Hildreth on the Ball!

When it comes to selecting England’s XI for the first Ashes Test and indeed the one-off Ireland encounter that precedes it, it is the top three batting positions that England’s selectors will be spending the most time debating.

Somerset’s James Hildreth (Admittedly batting at four) led Somerset to victory in the One-Day Cup final today…

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/cricket/scorecard/ECKO45111

Having never won international recognition, it’s wonderful to see a player of so much ability perform on a big stage. In the article below, Hildreth makes an extremely astute observation, one that is correct and really does highlight the sort of naivety that you’d hope the England selectors would be beyond…

https://www.thecricketer.com/Topics/banner/james_hildreth_moves_up_no3_bid_finally_prove_selectors_worth_england_chance.html

Mark Stoneman would be the perfect example of a player doing exactly what Hildreth speaks of, of averaging in the twenties and thirties year after year then being selected for England on the back of one productive campaign.

I’ve been amazed at some of the English batsmen who’ve been batting at four or below this year when the England vacancies clearly lie in the top three. Players such as Kent’s Daniel Bell-Drummond have even allowed Ashes contender Matt Renshaw to bat ahead of him at three!

Back to today’s West Country hero Hildreth, the Somerset stalwart will need a stellar County Championship from this point forth to twist Ed Smith’s arm.

Disclaimer: Apologies for the poor quality image at the top of the piece. It was from the early days of all this gaming and blogging lark.

For Whom the Bell Tolls!

Warwickshire stalwart Ian Bell will miss the first three months of the county campaign because of a toe injury sustained during the PSL. The 36-year-old’s chances of gatecrashing the Ashes now appear even slimmer than the own brand lasagne sheet that they already were!

If you were lining up Bell as a vital component of your fantasy cricket batting line-up then you’ll need to perform a rethink… James Hildreth anyone?

CricketXI – County Championship 2018: Season Review

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At the start of the year I stumbled upon CricketXI, an alternative fantasy cricket competition. This game focused purely on the County Championship (First Class) campaign.

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I selected a team of young guns and as you can see things went really well! It was great to see the likes of Jonny Tattersall, Zak Crawley and Will Jacks develop. Harry Brook, Ben Twohig (Love his name!) and Matthew Carter also made great strides.

Unfortunately Surrey pacer Matt Dunn got injured early in the campaign and disappeared from the professional radar once again. Wicketkeeper Lewis McManus lost his place in the Hampshire First XI. Teammate Asher Hart and Essex spinner Aron Nijjar (Who fooled me by playing in a pre-season university match!) couldn’t get near their respective first XIs. Neither could spinner Sukhjit Singh who was sadly released by Warwickshire at the end of the campaign. Warwickshire clearly have little interest in developing their own young players and much prefer to sign absolutely anybody. While that’s great for players like Will Rhodes and Olly Stone, it’s not for players like Singh and Andy Umeed.

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As well as my outfit of kids, I also selected a more ‘serious’ side but following early season injury, Sam Northeast failed to really get going having relocated from Kent to Hampshire and has fallen way down the England pecking order. Disappointingly, Sussex batsman Luke Wells and Nottinghamshire’s Riki Wessels failed to back-up productive 2017 campaigns.

On the plus side, James Hildreth was amongst the runs as ever, meanwhile Tom Bailey, Ben Sanderson and everybody’s favourite ex-England cricketer Jade Dernbach, contributed with the ball.

Well, there’s always next year!

Telegraph Fantasy Cricket: CC/ODC 2018 – Season Review

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It says it all that my Fifth XI finished the 2018 County Championship campaign as my top team!

Tom Bailey (1912), Ryan Higgins (1819) and Morne Morkel (1636), when he eventually got going, led the way for me. However an overall position of 7454th is nothing to write home about!

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As the above graphic displays, Kent’s Kiwi quick Matt Henry, his domestic teammate and potential England Test debutant Joe Denly and Sussex’s former Yorkshire tearaway Ollie Robinson led the way in the overall points scoring. Ollie Robinson, oh look, another player that Yorkshire have either failed to develop or/and allowed to blossom elsewhere (Carver, Rhodes, Lees?)! There’s a theme developing here isn’t there?

