county players will you be keeping an eye on this summer?
Liam Livingstone……..Test cricket-wise, with Bairstow likely to replace the very unlucky Foakes, this will surely be a make-or-break summer for him – will his bowling be good enough to replace Leach and drop him into bat at 7 or 8? Probably not, but it could be very exciting if ‘yes’.
Some youngsters……..fresh from the U19s.
The skipper, Hampshire’s Tom Prest. Just turned 20yrs, just completed a reasonable tour of SL with the Lions.
Warwickshire’s Jacob Bethell…….19yr old white Barbadian tempted to Rugby School – capped by ENG-U19s, and potentially a left-handed Harry Brook.
Lancashire’s Josh Boyden……a hot prospect with lively left-arm seam skills – probably a 2nd XI fixture with the odd game in the 1sts – whislt he beefs up a bit.
……..and of course Leicestershire’s Rehan Ahmed – this will be a big summer for him. Needs to keep his feet on the ground. Hoping that they don’t toss him in against Warner – then again, it could be an inspired selection.
With some retirements on the horizon, The Ashes to win and a World Cup to defend, I’m excited to see how the fringe players perform. Those who are striving for international colours and those who are perhaps in the last chance salon. Whether because of age, lack of form or not quite fulfilling their potential, those currently seated at the bar are Jason Roy, Alex Hales, Liam Livingstone, Tom Banton, Joe Clarke, Sam Hain and Phil Salt. They’re being hustled by the likes of Tom Haines, Rob Yates, Jordan Cox, Dan Lawrence, Tom Koehler-Cadmore, Sam Hain, Will Jacks, Josh Bohannon, Ed Barnard, Rehan Ahmed, Thilan Walallawita, Matthew Potts, Tom Helm, Tom Price, Ollie Robinson, Liam Patterson-White, Jordan Thompson, George Scrimshaw, Brydon Carse, Luke Wood, Will Smeed and Ben Green. It should be an interesting start to the season.
As a Worcs supporter I’ll be keeping an eye on Josh Tongue (when fit!) and Jack Haynes.
As a Warwickshire man will be interesting to see what happens with Henry Brookes in what must be pretty much a make or break season after having come into the scene in 2017 as the quickest of his generation and certainly a more exiting prospect than Ollie Stone. As ever fitness seems to be an issue, with less than thirty first class games under his belt since and a strike rate of one wicket every ten overs. On song and fit he’s as exciting to watch as Archer or Wood.
The royal host introduced you A unique type to discuss brute batsman in his style.