If you’re a keen cricket follower, you probably like to think you know a thing or two about the country game. But in truth, you can never quite be bothered to follow it properly – trailing through all those scorecards, day after day for five months, all of which seem fairly meaningless because you’ve barely heard of any of the players.
The trouble comes when some smart-alec, who probably has too much spare time on his hands, turns up in a pub conversation and actually does know about the county scene. He leaves you for dust, and in front of all your mates exposes the total sham of your supposed cricketing omniscience.
Luckily, help is now at hand. You need feel a fool no more, because here at The Full Toss we’ve compiled a uniquely digestible, club-by-club guide to English domestic cricket. All the facts, figures, history and squads at your fingertips – for you to memorise and regurgitate during pub arguments to your heart’s content.
Our first instalment takes you alphabetically from Derbyshire to Gloucestershire.
Bluffing basics Founded: 1870. Captain: Wayne Madsen. Principal overseas player: Shivnarine Chanderpaul. County championship: division one.
Famous for Being crap. Obscurity. Being promoted – amazingly – from division two last year.
Notable former players Kim Barnett, Geoff Miller, Devon Malcom, Dominic Cork. Er…
Leading current players As no one has ever heard of any of Derbyshire’s 2013 squad, Chanderpaul apart, you might as well make them up, as it’s impossible anyone will notice. Even coach Karl Krikken himself probably doesn’t know who they are. So try these random names: batsmen Linvoy St Moritz and Sheznabar Turnquest, off spinner Perkin Warbeck and wicketkeeper Mike Peters. They probably have a South African so let’s just guess he’s called Jans Botha.
Ground The County Ground, also known as the Racecourse Ground – notorious for being the ugliest and most detested venue on the county circuit. But as no one actually ever seems to go there, this may just be mythology.
What to say “Derbyshire are the obvious relegation candidates in the championship”…”if you play for the likes of Derbyshire you’ll never get noticed by the England selectors”…”there are too many first class counties – what’s the point of a club like Derbyshire?”
Of course, they haven’t won anything since... The 1993 Benson and Hedges Cup.
Bluffing basics Founded: 1882; became first class in 1992. Captains: Paul Collingwood (championship) and Dale Benkenstein (limited overs). Principal overseas players: Herschelle Gibbs for T20, plus Benkenstein. They also have on their two books two more Saffers, but obscure ones, in Keaton Jennings and Johann Myburgh. County championship: division one.
Famous for Minnows turned fancy-dans. Many years of being rubbish followed by consecutive championship wins, then a tailing off.
Notable former players Ian Botham, Simon Hughes, Dean Jones, Mike Hussey.
Leading current players The Durham dressing room is a social club for three kinds of England player: the creaking old Ashes heroes (Colly and Harmy), the not-quite-made-its (Graham Onions, Ian Blackwell) and the young-bucks-under-pressure-to-live-up-to-the-hype (Scott Borthwick and Ben Stokes).
Ground The (very comely) Riverside, also known as Chester-le-Street, but now officially titled the Emirates Durham International Cricket Ground. Until recently, ‘Durham’ was the answer to the ECB’s question ‘which poor sods do we get to host Kenya in October?’, but this year the sub-Geordies will host their first ever Ashes test.
What to say “A couple of years ago, Durham had better bowlers than England did”…”they’re the side who conceded 501 to Brian Lara”…”Geordie cricket fans seem to think the borders of county Durham now extent up to Berwick”…”all that success went to their heads after back-to-back titles”.
Of course, they haven’t won anything since... The 2009 county championship.
Bluffing basics Founded: 1876. Captain: James Foster. Principal overseas player: Harbhajan Singh. County championship: division two.
Famous for Cricket’s equivalent of Liverpool – won everything in the 1980s, but useless since.
Notable former players Trevor Bailey, John Lever, Keith Fletcher, Graham Gooch, Nasser Hussain.