Ed Barnard, Tom Bailey, Ryan Higgins and James Hildreth all made my England Ignored XI…

https://sillypointcricket.com/2018/09/27/england-ignored-xi/

… having been consistent performers throughout the campaign. Please remember that this competition was specific to the County Championship (First Class) and One-Day Cup (List A). The T20 Blast had a completely separate fantasy competition.

My five teams did at least resign my wife and daughter’s XIs to the bottom of the family table. Anyway, there’s always next year!

England Ignored XI

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England have named their Test and ODI squads for the winter tour of Sri Lanka as well as announcing the Lions squads for matches against Pakistan A in UAE:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_cricket_team_in_Sri_Lanka_in_2018–19

http://www.espncricinfo.com/story/_/id/24802981/jason-roy-named-england-lions-four-day-squad

Here’s a party of players who must feel unfortunate not to have at least made the Lions cut…

First XI

Ben Slater (Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire) 349 CC runs @ 43.62 (Div 1) / 676 CC runs @ 42.75 (Div 2) / 386 ODC runs @ 55.14

Left-handed opening bat Slater’s consistent run plundering earned him a move from Derbyshire to Nottinghamshire. He made runs in both the First Class (Divisions 1 & 2) and List A format. Next year he’ll hope to continue to go well amongst many new faces at Trent Bridge.

Will Rhodes (Warwickshire) 972 CC runs @ 44.18

Having departed Yorkshire, Rhodes grew and grew at his new home finishing the campaign with four tons in the County Championship. He and Dominic Sibley look a strong foundation for a Warwickshire side that like a signing!

Daryl Mitchell (Worcestershire) Captain 957 CC runs @ 38.81

With a lot on his plate off the field, Mitchell made four tons in Division One having previously been criticised for scoring the majority of his centuries in Division Two. He’s a more than handy asset with the ball too and could captain the side.

James Hildreth (Somerset) 1089 CC runs @ 45.38 / 438 ODC runs @ 62.57

Runs, more runs for the Somerset veteran, not just in the First Class arena but with the white-ball too. Somehow he remains ignored by yet another selection panel.

Tom Abell (Somerset) Vice-Captain 883 CC runs @ 40.41 / 19 wickets @ 25.89

Similar to Mitchell in that he’s a batsman come all-rounder, Abell’s batting has started to fall into place again and he and Mitchell would make a good leadership brains trust.

Ed Barnard (Worcestershire) 516 CC runs @ 23.45 / 49 CC wickets @ 23.22 / 153 ODC runs @ 76.50 / 16 ODC wickets @ 28.88

It’s utterly absurd that Barnard’s efforts haven’t been recognised by the selectors this season. With both bat and ball and in red and white-ball cricket, Barnard has  consistently starred.

Ryan Higgins (Gloucestershire) 48 CC wickets @ 18.38 / 195 ODC runs 65.00

Like Rhodes, a move has been a good move for Higgins and like Barnard, he’s performed in all facets in all formats having joined Gloucestershire from Middlesex.

Ben Brown (Sussex) Wicketkeeper 912 CC runs @ 43.43 (52ct/1st)

Another strong campaign from the Sussex gloveman. A genuine top six willow wielder and has handy captaincy experience to support Mitch and Abell behind the stumps.

Matthew Carter (Nottinghamshire) 16 CC wickets @ 32.81 / 13 ODC wickets @ 15.23

Carter didn’t rack up phenomenal stats but the potential is there and it was good to see him get more experience under his belt. England should ‘Get Carter’! Sorry, I’ve used that one before but couldn’t resist!

Tom Bailey (Lancashire) 64 CC wickets @ 19.66

Bailey’s consistent wicket-taking means that he’s another odd one to be so obviously neglected. He poses a constant threat for batsman and averaged sub 20 with the ball in County Championship Division One.

