With England’s tour of South Africa looming, there’ll be plenty of cricket discussion on EMS over the coming weeks. But before the in-depth analysis begins (look out for our upcoming preview) I’d quickly like to cover a couple of stories in brief.
The first concerns Alex Lees, who has been appointed Yorkshire’s limited overs captain for 2016. At the age of just 22 (a wee pup on the threshold of life) he’ll be the county’s youngest ever one-day captain. He’s obviously got huge potential as both a batsman and, apparently, a leader too. He’s just the sort of cricketer that England need.
I just hope this extra responsibility doesn’t affect his batting though. I’m an enormous fan of Lees. I think he’s probably the most naturally talented young opening batsman England have produced since Mike Atherton. While England mess around with stop-gaps like Alex Hales and Nick Compton – batsmen who, in my humble opinion, will never be long-term answers at the top of the order – Lees has a real opportunity to fulfil his potential and forge a formidable partnership with Cook.
However, last year didn’t really go to plan. Lees only scored 800 championship runs at an average of 33. One wonders if his late season form was affected by a spell as Yorkshire’s interim captain? His form wasn’t exactly brilliant before he took the reins from Andrew Gale, but it probably didn’t help.
As an England supporter, I’d probably prefer Lees to focus purely on his batting at the mo. It’s a big ask for a 22 year old to breathe new life into Yorkshire’s one-day cricket. Expectations are incredibly high at Headingley, with the county’s form in T20 cricket a particular sore point, so I hope the added responsibility doesn’t lead to more setbacks.
Although Yorkshire reached the semis of the Royal London Cup last year, they’ve disappointed in limited overs for quite some time. Perhaps that’s a big reason why Jason Gillespie was overlooked for the England job? We all know that Andrew Strauss wanted England to take the short forms of the game more seriously.
The next bit of cricket news concerns good old Monty Panesar. After being released by Essex, who finally tired of his tardiness and off-field issues, I had wondered whether the Montster would retire. Well apparently not. The good news is that Monty looks set for a return to Northants – the county where he began his career.
I’m no psychologist, but one wonders whether being back in familiar surroundings might help Monty get his career back on track? He’s only 33 years old, and hasn’t played a huge amount of cricket in recent times, so he’s probably got a few good years left in the game – if he can get his head right of course.
There should be plenty of first team opportunities for Monty at Northants. Graeme White did an excellent job in one-day cricket but was largely anonymous in the championship (taking just eight wickets in three matches). Perhaps that’s why they’re apparently keen to bring Panesar home?
It also helps, of course, that the ECB might pay some of Monty’s salary. With a big tour of India coming up next winter, and England’s spin bowling resources as threadbare as Matt Prior’s scalp, the authorities obviously want to maximise every potential resource.
How times change. Back in 2009 Monty wanted to prepare for the test series in India by playing cricket in Sri Lanka – a wise move considering he hadn’t bowled much before the tour. However, even though he was England’s premier spinner at the time, the ECB refused to cough up a measly £7,500 to compensate the Sri Lankan side. Instead they offered just £500. The move therefore fell through.
Unsurprisingly Monty was rusty when he turned up in India. Graeme Swann soon became England’s first choice spinner instead. Panesar felt badly let down and his career nosedived thereafter.
At least the ECB actually seem to be thinking beyond the end of their wallets this time. Although seven grand does buy one a rather copious supply of gin.