Leading current players Essex specialise in gnarled, reliable old journeymen (David Masters and Graham Napier) and showy tarts who lacked the guts to make their talent count for England (Owais Shah and Ravi Bopara). Plus, young paceman-to-watch Reece Topley.
Ground The entirely unexceptional County Cricket Ground at Chelmsford.
Mythology Essex were, historically, an unglamorous and unsuccessful club, and didn’t win their first silverware since 1979. But that breakthrough ushered in a remarkable spell of dominance which saw them claim six championships and five one day titles within thirteen years. The legacy of that hegemony, to this day, is the extraordinary degree of power and influence within England cricket circles granted to players associated with Essex. In the last twenty years, Essex has provided two England coaches (Keith Fletcher and Andy Flower), and three captains (Graham Gooch – who’s also been a selector and is now batting coach, Nasser Hussain, and now Alastair Cook). Derek Pringle and Nasser ensure that the club remains potently represented in the media. One consequence of all this is the large number of second-rate players picked for England just because they were from Essex. Would John Childs or Ronnie Irani have played for England if they’d been from Derbyshire? And would an injury-ravaged Neil Foster have been recalled in 1993, or Ravi Bopara been given so many chances, if they hailed from Northamptonshire?
What to say “Always in with a chance of a one-day cup”.
Of course, they haven’t won anything since... The 2008 Friends Provident Trophy.
Bluffing basics Founded: 1888; became first class in 1921. Captains: Mark Wallace (championship) and Marcus North (limited overs). Principal overseas players (variously coming and going for different competitions): North, Martin van Jaarsfeld, Shaun Marsh, Moises Henriques and Dirk Nannes. County championship: division two.
Famous for The cricketing equivalent of the planet Earth as described by the Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: mostly harmless. The England players they produce, though few in number, are always lion-hearted and usually become iconic.
Notable former players Tony “deboo” Lewis, Robert Croft, Simon Jones, Matthew Maynard, Viv Richards, Malcolm Nash.
Leading current players With Crofty finally retired, Dean Cosker is the lone stalwart name anyone east of Chepstow is likely to be very familiar with. Among what is almost certainly the least starry squad in first class cricket, Jim Allenby and Graham Wagg are the closest they have to marquee names.
Ground Four years ago, Sophia Gardens (nice name, dour ground) became the SWALEC Stadium (horrid name, much better venue). A few months later – for reasons never fully explained – it was given an Ashes match for its first ever test, while the likes of Durham were forced to spend a decade-long apprenticeship hosting Bangladesh.
What to say “It’s not even in England”…”Duncan Fletcher made his reputation there”…”Sobers’s six sixes”…”Simon Jones…” (then burst into tears)
Of course, they haven’t won anything since... The 2004 totesport League (ie the Sunday league).
Bluffing basics Founded: 1870. Captain: Michael Klinger (no, me neither). Principal overseas players: Klinger, and Hamish Marshall. County championship: division two.
Famous for Wooden spoons, WG Grace, very very good at limited overs cricket a decade or so ago.
Notable former players WG, Jon Lewis, Courtney Walsh, Tom Graveney, Gilbert Jessop, Mark Alleyne, Jack Russell.
Leading current players Hmm. And I thought Glamorgan had an obscure bunch. Alex Gidman is the stand-out name for longevity and general Gloucestershire-ness.
Ground Nevil Road, Bristol – originally bought by WG Grace, and arguably not really in Gloucestershire at all, but Somerset (why isn’t their HQ in Gloucester?). It’s a tatty, scruffy ground which doesn’t live up to the club’s aspirations to make it a senior international venue – and they need to get moving before (as it’s reported) Nevil Road hosts a test match against South Africa in 2017.
What to say “Matt Windows, who had cricket’s best ever nickname” (Steamy)…”why couldn’t Mark Alleyne play so well for England?”…”why did they get rid of Courtney Walsh?”
Of course, they haven’t won anything since... The 2004 C&G Trophy.
That’s all for now, county fans, but tune in next time for the lowdown on Hampshire, Kent, Lancashire, Leicestershire and Middlesex.