Ben Coad (Yorkshire) 48 CC wickets @ 16.33

Like his Lancashire rival and in this squad, opening bowling partner, Coad is another strange one to miss out. Despite his excellent Division One performances he’s rarely mentioned in England dispatches. There’s possibly a reluctance on the part of the selectors to pick another Yorkshireman.

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The following players could also make the squad with some selections geared towards limited overs cricket in particular.

Ian Cockbain (Gloucestershire) 208 ODC runs @ 69.33

Laurie Evans (Sussex) 243 CC runs @ 60.75 / 614 T20B runs @ 68.22

Ben Cox (Worcestershire) Wicketkeeper 396 ODC runs @ 79.20 (18ct)

Sam Cook (Essex) 27 CC wickets @ 25.33

Ben Sanderson (Northamptonshire) 60 CC wickets @ 16.70

Amir Virdi (Surrey) 39 CC wickets @ 30.36

Even beyond this squad there are yet more England qualified players to have been neglected. Maybe Ed Smith and crew will pull another surprise on us soon!

Cricket Captain 2018: Edinburgh Steal!

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As Coach and Selector of the England cricket team, for the one-off ODI against Scotland in Edinburgh, I made a brave but sensible call. Provided the volume of cricket on the horizon in all forms of the game and given the travel involved in crossing the border north, I rested our senior players. This presented those cricketers with the opportunity to find form at domestic level ahead of the ODI and T20I series against Australia. A thirteen-man squad made up of entirely uncapped players was selected for the Scotland encounter. This provided a great opportunity to breed competition amongst our ranks. Nottinghamshire all-rounder Steven Mullaney assumed the honour of captain on international debut. All-rounders Lewis Gregory and Ben Raine were the unlucky members of the squad who didn’t make the playing XI. Any suggestion that we were selling spectators short by not selecting our first choice XI was soon put to bed as one of the most absorbing ODIs in the history of the game played out before our eyes.

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Every single member of our batting unit made a contribution with Joe Clarke, fresh off the back of his 80 in the second Test against Pakistan, top scoring with a free flowing 52 from 64 deliveries. Some late hitting from skipper Steven Mullaney (49 not out) and Ed Barnard (21 not out) helped lift us to 266 for 6 from our allotted 50 overs. Looking back we could possibly have put our feet on the gas sooner in order to try and set a higher target.

Scotland looked well placed for victory courtesy of Calum MacLeod’s run-a-ball 60 at the top of the order but we turned the screws on the middle order as the home side’s hopes of a famous run chase slipped away.

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Gloucestershire recruit Ryan Higgins led the way with figures of 9-1-37-4.

Scotland seemed out of it at 221-9 before Safyaan Sharif (27) and Brad Wheal (24 not out) put on 45 for the last wicket. Ed Barnard was denied the winning wicket because of a no-ball call and there was also a dropped catch at slip. With Scotland needing just four runs to seal a seismic result, Essex’s Matt Coles trapped Sharif LBW to spare our blushes!

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Next we host Australia and India with regular first-team players likely to be recalled. Should injury strike then we’ve identified a strong pool of players from which to call up on.

#undefeated

England’s Alternative Batting Options

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James Hildreth (Somerset)

http://www.espncricinfo.com/england/content/player/15348.html

Tom Kohler-Cadmore (Yorkshire)

http://www.espncricinfo.com/england/content/player/470633.html

Ross Whiteley (Worcestershire)

http://www.espncricinfo.com/england/content/player/288617.html

England Uncapped XI

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Imagine that England’s cricketers have gone on strike. They’re upset about that car sponsorship deal ending or they all want to play in the new Kazakhstan T20 league. England’s selectors are reluctant to return to players that’ve failed to produce the goods at international level before. They decide to select an extremely experienced squad so ignore the likes of Ollie Pope, Joe Clarke and Sam Curran amongst others. The below is what an England Test squad might then look like.

