Play Will Resume At 1.40PM…

After an ‘extended tea break’, One Stump Short returns ahead of the new County cricket season, with Essex out to retain their title, Warwickshire and Middlesex looking to bounce back and the standard hand wringing over what to do with the limited overs game in England.

To mark our return to the crease, we’ve worked with cricket’s favourite number to produce a lovely little recap of six of the biggest stories we missed while we were eating Ginster’s pasties and complaining how cold it was:

Essex Win The County Championship

As we ‘retreated to the writer’s pavilion’ in late July, Essex’s remarkable County Championship victory did not grace this site, until now.

To slip into the first person for a moment, I have to hold my hands up here – I thought Essex might find themselves in a relegation battle following their promotion from Division 2 in 2016. How wrong I was.

Essex didn’t lose a game – winning ten of their 14 County Championship games – while finishing a whopping 72 points ahead of second placed Lancashire.

With the bat, it was perhaps a case of ‘something greater than the sum of its parts’. Despite several ‘big’ names (in County terms) – including Alastair Cook and Dan Lawrence – no batsmen reached 1,000 runs for the champions (Nick Browne was closest with 952), but five batsmen averaged over 40 (six if you include Mohammad Amir…), and experienced campaigners Ravi Bopara, James Foster and Varun Chopra were among the others who chipped in.

The most telling contributions came with the ball however.

Essex batting line-up always had the potential to match Division 1’s best, but there seemed relatively little certainty when it came to how their bowlers might perform when the 2017 County season got underway.

Jamie Porter, 75 wickets at 16.82.

Simon Harmer, 72 wickets at 19.19.

Nuff said?

Neil Wagner, the combative Kiwi, deserves a mention for helping the County plug away early on; and his replacement, Mohammad Amir went on to help provide the knockout blow, taking 14 wickets in just 3 games (including one 10-wicket match) at the tail end of the campaign.

I’m sorry I ever doubted you, Essex.

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County Championship Schedule Remains In A Spin

Whilst Harmer may have ‘ripped it up’ (pun slightly intended) for Essex last season, the hand wringing – yes, there’s lots of it in cricket – continues over England’s lack of ‘top quality spinners’ and dearth of lightning fast bowlers.

Speedsters in the mould of Mitchell Starc or Kagiso Rabada are rare though – they are not just quick but also incredibly skilled with it – and England have seldom boasted anyone of such ability throughout their 100+ years of Test cricket (no matter how hard we try to romanticise some names from the past).

To a degree, it is what it is and our climate is never really going to help turn a County ground into the WACA. It rarely gets hot enough for long enough (or more important dry enough).

Whilst pushing the County Championship schedule to the margins is blamed for keeping the likes of Darren Stevens among the domestic games ‘finest seamers’, even a full blooded run of game in August is unlikely to change much in the fast bowling department because of the simple fact it rains here. Quite a bit.

Spinners however are a different story, they don’t necessarily need a rock hard surface to get a little help from the wicket.

However with games in April and May often played on wickets offering very little help for anyone look to twirl a few down, chances of anyone really kicking up a fuss during the early stages of the campaign are limited.

As a result, we end up with many competent, tidy spinners (like Liam Dawson), but a shallow pool of spinners you’d see as potential match winners for the national side, let alone any who could potentially join the pantheon of great English or international spinners in the future.

To their credit, Somerset have utilised the traditionally more spinner friendly Taunton wickets to bring on both Jack Leach and Dom Bess, but the great leg spinning hope that is Mason Crane was stuck behind Dawson at Hampshire for parts of last season, while Adil Rashid has moved to a white-ball only contract (more on that later).

With both the front end and back end of the County Championship at the mercy of the weather (fortunately the back end has been blessed with some decent levels of sunshine in recent years), it’s hard to see how things will improve for the next generation of English spinners – outside of the ECB staging additional games at the start of the season abroad in sunnier climates perhaps…

Does The Future Look Grave For The ECB Chairman?

Serendipity is a 2001 American romantic comedy film directed by Peter Chelsom, written by Marc Klein, and starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale.

It is also “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way”; which is why writing this blog at the same time as The Times’ Elizabeth Ammon posted this tweet was so perfect:

Another resignation, following Andy Nash earlier this month, and with it another blow to Colin Graves’ Chairmanship.

The 70-year-old appeared to have ridden out the storm surrounding payments made to Test-hosting grounds in years they do not actually host a Test – with Glamorgan recently ‘outed’ as the recipients of a £2.5 million payment – but perhaps not.

Thompson’s departure suggests the waters were not perhaps as calm as Graves might have hoped following the Chairmen’s Meeting on March 26th, and with doubts lingering over the impending city-based T20 tournament – not least relating to how the decision was made, with some implications out there that smaller counties were perhaps ‘railroaded’ into agreeing to it – Graves future seems unclear.

