Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 27, 2015

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 27 September 2015

"Surrey promoted eh?"

“Surrey promoted eh?”

Ball One – Yorkshire’s bowlers deliver again

Congratulations to Yorkshire, whose 11th victory of the season (plus four draws and just the one defeat) brought them all kinds of records in the County Championship’s two divisions era. For a while, it didn’t look like the season was going to end in the way that it had proceeded for so many weeks, but, as has been so often the case, Andrew Gale’s bowlers got in amongst the batsmen and shared the wickets between them to run out easy winners in the end. Yorkshire finished the campaign with their four seamers taking 40 wickets or more, with Ryan Sidebottom’s 41 at 18 and Jack Brooks’s 65 at 23 leading the way. Their frontline spinner (a combined Adil Rashid and James Middlebrook) also took 46 wickets at 27. That’s the firepower a captain needs to force wins and that’s exactly what Yorkshire did to retain the pennant so emphatically.

Ball Tw0 – Hampshire survive with a remarkable late season run of form, as Sussex go down

Yorkshire’s win was merely the icing on their 2015 cake, the title long since secured, but it proved disastrous for their opponents Sussex, who, to most observers’ surprise (including mine), fell through the trapdoor to Division Two after winning just one of their last 11 fixtures. It was a shocking set of results that saw them go from being six points off the champions after five matches to finishing 125 points off them after 16. But perhaps the real story was Hampshire’s Lazarus-like revival. Fidel Edwards’ ten wickets brought them a victory over in-form Nottinghamshire to round off their season with three wins in the last five matches, showing the ticker that goes a long way in cricket. They’ll need to strengthen their batting (just five centuries all season) and find more bowling as Edwards and Gareth Berg (both in their mid-30s) will not be able to carry the same burden next season if they are to avoid another flirtation with the drop. Expect plenty of ins and outs in the close season at the Ageas Bowl.

Ball Three – Surrey hold off Lancashire to win the Division Two crown

In Division Two, draws at The Oval and Chelmsford were enough to hand the title to Surrey with Lancashire settling for the second promotion slot, more than 50 points ahead of Essex in third. Both clubs have called upon international batsmen to steer their way to the top flight, with Ashwell Prince and Alviro Petersen anchoring the Lancashire effort and Kumar Sangakkara and Steven Davies doing a similar job for Surrey. In a year in which the lack of spin options for England has caused much debate, it’s worth noting that each club used spin extensively, Gareth Batty and Zafar Ansari taking 84 wickets between them for Surrey and Simon Kerrigan and  Arron Lilley snaring 67 victims for Lancashire. It’s a different game up in Division One of course, but Ansari and Lilley (two three dimensional cricketers at home in red and white ball formats) will both fancy their chances of continuing their progress in 2016 and, if they do, international recognition will surely follow.

Ball Four – The Final Over’s Young Player of the Season

For all the flash, bang, wallop of the white ball game that puts rather more than half a sixpence in its stars’ pockets, the hardest currency in cricket is still wickets, the key to success in all formats. This column’s Young Player of the Season presented his captain with 105 of them over the season, playing 37 matches, delivering 671 overs to do so. At 20, those numbers, and their importance in lifting Surrey to the top of Division Two, has seen Tom Curran added to England’s Performance Programme where his work will be monitored closely. Like his supremely gifted younger brother, Sam, we will learn more about this nippy seamer who can bat a bit next year, but he will play top flight cricket knowing that he has risen to every challenge put before him so far in his fledgling career.

Ball Five – The Final Over’s Player of the Season

This column, rather like the players I trust, has prioritised the County Championship over white ball cricket and its choice of Player of the Year reflects that emphasis. The honourable mentions include those whose international days are firmly behind them: Chris Read, Luke Wright, and Ryan Sidebottom; those possibly a notch short of international class: Chris Rushworth, James Hildreth and Jack Brooks; and those who still harbour realistic hopes of England recognition: James Taylor, Ben Brown and James Harris. But the award goes to Tim Bresnan, a man who is still only 30 and has series wins over Australia and India, home and away, on his Test record, but who started the season knowing that a recall to his country’s colours was a very long way off. Far from sulking, he got his head down and did what he has done since the age of 16: found ways to contribute to Yorkshire’s cause. With the ball, that brought 45 wickets at a commendable average of 31; with the bat, a superb return of 849 runs at 50; and he also pouched 13 catches as one of only two men who played all 16 matches for the champions. He also contributed to the partnership of the season, joining Jonny Bairstow with the score 191-6, as table-topping Durham scented that their bold insertion would lead to them batting late on the first day. 366 runs later, Andrew Gale declared with Bairstow 219 not out and Bresnan on a career best 169 not out. The subsequent win saw Yorkshire replace Durham as leaders as June turned into July – they never looked back.

Ball Six – A salute to the grand old game

Rather like the stories of PG Wodehouse (whose greatest creation was named after a cricketer), the County Championship, with its rural rhythms and roots in a pre-industrial England all but swept aside by Victorian enterprise, was out of date before it was invented, but, also like Wodehouse, its enthusiasts love it with a passion, albeit often somewhat furtively. We believe that the domestic first class game, like Jeeves, Lord Emsworth and Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps, is an end in itself, an oh so welcome oasis of calm in an ever more turbulent, ever more hurried world. If it doesn’t guarantee an endless conveyor belt of hardened Test players to deliver the national team series win after series win – well, which country’s domestic programme does? And if it’s increasingly ignored by the written press and broadcasters (with the honourable exceptions of the BBC’s internet radio, ESPN Cricinfo and The Guardian’s County Cricket Live Blog), does it matter? We will still find out what’s happening, still track partnerships like the epic Bairstow-Bresnan one above as the records tumble and still dig out the woolly hat, the gloves and the thermos next April. No fan wants to read an abridged Blandings Castle story and no fan wants an abridged 14 match County Championship – let’s hope all play all home and away in 2016.

Thanks to this column’s readers over this season, especially those who have taken the time to comment with a grace and generosity that shines in an increasingly coarse public sphere. I’ll take guard again to bat out the Final Over of the Week again come Spring 2016. ‘Til then – Pip! Pip!



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