County cricket awards 2013 October 3, 2013

The roller's return and other disappointments

In part two of ESPNcricinfo's awards for the 2013 county season, George Dobell looks at some alternative categories

Self-defeating move of the season I
While the ECB's policy of lobbying for tougher work-permit criteria was well-intentioned, there is increasing evidence that it has now become too hard to register non-England qualified players. Trent Copeland and Cameron White, for example, who provided fine service for Northants in 2013, are both ineligible to return as they have not played the sufficient number of international games in the qualifying period. As a result, the standard of the county game will be eroded just a little more and developing English players will not benefit from the experience of playing with and against such tough, experienced cricketers. Combined with the absence of the leading England players, the unavailability of the best overseas talent and the growing use of young-player incentives, such moves increase the gap between domestic and international cricket.

Self-defeating move of the season II
Few could dispute the value of England Lions fixtures or central contracts to the development of the England team. But there is a growing concern that, by continuing to raid the county game during the season, England are actually creating a greater gap between the domestic and international games. There will always be a tough balance to strike in such circumstances, but the current policy may well damage the strength of the England side in years to come by weakening the Championship in which developing players learn their skills.

Unwelcome return
While few had called for it, the heavy roller made a comeback in 2013. It meant that, after some of the most entertaining years in county cricket's history, pitches were returned to a slow, colourless uniformity that did little for spectators. There are some decent reasons for allowing the use of the heavy roller in Championship cricket - not least to help replicate conditions found in international cricket - but when combined with the lack of pace in most county surfaces, it resulted, all too often, in bland, attritional cricket that rewarded persistence and patience more than flair and skill. A wider consultation on the issue might prove beneficial.

Disappointment of the season
It's not the award Surrey were after, but it's the only one they can win. After investing heavily in new recruits - Vikram Solanki and Gary Keedy alongside the overseas contingent - Surrey won only one Championship match and finished bottom of Division One. There were mitigating factors - they played on awful pitches at The Oval that did nothing for their bowling attack - but there was the unavoidable sense of a side that had lost its way in 2013.

Maybe it is harsh to place Somerset in this category. For many years a place in the knock-out stages of the limited-overs competitions and sixth in the Championship would have been deemed more than acceptable but, after building expectations in the last few years, this was a poor season by their standards and one which raised questions about the contribution of new director of cricket, Dave Nosworthy. Leicestershire, who went through the season without a first-class victory for the first time in their history, were pathetic and lost to Leeds-Bradford MCCU among others.

Among batsmen, Alex Hales, who averaged 13.94 from 18 innings and was dropped from the Nottinghamshire Championship side, Josh Cobb, averaging 14.62 in the Championship despite playing nicely in limited-overs cricket, and William Porterfield, who averaged 14.68, endured poor years, while Ajmal Shahzad and David Balcombe found their wickets coming at a cost of around 50 runs apiece, and Tymal Mills, for all his pace, claimed only six wickets in five Championship matches. James Harris, an expensive recruit from Glamorgan, had his injury troubles and never quite lived-up to expectations at Middlesex, while spinners' struggles were typified by Monty Panesar, who was released by Sussex after his on-field form and off-field behaviour deteriorated, and James Tredwell, who claimed 17 Championship wickets in 11 matches.

Sajid Mahmood failed to restart his career with only three Championship wickets at 109.66, while Steve Harmison failed to even warrant selection for Durham second XI. But the biggest disappointment of all was left to the end. Essex, in "resting" four senior players a week before they could all rest for several months, undermined the integrity of the Championship by failing to do everything they could to push for promotion in the final match of the season. While there are, as ever, caveats, the fact is that had they beaten Hampshire with full bonus points, they would have won promotion ahead of Northants. It says much about the complacent, defeatist attitude at Essex and an appalling absence of meritocracy that has been allowed to develop in the county game, that they accepted failure before it was assured.

Unsung heroes of the season
The increased availability of audio commentaries from county games has been one of the delights of recent years. So those involved at the BBC and ECB deserve credit for agreeing a deal that ensured another year of the service at a time when many newspapers were cutting back. The success of The Cricket Paper, a publication that by embracing the county game is exploiting a significant niche left by the mainstream, is also welcome, as is the growth in online coverage from various bloggers and sites such as Deep Extra Cover. Their enthusiasm and commitment continues to shame those who should know better.

Credit is also due to the management at Derbyshire and Northamptonshire, particularly their respective chairman and chief executive, Chris Grant and David Smith. While several of the smaller counties have done little other than bemoan their lot in recent times, Grant and Smith have refused to accept their teams' place among the also-rans and, by revitalising clubs that had slid into irrelevance, have shown what can be achieved at every first-class county in the land. Their work is far from complete - neither county has contributed much to the England side in recent years - but they have taken significant steps in the right direction and shown the management of Leicestershire, Worcestershire and Kent that achievement and progress is possible despite the trying economic conditions.