First XI

James Adams

Daryl Mitchell

Sam Northeast (Captain)

James Hildreth

Darren Stevens

Keith Barker

John Simpson (Wicketkeeper)

Ollie Rayner

Luke Fletcher

Steve Patterson

Chris Rushworth

12th Man

Steven Mullaney

Tourists

Luke Wells

Riki Wessels

Ben Brown (Wicketkeeper)

James Harris

Stand By

Chris Nash

Joe Leach

I’ve selected Northeast as captain so as not to burden either of my openers, Adams and Mitchell who make for a strong left-hand/right-hand combo. Hildreth is at four ahead of Stevens and Barker who provide all-round options with Barker’s left-arm variety essential. Simpson dons the gloves meanwhile Patterson and Rushworth take the new ball backed up by Fletcher as well as Barker and Stevens. Spin options are a bit limited but Luke Wells makes the touring party as spin back-up to Ollie Rayner. Steven Mullaney makes the squad as 12th man, providing strong all-round cover with bat and ball.

As well as Wells and Mullaney, Wessels and Harris provide a good variety of cover. Brown backs up behind the stumps whilst Wessels is also an emergency ‘keeping option.

Top order bat Chris Nash who can bowl decent spin and dependable all-rounder Joe Leach are officially on stand-by.

Disclaimer: The likes of Rory Burns, Benny Howell and Tom Bailey are among the unfortunate omissions. Daniel Bell-Drummond, Sam Hain, Liam Norwell, Lewis Gregory, Jamie Porter and Ben Coad join that list but I was generally plucking for the most experienced players.

Stoneman’s Rocky Patch!

Mark Stoneman

No sooner have you’ve released an audio recording proclaiming that England’s batting options are limited, do all the contenders go big right on cue!

Mark Stoneman’s grip on the England opener’s slot is rapidly slipping from his grasp, literally as he’s just grassed teammate (?) Jonny Bairstow in Surrey’s match against Yorkshire. Of course knowing my luck, he’ll register a double ton in the second dig and cement his place in the England XI. In my audio post I mentioned that Stoneman’s challenge could most likely come from his domestic partner Rory Burns. Burns made 193 in Surrey’s last match and many have wondered how, with a record far superior to Stoneman’s, that Rocky got the gig in the first place.

Middlesex man Nick Gubbins, who batted well in the North v South series has recovered from injury and made 99 last time out for the London outfit. He could be primed for the call. Another left-handed opener, Keaton Jennings, has ticked off a maiden ton for his new home side Lancashire. Stoneman desperately needs runs and soon.

The middle order is a little trickier, unless captain Joe Root will move to number three. Dawid Malan has made a ton and a seventy-odd in his last two County Championship matches but is best served staying at five for England. He deserves to stay in the team following his Ashes hundred, a fifty in England’s last Test (Stoneman and Vince made fifties in their last innings too!) and his domestic form. He may have to move to four though in order to accommodate either Surrey’s Ollie Pope of more likely, Worcestershire’s more experienced Joe Clarke. Both have made two Championship tons this term but neither are batting at number three. If England do select the obdurate Burns alongside Cook (Assuming Cook is in!) at the top of the order then that may save the more aggressive and fluent James Vince at number three, meaning Pope and Clarke will have to wait. If Pope and Clarke don’t get their chance now then they may do so in the future or they could become the next James Hildreth. The Somerset stalwart also now has two County Championship centuries this campaign. That’s just the 43 First Class tons at an average of… 43 for Hildreth then!

Of course picking players on early season form is what England did with Gary Ballance and Stoneman (And Ed Smith!) and look where we are now? When Stoneman hit the ground running last year, so many supposed experts came crawling out of the woodwork claiming that they’d campaigned for Stoneman for England for years. Where are they now? Weren’t they the same people that have been banging on about Hameed? Runs or no runs only serves to highlight how difficult Ed Smith’s job is. It’s so easy to be swayed. It’s not art or science but a little bit of both!

Quite frankly, I give up predicting England’s batting order for the first Test against Pakistan. Let’s just wait and see…

Telegraph Fantasy Cricket: CC/ODC 2018 – Because it’s Never too Early!

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It’s never too early to start planning any fantasy team. Preparation is key. The English county cricket season will commence in April, so it’s important to have by then identified some possible composites of your side.

