County View April 24, 2007

Mushtaq and Gough show the way

County View takes a look back at the early stages of the new English season

Welcome to County View, Cricinfo's fortnightly take at the world of county cricket. Each edition will look at the players who have grabbed the headlines, and some who haven't, plus keep you up to date with how England players - current and future - are performing for their counties.

Having a ball: Mushtaq Ahmed adds another Kent scalp to his list © Getty Images
Like he's never been away
The last few months of Mushtaq Ahmed's life have been an emotional rollercoaster. But give him a cricket ball and show him county batsmen and his troubles appear a world away. He'd bowled just 74 overs since the end of last summer, when he sealed Sussex's Championship with 9 for 48 in the second innings against Nottinghamshire, but it didn't take him long to make his first mark on the 2007 campaign against Kent when he had Joe Denly caught at short leg. The lower order was easy pickings, Mushtaq notching figures of 6 for 74, and Kent would have had a severe sense of déjà vu. Mushtaq's record against them is impressive; before this season's first meeting he had 53 wickets at 20.89 in seven games.

The gloves are off
One of the spots up for grabs in Peter Moores's first England squad will be the wicketkeeper after a winter where no one stated a watertight claim, despite the late heroics of Paul Nixon. Both England's glovemen from the Ashes Tests - Geraint Jones and Chris Read - appear to be furthest from another opportunity and the early weeks of the season are a chance for the runners and riders to show their skills. Moores may be tempted to return to his roots and take a look at Matt Prior, who showed promising form with 37 and 47 against MCC at Lord's, and toured Bangladesh with the A team under Moores. Steven Davies, the young Worcestershire keeper and another Moores charge with the A team, is also a candidate and began the summer with a few runs for MCC. The international future of Jones, though, appears bleak. His last action in an England shirt was being embarrassingly run out at Perth from silly point and 2007 hasn't begun much better. His first Championship innings ended as he played no shot at Mushtaq and was bowled, then in the second he was again out-done by the legspinner. Jones was one of Fletcher's favourites, but it will take a major turnaround for him to add to his Test career.

Back in the swing: Darren Gough's first Championship match in charge was a handsome victory © Getty Images
Surrey dance to Gough's tune
One victory doesn't make a summer, but a 346-run win certainly isn't a bad way to start. When you look at Yorkshire's opening Championship result in the light of the club's position in the early part of the year it takes on even more significance. The problems around Headingley were rather overshadowed by various other cricketing events over the winter, but there's enough material to write a book. And it appears Darren Gough wants to add a few chapters of his own. As English cricket tries to move into a new era Gough remains a link to a very different generation, but he isn't quite ready to move aside. He knows the legs won't allow him to run in all day, every day, and his six wickets against Surrey came from just 22 overs. Though there aren't many miles left on the clock he's determined to make every last one count.

From A team to second team
Sportsmen are prone to sudden changes in fortune. The saying goes "you are only as good as your last game" but Tom Smith, Lancashire's promising seamer, who was at the Academy in Perth during the winter, didn't even get that far before Lancashire's opening Championship match. On the first morning at Edgbaston he was left out of the starting eleven in favour of Oliver Newby and sent up to Derby for the seconds. The Lancashire camp said he was lacking rhythm and that it was a tough call to pick from their crop of young seamers, but barely a month ago Smith was part of the successful England A tour to Bangladesh. Newby justified the decision with six wickets and the competition is healthy. It will only get stronger when James Anderson and Sajid Mahmood are available again.

Tons of runs
Somerset have spent much of the winter trying to even up the contest between bat and ball at Taunton. Clearly it hasn't quite worked as the run-feast against Middlesex demonstrated in record style. It was the first time eight centuries had been scored in a match in English first-class cricket and Somerset's 850 was the third highest total in Championship history. Rumours are that groundsman Phil Frost will soon be employed by the highways agency.

England watch
Steve Harmison takes eight wickets in the match against Worcestershire...Marcus Trescothick hits 70 in his first Championship innings of the summer...Alastair Cook adds 100 against Derbyshire to the 142 he made for MCC...Matthew Hoggard helps Yorkshire to victory at The Oval with 4 for 34 in the second innings...Simon Jones takes 3 for 56 in the Friends Provident match against Somerset but is left out of Glamorgan's squad for the Championship game against Essex.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer on Cricinfo