Lesson of the season
Trust your own. Both Northants and Durham excelled in 2013 through trusting their own players and not attempting to bring in too many imports. There is, of course, a place for role-model cricketers and signings that strengthen and lead. Northants' squad, in particular, is a result of years of recruitment. But one of the key roles of counties remains to produce players from their own locality to strengthen the domestic game and challenge for England honours; both Northants and Durham remembered that in 2013. They also showed the timeless value of shared experienced and values in constructing a team spirit that will withstand the inevitable stresses and strains of a county season. While teams such as Surrey sought short-cuts to success, Northants and Durham provided a reminder that there is no substitute for a side that has grown together and is playing with a sense of unity and purpose that, under pressure, perhaps provides an extra edge that can turn defeats into draws and clinch tight games. Gratifyingly, both sides showed that good coaching, scouting and management will beat the chequebook every time.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on October 8, 2013, 0:08 GMT

    Sadly this season has been about the third poor season in a row that Wil Porterfield has had for us. When he first arrived he was a welcome and much needed addition to a batting side severely weakened for much of the season by Bell and Trott playing for England. However with the better form of Troughton, Westwood and Ambrose in recent times, and Clarke, Barker and Woakes coming through as genuine all rounders, his role has become less important, and sadly his batting has wilted. He is a player with no shortage of talent, but an unfortunate mixture of mental fragility, poor technique and too much of a tendency to go on the attack too early on in his innings. And with young guns like Evans and Javid now regulars in the first team, his days at Edgbaston could well be numbered unless he turns things around very soon.

  • Brian on October 6, 2013, 20:10 GMT

    I hadn't realised Tredwell had had such a poor year, Panesar's troubles having received much greater publicity. What with Tredwell's struggles and Kerrigan's awkward test debut, Panesar's test recall starts to make much more sense than some have suggested. I think placing Somerset's season in the same category as Surrey's is harsh, although as a Lancashire fan I care little for Somerset and wish Kerrigan had done enough for an Ashes spot.

  • Duncan on October 6, 2013, 15:15 GMT

    For me, it's very sad that there are no English teams - in fact no English players in the CLT20. I don't really care about the IPL, but CL really could be a decent tournament and in previous seasons I loved seeing the likes Somerset on the world stage. This could have been avoided. The county season felt like it went on too long, coming to and end in Autumn when the football season was already in full swing. To make matters worse - it seemed like there were about 4 weeks in the height of summer when only scattering of T20 matches were played and nothing else.

  • Duncan on October 6, 2013, 15:10 GMT

    There were a ton of 'A' matches and indeed U19 matches involving other countries when the English season finished. Why could England Lions not get involved in that instead of home matches during the domestic season? This would also give them better experience of overseas conditions.

  • Dummy4 on October 5, 2013, 20:09 GMT

    So Northants excelled in 2013 through trusting their own players and not attempting to bring in too many what do you call Hall(South African)Crook(Australian) Azharullah(Pakistan)TA Copeland(Australia)?

  • andrew on October 5, 2013, 10:39 GMT

    Heavy roller - it's about getting the balance right, though. Don't forget that "result" pitches in the Sheffield Shield (is it still called that?) are one of the reasons quoted for the decline in Australian standards. Visas - surely there are others who've begun to play Test cricket recently who now fall into the category vacated by Copeland and White.

  • Alan Bain on October 5, 2013, 10:37 GMT

    The problem with the work permit criteria is it takes no account of the strength of the national team the player represents. Even allowing for the fact that Australia aren't as good as they used to be a guy who can't get into the Aussie team wil very likely be beter than a guy with 20 Tests for Bangladesh and the same would apply to say SA and Zimbabwe. They were right to bring back the heay roller though - county cricket should resemble Test cricket as much as possible so we don't get any more Simon Kerrigans.

  • Harvey on October 5, 2013, 8:02 GMT

    Why was playing on " awful pitches at The Oval that did nothing for their bowling attack" a mitigating factor for Surrey? Weren't 50% of their fixtures played away from home? Besides, weren't the "awful pitches" referred to deliberately prepared by Surrey themselves in order to favour their own spin-heavy squad?

  • mike on October 4, 2013, 21:10 GMT

    dissapointment of the season - marcus north!! averaged 23! as a glam supporter if our overseas batsman had scored 1000 runs we would have been in the running for promotion! hogan and allenby are key signings for next year! hopefully rudolph will do well next year!

  • GeoffreysMother on October 4, 2013, 19:17 GMT

    An excellent article George. Whist it covered some points (Surrey) that have been much covered before, these were put in the wider context of player and national development. Other points such as overseas recruitment and the issue at Essex have been much less covered and I appreciated the view here. I liked the way all these issues were put in the context of the overall health of the game.

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