September 25, 2008

Top of the class

The best performers from this year's county season

With the County Championship in its final round, and plenty to play for at both ends of the table, Cricinfo selects an XI from the best performers of the summer. The idea was to pick a balanced team - five batsmen, an allrounder, wicketkeeper, spinner, and three quicks. Note: This was written before the final round of matches, but the statistics have been updated to the end of the season.


A familiar pose: Marcus Trescothick back doing what he does best © Getty Images
 

Stephen Moore: 1288 runs @ 53.66
He has almost slipped under the radar as the leading run-scorer in first-class cricket this season. Moore has led Worcestershire's batting line-up, notching up six centuries (five in the Championship) with a highest score of 156. Perhaps surprisingly he has also hit the most sixes, 23, in first-class cricket. The challenge for him now is to carry that form into the top division and help fill the hole left by Graeme Hick's retirement.

Marcus Trescothick: 1258 runs @ 46.59
Trescothick began the season having announced his international retirement, after a recurrence of his stress-related illness, and the summer closed with his new book revealing all about his problems. In between he was back doing what he does best, scoring runs by the bucketload. He has the advantage of playing at Taunton, but in the Championship this year the pitches showed more life than in previous seasons. Kevin Pietersen has said that Trescothick is the one missing link in his England side. Trescothick won't be going back, though, so county bowlers will have plenty more seasons to suffer at his hands.

Mark Ramprakash: 1235 runs @ 61.75
Even Ramprakash can go through slumps. He had to wait ten innings for his 100th hundred, eventually becoming the 25th, and probably last, batsman to join that famous club, against Yorkshire. Once he'd reached the milestone it was business as usual again - he churned out four centuries in five innings, including a double against Somerset. It won't go down as a vintage year for Ramprakash, but he was one of few players to rise above the mediocrity that swamped Surrey's miserable season.

Jacques Rudolph: 1292 runs @ 56.17
An example of a worthy Kolpak player, someone of international class who can bring stability and experience. Rudolph could easily have been facing England this summer if he hadn't thrown his lot in with Yorkshire, but he now seems firmly at home east of the Pennines. He isn't always the most flamboyant of batsmen to watch, but his results prove he is mighty effective.

Martin van Jaarsveld: 1150 runs @ 47.91 and 11 wickets @ 20.00
Completes a South African double in the middle order. No wonder Mickey Arthur is keen to try and scout some of the talent in county cricket. van Jaarsveld's international career showed he probably wasn't quite up to it, but on the domestic scene there are no such concerns. He enjoyed a prolific season, and one match stood out, when he put in a stunning all-round display against Surrey at The Oval, with twin hundreds and a five-wicket haul.

Ravi Bopara: 1162 runs @64.55 and 25 wickets @ 31.88
Stood a class above in Division Two, destroying attacks on a regular basis with classy, commanding innings. His Championship form was enough to earn an England Test recall - albeit only as far as the squad for The Oval - but it was an important season for Bopara after a tough winter in 2007-08. It seems perverse that he hasn't yet transferred his skills to the top level consistently, so another crucial six months lie ahead. His medium-pace bowling appears to be taking a back seat at times, but he provides a useful fourth option in this XI.


Matt Prior's outstanding form for Sussex earned him an England recall © Getty Images
 

Matt Prior: 932 runs @ 51.72
During the opening months of the season Prior was the best batsman in the country, notching impressive centuries against Kent and Nottinghamshire. After being dropped following the Sri Lanka series, he was doing everything asked of him by the selectors. He knuckled down, matured, and the runs flowed. By the end of the season he was back in the ODI side, and a Test recall will follow swiftly. His wicketkeeping is better than some people make out, and his batting at No. 7 adds a power-packed punch to any side.

Adil Rashid: 62 wickets @ 30.41
It's been a while since the leading spinner in a season has been English. Mushtaq Ahmed's retirement has opened the field and Rashid has enjoyed his most productive season this year. Inevitably this has led to talk of when his England time will come, but there is no rush. The word on the circuit was that he lost a little variation early in the summer amid concerns his batting was taking over, but by the end of the season the runs had dried up and he was on track to be Yorkshire's leading wicket-taker.

Kabir Ali: 59 wickets @ 18.74
Injury curtailed his season during the final month, when he was on course to be the leading wicket-taker in the country. Ali may have had a rueful smile when he saw Darren Pattinson's fate against South Africa at Headingley, as he, too, is a one-cap Leeds wonder. Since his brief England career he has continued to push for a recall, but to his frustration is constantly overlooked. He benefited from bowling with Simon Jones, forming a potent attack, and his own pace often touched the high 80s.

Robbie Joseph: 55 wickets @ 26.05
A breakthrough season for Joseph, who began the summer under pressure about his future. He started slowly but something then sparked in mid-summer, when he went on a wicket-taking spree in four-day and one-day cricket. In the Championship matches against Durham, at Chester-le-Street, and Lancashire, at Canterbury, he took a combined total of 17 wickets. His pace surprised a number of people, not least the batsmen, and he has now secured his future in county cricket.

Steve Harmison: 60 wickets @ 22.35
When Harmison was recalled to face South Africa and then reversed his one-day retirement, he was quick to pay tribute to Durham for all their help. He enjoys playing for his county and they enjoy having him. County batsmen don't face much of his style of bowling and he gave Durham a cutting edge. If everything goes to plan for Harmison over the winter, his services will be required elsewhere for most of next season, but if he helps win back the Ashes, his county can take their share of the credit.

Also, The Wisden Cricketer debates the PCA's Player of the Year picks.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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