The ECB Chairman has his vision for the sport, but it is not universally popular among the fan base nor the counties themselves, and his links to Yorkshire, and the potential conflict of interest that creates, make it increasingly difficult to see the entrepreneur clinging onto his role with English cricket’s governing body.

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Travel Sickness

England have lost ten of their last twelve Tests away from home. In five of their last eight Tests, England have lost by an innings.

This probably isn’t the first time you’ve read those figures, but it bears repeating.

Joe Root’s side have endured the tour ‘from hell’, but no amount of pontification about what exactly David Warner was doing at B&Q will change the cold, hard reality that England were still second best in Australia, before folding faster than Superman on laundry day during the First Test in Auckland.

Truth be told, England have not been very good away from this green and pleasant land for a while now, but some competitive home series against teams like Pakistan and South Africa have papered over the cracks; ticket sales continue to tick over nicely, filling the ECB coffers whilst keeping Sky Sports interested enough to keep up their heavy investment in the sport.

It’s much easier to ‘sell’ a home Test that takes place in one’s own backyard at a reasonable time of the day, whilst a crushing defeat in Adelaide (other defeats are available) during the wee small hours can be quickly swept away by tickets for a Test match versus India going on sale, or continued promotion of the new city-based T20.

Perhaps this is a cynical way to view things, but at some point – perhaps around the time James Anderson retires – the same woes that haunt England abroad will surely catch-up with that same side at home.

Suggestions that this ‘day of reckoning’ might even come this summer have nothing to do with the arrival of India in August of course…

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“I See A Red Ball And I Want To Paint It White”

The news that reece Topley had signed a ‘white-ball only’ deal with Hampshire in late February did not come as a great surprise.

The 24-year-old had suffered two stress fractures in his back in as many years, and with professional cricket a finite existence anyway, following the example of Tymal Mills seemed like a sensible move for the left-armer.

Topley was also the third player to sign such a deal in the space of around two weeks, and was, with no disrespect intended, the least notable of the trio.

Yorkshire spinner Adil Rashid was the first to switch to a white-ball only deal – albeit the decision will be reviewed again in the autumn – with England and Nottinghamshire batsmen Alex Hales following suit less than a week later.

Both are an integral part of the England one day setup, and both have the potential to be key players in club T20 competitions around the world – perhaps a key factor in their decision, given there are now less hoops to jump through to play in, say, the IPL because neither player would forgo a County Championship game to be there.

The ability to just ‘up and go’ to India should a place open up is surely appealing to both Hales and Rashid, whilst the CPL and BBL also offer their share of riches (though the latter obviously does not clash with the County season) and the fledgling PSL seems to be going from strength to strength also.

Although circumstances are different for Topley, anyone seeking to maximise the benefits of a finite career shouldn’t frowned on.

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#Sandpapergate

Boy, oh boy did this one blow up. Woah.

Australia caught red handed in the age of outrage by social media magnification and 24-hour news cycles.

Steve Smith and David Warner suspended by Cricket Australia for 12 months, both step down as captains of their respective IPL sides whilst Smith loses the Australian captaincy too (obviously).

Yes, it’s shitty. It was a lousy thing to do. But then Cameron Bancroft is hardly the first player to be ‘caught’ tampering with the ball (Michael Atherton and Sachin Tendulkar have also been caught performing similar, overly earnest work on the ball in times past).

The punishment does not feel equal to the crime at a base level, but once again we live in an age where dog piles of shame are a thing and the whole world soon knows your business when you’re a man (or woman) in the spotlight.

Cricket Australia’s decision to suspend (arguably) it’s best two batsmen for a year is as much about the way their actions embarrassed the governing body, the sport as a whole and a nation which holds it’s sporting heroes in much higher esteem than most (Side Note: check out Brydon Coverdale’s excellent piece for Cricinfo for an ‘Aussie’s eye view’ of this whole saga.)

The incident however has been a somewhat timely reminder that cricket is not immune to the same gamesmanship, bending of the rules and even downright cheating that other sports suffer; and much like the way ‘there is always a tweet’ for Donald Trump, there is always a Cricinfo article: “What’s not cricket?”

Despite it all, wickets will continue to be prepared to suite the home side, players will look to gain advantages where they can and the omni-present spectre of match fixing in an increasingly wealthy game will linger.

Sometimes we all just need to take a step back and remember that sportsmen are people too, and they’ll cut unethical corners just like the rest of us.

This isn’t an excuse, more a case of reminding us how flawed we really are.

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About Rob

Software engineer by day, Elite League Media man by night, Rob also blogs about cricket for One Stump Short, hockey for In Goal Magazine and video games for Outpost Delta as well as hosting the One Stump Short Podcast.

Posted on March 28, 2018, in Australia, County Championship, County Cricket, Domestic Cricket, England, International Cricket, Test Cricket, Winter Tours and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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