Assuming that the format will remain the same, that’s one amalgamated competition for First Class and List A cricket with a completely separate one for the T20 blast, I’m going to focus on potential selections for the four-day and 50-over formats for the time being.

Here are my key tips to remember when selecting a team:

  1. Don’t select players that will be on international duty.
  2. Select players that will play in both forms of the game.
  3. Select batsman that bowl and bowlers that bat.
  4. Don’t pick the same players as everybody else.
  5. Identify potential gems amongst the ‘hardly picked by anyone’ players.

Let’s start with batting. Re: tip one, there’s absolutely no point selecting Joe Root, Mark Stoneman or Jonny Bairstow. They’ll be representing the national team.

England discard Tom Westley could be a shrewd shout. He’ll be keen to push for a recall to the England side, though I think it’ll likely be a vain push. The Essex man is a decent operator in both formats and occasionally contributes some reasonable off-spin.

Another England reject worth a possible punt could be Keaton Jennings. He’s relocated from Durham to Lancashire, opens the batting in both forms of the game and made regular contributions with the ball when at Durham. Whether or not Alastair Cook remains in the England side could of course determine if KJ is a smart selection. It is worth noting that both players I’ve mentioned so far could find themselves representing England Lions and missing a game or two because of such. That’s why in this game, it’s the county pros who you need to select.

Somerset’s James Hildreth is a decent shout, a little more productive in one-day cricket than some people realise and if he can perform to his potential in the four-day matches then he’ll contribute plenty of runs. Worcestershire’s Joe Clarke is a good call but again he’ll be knocking on the door of the England team. Clarke may be listed as a wicketkeeper. Northamptonshire’s Ben Duckett will likely be listed as a batsman but does keep wicket from time to time. He’s well and truly fallen out of favour with England and could contribute significant scores at a decent strike rate (There’s points for that!).

Following his move to Warwickshire, Dominic Sibley is definitely a player worth considering. He’s keen to prove to Surrey that he should’ve been a regular fixture in their team. He’s a destructive batsman in one-day cricket but has the ability to make big scores in the longer format. Don’t forget that he can provide more than useful part-time spin too!

In the all-rounder stakes, Nottinghamshire’s Samit Patel (Clearly no longer required by England) is possibly an essential selection. Re: tips four and five, it’s important to not just select the same team as everybody else. You need to identify the ‘hardly picked by anyone’ players that will make the difference. You do however need some reliable core players in your team. Having Harry Kane isn’t going to win you fantasy football but not having him will guarantee that you don’t win. Patel bats, bowls and plays both formats. He’ll be as hungry as ever to demonstrate to the England hierarchy that he merits further opportunities so may well deserve a spot in your XI.

Hampshire’s Gareth Berg is no spring chicken and not the most fashionable name on the county scene but with the ball, he’s a consistent wicket-taker as well as being in the habit of contributing useful lower order runs. He’s one of those players that will pass a number of fantasy players by, so sneaking him into your team, he could well prove an asset.

On the bowling front, Sussex’s Jofra Archer isn’t qualified to play for England yet. Last year he was listed as a bowler but could potentially be listed as an all-rounder this year. Either way, he falls into the Patel category of being an almost necessary selection.

Jake Ball? No seriously, I’m serious. He’s surely fallen down the pecking order at international level and the opportunity to play regularly at domestic level could well be what he needs. If he can perform like he did to first earn international recognition then he could be worth a pick. Brett Hutton has departed Ball’s Nottinghamshire side and headed to Northamptonshire. He’s another of these potentially underrated players who could now prosper in a new environment where he’ll hope for extra responsibility. Re: tip three, it’s great to find players that offer something with bat and ball but essentially you do need to select players that will, if they’re a batsman, score runs and if they’re a bowler, take wickets… duhhh!

I could go on and maybe I’ll do a follow-up post consisting of some more names. I’ll probably end up selecting a team that contains none of the above players whatsoever but as a starting point for planting the seeds of fantasy cricket team selection, this is just the beginning.